Jewish Identity in the Modern World

Jewish Identity in the Modern World

Jewish Identity in the Modern World

Jewish Identity in the Modern World

Excerpt

Long before the word became fashionable among psychoanalysts and sociologists, Jews in the modern world were obsessed with the subject of identity. They were confronted by the problem that Jewishness seemed to fit none of the usual categories. Until the establishment of the state of Israel, the Jews were not a nation, at least not in the political sense; being Jewish was different from being German, French, or American. And even after 1948 most Jews remained nationally something other than Jewish. But neither could Jews define themselves by their religion alone. Few could ever seriously maintain that Judaism was, pure and simple, a religious faith on the model of Christianity. The easy answer was that Jewishness constituted some mixture of ethnicity and religion. But in what proportion? And was not the whole more than simply a compound of these two elements?

Martin Buber, surely one of the most profound of twentieth-century Jewish religious thinkers, argued that the Jews eluded all classification. They were an anxiety-provoking specter to gentiles, a conundrum to themselves. Their uniqueness precipitated antisemitism . . .

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