Nationalism, Zionism and Ethnic Mobilization of the Jews in 1900 and Beyond

By Michael Berkowitz | Go to book overview

JEWISH IDENTITY AND THE PARADOX OF
NATIONALISM
Aviel Roshwald
Georgetown University

One of the persistent impediments to the development of Jewish Studies as a field is its marginalization by the academic disciplines on whose methodologies and literatures it is itself dependent. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the study of Jewish nationalism. As Mitchell Cohen has pointed out, the great majority of theoretical and comparative studies of nationalism either disregard the topic of Jewish identity altogether or make offhand and frequently misleading references to it as an illustration of some broader point or as an awkward exception to a rule.1 This in turn makes it diffcult for scholars of Jewish identity to make effective use of many of the existing developmental and typological paradigms of national identity. In this introductory chapter, I would like to address this disconnection by suggesting some ways in which the very tension between certain accepted notions about nationalism and the idiosyncratic characteristics of the Jewish case can be turned to productive use.

One of the least questioned assertions of the theoretical literature on nationalism is that nationalism is a strictly modern phenomenon.2

____________________
1
Mitchell Cohen, “A Preface to the Study of Jewish Nationalism, ” Jewish Social Studies, The New Series, Vol. 1, no. 1 (1994), 73–93.
2
Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (rev. ed., London and New York: Verso, 1991; 1983). For other works that explore nationalism as an aspect or function of socio-economic, cultural, and political modernity, see Karl Deutsch, Nationalism and Social Communication. An Inquiry into the Foundations of Nationality (Cambridge, Mass.: The M.I.T. Press, 1966); Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983); Eric Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, eds., The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983); Miroslav Hroch, Social Preconditions of National Revival in Europe: A Comparative Analysis of the Social Composition of Patriotic Groups among the Smaller European Nations (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985); John Breuilly, Nationalism and the State (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1982). Anthony Smith has explored the pre-modern roots of modern nationalism as well as the role of ethnonationalism as a force that both reflects the conflict between, and reconciles, the impersonal and alienating aspects of modernization and defensive, neo-romantic reactions against it. Anthony Smith, The Ethnic Origins of Nations (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986); idem, Nationalism in the Twentieth Century (New York: New York University Press, 1979), chapter 7). On nationalism as a backlash against the bureaucratic state, see also Isaiah Berlin, “The Bent Twig: On the Rise of Nationalism, ” in idem, The Crooked Timber of Humanity (New York: Vintage, 1992), 238–261. For a recent critique of the modernist interpretation of nationalism, see Adrian Hastings, The Construction of Nationhood: Ethnicity, Religion and Nationalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). Hastings emphasizes the central importance of the Hebrew Bible's depiction of Israelite nationhood as a model that early modern European nationalisms very consciously drew upon.

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