The Woman Who Laughed at God: The Untold History of the Jewish People by Viking Adult

The Woman Who Laughed at God: The Untold History of the Jewish People by Viking Adult
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The Woman Who Laughed at God: The Untold History of the Jewish People by Viking Adult

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In The Woman Who Laughed at God, bestselling author Jonathan Kirsch takes us on a lively and at times controversial journey through Jewish history that offers answers to the complex and difficult question: "Who is a Jew?" Today, Jewish peoples are divided by differences of faith, practice, and political antagonism. For every accepted tradition in Jewish faith there are countertraditions with their roots going back to ancient times. Kirsch's illuminating work reveals that—even in ancient times—Judaism was never a single faith.

Emblematic of the varieties of Jewish expression is the biblical tale of Sarah, the pious matriarch who laughed at God when He promised her a child in advanced old age. The Torah itself confirms that Judaism has a place even for someone as lighthearted and irreverent as Sarah, and for the many other men and women whose stories are told in The Woman Who Laughed at God. We also encounter the Maccabee freedom fighters who closed the Bible and picked up a sword; dervishlike ecstatics who claimed to enjoy direct communication with God even after they had been excommunicated by a distrustful rabbinate; and courageous pioneers for whom a "kosher pig" was any pig fortunate enough to be raised in a kibbutz and slaughtered to feed hungry kibbutzniks. With drama and narrative verve, Kirsch explores the mysticism and magic that have informed a bookish faith.

Jews across the spectrum and anyone who loved Thomas Cahill's The Gifts of the Jews will be fascinated and inspired by this celebration of the Jewish faith, rich in untold stories and revelatory interpretations.

Jonathan Kirsch wants to answer the question, "Who is a Jew?" and in The Woman Who Laughed at God, he comes to some gracious, broad-minded conclusions. Kirsch rejects definitions of Judaism based on "a set of commandments literally written in stone." Instead, he offers stories of chutzpah through the ages, beginning with Abraham (who argued with God) and Sarah (who laughed at Him), demonstrating that "Judaism has been defined by generation upon generation of courageous men and women who felt both inspired and empowered to reimagine and reinvent what it means to be a Jew." Kirsch argues by telling stories--of Maccabee freedom fighters, of ecstatic mystics, of kibbutzers who feasted on "kosher pigs." Although his essential point--that diversity, not orthodoxy, is the hallmark of true Judaism--is not a new one, it still bears repeating. Kirsch, author of the bestselling The Harlot by the Side of the Road, writes with such flair, ranging over a wide variety of characters, that his lively style elevates his conventional premise. --Michael Joseph Gross

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