A History of the Jews

This book is based on the handouts and facilitator notes to the course on Jewish History taught at Radlett Reform Synagogue.  Radlett is a town just outside London with a significant absence of Jewish history – at least until the founding of the Bushey Heath Reform Community (the forerunner of Radlett Reform) in 1971. 

The course takes a top-down overview of 4,000 years of history, looking both at what was happening to Jews and to Jewish practice in different ages.  It focusses on some key themes in that history since otherwise it would be easy to drown in a myriad of dates and detail.  The text is written in bullet point format to enable the key information to be easily seen.

Perhaps the biggest message that emerges from the first 4000 years of Jewish history is that Judaism’s survival has depended on constant, often radical, change.  From the smallest of beginnings, a way of life for the Jewish people emerged and over time both the beliefs and practices of that people continually evolved.  Authentic Judaism is therefore reforming Judaism. 

The book is structured over seven sessions, each covering a different historical time period.  There is one chapter for each period which tackles what was happening to the Jews socially and politically, as well as the intellectual and practical developments within Judaism.  The seven periods are:

  1. Early Biblical History (from Genesis to Judges)
  2. Later Biblical History (from Samuel to Nehemiah)
  3. Hellenic and Roman Rule
  4. The Early Medieval Period
  5. The Later Medieval Period
  6. The Modern Period
  7. 20th Century Issues

In addition, there are sections on ‘What is Jewish History’, ‘Jews and their Judaism - Lessons from History’ and ‘Further Reading’. Included in the text is a list of the key dates in Jewish history and a summary of the historical periods.

The book can be used both for individual study and also as source material for group learning.  The text uses bullet points, which can be explored in more depth.  To stimulate debate the bullets points are often written provocatively in order to encourage discussion.  There are special sections which contain suggested questions to discuss. 

The book can be bought here