Jewish Identities: Fifty Intellectuals Answer Ben-Gurion

Jewish Identities: Fifty Intellectuals Answer Ben-Gurion

Jewish Identities: Fifty Intellectuals Answer Ben-Gurion

Jewish Identities: Fifty Intellectuals Answer Ben-Gurion


Who and what is a Jew? Is there any common denominator between an ultra-Orthodox rabbi of an Israeli North African community and a Berkeley academic of the Movement for a Secular and Humanistic Judaism? Do Jews the world over convergre and emphasize their unity or do they share contrasting concepts of collective identity? Part I of this book presents a systematic discussion of Jewish identities in this era of (post)modernity. The opportunity is offered by a set of invaluable texts, which appear in Part II. These texts about Jewish identity were invited, in 1958, by Ben-Gurion from 50 intellectuals - rabbis, writers, scientists and lawyers -, from the Diaspora and Israel, representative of the principal streams of contemporary Jewish thought.


In August 1959, Gershom Scholem sent the following letter to the editor of Ha-Boker, Israel's major morning paper at this time:

I bought Ha-Boker this morning, 3 Av 1959, in order to read the responses of the various “Jewish sages” to the question Who is a Jew. [It reminds me of]… Leopold Bloom, the hero of James Joyce's famous book Ulysses. This character is, in fact, Jewish “only” in the eyes of the author, in the eyes of his Irish surroundings—and in the eyes of all the readers (the undersigned included). in the eyes of the “Jewish sages”… however, he is not a Jew at all as [he] the son of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother, was raised entirely as a non-Jew, and lives entirely as a non-Jew. Nevertheless, everyone considers him a Jew.

This quote shows how far the Jewish People is distinct from other nations. We can see this exceptionalism both in the depth of the rifts within and between communities, and in its efforts to bridge these gaps by means of trans-territorial, trans-cultural, and transnational organizations. in brief, the Jews were early forerunners of a world phenomenon that has been gaining increasing legitimacy in recent times, namely “diasporism”. the paradox of the Jewish unity existing, both in consciousness and in practice, alongside divisive social and cultural processes is brought to the fore in the comprehensive —and very different—histories of the Jewish people written by modern Jewish historians such as Marcus Just (1793–1860), Heinrich Graetz (1817–1891), Simon Dubnow (1860–1941), Ben-Zion Dinour (1884–1973), Raphael Mahler (1899–1977), Selo Baron (1895–1989) or Shmuel Ettinger (1919–1988).

For Just, the Jews are primarily a group with a certain religious faith who are in the process of becoming integrated into a society shaped by the Enlightenment. Graetz views the Jews as a spiritualreligious people with a moral mission for the world at large. in the opinion of Dubnow, the Jews are a diasporistic people who, despite their distance from their historical territory, maintain a national ideology by means of a community organization that moves from one center to another over the course of history. Dinour considers the . . .

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