2017-07-12
Scholars and journalists have long been fascinated by the far, obscure reaches of the Jewish diaspora. But most of the attention has gone to the "Marrano" communities of Spain and Latin America and the Jewish exile community in China. James R. Ross, in this useful new book, takes us to Uganda, India, and other scattered lands in search of groups, some as small as several hundred members, that claim either Jewish ancestry or present-day commitment to the religion's practices.

As Ross acknowledges at the start, such non-normative Jews are immediately suspect to many Israelis, who fear that Judaism is being used by poor foreigners to gain Israeli citizenship under the country's Law of Return, which nationalizes all Jews who choose to move to Israel. "Undoubtedly," Ross writes, "some of them are driven...by economic opportunities that might await them in Israel. Yet I was convinced that nearly everyone I met was sincere in his or her commitment to Judaism." It is clearly one of Ross's goals to support these Jews in their efforts to be recognized as such, and to subtly chastize orthodox rabbis who throw roadblocks in their way.

Ross's writing can grow tiresome; his case studies never spring to life as one would hope. He is relentlessly sympathetic to his subjects, perhaps to a fault. Yet his book fills a void in the literature, and will become a standard work in Judaica.



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