Selections from Jews and Words by Oz and Oz-Salzberger


A few selections from this marvelous book. Some with, some without commentary.


Simply put, our thesis is this: in order to remain a Jewish family, a Jewish family perforce relied upon words. Not any words, but words that came from books.

I find this idea thrilling. And because I'll be putting an LDS spin on many of these selection, why not start here? I think the Israelite heritage Mormons inherit from scripture---but especially the Book of Mormon (see our nickname)---explains why we feel a close kinship with the Jews. We don't feel that words are too small a relationship to make us family.

That aside, I love this concept. It speaks to me as a reader. As the Ozes say later (unquoted), one could, in almost every case, substitute the word "reader" for "Jew" and still make sense of this booklength essay.


By contrast [to Greek goddesses and tragic heroines], Israelite and Jewish female characters over the ages almost always choose life. They fare badly at times, but not in a tragic sense. Their heroism is almost invariably about surviving, rescuing, surmounting danger, and bringing babies to the world.


One of the most crucial and typical Hebrew legacies is the centrality of the individual person.

We already said, in passing, that the powerful individualism displayed in the Bible and in later Jewish texts is not your mainstream individualism of modern Western theory. A deep and ancient marker of Hebrew culture is the centrality of the single man or woman, created in God's image, but at the same time belonging to several human pluralities. . . .

The Mishnah comments on Genesis crisply and lucidly:
Therefore man was created singly in the world to teach you that whoever destroys a single soul [nefesh], it counts as if he destroyed a full world; and whoever saves one soul, it counts as if he saved a full world.
. . . .

Now this precious idea, that every single soul is a full world, can carry two dovetailing meanings. The first is that each person's life is of tremendous importance. Indeed, since man and woman are created in God's image, each life is holy. Unlike certain Christian and Muslim concepts of the term soul, the Hebrew word nefesh is almost exclusively linked to life on earth, and not to an eternal afterlife, "for the blood is the nefesh." . . .

. . . . Almost all divine precepts can be suspended when life and death are involved. This legal tool is a fundamental law; it can push aside almost any other piece of legislation.

I did not know the Jews have made so explicit a belief that I thought was peculiarly Mormon. But the Jews take this to mean the saving of mortal lives in a much more literal way than we usually think of it. We can learn something here.


The second meaning of "whoever saves one soul, it counts as if he saved a full world" is even more fascinating than the first. . . . to urge the utter necessity of personal responsibility over the lives of others.


. . . every soul is "a full world," and every such world is different from all others.

This is not Western individualism but Jewish individuation. The single person is not weightier than the group, nor is the "I" more important than the "you" or the "we." Instead, every one of us must be infinitely important to the others and to the collective, because we are each a unique variant of God's image.

Which is why the Earth should be saved.


No man is an island wrote the great Donne. The novelist among us adds: true, no man is an island, but we are all peninsulas.


"Your children are not your children," wrote Khalil Gibran, the Lebanese-American poet. "They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself." Being stereotypically Jewish parents, we cannot concede possession of our offspring quite so easily. But we could paraphrase Gibran thus: Your ideas are not your ideas. They are the progeny of the bookshelf on your wall and the language that you inhabit.

Which is why this everlastingly extended copyright is a load of crap.


Our words are not our words. They change as we utter them. They never stay long enough to "belong." A little like our offspring, in the already-quoted line of the wise Arab poet Gibran: Your children are not your children. We may wish our children to continue our words; instead, they will author the book afresh.

And we need to be okay with that. It's not what we do that's so great. It's that it's part of something that continues ever onward.

So hard to stop! But I must end somewhere and this seems as good a place as any. While I could write about every page, you should read every page for yourself.

P.S.: Don't miss my original review, or my forthcoming AMV post.

In the meantime, please feel free to comment yourself on some of the ones I skipped. They're unquestionably juicy.

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