In The Genius of Judaism, France’s premier public intellectual—known simply as BHL—argues that Judaism, or Jewish ideas, decisively shaped French values and literature and, perhaps equally importantly in his mind, the author’s. Neil Rogachevsky, who deems the book “insightful, often charming, and frequently ludicrous,” examines its underlying flaw:
Lévy freely admits that he is not the greatest knower of Jewish things. He barely knows Hebrew, though he offers a few fairly interesting readings of classic texts in the book. But he displays no knowledge of the Judaism of everyday life. His preference for a universalist Judaism is obviously not unrelated to this ignorance, and indeed lack of curiosity, about the ritual life and the practices that are observed by Jews and no others. He thus gives no further thought to how the participation in such practices might prepare the way for a certain kind of “universal though still Jewish” reflection of which he might approve. While Maimonides, whom BHL cites, sought to turn his intelligent readers to universalistic thoughts, he tried to do so through the cultivation of particular practices proper to the Jews. BHL knows nothing of this Maimonides.