Arthur Hertzberg, arguably one of America's most prominent rabbis and Jewish intellectuals, has been a familiar guest at every White House since Lyndon Johnson. Yet this lifelong Democrat and former president of the liberal American Jewish Congress, has refused to enter the inner sanctum of the White House -- he did attend the lawnside ceremony for the Middle East peace accords -- since Bill Clinton became president.
Can one speak of a "national character"? Whileacknowledging that the practice has a pernicious side, Rabbi ArthurHertzberg, in his provocative, if mislabeled, new work, points outthat many books speak of national character and are readily acceptedand praised. For example, Luigi Barzini's book on the Italians,numerous modern works on the nature of the Russian people, or workson the character of the Greek or Roman peoples in antiquity all seemharmless exercises in interpreting the culture of another. While itis true that plumbing the "Jewish character" is an enterprise thathas been twisted by malevolence, particularly in the last century,that does not mean that certain traits cannot be said to distinguishthe Jewish people throughout their history.