Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory, by Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, presents some obvious conclusions about the role of history in Jewish collective life.
First, he explains that the Jewish people never produced history like the Greeks. The bible, although treated as a “history” of both the world and the Jews, really has no similarity to the ancient conception of history.
The teachers and leaders who created Rabbinical Judaism after the destruction of the Temple in the first century also did not have an interest in history. They reference life in the Roman world, but only in the context of elucidating points of Jewish law. There was a brief time in Spain during the Middle Ages when Jews produced what could be called history, but it was fleeting.
The author informs us that historiography only began among Jews in the early 19th century. Then, Jewish scholars turned a critical eyes upon Jewish history.
I’m really not sure why this is considered a ground breaking book. Anyone who has studied Judaism from a religious vantage knows that the “history” of the Tanach, the Talmud and other books is sacred lore, and not modern history. The Rabbis did not believe in a linear history. They saw the events of the bible as repeating themselves through time. We know this, and have known this, for some time.
So, why do we need this book?