“Turning Points in Jewish History” by Marc J. Rosenstein— Thirty Pivotal Moments

Rosenstein, Marc J. “Turning Points in Jewish History”, Jewish Publication Society, 2018.

Thirty Pivotal Moments

Amos Lassen

Don’t ever let anyone say that history is boring. I firmly believe that history can be great fun depending on the way you look at. Mark J. Rosenstein looks at Jewish history, for example, through thirty pivotal moments and I imagine that he did not easily come to just these thirty. Finding thirty important moments over a span of thousands of years means great thought is required and I am sure that if we all did the same, we would all probably have different lists. Rosenstein gives us what he considers to be the most important events in Jewish history. We can look at the major epochs and see which events he has chosen—- eight turning points in the biblical period, four in Hellenistic-Roman times, five in the Middle Ages, and thirteen in modernity. Rosenstein then discusses each formative event with a focused history, a timeline, a primary text with commentary and a discussion of its legacy for subsequent generations. He also analyzes various controversies and schisms that came out of “Judaism’s encounters with power, powerlessness, exile, messianism, rationalism, mysticism, catastrophe, modernity, nationalism, feminism, and more.”

The turning points are distinct yet connected events and each of them could be a topic for a course. Since each chapter also includes discussion questions, we can continue on with the topic. Rosenstein wonderfully shows the importance as well as the essence of each turning point. His insistence that Judaism is a combination of nation, culture, and religion can be felt throughout the text and in itself is debatable. Yet Rosenstein also gives us what we need to debate that. We have had a fascinating history and what better way to look at it than through a series of major turning points? It is important to remember that thirty pivotal moments also become thirty pivotal hours and so on. By looking at our history in this way, we see balance. Below is the Table of Contents with the thirty moments:

Table of Contents

List of Maps



Additional Notes on Biblical Texts

  1. Imagining the Beginning: The Call to Abraham, ~1500 BCE?
  2. Liberation from Slavery: The Exodus from Egypt, ~1200 BCE?
  3. The Covenant: Revelation at Sinai, ~1200 BCE?
  4. Entering the Promised Land: Crossing the Jordan, ~1200 BCE?
  5. Establishing a State: “Give Us a King!” ~1000 BCE
  6. The Fall of Israel: Exile of the Ten Tribes, 722 BCE
  7. The Babylonian Exile: The Destruction of the First Temple, 586 BCE
  8. The Second Temple: Return to Zion, 538 BCE
  9. Confronting the Challenge of Hellenism: The Hasmonean Revolt, 167 BCE
  10. Roman Rule: The Great Revolt and Destruction of the Second Temple, 70 CE
  11. Finding a Messianic Equilibrium: The Bar Kokhba Revolt, 132–135 CE
  12. The Oral Law Becomes Literature: The Mishnah, ~200 CE
  13. The Golden Age of Iberian Jewry: Maimonides, 700–1100 CE
  14. The Rise of Eastern European Jewry: The Crusades, 1100–1300 CE
  15. Kabbalah Enters the Mainstream: Nahmanides, ~1300 CE
  16. The End of Iberian Jewry: Conversion, Expulsion, Diaspora, 1300–1600 CE
  17. The Rise and Collapse of Polish Jewry: The Cossack Revolt, 1648 CE
  18. The Rise of Hasidism: The Baal Shem Tov and His Disciples, ~1750 CE
  19. The Challenge of Emancipation: The Napoleonic Sanhedrin, ~1780–1880 CE
  20. Reform and Reaction: The Hamburg Temple, 1818 CE
  21. The Rise of North American Jewry: The Great Migration, 1881–1924 CE
  22. Jewish Nationalism: Theodor Herzl, 1896 CE
  23. The Secular Zionist Revolution: Ahad Ha’am, ~1900 CE
  24. Zionist Settlement of the Land of Israel: First and Second Aliyot, 1882–1914 CE
  25. The Destruction of European Jewry: The Holocaust, 1933–45 CE
  26. The Jewish State: Proclaiming and Defending Independence, 1948 CE
  27. East Meets West: The Mass Aliyah from North Africa and the Mideast, 1949–64 CE
  28. Benefits and Costs of Military Power: The Six-Day War, 1967 CE
  29. The Feminist Revolution: The Ordination of Women, 1972 CE
  30. The Fall of the Iron Curtain: The Liberation of Soviet Jewry, 1989 CE




Leave a Reply