Friday, June 01, 2012

Book Review : AVSI Judaism - Norman Solomon 7*

I had a bit of an autodidactic spree before starting a degree course and read a few of Oxford University Press' A Very Short Introduction series, and generally they are very good little books, offering a necessarily brief yet reasonably academic view into the topic of each book.

AVSI Judaism is the fourth of the religion introductions I have read after Linda Woodhead's Christianity, Eleanor Nesbitt's Sikhism and Islam by Malise Ruthven. Of the four, Woodhead writes clearly and distinctly and stands back from the subject in a proper academic fashion, Nesbitt and Solomon both appear slightly too close to the religion they are describing, and Ruthven's book is in parts a baffling impenetrable collage of concepts, ideology and phrases that left me little the wiser at the end.

Solomon has chosen to write in a very simple style, perhaps the accusation overly simple could be levelled at some points, his use of language does sometimes come across as a kindly old man teaching a class of six year olds.  Never the less, Solomon explains the tenets, practices and history in a clear and succinct style, albeit shaded by obvious proximity to and love of his subject.

The ongoing tension and clashes between Jewish Israel and the Muslim Middle East are obviously hard to describe for anyone who has a vested interest, and I feel that Solomon did not manage to stand back far enough from this difficult part of the subject.  Solomon talks about the Jewish military concept of tohar ha-nesheq with its demand that soldiers must take care to avoid collateral damage and civilian casualties, but he does not make it clear whether he thinks that Israel's armed forces embrace this concept.

In other places Solomon's love for Judaism shines through, especially in the chapter on home life.  These points aside though, it is a good description of one of the world's great religions, easy to read and understand and gain a basic understanding of the subject in hand.

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