Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Max I. Dimont

Jews, God and History

By Max I. Dimont

Book Review

By Richard Edward Noble

Max I. Dimont is an ex-shoe salesman and unskilled laborer with a quest for knowledge and a consequent desire to write down what he had learned and pass it on. This particular book, Jews, God and History was a million seller. It was first published back in the early 60s and continues to sell thousand of copies to this day.
Max was Jewish and he obviously got interested in his Jewish ancestry. He clearly decided to read up on his people in a quest to figure out what the Jews were all about and how their culture has sustained itself through the centuries.

He ends up writing this work and several others that he somehow managed to get published and he became a literary success. Getting this book published may have been luck but his writing of it was not. It is the culmination of a good deal of literary sweat. He did a great job with this book.

I liked it not because of Max’s love of his religion and Jewish heritage but because of his acknowledgment of secular explanations for Jewish mysticism and his copious facts to bolster his boasting on his Jewish heritage.

For example he tells us that we can accept the mystical interpretation of Abraham’s meeting with God and the establishment of the Jewish Covenant or we can interpret the event as a psychological Freudian style projection – an “auditory or visual hallucination.” But whatever explanation we choose, it nevertheless does not change the history or the historical facts or legends. The result of which was circumcision and the Jewish declaration that they are the chosen people. Whether God chose them or they chose a God of their liking is the reader’s preference.

The book thus becomes a more rational, historical accounting of the Jews and their longevity as opposed to a proselytization.

He does the same with Constantine’s famous episode. The reader can chose between the mystical, visionary fable or a psychological interpretation (or drunkenness for that matter). It doesn’t matter, as the facts or legends of the Jewish history keep rolling along.

The author presents the question of how did the Jewish culture or civilization survive for over 3,000 years without its people even having a nation or a country for the majority of that period. But that is a confusing question and the question itself points out the Jewish confusion about what “Jewish” is. Is it a race, a nation or a religion?

Christianity survives without a nation or a country. Islam survives without a nation or a country. Buddhism survives without a nation or a country. Protestantism survives without a nation or a country. Hinduism survives without a nation or a country. A religion doesn’t need a country. It needs followers or believers.
Germans must have a country. Americans must have a country. French must have a country. Nationalities have countries, faiths have followers. Are the Jews a nation or a religion?

Adolf Hitler labeled the followers of the Jewish faith as a race. As far as my understanding goes, they are not a race and since they have had no country for most of their existence, they could hardly be considered a nation.

Jews primarily constitute a religion. But their religion has been kept close to a small “family” of followers all stemming back to an original tribal heritage with limited membership. As a consequence we have this nationalistic and religious confusion. Many Jews talk among themselves as if they are a nationality.

On the religious side, the Jews have been so egalitarian in their acceptance of inordinate beliefs among their followers that some Jews proclaim their agnosticism and even their atheism without any traditional ostracism or excommunication. This adds to the race/nation/religion confusion.

But, how did the Jews survive the pogroms, the persecutions, the vilification, the holocaust etc. and why all of this hatred towards the Jews? How did the Jews form such a strong bond between and among their followers even with the Diaspora – banished from their original homes in Judea and Israel and dispersed all over the world?

Max Dimont tries to answer these questions and he gives a very cogent explanation. Along with this search for answers to the “Jewish Question” comes a brilliant and entertaining presentation of Jewish history and the fundamental teachings of the Jewish faith, traditions, and customs.

This is a great book for Jews and non-Jews – anyone who wants to learn about the history and origins of the Jews. And if you are interested in the history of the human race, how can you not be interested somewhat in the Jews.

The book closes with a chronological history of Palestine/Israel to the date of it publication. For an even better and more up to down Chronology see Thomas’s Friedmen’s From Beirut to Jersalem.

The book is admittedly biased towards the Jews. Max is proud to be a Jew and he is not ashamed to tell the reader why. He is boasting about the accomplishments of his people throughout the entire book – but rightfully so. He may be stretching the importance of his “nation” of people as do the Irish, Italian, Catholics and Protestants but his little group, approximately 18 million at the time that he wrote the book, certainly has some boasting to do.

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