Larchmont Temple Chevra Torah

Questioning faith in the parsha

Joseph Epstein

Parshah T’tzaveh

Born (1937) and raised in Chicago, Joseph Epstein is considered one of America’s preeminent essayists. He was a lecturer at Northwestern University from 1974 to 2002, and between 1975 and 1997 he was editor of American Scholar magazine, published by the Phi Beta Kappa Society. His essays and stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, Atlantic Monthly, and Commentary. A contributing editor for The Weekly Standard, he has written nearly a score of books, including the highly acclaimed essay collection Snobbery: The American Version (2002). Many of his short stories have been collected in two volumes: The Goldin Boys (1991), and Fabulous Small Jews (2003).

  He lives with his wife in tree-lined Evanston, Illinois, where he is writing a few new books.

Epstein’s body of work reveals his fascination with common everyday situations, amusing trends and small pleasures that he brings to his reader’s attention. He also specializes in essays that shed light on the musings and ideas of famous and forgotten authors and writes short stories that prominently feature the city of Chicago and the characters that have populated his 70 years as an observer of the city.

The Union for Reform Judaism recommended Fabulous Small Jews as a significant Jewish book in the Fall of 2005. A review of the book and a study guide appeared in Reform Judaism magazine.

When the collection was published in 2003, Publisher’s Weekly wrote:

Switching gears after his nonfiction hit, Snobbery, Epstein has compiled a collection of short stories as thoughtful and arresting as its title (from a poem by Karl Shapiro). Whether they are in a nursing home, recovering from the loss of a spouse of 50 years, or looking back at marriages, shortcomings or missed opportunities, Epstein’s characters are quirky, witty, resentful, fearful and cautiously hopeful as they face their future, or whatever they have left of it, in a world in which all the rules have changed. What distinguishes them as Jews in this universal situation is a certain wry outlook, a vernacular turn of phrase that carries the tang of its Yiddish origin, and a tendency to philosophize about the deeper questions of existence. ” 

Additional reading

Essay collections and books

  • Divorced in America: Marriage in an Age of Possibility (1974)
  • Familiar Territory: Observations on American Life (1979)
  • Ambition: The Secret Passion (1980)
  • Middle of My Tether: Familiar Essays (1983)
  • Plausible Prejudices: Essays on American Writing (1985)
  • Once More Around the Block: Familiar Essays (1987)
  • Partial Payments: Essays on Writers and Their Lives (1988)
  • A Line Out for a Walk: Familiar Essays (1991)
  • Pertinent Players: Essays on the Literary Life (1993)
  • With My Trousers Rolled: Familiar Essays (1995)
  • Life Sentences: Literary Essays (1997)
  • Narcissus Leaves the Pool: Familiar Essays (1999, paperback 2007)
  • Snobbery: The American Version (2002)
  • Envy (2003)
  • Friendship: An Exposé (2006)
  • Alexis de Tocqueville: Democracy’s Guide (2006)
  • In a Cardboard Belt!: Essays Personal, Literary, and Savage (2007)
  • Fred Astaire (2008)

Short story collections

  • The Goldin Boys: Stories (1991)
  • Fabulous Small Jews (2003)
  • The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff: And Other Stories (2010)


Interview in The Atlantic
Profile from


One response to “Joseph Epstein

  1. Pingback: Family Values, by Joseph Epstein « Larchmont Temple Chevra Torah

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