Ruth R. Wisse
Jews & Power.
Shocken, 256 pages, $19.95

For some eighteen hundred years, from A.D. 70 to 1948, to be exact, the Jews had a rather odd relation to power. The story goes that in Poland in the 1920s, two orthodox Jews, father and son, skinny, pale, and harried, were rushing along a street when they encountered two strapping Polish youths, tall and blond and brawny. “Look at them,” says the father to the son, “this is what will become of you if you don’t study.”

Ruth R. Wisse, a professor of Yiddish and comparative literature at Harvard University, opens her incisive new book Jews and Power with a similar story, but you’ll see right away how the changed setting and our knowledge of what happens next sours the fun to produce the bitter taste of undeserved tragedy:

In Warsaw in the autumn of 1939...


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