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Judah L. Magnes

An American Jewish Nonconformist

Daniel Kotzin

Publication Year: 2010

Judah L. Magnes (1877–1948) was an American Reform rabbi, Jewish community leader, and active pacifist during World War I. In the 1920s he moved to British Mandatory Palestine, where he helped found and served as first chancellor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Later, in the 1930s and 1940s, he emerged as the leading advocate for the binational plan for Palestine. In these varied roles, he actively participated in the major transformations in American Jewish life and the Zionist movement during the first half of the twentieth century.

Published by: Syracuse University Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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p. ix

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pp. xi-xii

This book began as my dissertation, and I was fortunate to have a committee of exceptional scholars to direct my work. I want to particularly thank my dissertation advisor, Thomas Bender. His faith in me, support, and guidance has been invaluable. My deep appreciation goes to the other members of my dissertation committee, Paul Baker, Hasia Diner, David...

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pp. 1-10

An eccentric, self-righteous idealist with intense moral certainty, Judah L. Magnes relied on his conscience for his beliefs and his actions. His story is that of an American Jew creating a public life for himself based upon ideals—ideals developed out of his conception of what it meant to be American and what it meant to be Jewish. How Magnes...

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1. “A Jewish Boy in California”

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pp. 11-20

Judah Magnes’s family, Jewish education, and California culture and society each played a significant role in shaping his identity. During his youth, Magnes neither shed his inherited Jewish identity nor resisted the influences of the larger culture around him; as a young boy, the two worlds in which he lived were not mutually exclusive. In Oakland, he developed a...

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2. The Making of an American Jewish Dissenter, the Making of an American Zionist

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pp. 21-57

Leon Magnes came of age during a dramatic moment in American Jewish history. As Jonathan Sarna has shown, the end of the nineteenth century was a period of “Jewish awakening” in America. American Jews, particularly young Jews, critical of the assimilationist trends in American Judaism, experienced a “crisis of beliefs and values.” In response, a new Jewish...

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3. The Unconventional Rabbi

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pp. 58-91

Judah Magnes arrived in New York in August 1904 thrilled to be in such a flurry of Jewish activity. Full of youthful vigor and confidence, for several years the young rabbi had envisioned himself at the center of Jewish public life. Now, finally, he felt he would have the opportunity to place his energized spirit as a powerful force that would shape the future of American...

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4. The Nonconformist American Jewish Leader

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pp. 92-143

Although Judah Magnes’s effort to radically reconstruct Reform Judaism drew upon cultural Zionism, this was only part of the larger process he was to engage in: the reinvention of American Jewish ethnicity under a unifying national ideal. Tirelessly expanding his public activities outside the walls of the synagogue, during the first two decades...

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5. The Nonconformist American Jewish Pacifist

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pp. 144-168

The way the United States entered World War I and promoted support for it produced a domestic atmosphere that forced professions of loyalty, especially from groups defined as outsiders. This war hysteria had a tremendous impact on Judah Magnes. He was radicalized by the war, redefining Jewish nationalism in a way that included notions of...

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6. The Chancellor of the Hebrew University

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pp. 169-219

While he was in Europe during the summer and early fall of 1922, Judah Magnes worked with Jews in Poland, concentrating on methods of raising standards in their schools and outlining ways for the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) to help. Through the JDC, Magnes felt, American Jewry could show that after the war it continued to support Jewish...

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7. The Binationalist

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pp. 220-273

By 1929, seven years after he arrived in Palestine, Judah Magnes had established a place for himself in the Yishuv through his position as chancellor of the Hebrew University from which he could generate influence on Jewish culture in Palestine. He had done so by retaining positive and constructive relationships with both wealthy and influential American...

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8. The Zionist Conscience

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pp. 274-325

After 1933, Magnes was greatly concerned about the situation of Jews in Germany. As discussed earlier, he spent much effort trying to employ the Hebrew University as a place of refuge for German Jewish academics. He also publicly spoke out about the situation in Germany. In his 1937 speech to the Jewish Agency, he highlighted the “Jewish misery” in Europe. He...

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pp. 326-332

The issues Judah L. Magnes raised as an American Jew are questions American Jews have struggled with up to this day. What does it mean to be Jewish in America? How should American Jews involve themselves in Israel? Is it appropriate for American Jews to criticize Israel’s leaders and policies...


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pp. 335-416


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pp. 417-447


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pp. 449-472

Other Titles from Modern Jewish History

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p. 473

E-ISBN-13: 9780815651093
E-ISBN-10: 0815651090
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815632160
Print-ISBN-10: 0815632169

Page Count: 448
Illustrations: 12 black and white illustrations
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 759158757
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Judah L. Magnes

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Subject Headings

  • Magnes, Judah Leon, 1877-1948.
  • Jewish-Arab relations -- History -- 1917-1948.
  • Zionism -- United States.
  • College presidents -- Israel -- Biography.
  • Zionists -- United States -- Biography.
  • Rabbis -- United States -- Biography.
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