Why Be Jewish?: A Testament
In later years, regrets about one’s life are not uncommon, but to develop an absorbing new interest is rare. Edgar Bronfman, for decades an almost secular Jew, and best known as CEO of the Seagrams Company and president of the World Jewish Congress, when nearing the age of sixty began intensive study of the beliefs, history, and culture of Judaism. His endearing approach masks a profound understanding of the sacred biblical and Talmudic literature of his heritage. Short chapters, primarily addressing an audience of young people of any religious faith, explicate his beliefs, describing Jewish traditions and practices.
The testament begs an answer to the title, Why Be Jewish? Together with joyfully idiosyncratic interpretations, he introduces two provocative themes. The first, an admission that he rejects a supernatural God and the existence of a soul, but chooses instead a personal dedication to the spirit of godliness, of kindness and positive actions.
His second theme, almost aggressive in its boldness, suggests that the Jewish emphasis on education and a tendency to ask questions, might ‘explain the disproportionate number of Jews who have made breakthroughs in science, math, history, literature, business, technology, and other fields.’
The book in no way skirts some of the difficulties that pertain when acknowledging one’s Judaism, but Bronfman’s easy-going style simplifies the complexity of his subject and the pride he enjoys in recognizing his legacy.