Last month, the Cambridge University Press released “Jews and Leftist Politics: Judaism, Israel, Antisemitism, and Gender,” by Jack Jacobs (John Jay College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York). The publisher’s description follows:
The relationships, past and present, between Jews and the political left remain of abiding interest to both the academic community and the public. Jews and Leftist Politics contains new and insightful chapters from world-renowned scholars and considers such matters as the political implications of Judaism; the relationships of leftists and Jews; the histories of Jews on the left in Europe, the United States, and Israel; contemporary anti-Zionism; the associations between specific Jews and Communist parties; and the importance of gendered perspectives. It also contains fresh studies of canonical figures, including Gershom Scholem, Gustav Landauer, and Martin Buber, and examines the affiliations of Jews to prominent institutions, calling into question previous widely held assumptions. The volume is characterized by judicious appraisals made by respected authorities, and sheds considerable light on contentious themes.
In May, Oxford University Press will release Jewish History: A Very Short Introduction by David N. Myers (UCLA). The publisher’s description follows:
How have the Jews survived? For millennia, they have defied odds by overcoming the travails of exile, persecution, and recurring plans for their annihilation. Many have attempted to explain this singular success as a result of divine intervention. In this engaging book, David N. Myers charts the long journey of the Jews through history. At the same time, it points to two unlikely-and decidedly this-worldly–factors to explain the survival of the Jews: antisemitism and assimilation. Usually regarded as grave dangers, these two factors have continually interacted with one other to enable the persistence of the Jews. At every turn in their history, not just in the modern age, Jews have adapted to new environments, cultures, languages, and social norms. These bountiful encounters with host societies have exercised the cultural muscle of the Jews, preventing the atrophy that would have occurred if they had not interacted so extensively with the non-Jewish world. It is through these encounters–indeed, through a process of assimilation–that Jews came to develop distinct local customs, speak many different languages, and cultivate diverse musical, culinary, and intellectual traditions.
Left unchecked, the Jews’ well-honed ability to absorb from surrounding cultures might have led to their disappearance. And yet, the route toward full and unbridled assimilation was checked by the nearly constant presence of hatred toward the Jew. Anti-Jewish expression and actions have regularly accompanied Jews throughout history. Part of the ironic success of antisemitism is its malleability, its talent in assuming new forms and portraying the Jew in diverse and often contradictory images–for example, at once the arch-capitalist and revolutionary Communist. Antisemitism not only served to blunt further assimilation, but, in a paradoxical twist, affirmed the Jew’s sense of difference from the host society. And thus together assimilation and antisemitism (at least up to a certain limit) contribute to the survival of the Jews as a highly adaptable and yet distinct group.
This month, the Yale University Press will release “Disraeli: The Novel Politician,” by David Cesarani (Royal Holloway, University of London). The publisher’s description follows:
Lauded as a “great Jew,” excoriated by antisemites, and one of Britain’s most renowned prime ministers, Benjamin Disraeli has been widely celebrated for his role in Jewish history. But is the perception of him as a Jewish hero accurate? In what ways did he contribute to Jewish causes? In this groundbreaking, lucid investigation of Disraeli’s life and accomplishments, David Cesarani draws a new portrait of one of Europe’s leading nineteenth-century statesmen, a complicated, driven, opportunistic man.
While acknowledging that Disraeli never denied his Jewish lineage, boasted of Jewish achievements, and argued for Jewish civil rights while serving as MP, Cesarani challenges the assumption that Disraeli truly cared about Jewish issues. Instead, his driving personal ambition required him to confront his Jewishness at the same time as he acted opportunistically. By creating a myth of aristocratic Jewish origins for himself, and by arguing that Jews were a superior race, Disraeli boosted his own career but also contributed to the consolidation of some of the most fundamental stereotypes of modern antisemitism.
In June, Brepols Publishers will release “
Muslim law developed a clear legal cadre for dhimmīs, inferior but protected non-Muslim communities (in particular Jews and Christians) and Roman Canon law
decreed a similar status for Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe. Yet the theoretical hierarchies between faithful and infidel were constantly brought into question in the daily interactions between men and women of different faiths in streets, markets, bath-houses, law courts, etc. The twelve essays in this volume explore these tensions and attempts to resolve them. These contributions show law was used to attempt to erect boundaries between communities in order to regulate or restrict interaction between faithful and non-faithful—at at the same time how these boundaries were repeatedly transgressed and negotiated. These essays explore the possibilities and the limits of the use of legal sources for the social historian.
Last month, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers released “The Dream of Zion: The Story of the First Zionist Congress” by Lawrence J. Epstein (Suffolk County Community College). The publisher’s description follows:
The Dream of Zion tells the story of the Jewish political effort to restore
their ancient nation. At the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in August 1897 Theodor Herzl convened a remarkable meeting that founded what became the World Zionist Organization, defined the political goals of the movement, adopted a national anthem, created the legal and financial instruments that would lead to statehood, and ushered the reentry of the Jewish people into political history. It was there in Basel that Herzl, the man some praised and some mocked as the new Moses, became the leader. The book provides an overview of the history that led to the Congress, an introduction to key figures in Israeli history, a discussion of the climate at the time for Jews—including the pogroms in Russia—and a discussion of themes that remain relevant today, such as the Christian reaction to the Zionist idea.
As political debates continue to swirl around Israel, this book opens a window into its founding.
Next month, the University of Chicago Press will publish Saharan Jews and the Fate of French Algeria, by Sarah Abrevaya Stein (University of California, Los Angeles). The publisher’s description follows.
The history of Algerian Jews has thus far been viewed from the perspective of communities on the northern coast, who became, to some extent, beneficiaries of colonialism. But to the south, in the Sahara, Jews faced a harsher colonial treatment. In Saharan Jews and the Fate of French Algeria, Sarah Abrevaya Stein asks why the Jews of Algeria’s south were marginalized by French authorities, how they negotiated the sometimes brutal results, and what the reverberations have been in the postcolonial era.
Drawing on materials from thirty archives across six countries, Stein tells the story of colonial imposition on a desert community that had lived and traveled in the Sahara for centuries. She paints an intriguing historical picture—of an ancient community, trans-Saharan commerce, desert labor camps during World War II, anthropologist spies, battles over oil, and the struggle for Algerian sovereignty. Writing colonialism and decolonization into Jewish history and Jews into the French Saharan one, Saharan Jews and the Fate of French Algeria is a fascinating exploration not of Jewish exceptionalism but of colonial power and its religious and cultural differentiations, which have indelibly shaped the modern world.