The world’s Jewish population, notes Josef Joffe, is about the same as that of Kazakhstan, yet while most people would be hard-pressed to name a single Kazakh, they could easily name a number of famous Jews. In his recent book Genius and Anxiety, the music critic and novelist Norman Lebrecht joins the long list of those who have written on this topic. To Joffe, Lebrecht is “a storyteller par excellence” and, when it comes to explaining “how Jews transformed Western ways of thinking and doing,” the book “is intellectual history at its best.” But when it comes to trying to answer the question at the book’s heart—why the Jews?—Joffe finds Lebrecht’s frequent invocations of the Talmud unsatisfying:
Does Talmud Study Really Explain Jews’ Remarkable Contributions to Modern Civilization?
Israel Has Dodged a Constitutional Crisis, but Only Temporarily
Two weeks ago, then-Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein refused to hold a vote for his replacement, insisting that, in keeping with precedent, the new speaker should only be chosen after a governing coalition has been formed. As his move prevented the newly installed Israeli parliament from resuming its normal business, the Supreme Court tried to break the impasse with two unprecedented interventions into the legislative branch. To Evelyn Gordon, Edelstein acted out of a “genuine and serious concern” about constitutionally questionable moves by his opponents, even if the court was justified in its order that elections for the new speaker take place.