The Arty Semite

The Love Song of Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi

By Benjamin Ivry

The American historian Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, who died at age 77 in 2009 was author of “Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory”; “Freud’s Moses: Judaism Terminable and Interminable”; and “Haggadah and History,” among other key texts.

Yerushalmi was particularly appreciated in France, where Sylvie Anne Goldberg of l’École des Hautes Études organized a 2011 colloquium in his honor and produced two new homages published by Éditions Albin Michel: “History and the Memory of History”, articles from the colloquium, and “Transmitting Jewish History: Conversations with Sylvie Anne Goldberg.”. Goldberg explains that their exchanges were conducted in “Hebrew, English, and French” starting in 1987, although plans for a book began in earnest only around 2004. Getting to know Yerushalmi the man turns out to be enchanting, and “Transmitting Jewish History” contains some surprises. Among these is his admiration for the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga, author of “The Autumn of the Middle Ages” as the “first person who gave [Yerushalmi] the desire to become a historian like him.”

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