Through the Sound of Many Voices: Writings Contributed on the Occasion of the 70th Birthday of W. Gunther Plaut


308 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography
ISBN 0-88619-030-4




Edited by Jonathan V. Plaut
Reviewed by Brian Champion

Brian Champion was Reference Librarian, Humanities and Social Sciences Library, University of Alberta, Edmonton.


I found most parts of this book very stimulating — the essay by Elie Wiesel on the satisfaction of the intellectual life; the Hebrew University commencement address by former U.S. vice-president Walter Mondale on the existence of Israel; the brief polemic by David Polish on the superiority of the prophet over the king in imperial Israel — sound writing, cogent, articulate. The contributors to this Festschrift for Toronto rabbi Gunther Plaut are almost all scholarly, if not illustrious. But big names do appear — Bora Laskin, Emmett Cardinal Carter, and June Callwood, to name just a few. Norman Cousins’ essay on “Hope” is moving, almost spiritual — a lamentation like unto Jeremiah’s. He and Wiesel use the Holocaust experience to see some good in man and the possibility of a brighter future for people of all creeds and nationalities. “The starting place for a better world,” writes Cousins, “is the belief that it is possible.”

The essays, compiled by Plaut’s rabbi son, honor the elder rabbi on his seventieth birthday. They represent an outpouring of affection and appreciation, and an intellectual interpretation of Judaism. To someone as distinguished as Rabbi Plaut, they do just honor. They have been contributed to celebrate a life of spiritual and secular community service.

To have such a book means that one possesses a tribute to a life earnestly lived in the pursuit of the elusive state of sainthood. The book’s eight divisions (motifs, scholarship, biblical studies, Jewish history, Israel, literary and historical criticism, the arts, and human rights) are offered as suggested areas in which we all may dabble, as Rabbi Plaut has done, to the enriching of our own lives and to the benefit of all humanity. One constant theme of the essays seems to be the willingness to sacrifice for others: Wiesel recounts just such a Holocaust incident; Justice Laskin describes the need for self-sacrifice to pursue our essential democratic freedoms. The book is very readable; those not overly keen on the present state of affairs in Israel may skip that section, but the others compensate adequately.

If one fault could be mentioned it is that there is no sample of Rabbi Plaut’s own writing. By the enclosed bibliography one would assume him to be a fairly competent writer, most items having appeared in the Globe and Mail. Those who are not regular readers of the Toronto newspaper have missed the rabbi’s offerings.


“Through the Sound of Many Voices: Writings Contributed on the Occasion of the 70th Birthday of W. Gunther Plaut,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 25, 2024,