Jacob & Esau: Jewish European History Between Nation and Empire

Malachi Hacohen

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming June 2018

European histories have traditionally marginalised the Jews, whilst Jewish history has mostly told an exclusively Jewish story. Professor Malachi Hacohen sets out to redress this through an ambitious, panoramic attempt to offer an alternative Jewish European history that reintegrates the cosmopolitan narrative of the Jewish intelligentsia with traditional Jews and Jewish culture. He argues that for traditional Jewish culture to become part of European history, the rabbinic culture of Talmud, Midrash, Kabbalah and responsa must be “Europeanized” and Jewish European history written out of traditional Jewish sources. The book’s starting point is the biblical story of the rival twins, Jacob and Esau, and their struggle for primacy. Professor Hacohen charts how Jews and Christians reconfigured this narrative to address changing Jewish–Christian relations and the Jews’ place in Europe. The book’s goal is not to establish a unitary narrative but to chart two divergent but intersecting Jewish histories that together represent the plurality of Jewish European cultures.