Holy words

In his fascinating anthology of Jerusalem, Jack Friedman adopts the principle of placing together the city's various religious traditions.

Jerusalem Walls 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Jerusalem Walls 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Jerusalem Book of Quotations By Jack Friedman Gefen 288 pages; $24.95 Many years ago Israel's great pioneering meteorologist, the late professor Dov Ashbel, quoted to me G.K. Chesterton on the special place of Jerusalem among the world's cities: "Jerusalem is a small town of big things, and the average modern city is a big town full of small things. All the most important and interesting powers in history are gathered here within the area of a quiet village; and if they are not always friends, at least they are neighbors." In his fascinating anthology which brings together quotations from all periods of Jerusalem history, Jack Friedman, professor emeritus and former dean of Queens College, adopts the principle of placing together side by side the widely divergent perceptions of the city's various religious traditions. He makes a genuine effort at showing the city as it had been seen through the eyes of its foremost pilgrims, visitors, travelers, conquerors, scholars, skeptics and believers. In his instructive introduction, he precludes any possibility of finding real harmony among the sources and quotes Chateaubriand's view from the early 18th century: "I am certain that whoever has the patience, as I did, to read nearly 200 modern accounts of the Holy Land (and Jerusalem), the rabbinic collections, and the passages on the ancients would still understand nothing." Modesty aside, he makes the volume very accessible to the reader. He organizes the work simply and clearly, period by period. However as not all periods are of equal weight and importance, he begins with a few quotations from the Canaanite period and then proceeds through Israelite, Roman, Byzantine, Early Muslim, Crusader and Muslim Reconquest, Mameluke, Ottoman and British Mandate periods before reserving a large space for the present period of Israeli sovereignty. Within each chapter the entries are presented alphabetically by author, and there is an author index at the end of the volume. There is also a topical index which briefly describes key sites, concepts and personalities in the history of the city. In Bacon's term this is not a volume to be "chewed and digested" but rather one to be dipped into and tasted. Its pleasures are great and often inspirational. This is true even when the quotations are most familiar, as this particular favorite of mine addressed by the late chief rabbi Shlomo Goren to the soldiers who fought in Jerusalem in June 1967: "The dream of all generations has been fulfilled before our eyes. The City of God, the Temple site, the Temple Mount and the Western Wall - symbol of the Jewish people's messianic redemption - has been delivered this day by you, heroes of the Israel Defense Forces." The writer is a freelancer in Jerusalem.