Tag Archives: Judaism

Bretherton, “Resurrecting Democracy”

In December, Cambridge University Press released “Resurrecting Democracy: Faith, Citizenship, and the Politics of a Common Life” by Luke Bretherton (Duke University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Resurrecting DemocracyThrough a case study of community organizing in the global city of London and an examination of the legacy of Saul Alinsky around the world, this book develops a constructive account of the relationship between religious diversity, democratic citizenship, and economic and political accountability. Based on an in-depth, ethnographic study, Part I identifies and depicts a consociational, populist and post-secular vision of democratic citizenship by reflecting on the different strands of thought and practice that feed into and help constitute community organizing. Particular attention is given to how organizing mediates the relationship between Christianity, Islam and Judaism and those without a religious commitment in order to forge a common life. Part II then unpacks the implications of this vision for how we respond to the spheres in which citizenship is enacted, namely, civil society, the sovereign nation-state, and the globalized economy. Overall, the book outlines a way of re-imagining democracy, developing innovative public policy, and addressing poverty in the contemporary context.

What’s Happening in Argentina?

I confess I don’t follow Argentine politics. So when an Argentine friend posted the message “Yo Soy Nisman” on her Facebook page this week, I didn’t get the reference. I asked her about it, and she directed me to several news items on the death Sunday of an Argentine prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, who was about to testify about an alleged deal to immunize the perpetrators of one of the worst anti-Semitic attacks in recent history. It is an astonishing story.

In 1994, a bomb exploded at a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people. Iranian agents are suspected, and Interpol has issued arrest warrants against some Iranian officials. This month, Nisman accused the Argentine president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirschner, of blocking the investigation. Kirschner, he claimed, had made a secret agreement with Iran to shield the officials from prosecution in exchange for Iranian oil. He filed a criminal complaint against her and her foreign minister, Hector Timerman. Both Kirschner and Timerman deny the charge. They say that Nisman was being manipulated by their political opponents.

Nisman had an appointment to testify before Argentine legislators on Monday. On Sunday, police found him dead in his apartment, with a gunshot wound to the head. Kirschner first called the death a suicide, which is how the police described it. Many Argentines were skeptical, as Nisman had left no note and forensic evidence didn’t point to a suicide.

Now, apparently, Ms. Kirschner is skeptical as well. On her website yesterday, she wrote that she believes Nisman was murdered–implicitly, by the same people who had manipulated him to bring the charges against her in the first place. “They used him while he was alive and then they needed him dead,” she wrote. Presumably, the plot was to get Nisman to indict Kirschner on phony charges, and then kill him before the plot against Kirschner could be revealed.

So: A prosecutor claims he has evidence that the president has made a secret deal with a foreign country to cover up a attack on a religious minority that killed 85 people, then dies under mysterious circumstances the day before he is to testify. The president first claims it’s a suicide, then changes her mind and says, without providing evidence, that it’s a murder directed, ultimately, at her. Does any of this make sense? What’s happening in Argentina?

Walzer, “The Paradox of Liberation”

In March, Yale University Press will release “The Paradox of Liberation: Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions” by Michael Walzer (Emeritus Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study).  The publisher’s description follows:

Paradox of LiberationMany of the successful campaigns for national liberation in the years following World War II were initially based on democratic and secular ideals. Once established, however, the newly independent nations had to deal with entirely unexpected religious fierceness. Michael Walzer, one of America’s foremost political thinkers, examines this perplexing trend by studying India, Israel, and Algeria, three nations whose founding principles and institutions have been sharply attacked by three completely different groups of religious revivalists: Hindu militants, ultra-Orthodox Jews and messianic Zionists, and Islamic radicals.

In his provocative, well-reasoned discussion, Walzer asks why these secular democratic movements have failed to sustain their hegemony: Why have they been unable to reproduce their political culture beyond one or two generations? In a postscript, he compares the difficulties of contemporary secularism to the successful establishment of secular politics in the early American republic—thereby making an argument for American exceptionalism but gravely noting that we may be less exceptional today.

Novak, “Zionism and Judaism: A New Theory”

In February, Cambridge University Press will release “Zionism and Judaism: A New Theory” by David Novak (University of Toronto). The publisher’s description follows:

Why should anyone be a Zionist, a supporter of a Jewish state in the land of Israel? Why should there be a Jewish state in the land of Israel? This book seeks to provide a philosophical answer to these questions. Although a Zionist need not be Jewish, nonetheless this book argues that Zionism is only a coherent political stance when it is intelligently rooted in Judaism, especially in the classical Jewish doctrine of God’s election of the people of Israel and the commandment to them to settle the land of Israel. The religious Zionism advocated here is contrasted with secular versions of Zionism that take Zionism to be a replacement of Judaism. It is also contrasted with versions of religious Zionism that ascribe messianic significance to the State of Israel, or which see the main task of religious Zionism to be the establishment of an Israeli theocracy.

Kwall, “The Myth of the Cultural Jew”

This February, Oxford University Press will release “The Myth of the Cultural Jew: Culture and Law in Jewish Tradition” by Roberta Rosenthal Kwall (DePaul University College of Law).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Myth of the CulturalA myth exists that Jews can embrace the cultural components of Judaism without appreciating the legal aspects of the Jewish tradition. This myth suggests that law and culture are independent of one another. In reality, however, much of Jewish culture has a basis in Jewish law. Similarly, Jewish law produces Jewish culture. A cultural analysis paradigm provides a useful way of understanding the Jewish tradition as the product of both legal precepts and cultural elements. This paradigm sees law and culture as inextricably intertwined and historically specific. This perspective also emphasizes the human element of law’s composition and the role of existing power dynamics in shaping Jewish law.

In light of this inevitable intersection between culture and law, The Myth of the Cultural Jew: Culture and Law in Jewish Tradition argues that Jewish culture is shallow unless it is grounded in Jewish law. Roberta Rosenthal Kwall develops and applies a cultural analysis paradigm to the Jewish tradition that departs from the understanding of Jewish law solely as the embodiment of Divine command. Her paradigm explains why both law and culture must matter to those interested in forging meaningful Jewish identity and transmitting the tradition.

Ryback, “Hitler’s First Victims”

In October, Random House released “Hitler’s First Victims: The Quest for ryJustice,” by Timothy W. Ryback. The publisher’s description follows:

The remarkable story of Josef Hartinger, the German prosecutor who risked everything to bring to justice the first killers of the Holocaust and whose efforts would play a key role in the Nuremberg tribunal.

Before Germany was engulfed by Nazi dictatorship, it was a constitutional republic. And just before Dachau Concentration Camp became a site of Nazi genocide, it was a state detention center for political prisoners, subject to police authority and due process. The camp began its irrevocable transformation from one to the other following the execution of four Jewish detainees in the spring of 1933. Timothy W. Ryback’s gripping and poignant historical narrative focuses on those first victims of the Holocaust and the investigation that followed, as Hartinger sought to expose these earliest cases of state-condoned atrocity.

In documenting the circumstances surrounding these first murders and Hartinger’s unrelenting pursuit of the SS perpetrators, Ryback indelibly evokes a society on the brink—one in which civil liberties are sacrificed to national security, in which citizens increasingly turn a blind eye to injustice, in which the bedrock of judicial accountability chillingly dissolves into the martial caprice of the Third Reich.

We see Hartinger, holding on to his unassailable sense of justice, doggedly resisting the rising dominance of Nazism. His efforts were only a temporary roadblock to the Nazis, but Ryback makes clear that Hartinger struck a lasting blow for justice. The forensic evidence and testimony gathered by Hartinger provided crucial evidence in the postwar trials.

Hitler’s First Victims exposes the chaos and fragility of the Nazis’ early grip on power and dramatically suggests how different history could have been had other Germans followed Hartinger’s example of personal courage in that time of collective human failure.

Wolfe, “At Home in Exile”

In October, Random House released “At Home in Exile: Why Diaspora is Good 9780807033135for the Jews,” by political scientist Alan Wolfe (Boston College). The publisher’s description follows:

An eloquent, controversial argument that says, for the first time in their long history, Jews are free to live in a Jewish state—or lead secure and productive lives outside it

Since the beginnings of Zionism in the twentieth century, many Jewish thinkers have considered it close to heresy to validate life in the Diaspora. Jews in Europe and America faced “a life of pointless struggle and futile suffering, of ambivalence, confusion, and eternal impotence,” as one early Zionist philosopher wrote, echoing a widespread and vehement disdain for Jews living outside Israel. This thinking, in a more understated but still pernicious form, continues to the present: the Holocaust tried to kill all of us, many Jews believe, and only statehood offers safety.

But what if the Diaspora is a blessing in disguise? In At Home in Exile, renowned scholar and public intellectual Alan Wolfe, writing for the first time about his Jewish heritage, makes an impassioned, eloquent, and controversial argument that Jews should take pride in their Diasporic tradition. It is true that Jews have experienced more than their fair share of discrimination and destruction in exile, and there can be no doubt that anti-Semitism persists throughout the world and often rears its ugly head. Yet for the first time in history, Wolfe shows, it is possible for Jews to lead vibrant, successful, and, above all else, secure lives in states in which they are a minority.

Drawing on centuries of Jewish thinking and writing, from Maimonides to Philip Roth, David Ben Gurion to Hannah Arendt, Wolfe makes a compelling case that life in the Diaspora can be good for the Jews no matter where they live, Israel very much included—as well as for the non-Jews with whom they live, Israel once again included. Not only can the Diaspora offer Jews the opportunity to reach a deep appreciation of pluralism and a commitment to fighting prejudice, but in an era of rising inequalities and global instability, the whole world can benefit from Jews’ passion for justice and human dignity.

Wolfe moves beyond the usual polemical arguments and celebrates a universalistic Judaism that is desperately needed if Israel is to survive. Turning our attention away from the Jewish state, where half of world Jewry lives, toward the pluralistic and vibrant places the other half have made their home, At Home in Exile is an inspiring call for a Judaism that isn’t defensive and insecure but is instead open and inquiring.

Gordis, “Menachem Begin”

Earlier this year, Schocken Books released “Menachem Begin: The Battle for bweginIsrael’s Soul,” by Daniel Gordis (Shalem College – Jerusalem). The publisher’s description follows:

Reviled as a fascist by his great rival Ben-Gurion, venerated by Israel’s underclass, the first Israeli to win the Nobel Peace Prize, a proud Jew but not a conventionally religious one, Menachem Begin was both complex and controversial. Born in Poland in 1913, Begin was a youthful admirer of the Revisionist Zionist Ze’ev Jabotinsky and soon became a leader within Jabotinsky’s Betar movement. A powerful orator and mesmerizing public figure, Begin was imprisoned by the Soviets in 1940, joined the Free Polish Army in 1942, and arrived in Palestine as a Polish soldier shortly thereafter. Joining the underground paramilitary Irgun in 1943, he achieved instant notoriety for the organization’s bombings of British military installations and other violent acts.

Intentionally left out of the new Israeli government, Begin’s right-leaning Herut political party became a fixture of the opposition to the Labor-dominated governments of Ben-Gurion and his successors, until the surprising parliamentary victory of his political coalition in 1977 made him prime minister. Welcoming Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to Israel and cosigning a peace treaty with him on the White House lawn in 1979, Begin accomplished what his predecessors could not. His outreach to Ethiopian Jews and Vietnamese “boat people” was universally admired, and his decision to bomb Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981 is now regarded as an act of courageous foresight. But the disastrous invasion of Lebanon to end the PLO’s shelling of Israel’s northern cities, combined with his declining health and the death of his wife, led Begin to resign in 1983. He spent the next nine years in virtual seclusion, until his death in 1992. Begin was buried not alongside Israel’s prime ministers, but alongside the Irgun comrades who died in the struggle to create the Jewish national home to which he had devoted his life. Daniel Gordis’s perceptive biography gives us new insight into a remarkable political figure whose influence continues to be felt both within Israel and throughout the world.

Conference: “The Jews of Shanghai”

On June 1-3, 2015, Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center will host an international conference entitled “Law and Society:  The Jews of Shanghai” in Shanghai, China.

The history of the Jews of Shanghai is an intriguing story. But it is a story that is not well known in the United States. Baghdadi Jews came to Shanghai in the late 19th century and prospered, Russian Jews fleeing the Czar and then the Bolshevik Revolution emigrated in the early 20th century, and approximately 18,000 Jews from Europe sought refuge from Nazi Germany in the 1930’s and early 1940’s to the open port of Shanghai. The conference will closely examine this history from a number of perspectives, including, law, literature, and sociology.

For details please contact Linda Howard Weissman at lindah@tourolaw.edu.

Kreeft, “Ecumenical Jihad”

This January, St. Augustine’s Press will release “Ecumenical Jihad: Ecumenism and the Culture War” by Peter Kreeft (Boston College).  The publisher’s description follows:

Ecumenism and JihadJuxtaposing “ecumenism” and “jihad,” two words that many would consider strange and at odds with one another, Peter Kreeft argues that we need to change our current categories and alignments. We need to realize that we are at war and that the sides have changed radically. Documenting the spiritual and moral decay that has taken hold of modern society, Kreeft issues a wake-up call to all God-fearing Christians, Jews, and Muslims to unite together in a “religious war” against the common enemy of godless secular humanism, materialism, and immorality.

Aware of the deep theological differences of these monotheistic faiths, Kreeft calls for a moratorium on our polemics against one another so that we can form an alliance to fight together to save Western civilization.