Happy Passover! Monday’s Jewish holiday seems like a good night to pose Aaron’s topic question: What does it mean to be Jewish today? Aaron said that he wanted us to consider in particular how the two most dramatic and disruptive events of the 20th century changed Judaism and Jewish identity.
Of course, sharing historical events – no matter how harrowing or horrible – is not the only shaper of a people’s identity. We also could discuss what modern Judaism “is.” Is Jewishness a religion? In some ways no. As one of the links explains, the idea that Judaism is a “religion” like Methodism or Lutheranism is a modern notion. To my father’s father, being a Jew was who he was. Judaism wasn’t just a sect to which he belonged. Plus, in America, less than one-half of Jews say they believe in God.
Are Jews a nationality or ethnicity? They have no common language nor geographic origin and most of them don’t live in Israel. Israel’s Rabbinate defines who is a Jew pretty narrowly, too, and for the moment (changing it has been proposed) Israel is not formally a “Jewish state.” Is Jewishness its own culture? American Jews do tend to share common moral and political values, but not a lot of day-to-day cultural practices. Maybe we’re a People, whatever that means.
As a half-Jew on my father’s side I’m not sure what being Jewish means, either. It’s a great discussion idea, especially since we have a few Jewish (or perhaps, “Jewish”) group regulars.
Below are some optional readings on Jewish identity. The first ones are some analyses of survey results, so at least we have some idea of what American Jews think about their Jewishness. I added some think pieces on Jewish identity including several focused on the role of the Holocaust and the creation of Israel in Jewish identity.
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- How do American Jews define what it means to be Jewish? Recommended
- Differences re: identity between…
- Mavens ponder Jewishness:
- Some issues:
- Can you be Jewish and not believe in God?
- Non-Jews being “Jew-ish” is a thing. Oy!
- U.S. Jews have abandoned Israel. (Conservative POV).
- It’s time to move beyond defining Jewishness as Holocaust + love of Israel.
- [Update Saturday: Apropos also to next week, see this re the Middle Earth-like battle between anti-Semites and Jewish appointees in the chaotic Trump White House.]
NEXT WEEK: Is an American Fascism Possible?
This one was Aaron’s idea, and he will give a brief opening and lead us. Of course, the question here isn’t whether antisemitism has been conmpletely extinguished in the West. No prejudice ever truly dies. Rather, I think the question is whether antisemitism has ceased to be a driving force in Western (especially European) societies, as it was for so many centuries.
Aaron told me he will briefly cover the following only, since the group doesn’t need the full PolySci 101 on antisemitism:
- Brief history
- Why Jews are an easy target
- The 4 types of anti-Semitism that exist
- How Jews themselves have helped inadvertently to victimize themselves
- How/why it has subsided in the West since WWII
For my part, I read a fascinating book a year ago on the historic evolution of antisemitism and the many similarities between modern antisemitism and anti-black racism. I will share this during discussion.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- What are the historic sources (reasons for) antisemitism? Which ones persist? Why do they persist?
- So, can we say that antisemitism has run its historic courtse in these countries?
- What about in the United States, where both the extreme Left and Right have dabbled in antisemitism? How solid is the Christian Right’s love affair with Jews and Israel? If American conservatives keep moving to the right, will they reach a point where antisemitism comes alive again?
- How can we discern how much of the opposition to Israeli policies is rooted in antisemitism versus other factors, like legitimate opposition to itsactions or Europeans’ anti-colonial guilt?
- Wiki’s Antisemitism entry. Notice its typology of reasons for antisemitism. Aaron’s will be a little simpler – and better, IMO.
- Anti-Defamation League survey of antisemitism in 10 European countries shows a lot of it.
- For much more detail, see this 2011 State Department report on global antisemitism.