The Genius by Eliyahu Stern
Elijah of Vilna and the Making of Modern Judaism

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Synopsis

Elijah ben Solomon, the "Genius of Vilna,” was perhaps the best-known and most understudied figure in modern Jewish history. This book offers a new narrative of Jewish modernity based on Elijah's life and influence.

While the experience of Jews in modernity has often been described as a process of Western European secularization—with Jews becoming citizens of Western nation-states, congregants of reformed synagogues, and assimilated members of society—Stern uses Elijah’s story to highlight a different theory of modernization for European life. Religious movements such as Hasidism and anti-secular institutions such as the yeshiva emerged from the same democratization of knowledge and privatization of religion that gave rise to secular and universal movements and institutions. Claimed by traditionalists, enlighteners, Zionists, and the Orthodox, Elijah’s genius and its afterlife capture an all-embracing interpretation of the modern Jewish experience. Through the story of the “Vilna Gaon,” Stern presents a new model for understanding modern Jewish history and more generally the place of traditionalism and religious radicalism in modern Western life and thought.

 

About Eliyahu Stern

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Eliyahu Stern is assistant professor of modern Jewish intellectual and cultural history at Yale University. He lives in New Haven, CT.
 
Published January 8, 2013 by Yale University Press. 336 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Religion & Spirituality, Travel. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Genius

The New York Times

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Unlike plastic, an industrial material, lacquer was a natural product — the sticky sap of the lacquer tree — and working with it was a demanding craft.

Apr 04 2008 | Read Full Review of The Genius: Elijah of Vilna a...

Publishers Weekly

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In this surprisingly accessible take on “the most influential rabbinic figure in modern Jewish history,” Stern, assistant professor of modern Jewish intellectual and cultural history at Yale, provides a highly original analysis of the Gaon (meaning genius or wise man) of Vilna’s thought and...

Dec 03 2012 | Read Full Review of The Genius: Elijah of Vilna a...

The Jewish Daily Forward

The book’s blurb (“a considerable contribution to the study of Jewish genius”) from Stern’s Yale colleague Harold Bloom and its frequent references to secular culture suggest that Stern himself writes from firmly within Mendelssohn’s tradition, working within a context that is not specifically Je...

Apr 06 2013 | Read Full Review of The Genius: Elijah of Vilna a...

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