Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sherwin Wine's Last Book

a review by Edd Doerr

A Provocative People: A Secular History of the Jews, by Sherwin T. Wine (International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, 508 pp, 2012, $24.95)

Sherwin Wine (1928-2007) was the founder of the Humanistic Judaism movement (the fifth strain of organized Judaism in addition to Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist), the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, and co-founder (with Ethical Culture leader Edward Ericson) of Americans for Religious Liberty, which I have headed since 1982. Wine ranks with such figures as Spinoza, John Dewey, Bertrand Russell and Paul Kurtz.

When he died tragically in a car accident in Morocco in 2007, Sherwin left the manuscript for this magnum opus unfinished.  The drafts were assembled by editor, friend and colleague Rabbi Adam Chalom and other associates into what can only be described as a work comparable to H.G. Wells' Outline of History.

But first, disclosures. Sherwin and I were friends for over three decades and I contributed a chapter to the festschrift honoring him, A Life of Courage: Sherwin Wine and Humanistic Judaism. In 2000 my wife Herenia and I translated into Spanish and published his 1995 book, Staying Sane in a Crazy World (Como mantener la cordura en un mundo loco: Guia para una vida racional). My own background  is not Jewish, but, rather, Irish/German/Catholic-turned-Humanist/Unitarian-at-age-19.
I have addressed Humanistic Jewish audiences and have been an occasional cantor at Humanistic Jewish services.

A Provocative People defies facile summary. It takes in the long sweep from pre-history until today of the complex evolution and history of the Jewish people and of all the peoples and cultures that influenced them or were influenced by them, the diverse peoples and cultures of the Middle East, the Greeks and Romans, the Germanic tribes that overran the Roman world, the Christians and Muslim Arabs, the Poles and Russians, the Anglo-Saxons and Americans. Sherwin traces the factors that shaped the many and shifting subcultures among the Jews and the complexities of the various anti-Semitisms over more than twenty centuries, from early Christianity to the Inquisition to the Nazi Holocaust/Shoah.

Sherwin's Secular History of the Jews shows his extraordinary command of history, anthropology, archeology, linguistics, theology, psychology and sociology. His prose is eminently readable and his sense of humor shines through.

This is the most complete and compact history of the Jewish people ever published. Five stars.

No comments: