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Jewish Historical Experience: Liss, Satlow, Kriwaczek Term Paper

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Updated: Oct 9th, 2021


Numerous races and ethnic groups exist on the Earth in communication and cooperation with each other or in permanent conflicts. However, the relation of all other races to the ethnic group of Jewish people is rather controversial. Although it is unacceptable nowadays, the attitude towards Jews in the world is mostly negative and is based upon certain prejudice or stereotypes about their being greedy, cunning and ready for what ever to reach their goals. Based on these stereotypes, which are wrong in their essence, the existence of the Jewish people in the world has always been rather complicated. For example, the Romans conflicted Jews for their religious beliefs, Medieval countries considered juice to be criminals and thieves, while Nazi Germany had the Holocaust program based on the unexplainable hatred to the Jewish people. The focus of this paper is to consider the development of Jewish civilization from the earliest stages of its existence till today as pictured in the books by David Liss, Michael Satlow and Paul Kriwaczek. Another aim of this paper is to comparatively analyze these books, their arguments, topics and logical considerations.


The first book under analysis is the work by David Liss called “The Coffee Trader” which was first published in 2003. The major focus of this book is the history of the Jews that escaped from Portugal from Inquisition and settled in Amsterdam in 1659. However, this book is a piece of fictional work that incorporates the details of history with the completely fictional events and characters. Drawing from this, it can be said that the author tried not to make his book into a dry enumeration of historical facts but managed to create an interesting piece of work which moreover shows the little changes that human beings went through during the centuries that passed from the time the events in his book had taken place (Liss, 2004). Thus, it can be stated that the major theory of the book is the depiction of the development of the mankind through the perspective of the Jewish people and its relations with other peoples of the world. As it is a novel, the theory is not explicitly stated, but it is still obvious that the author depicts modern world by making allusions to the 17th century.

Consequently, the major problem of the book under analysis is the relations between in human beings in the boundaries of the society. In other words, David Liss in his work touches upon the topic of betrayal, faithfulness and decent human relations through the perspective of interrelations between money and friendship, money and love, money and human dignity on the whole. The book itself is a story of a Portuguese Jew Miguel Lienzo who comes to Amsterdam to find safety from the Inquisition. He becomes a stocks dealer at Amsterdam stock exchange but soon realizes that all his so-called friends are not with him when financial problems occur. He takes up coffee trade encouraged by his friend and partner Gertrude Damhuis, but does not find happiness in this business either. His friends turn their backs on him, and Miguel understands the unfaithfulness of this world. Thus, considering money and human relations David Liss makes allusions to the modern New York Wall Street and, although implicitly, shows that human beings have not changed over centuries in their pursuit of wealth and personal benefit (Liss, 2004).

Thus, it is clear that “The Coffee Trader” by Liss possess a clear theoretical basis and a problem of its own. However, the advantage of this book by Liss is also its clear logical argument and understandable reliance upon the readers’ knowledge. First of all, the book was published first in 2003 and this fact makes it clear that the author wanted to compare and analyze the human relationships within the human society over the last 300 hundred years with a special emphasis put on the public attitudes towards Jews (Liss, 2004). Thus, the author’s thought can be easily followed, and although no explicit indications of comparison to the modern situation in the world are given, it is clear that David Liss depicts the typical life of a person who has huge plans which are broken by the society, especially because he is a Jew. The logic of the author is clear but the style of his work, which is fiction, differs substantially from two other books to be analyzed in this paper, which are historical documentary research works.

Thus, the second book under analysis is the work by Michael Satlow titled “Creating Judaism” which was published in 2006. The major topic of this book is the consideration of the Jewish history in all its aspects beginning from religious beliefs and political affairs and ending with the concepts of family and Jewish national identity (Satlow, 2006). The author combines in his work the stages of the development of the Jewish nation including the ancient Roman times, medieval processes in the life of Jews including the activities of Rabbis that inhabited Iraq in the 9th – 12th centuries and contributed greatly to the formation of the Jewish identity. The book also moves forward to the 20th century and the times of Nazi Holocaust against Jews which is considered by the author to be the process that could have been predicted but was instead ignored by Jewish Diasporas in many countries (Satlow, 2006). Drawing from this, the major theory of the book under consideration is that the Jewish people developed under the influence of such outside factors as racial discrimination and political isolation and shaped into the nation with its identity and values.

As a result of the above said, the major problem of the book by Satlow is the problem of permanent discrimination that Jewish people had to undergo in its development and in formation of the religion called Judaism with its holy books, texts, customs and values. Moreover, the book under analysis is a rather patriotic work of literature that aims at waking the feeling of patriotism in the readers of Jewish origin and respect of the representatives of other ethic groups. The book itself is a detailed and explained account of the Jewish people’s history beginning from the “our father” Abraham who is considered to be the predecessor of all Jews to such famous Jews of today as Benedict Anderson and others. The development of the history of Jews is presented in the form of numerous references to the religious books like Torah or Old Testament as sources of information on the existence of ancient Jewish people “religiously or culturally” (Satlow, 2006). Drawing from this, the clear logical structure of the author’s argument can be observed in the book which allows the reader to have little difficulty while understanding and perceiving the author’s message.

Consequently, the argument of Michael Satlow is rather clear and logical. He structures his book in accordance with historical and cultural phenomena he depicts in the natural flow they had in the history. Thus, for example, the ancient times of writing Torah or Old Testament are followed by Medieval processes and ended by the 20th century subsequent destruction of the Jewish nation by Nazi Holocaust and its reshaping in the form of an independent state of Israel (Satlow, 2006). The clear and explicit statement of the author’s idea in the book is another advantage that presents little difficulty to the reader’s perception: “To assert a Jewish identity is to locate oneself within the sacred history of the people Israel” (Satlow, 3). On the whole, the book by Michael Satlow present a bright example of the well structured and properly developed historical work aimed at consideration of all the aspects of the Jewish history, religion and culture. In this respect, “Creating Judaism” positively differs from the third book to be analyzed in the paper.

This book is the work by Paul Kriwaczek titled “Yiddish Civilization” which was published in 2005. The theory upon which the current book is based is the so called Yiddish civilization that, according to the author, existed in the Southern and Eastern Europe from the medieval times till the early 20th century. Accordingly, the major focus of the book is the consideration of all the aspects of the development of this civilization which is different from the Jewish civilization in its lexical structure, cultural customs that combined Jewish and European features, and religion which was not so conservative as the Jewish one, again according to the customs of the European countries it Yiddish civilization developed in (Kriwaczek, 2005). Moreover, the author is concerned with the historical details of the civilization he considers, but his chronological account is somewhat confused due to examinations of ancient times when the actual Yiddish civilization did not yet existed. Thus, the theoretical basis of the book by Paul Kriwaczek is rather strong; however weaknesses in its logical structuring and clarity constitute its substantial drawback as a historical work.

Nevertheless, the main problem of the book by Paul Kriwaczek is of great importance for understanding the principles according to which the Jewish nation, and Yiddish civilization as its part, developed. The main focus of the book under consideration is the reasoning of the stereotyped and prejudiced attitudes towards Yiddish culture and identity as displayed by the societies they formed in. In other words, the discriminative treatment of Yiddish culture by Germans in the late 19th – early 20th centuries, sometimes scornful and stereotyped picturing of Jews in the Slavic countries of the Eastern Europe and many other historical facts that led to the destruction of Yiddish civilization are viewed by Paul Kriwaczek as the major ideas that he concentrates his book around (Kriwaczek, 2005). Moreover, these issues are considered by the author in the context of picturesque depiction of Yiddish culture, language widely used by numerous Jewish people in many countries and other manifestation of Yiddish civilization including people’s ethnic and even national identity as Yiddish and other factors. Nevertheless, serious drawbacks in the structuring of the argument of the book and its historical accuracy demand further consideration.

First of all, it is necessary to state that the logic of the author is not quite clear from the book. This ambiguity can be observed in the initial parts of the book where a detailed account of the development of Jewish people, not Yiddish, is given, although the Yiddish civilization has not yet emerged at the times discussed (Kriwaczek, 2005). It goes without saying, that the chronology of events is kept to by Paul Kriwaczek in his depiction of historical epochs, but the necessity of the detailed consideration of the above mentioned epoch of Ancient Rome is not quite clear from the book as its focus is Yiddish civilization as such. However, the clarity of other data presented by the author makes an impression of a rather informative and relevant book which explains to the readers more than demands from them to already know. Clear and well structured representation of facts, dates and names makes this book a good example of historical work. The only point that could be improved in it is the higher degree of concentration on the book’s subject matter instead of considering generalized and broad contexts of the topic.


Thus, to sum up the information presented on the three analyzed books, it is necessary to state that their major similarity is the main topic – the history and development of the Jewish people in the context of stereotyped and prejudiced public opinion against this nation. It is quite clear, however, that differences are also observed in these books. First of all, “Yiddish Civilization” lacks focus on its subject matter, while the books by Liss and Satlow are relevant and properly focused works. Secondly, the book by Liss is a fictional work and it differs in style and manner of data presentation from two other sources. However, all the three books under consideration are valuable sources of information of Jewish history and culture.

Works Cited

Kriwaczek, Paul. Yiddish Civilization. Knopf, 2005.

Liss, David. The Coffee Trader. Ballantine Books, 2004.

Satlow, Michael. Creating Judaism. Columbia University Press, 2006.

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