Judaism: Myth, Legend, History and Custom, from the Religious to the Secular


300 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-895854-26-1
DDC 296




Reviewed by Norman Ravvin

Norman Ravvin’s novel Café des Westens won the Alberta Culture New
Fiction Award.


The main goal of Abraham Arnold’s volume of essays is to remind us
that Judaism is “not limited to conventional religious expression.”
He is devoted to a tradition he calls “secular humanistic Judaism,”
and he describes the lineage of historians, activists, and religious
figures who have contributed to its growth. Among these, he cites the
historian Simon Dubnow, Yiddishist Chaim Zhitlowsky, and Zionist thinker
Ahad Ha’Am. He connects these thinkers’ contributions—though not
as directly as he might—with such contemporary organizations as the
Society for Humanistic Judaism and the Congress of Secular Jewish
Organizations. These groups, with their focus on historical study,
communal activism, Yiddish learning, and the adaptation of religious
ritual to secular practice, seek to “establish a secular humanistic
alternative to other Jewish denominations.”

One has to read between the lines to uncover these guiding themes in
Judaism. A novice in these areas—someone looking for a general
introduction to Jewish life and thought, for example—may not be aware
of Arnold’s particular focus. His chapters on holidays and
celebrations are informative, but might have been more concretely
related to his “secular humanist” outlook; in this way, his
interpretations of Jewish ceremonial life would be more clearly
contextualized. Readers with an interest in the connection between
traditional faith and “secular humanism” will find Arnold’s volume
intriguing. Newcomers to Jewish life will find it baffling, and readers
who recognize Arnold’s views as being expressive of a particular
modern Jewish outlook will wonder why the author decided to bury them in
a collection that presents itself as a general and encyclopedic study of


Arnold, Abraham J., “Judaism: Myth, Legend, History and Custom, from the Religious to the Secular,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/1229.