Wanderings: Chaim Potok’s History of the Jews

Suggested by Kung Fu Zu • A history of the Jews from their obscure beginnings, before they were Jews, to the last quarter of the 20th century. It should be required reading for anyone who wishes to have a better understanding of this people.
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6 Responses to Wanderings: Chaim Potok’s History of the Jews

  1. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    At 400 pages, this highly idiosyncratic work might seem like a slow exhaustive walk through Jewish history. However, given the complexity of the subject and length of the history, it is merely a quick jaunt through the high/low points of the Chosen People.

    What is most interesting and informative about the book is the fact that it is Jewish history as seen through Jewish eyes. More specially, it is a work which deals with the interaction of Jews with non-Jews and the development of the Jewish view of religion (including themselves as the Chosen People,) as seen through the eyes of a modern religious Jew.

    Potok was an American rabbi who was born to Polish immigrants. Both sides of his family had roots in Hasidism which developed in Eastern Europe. Socialist ideas were part of the mix. His father-in-law was a big supporter of socialist causes.
    Potok was brought up in an Orthodox environment and, it is safe to say, had little contact with non-Jewish society growing up. From what I have read of him and what he has written, he was heir to the belief of the centrality of the Jews in the world and had the biases and fears of traditional Jewish culture, which had been handed down through the “mystic chords of memory” from generation to generation for some millennia.

    This being the case, it is perhaps not surprising that he expresses his distaste for ancient Rome, Christianity and Germanic tribes, i.e. the things out of which Western Civilization developed. He can stomach ancient Greece, but only conditionally. Sometimes he is subtle and sometimes not, as when he repeatedly uses the word “darkness” when describing Christianity. It is abundantly clear he has a very low opinion of Europe and European History, except for Muslim Spain. Like many Jews I have known, he has an oddly unrealistic and romantic view of Andalusia and the golden age when Jews and Muslims loved each other.

    Potok’s straightforward presentation of Jewish attitudes to others is often refreshing. He is not at all shy about Jewish contempt for Christians and others. He often tells us how the Jews consider themselves special. And while Potok bemoans the fate of Jews as minorities in foreign lands, he doesn’t seem understand that contempt for the culture and people among whom you live, does not endear you to those you despise. From time to time, Potok also displays much the same arrogant attitude in the book. It reminds me of a time my brother asked a Jewish friend why he thought the Jews had such a hard time with others. Pete, that was the friend’s name replied, “Because we are smarter than everyone else and they are jealous.” While this may or may not be true, I have found it a not uncommon belief among Jews and Potok simply re-confirms this. But as I said before, for being so smart, it is decidedly dim for a small minority to go around telling the large majority how dumb they are. Which party is dumber?

    As one might imagine, because of this history, it is difficult for many Jews to warm to Christian traditionalists who are proud of their countries and culture. Potok makes clear, it is Christian culture that many Jews fear and hate. Could this be a large part of the reason so many Jews have been at the forefront of socialism; because it promises to eradicate the old, i.e. Christian, culture?

    I have often wondered about the Jewish obsession with their bad times in the West, which preceded the Holocaust, when in fact their history is full of such things. The Assyrians destroyed the Kingdom of Israel and the world has been looking for the lost ten tribes ever since. The Babylonians crushed Judah and swept most of the remaining two tribes out of the Levant into the area now called Iraq. Jews do not appear to harbor any great hate for these and others who have mistreated them. It may be simply the fact that Jewish problems in Europe are the most recent on this list of woes. Or it might be that the Jews were more foreign in European lands than they were in the Middle East. Or it may be that no other culture they ran into was as successful and unified as Christian Europe. Whatever the reason, it is something which I believe merits a good deal of consideration.

    On the bright side, Potok does cut America a little slack. While our roots are from the old country, and we have made our share of mistakes and committed our share of sins, we are marginally better than Europe. Thank you, Chaim.

    Chaim Potok has done us a special service by writing this book. He has given those of us of Western heritage, especially Christians, a small glimpse into how many Jews actually see us. For this we must thank him. This knowledge might help to explain why, even today, so many Jews are leftists and are doing their best to bring down our culture. Thank God for those Jews who have left the past in the past and don’t agree with Chaim Potok and his leftist brethren. These are people with whom we can build a future.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    Oddly enough, the Hasidim today, being Orthodox, increasingly vote conservative. They also fail to benefit from minority gerrymandering. I read in one of my political books how in the 1980s, Brooklyn was gerrymandered to create a black district, which had the effect of splitting a large Hasidic area among several districts.

    Oddly, though we always talk of the “ten lost tribes”, that actually is inaccurate. Judah was more or less combined with Simeon, and Benjamin joined the kingdom (if only due to Jerusalem being there). The Levites were priests scattered throughout Israel and Judah, so at least part of the tribe remained behind. For that matter, most of the Israelite people no doubt remained behind (becoming the Samaritans), with only the elites taken off into Assyria.

    This arrogance may go back a long way. In Joseph and His Technicolor Dreamcoat, in one song Joseph is presenting his dreams of glory and dominance over his 11 brothers. They’re not thrilled by these ideas, and note his stupidity in failing to realize that there are 11 of them and only 1 of him.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Oddly, though we always talk of the “ten lost tribes”, that actually is inaccurate.

      As you might imagine, Potok goes into some detail regarding this subject. For the sake of brevity, “the lost ten tribes” will have to do for this piece.

  3. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    As one might imagine, because of this history, it is difficult for many Jews to warm to Christian traditionalists who are proud of their countries and culture. Potok makes clear, it is Christian culture that many Jews fear and hate. Could this be a large part of the reason so many Jews have been at the forefront of socialism;

    And on cue, Samantha Vinograd, a leftwing advisor to Biden and CNN commentator confirms the above observation when she claimed Trump sounded like Hitler when Trump talked about “reclaiming our priceless heritage” at CPAC yesterday.

    Vinograd and her ilk can be ignored no longer. They must be fought at all times and on every front.

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