ASP Abridged: “‘And You Shall Tell Your Son’: Identity and Belonging as Shaped by the Jewish Holidays” by Yitzhak (Itzik) Peleg

We are pleased to present the latest in our ASP Abridged blog series, in which authors give readers a short and sweet introduction to their latest book.

In this entry, Yitzhak (Itzik) Peleg introduces us to his book “And You Shall Tell Your Son”: Identity and Belonging as Shaped by the Jewish Holidays, an educational, values-based approach to the cycle of Jewish holidays—festivals and holy days—as found in the Jewish calendar.

Tell us what your book is about in simple terms

My book offers an educational, values-based approach to the cycle of Jewish holidays—festivals and holy days—as found in the Jewish calendar. The commandment: “And you shall tell your son” must bridge the gap between what is known and obvious to the older generation, and what is not obvious to the younger generation. Parents’ knowledge and understanding of their Jewish heritage does not pass on automatically to their children. The holidays aid us in transmitting to future generations our common past, culture, and heritage.

These special days play a double role: they reflect a sense of identity with, and belonging to, the Jewish people, while simultaneously shaping that identity and sense of belonging. The biblical command “And you shall tell your son” (Exodus 13:8) is meant to ensure that the sons (the children) will become familiar with the history of their people via the experience of celebrating the holidays. I believe that this command must be preceded by another educational guideline: “And you shall listen to your son and your daughter.”

Jewish history is the story of disaster following disaster. It is not easy to be a Jewish child growing up into this history. I take my reader on a journey through the many Days of Mourning in the Jewish calendar. Bearing in mind the importance of listening to one’s sons and daughters, this journey leads me to suggest that days of mourning and sorrow may constitute a burden on the younger generation. I do not suggest changing or cancelling any of the traditional fast days. However, my book raises the possibility of an educational debate leading to a heightened awareness of this sense of burden.

 My focus is on three general topics: identity, belonging, memory. Throughout the generations, observance of the holidays has developed and changed, from time to time and place to place. These changes have enabled generations of Jews, in their various communities, to define their own identity and sense of belonging. Integration and balance between tradition and renewal will make the Jewish holidays relevant to more and more Jews, both young and older. Remembrance, as encouraged by our holidays, creates and forms the feeling of belonging in the celebrants. They simultaneously sense that they belong to one another in the present, and to their people in the past.

I think that in the light of the establishment of the State of Israel it is vital to enhance the sense of joy which is part of the yearly cycle of the Jewish calendar. My book suggests ways to express hope and joy in the celebration of the various Jewish holidays. As it is written in the Bible: “And you shall rejoice in your festivals” (Deuteronomy 16:13).

Our identity as Jews contains a variety of sub-identities. Each stream and group within our people is legitimate and has the right to choose the ways in which it celebrates our festivals and holy days. This pluralistic approach underlies this book, and forms our common denominator as a people, encouraging as it does a sense of identity and belonging on the part of various groupings among our people. Our desire to belong to the Jewish people is at the basis of this suggestion to focus on what we hold in common and on acceptance of those who are “different.”

Let us encourage the sense of unity—among groups which have a variety of ways of expressing their Jewishness: Let us take the “salad bowl,” rather than the “melting pot,” approach.

Why does your book matter? How is it unique?

What is unique in my book is its focus on what we hold in common, rather than on our differences. This at the center of creating shlom bayit—harmony—within our people. It is only on the basis of mutual awareness that we—Jews all over the world—can focus on what we bear in common.  I believe that focusing on what is good, on what we hold in common (rather than on the negative, on what divides us), will greatly benefit us.

My book is important because it offers an educational, values-based approach to the cycle of Jewish holidays. The Jewish holidays bear educational messages for all time. From the point of view of an educator, I believe that when we have the will to find what we hold in common with our fellow Jews, we will find the way.

As a professor of Bible Studies, I am sensitive to the Bible as a source and inspiration for the Jewish holidays. The Hebrew Bible is the source of our historical memory. It is the biblical text which shapes our identity. For example, reading the five Scrolls aloud on holidays unites the listeners in a current experience, based on past culture. Wherever people are familiar with the Bible and suffer repression, the story of the exodus from Egypt serves as an inspiration. Also, the linkage of the blue-and-white flag and the tallit, as well as the linkage of the tallit to the Bible, are concrete, yet symbolic, expressions of the continuity of Jewish tradition.

Yitzhak (Itzik) Peleg is professor emeritus of Bible Studies at the Gordon Academic College, Haifa, Israel. In addition to publishing numerous articles, Peleg is the author of ‘Go forth:’ the Forefathers’ Journeys in Bible Stories (Resling, 2013), and of Going Up and Going Down: A Key to Interpreting Jacob’s Dream (Bloomsbury, 2015). He has taught Bible to English-speaking students in Hebrew Union College, Institute of Religion, Jerusalem, and to English-speaking adult groups in Australia.

“And You Shall Tell Your Son”: Identity and Belonging as Shaped by the Jewish Holidays is available for purchase here or wherever you buy your books.