Jews and Diaspora Nationalism
Writings on Jewish Peoplehood in Europe and the United States
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: Brandeis University Press
Title page, Copyright Page
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Perhaps no other force has so permeated the thought of modern times as nationalism. But the practical implications of nationalism have never been clear, especially for peoples with so originally distant and continually vexed a relationship to a specific territory as the Jews have had. Jews and Diaspora Nationalism: Writings on Jewish Peoplehood in Europe and the United States addresses ...
Preface and Acknowledgments
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In putting together this volume, I attempted to select readings representative of the major trends and individuals who debated the nature of Jewish peoplehood in the diaspora. Few of the writers included were associated with diaspora nationalism as an ideology or a movement. Several considered themselves Zionists or were sympathetic ...
Diaspora, Nation, and Messiah: An Introductory Essay
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When I teach survey classes on modern Jewish history, I often end the semester by discussing a public exchange of letters between Jack Wertheimer, at the time provost of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, and Joey Kurtzman, then an editor at the online journal Jewcy .com.1 In their correspondence they debate whether American life has made the concept of Jewish ...
Part I: From Haskala to National Renaissance
1. The Eternal People
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By the time Perets Smolenskin (1842–85) penned his essay “The Eternal People” in 1872, he had already played a central role in changing the direction of the Haskala, or Jewish Enlightenment. Although Smolenskin was born and raised in the Russian Empire and first became seriously engaged with the intellectual questions of his day while living in Odessa (1862–67), he then settled in ...
2. Jews as a Spiritual (Cultural-Historical) Nation among Political Nations
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Simon Dubnov (1860–1941) may be the only Jewish thinker to have constructed a coherent historical philosophy, ideology, and political program around diaspora nationalism. Dubnov was born in Mstislavl to a traditionally religious family (his grandfather was a prominent rabbi and head of the local yeshiva, and his father a lumber merchant), but at the ...
3. “ The Jewish Renaissance Movement” and “Jewish Autonomy”
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The articles “The Jewish Renaissance Movement” and “Jewish Autonomy” represent only one snapshot of Nathan Birnbaum’s (1864–1937) varied ideological and political career. Though Birnbaum has not been widely remembered, Jess Olson has quite aptly suggested that he was clearly a figure of significance to his contemporaries. While a young ...
4. Paths That Lead Away from "Yidishkayt"
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Isaac Leib (Yitskhok Leybush) Peretz (1852–1915) is best known for his contribution to the emergence of modern Jewish literature in Hebrew and Yiddish. Peretz wrote poetry, short stories, plays, and “stories in a folk manner,” and he is often mentioned alongside S. Y. Abramovich (Mendele Moykher Sforim, or Mendele the Book Peddler) and Sholem ...
Part II: Socialism and the Question of Jewish Peoplehood
5. “A Jew to Jews” and “Why Only Yiddish?”
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Chaim Zhitlowsky (1865–1943) was one of a growing group of Jewish intellectuals in the last years of the nineteenth century finding their way from Russian radicalism to the idea of Jewish renewal in the diaspora. As a teenager, Zhitlowsky absorbed the Russian populist and agrarian socialist critique of the Jews as a “parasitic” class. His response, however, was to craft ...
6. The Worldwide Jewish Nation
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As a leading ideologist of the Jewish Labor Bund, Vladimir Medem (1879–1923) was one of the key figures responsible for guiding the largest and most important Jewish socialist movement in the Russian Empire and independent Poland toward a platform for national-cultural Jewish autonomy. Medem grew up in a Christian family in the town of Libau, his ...
7. Jewish Autonomy Yesterday and Today
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Like the many other ideological nomads in this volume, a belief in socialist autonomism and diaspora nationalism marked but one stage in Jacob Lestschinsky’s (1876–1966) long and varied political career. Lestschinsky was born in Horodische, near Kiev, where he received a traditional education before moving to Odessa, then Bern, and finally Zurich in pursuit ...
8. “The Founding Tasks of the Kultur-Lige” and “The Kultur-Lige”
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The League for Culture, or Kultur-Lige in Yiddish, was founded in Kiev in April 1918 by a group of political and cultural activists intent on using the opportunities arising from the independent Ukrainian government’s granting of Jewish autonomy. Following the February 1917 Revolution, Ukraine, while remaining part of the new Russian Republic, created its own ...
Part III. Preservation and Reconstruction in the Republics
9. Democracy Versus the Melting-Pot: A Study of American Nationality
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The term “cultural pluralism” is part of the American vernacular today due to Horace Kallen (1882–1974), who coined the phrase in his 1924 essay “Culture and the Ku Klux Klan.” Kallen and others had been developing their ideas about cultural pluralism since the very beginning of the twentieth century. Yet the fact that cultural pluralism began ...
10. The Future of Judaism
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In the first half of the twentieth century, few individuals did more to reconstruct Jewish thought, practice, and ritual in the United States than Mordecai Kaplan (1881–1983). Though Kaplan is best known as the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, his intellectual influence can be seen across the American Jewish denominations. Kaplan was born in ...
11. A Basis for Jewish Consciousness
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Though René Hirschler (1905–45) rose rapidly to become a figure of prominence in French Jewish religious and communal life, his murder in the Holocaust at a young age probably prevented him from becoming a better known intellectual figure. Most of what has been written about Hirschler concerns his resistance and communal aid activities ...
12. What Is Jewish Tradition?
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Many Jews in 1939 were pessimistic about the long-term prospects of European Jewry, but few could have been more disillusioned than the diaspora nationalists who fled Eastern Europe. It had been more than twenty years since the passing of the hope that the Russian Empire might transform itself into a constitutional or revolutionary state where Jews ...
13. Is America Exile or Home? We Must Begin to Build for Permanence
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Although Israel Knox (1904 or 1907–1986) lectured widely in the United States on Jewish communal issues and published prolifically on Jewish issues in the important Jewish periodicals of his day, he is not well known today, as either a Jewish communal or intellectual figure. Knox was born in Russia (the precise location is unknown) and came to the ...
14. Epilogue: Jerusalem and Babylon
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With the European community in fragments or behind the Iron Curtain (with some exceptions, such as Great Britain) and the Zionists’ success in establishing a refuge for world Jewry, after 1948 Israel became the focus of national identity for Jews in the diaspora as much as for those in the new state. Israel, together with modern Hebrew, became the political and ...
Suggestions for Further Reading
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Publication Year: 2012