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Reckless Rites:
Purim and the Legacy of Jewish Violence
Elliott Horowitz

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2006
Runner-Up for the 2006 National Jewish Book Award in History

Paperback | 2008 | $35.00 | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691138244
360 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 18 halftones.
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Historical accounts of Jewish violence--particularly against Christians--have long been explosive material. Some historians have distorted these records for anti-Semitic purposes. Others have discounted, dismissed, or simply ignored the evidence, often for apologetic purposes.

In Reckless Rites, Elliott Horowitz takes a new and forthright look at both the history of Jewish violence since late antiquity and the ways in which generations of historians have grappled with that history. In the process, he has written the most wide-ranging book on Jewish violence in any language, and the first to fully acknowledge and address the actual anti-Christian practices that became part of the playful, theatrical violence of the Jewish festival of Purim. He has also examined the different ways in which the book of Esther, upon which the festival is based, was used by Jews and Christians over the centuries--whether as an ancient mirror of modern tribulations or as the scriptural basis for anti-Semitic claims regarding the bloodthirstiness of the Jews.

Reckless Rites reassesses the historical interpretation of Jewish violence--from the alleged massacre of thousands of Christians in seventh-century Jerusalem to later medieval attacks on Christian symbols such as the crucifix, transgressions that were often committed in full knowledge that their likely consequence would be death.

A book that calls for major changes in the way that Jewish history is written and conceptualized, Reckless Rites will be essential reading for scholars and students of history, religion, and Jewish-Christian relations.


"[A] dazzlingly erudite study of the many ramifications of the Purim odyssey from medieval times to our days. Horowitz's ambitious book achieves two accomplishments: the documentation of 1,500 years of Christian and Jewish interpretations of the knottiest, and naughtiest, sections of the Book of Esther, and then the chronicling of the actual social-historical consequences of those interpretations; that is, how Purim was used and abused through the ages. [Horowitz's is] a scrupulously honest voice, dealing in exemplary fashion with an important subject that has been ignored by scholars precisely because of its extreme delicacy. Horowitz has enriches us with a model of historical scholarship. Anything but reckless, Reckless Rites is a rare gem of academic work that will make a real difference."--Allan Nadler, Forward

"Reckless Rites is a provocative volume, rich in historical detail. Horowitz tells a story, not without humor, that attempts to connect events of the distant past with contemporary conflicts. Unusual for a work of history, Reckless Rites is also a good read."--Irven M. Resnick, AJS Review

"Reckless Rites is an excellent read, and for a book on such a serious subject not devoid of humor. . . . [I]t's most important purpose . . . is to throw a very large bucket of cold water over the misconceptions and the willful misreading of history in which we all too easily indulge."--Rabbi Dr. Charles Middleburgh, Jewish Chronicle

"In his new book, Elliot Horowitz attempts to undermine the conventional wisdom about Jews and violence. Focusing on Purim, he convincingly shows that the image passed down over the centuries, of Jewish passivity and nonviolence during the medieval period, is, if not wrong, at least in need of correction. . . . [A] thought-provoking book, whose trees are often as memorable as the forest."--Kalman Neuman, Jerusalem Report

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Table of Contents:

Illustrations xi
Acknowledgments xiii
Introduction 1


CHAPTER ONE: The Book of Esther For and Against 23
CHAPTER TWO: A Pair of Queens 46
CHAPTER THREE: Mordecai's Reckless Refusal 63
CHAPTER FOUR: The Eternal Haman 81
CHAPTER FIVE: Amalek The Memory of Violence and the Violence of Memory 107


CHAPTER SIX: "The Fascination of the Abomination" Jews (and Jewish Historians) Confront the Cross 149
CHAPTER SEVEN: Mild Men or Wild Men? Historical Reflections on Jews and Violence 187
CHAPTER EIGHT: Ancient Jewish Violence and Modern Scholarship 213
CHAPTER NINE: Purim, Carnival, and Violence 248
CHAPTER TEN: Local Purims and the Invention of Tradition 279

Abbreviations 317
Bibliography 319
Index 325


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