Books

Publications by current faculty of the Center for Jewish Civilization.

Jacques Berlinerblau
campus confidential College Confidential: How college works, or doesn't, for professors, parents, and students

Melville House (2017)

Chances are distressingly high that an American undergraduate—even one attending an elite institution—will be taught mostly by overworked and underpaid adjunct professors and graduate students who have received no teacher training and whose careers are haunted by the “publish or perish” ethos of modern Academe. This may suit the university’s bottom line, but does it really constitute a quality education for their students?

Campus Confidential is an irreverent and incisive professor’s-eye view on college today, in which Jacques Berlinerblau tells us what so many professors are thinking but so few are saying. From a close look at this new professoriate and how to get the best out of it, to learning how to survive bare-knuckle interdepartmental politics, to valuable tips on how to evaluate and apply to colleges in the first place, Berlinerblau offers a master class on how colleges can operate and improve themselves, and how potential students and their parents can make an informed decision on which to attend.

How to Be Secular How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2012)

Weary of religious conservatives urging "defense of marriage" and atheist polemicists decrying the crimes of religion? Sick of pundits who want only to recast American life in their own image? Americans are stuck in an all-or-nothing landscape for religion in public life. What are reasonable citizens to do?

Seen as godless by the religious and weak by the atheists, secularism mostly has been misunderstood. In How to Be Secular, Berlinerblau argues for a return to America's hard-won secular tradition; the best way to protect religious diversity and freedom lies in keeping an eye on the encroachment of each into the other.

Berlinerblau passionately defends the virtues of secularism, reminds us what it is and what it can protect, and urges us to mobilize around its cause, which is for all Americans to continue to enjoy freedom for--and from--religion. This is an urgent wake-up call for progressives in and out of all faiths.

THUMPN' IT: THE USE AND ABUSE OF THE BIBLE IN TODAY'S PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS

Westminister John Knox Press (2007)

In one of the most witty and insightful books yet to explore the fascinating relationship between the Bible and American politics, Georgetown professor Jacques Berlinerblau looks at: the recent history of how Scripture has influenced public policy debates about the environment, abortion, stem-cell research, and foreign policy; how recent U.S. presidents have employed the Bible; plus how each of the major candidates in the 2008 presidential elections is using and often misusing the Bible in his or her race for the White House.

Politicians, especially those seeking the presidency, must develop a good Scripture game, as Berlinerblau calls it. However, "It is a cynical business, politics is. It becomes no less so when public servants and interest groups get it into their heads that God Himself provided proof texts for their policy initiatives two thousand years ago. It is a peculiarity of the Good Book that it elicits in its readers the strong conviction that it unequivocally supports their strongest convictions."

Secular Bible

THE SECULAR BIBLE: WHY NONBELIEVERS MUST TAKE RELIGION SERIOUSLY

Cambridge University Press (2005)

Today's secularists too often have very little accurate knowledge about religion, and even less desire to learn. This is problematic insofar as their sense of self is constructed in opposition to religion. Above all, the secularist is not a Jew, is not a Christian, not a Muslim, and so on. But is it intellectually responsible to define one's identity against something that one does not understand? And what happens when these secularists weigh in on contentious political issues, blind to the religious back-story or concerns that inevitably inform these debates?
 
In The Secular Bible: Why Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously Jacques Berlinerblau suggests that atheists and agnostics must take stock of that which they so adamantly oppose. Defiantly maintaining a shallow understanding of religion, he argues, is not a politically prudent strategy in this day and age. But this book is no less critical of many believers, who--Berlinerblau contends--need to emancipate themselves from ways of thinking about their faith that are dangerously simplistic, irrational and outdated. Exploring the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, from the perspective of a specialist, nonbeliever, and critic of the academic religious studies establishment, Berlinerblau begins by offering a provocative answer to the question of "who wrote the Bible?" The very peculiar way in which this text was composed provides a key to understanding its unique power (and vulnerability) in the modern public sphere. In separate chapters, he looks at how the sparse and contradictory words of Scripture are invoked in contemporary disputes about Jewish intermarriage and homosexuality in the Christian world. Finally, he examines ways in which the Qur'an might be subject to the types of secular interpretation advocated throughout this book. Cumulatively, this book is a first attempt to reinvigorate an estimable secular, intellectual tradition, albeit one that is currently experiencing a moment of crisis.

Fr. Patrick Desbois

holocaust by bulletsThe Holocaust by bullets

Palgrave Macmillan (2008)

One and a half million Jews were shot by Nazi mobile units known as Einsatzgruppen, the death squads that accompanied the Wehrmacht(German army) into the Soviet Union following the Nazi invasion in June 1941. These death squads were aided by Order Police, police battalions, and auxiliary units of non-Germans, whose primary mission was to kill Jews. Jews were rounded up and shot, and their bodies thrown into pits that became their unmarked graves. This brutal genocide of the Jews marked the beginning of the “Final Solution,” and preceded the use of poison gas that was used in death camps such as Chelmno, Sobibor, Belzec, Treblinka and Auschwitz, Birkenau (the Holocaust by Gas). In The Holocaust by Bullets, Father Patrick Desbois shares his discoveries about this less understood aspect of the Holocaust.

David Ebenbach

the guy we didnt invite to the orgy

The guy we didn't invite to the orgy and other stories

University of Massachussets Press (2017)

“Groups are difficult,” says one of the characters in David’s third short story collection, The Guy We Didn’t Invite to the Orgy and other stories, and she might as well be speaking for all the characters in the book. These stories—funny, surprising, true to life—are about people choosing whether to go it alone in the world or try to find a place for themselves, whatever it takes. They travel across the world to meet new people; they join cults and awkward social clubs; they stumble through strange workplaces. There are belly dancing troupes and patriotic theme parks, barber shops and orgies. There’s a whole world of people—befuddling, a little scary, and riding on hope. In the words of author Roy Kesey, “In this striking collection, David Ebenbach inhabits a series of minds that most of us would classify as unknowable; he does so with empathy and wisdom, and often with humor as well.”

Miss PortlandMiss portland

Orison Books (2017)

After years of medicated struggle, 34-year-old Zoe quits her office job and moves into a trailer with her boyfriend in rural Maine against her family’s wishes and her doctor’s advice. After all, she has big plans with Gordy, a goateed vegetarian with thoughtful eyes and a job at a yoga studio and, as it turns out, an unfortunate desire to always be in control. But when a late-night argument turns violent, Zoe runs away in search of a mystical beach house she recalls from childhood, only to discover that in order to find it, she must reckon with her past. In electric prose that burns with wit and intelligence, David’s first novel, Miss Portland, explores what it means to give up everything in order to recover who you are.

Reviews for Miss Portland have been published in the Washington Independant Review of Books, Fiction Southeast, and Foreword Reviews.

Into the WildernessInto the wilderness

Washington Writers' Publishing House (2012)

David’s second collection of short fiction, Into the Wilderness, winner of the Washington Writers’ Publishing House Fiction Prize, explores the powerful and complicated experience of parenthood from many angles: an eager-to-connect divorced father takes his kids to a Jewish-themed baseball game; a lesbian couple tries to decide whether their toddler son needs a man in his life; one young couple debates the idea of parenthood while another struggles with infertility; a reserved father uses an all-you-can-eat buffet to comfort his heartbroken son. But the backbone of the collection is Judith, who we follow through her challenging first weeks of motherhood, culminating in an intense and redemptive baby-naming ceremony. In the words of author Joan Leegant, “These stories are fearless, honest and true. They are also a joy to read.”

between camelotsBetween Camelots

University of Pittsburgh Press (2005)

David’s first collection of short fiction, Between Camelots, winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize and the Great Lakes Colleges Association’s New Writers Award in Fiction, is about the struggle to forge relationships and the spaces that are left when that effort falls short.  In the title story, a man at a backyard barbecue waits for a blind date who never shows up.  He meets a stranger who advises him to give up the fight, to walk away from intimacy altogether and stop getting hurt. The wisdom—or foolhardiness—of that approach is at the heart of each of these stories.  In “I’ll Be Home,” a young man who has converted to Judaism goes home for Christmas in Miami, and finds that his desire to connect to his parents conflicts with his need to move on. “The Movements of the Body” introduces us to a woman who believes that she can control the disintegration of her life through a carefully measured balance of whiskey and mouthwash. These are stories about loss and fear, but also about the courage that drives us all to continue to reach out to the people around us.

Keren Hammerschlag

leightonFrederic Leighton: Death, Mortality, Ressurection

Routledge (2015)

Keren Rosa Hammerschlag's Frederic Leighton: Death, Mortality, Resurrection offers a timely reexamination of the art of the late Victorian period's most institutionally powerful artist, Frederic Lord Leighton (1830-1896). As President of the Royal Academy from 1878 to 1896, Leighton was committed to the pursuit of beauty in art through the depiction of classical subjects, executed according to an academic working-method. But as this book reveals, Leighton's art and discourse were beset by the realisation that academic art would likely die with him. Rather than achieving classical perfection, Hammerschlag argues, Leighton's figures hover in transitional states between realism and idealism, flesh and marble, life and death, as gothic distortions of the classical ideal. The author undertakes close readings of key paintings, sculptures, frescos and drawings in Leighton's oeuvre, and situates them in the context of contemporaneous debates about death and resurrection in theology, archaeology and medicine. The outcome is a pleasurably macabre counter-biography that reconfigures what it meant to be not just a late-Victorian neoclassicist and royal academician, but President of the Victorian Royal Academy.

Dennis Ross
Statecraft Statecraft: And How to Restore America's Standing in the World

Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2008)

In this wise and thought-provoking book, the renowned peace negotiator Dennis Ross shows that America’s current foreign policy problems stem from the Bush administration’s inability to use the tools of statecraft to advance our national interests.
 
Ross explains that in the globalized world—with its fluid borders, terrorist networks, and violent unrest—statecraft is more necessary than ever. In vivid chapters, he outlines how statecraft helped shape a new world order after 1989. He shows how the failure of statecraft in Iraq and throughout the Middle East has undercut the United States and makes clear that only statecraft can check the rise of China and the danger of a nuclear Iran. He draws on his expertise to reveal the art of successful negotiation. And he shows how the next president could resolve today’s problems and define a realistic, ambitious foreign policy.

The Missing Peace The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace

Farrar, Staus and Giroux (2005)

The definitive and gripping account of the sometimes exhilarating, often tortured twists and turns in the Middle East peace process, viewed from the front row...

Dennis Ross, the chief Middle East peace negotiator in the presidential administrations of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, recounts the peace process in detail from 1988 to the breakdown of talks in early 2001 that prompted the so-called second Intifada. It's all here: Camp David, Oslo, Geneva, Egypt, and other summits; the assassination of Yitzak Rabin; the rise and fall of Benjamin Netanyahu; the very different characters and strategies of Rabin, Yasir Arafat, and Bill Clinton; and the first steps of the Palestinian Authority.

Ori Soltes

god and the goalpostsGod and the Goalposts: A Brief History of Sports, Religion, Politics, War, and Art

Bartleby Press (2016)

Crossing the goal line, with the football tucked safely in his arms, the NFL star falls on one knee, bows his head, crosses himself and utters a prayer of thanksgiving to God, giving one more example of the ever expanding connection between sports and religion. At least it seems to be expanding. The question is: has there been truly a notable surge in the relationship between sports and religion? And if there has been a surge, is it unique in history, or merely part of an ongoing ebb and flow? This book offers a concise yet detailed account of this multifaceted association ―and its implications for the ongoing game (the ultimate sport!) of trying to understand what we humans are as a species. Sports is one among many areas where religion and its concerns have played a role, and the interweave between sports and religion is as old as sports and as continuous as religion.

Jews on Trial: From Jesus to Jonathan Pollard

Bartleby Press (2013)

From the Gospel account of Jesus trial and punishment to medieval Blood Libels, from the notorious Dreyfus Affair to the story of Leo Frank s trial and eventual lynching, and from the State of Israel s trial and execution of Nazi Adolph Eichmann to Jonathan Pollard s closed-door trial and ongoing incarceration, it seems that the Jew, one way or another, is always on trial in the courtroom of journalistic and historiographic examination, whether as the accused, the accuser, the jury or the judge. 

Unique and provocative, this volume begins by asking when and how law became separate from religion in the Israelite-Judaean world before considering how we might evaluate and understand the Gospel s narrative of Jesus trial and punishment in light of information found within Judaean, pagan Roman and early Jewish literature. Regardless of the details that favor or disfavor the Gospel account, many generations of Christians accept it as unequivocally true, which has shaped their relations with Jews over the past two millennia. 

In Jews on Trial, Ori Soltes delivers a concise and extensive review of the history of Christian-Jewish relations that examines that relationship from a legal and quasi-legal perspective and adds significantly to the discourse. There is no other comprehensive text so broadly conceived, yet focused on such an important aspect of human history through a specific lens of religion, law and justice.

Untangling the Web: A Thinking Person's Guide to Why the Middle East is a Mess and Always Has Been

Bartleby Press (2009)

We all know it's complicated, but we really don't know why. It's Israel and the Palestinians; It's oil. Muslims against Jews and Muslims against Christians. It's the Saudis. Or the Muslim Brotherhood.

Actually it's all that and so much more. It might take centuries to explain, but at least we can get started with this important volume. Ori Soltes takes on the task, giving us analysis of the religious, historical, and political basis of this endless conflict between peoples. It is the kind of deep, profound knowledge that we will need before we can ever begin to talk about true, lasting peace.

Searching for Oneness Mysticism in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: Searching for Oneness

Rowman and Littlefield Publishers (2008)

Throughout the ages and across religious traditions, people have yearned to personally experience God and deeply connect with the Creator. In Mysticism in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam Ori Z. Soltes traces the sweep of mysticism--this search for oneness with God--throughout the three Abrahamic traditions. This unique comparative overview begins with a definition of mysticism and a discussion of its place within religion as a whole. Soltes then explores the history of mysticism from Biblical times through the present day, highlighting the emergence of mysticism with the three traditions and how beliefs and practices converge and diverge over time. The final chapters discuss the growing interest in mysticism today through practices such as Kabbalah and how people publicly express their private encounters with God through art, literature, and other modern media.

The Ashen Rainbow The Ashen Rainbow: Essays on the Arts and the Holocaust

Bartleby Press (2006)

The Ashen Rainbow considers various aspects of the arts as they relate to the Holocaust. It is based, in part, on Ori Soltes experience in teaching the course The Theological Implications of the Holocaust for many years at Georgetown University, which has focused in part on writers who wrestle with questions of God and Man--presence, absence, nature, existence as such--provoked by the extermination of so many innocents with so little opposition from the outside world.

Connected by the rubrics "arts" and "Holocaust," the diverse essays that comprise The Ashen Rainbow were written at different times and places over a fifteen-year period. Each essay stands on its own and together they offer a comprehensive, multifaceted examination of an event that captures humanity in its brightest and darkest moments.

Sacred Signs Our Sacred Signs: How Jewish, Christian and Muslim Art Draw from the Same Source

Westview Press (2005)

The art of the three Abrahamic religions--Christianity, Judaism, and Islam--has a tangled, interwoven history. Symbols cross back and forth among the three faiths, adapted to reflect that faith's specific spiritual needs. And much of this symbolic language predates any of the Abrahamic faiths entirely. In Our Sacred Signs, Ori Soltes traces the interconnectedness of religious symbols such as the Star of David, which isn't, it turns out, exclusive to Judaism at all. He shows that the various ways that Jesus is portrayed on the cross recall an artistic tradition that is in no way unique to Christianity. And he shows that religious architectural conventions as simple as the dome represents early "pagan" traditions. The narrative--essentially a series of overlapping stories--moves through the halls of museums and off to the holy sites of the three religions, tracing the millennia-long artistic trail that has endured even as the West moved toward secularization in the last three hundred years. Soltes shows us how art has long been used as an instrument to take us where words cannot follow. Our Sacred Signs is a breathtaking and revelatory journey through human history, its gods, and its art.