The Jews of Spain
Jane S. Gerber
To the extent that I grew up in a Jewish milieu, that milieu was heavily Askenazic. The traditions seemed to leap magically from the Eastern Mediterranean with the sacking of the Temple and the tragedy at Masada all the way to Eastern Europe. While I had known my Jewish education was lacking (I was 31 before I knew what the Talmud was, for crying out loud), I had not known how badly my views had been poured through the prism of Eastern European traditions.
Not, that is, until I picked up Jane S. Gerber’s superb history of Sephardim, The Jews of Spain.
Gerber did more for me than describe the history of brothers and sisters I had barely acknowledged in the past, she also provided a massive missing link. There is no continuity to or understanding of Jewish history without understanding the Sephardim. As I read, disjointed pieces of Jewish history fell into place. Who was the Rambam, and what the heck was he doing in Egypt? Why were the first American Jews from Spain? And who carried on the richness of diaspora scholarship and culture throughout the “Dark Ages?”
In the course of the book, Gerber also weaves a rich tale, a story of which any people could be proud. I’ll admit, it took me some time to finish the book, but only because I found myself pausing every few pages, setting the book down, and rushing over to look up another great Sephardic work, personality, or city on the Internet.
By the end, I found myself no longer seeing the Sephardim as outsiders, but instead seeing myself as, somehow, Sephardic. It has changed our lives, and as we add customs to our observance and celebration of our heritage, we are starting to add bits and pieces from Sephardic custom as well.
A superb read, The Jews of Spain belongs on the bookshelf of every Jew.
- Local Exhibit Looks At Spanish Jewish Culture (philadelphia.cbslocal.com)
- A family’s lost story found, and the Sephardic Studies Initiative (washington.edu)
- Drew Barrymore to raise her baby Jewish, cites ‘beautiful’ aspects of Judaism (theuglytruth.wordpress.com)
- Jews of India (judaicaworld.wordpress.com)
- Ibn Warraq: Jews and the Crusades -Part III (atlasshrugs2000.typepad.com)