Every year, when Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s memorial day, rolls around, the author thinks of an idealistic college student named Alex Singer who became a lone soldier in the IDF.
Did early Zionists abandon Messianism or inherit it? Or, as Arieh Saposnik argues, did they do something more subtle and interesting?
Isaac Mayer Wise was the first Rabbi to meet with an American President. The conversation made Wise a celebrity, it also led to him getting punched in his synagogue, losing his job, and changing the way Reform Jews prayed.
Back in the 1960s, the Rheingold Corporation ran a bunch of TV commercials—mostly during baseball games, if I remember correctly—vaunting the popularity of its beer among all sorts of minority…
More than two hundred songs of the pioneers of the Third Aliyah began their lives as Hasidic tunes. But historian David Assaf’s wonderful new book reaches far beyond the Hasidic world in tracing the origins of the heart of the secular Zionist musical repertoire.
What’s a nice Jewish boy doing making bronze statues of tsars? And does it count as Jewish culture? Ahad Ha’am wanted to know and the Posen Foundation’s ambitious new survey raises the question afresh.
The first time I picked up Joshua Cohen’s new novel, The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family, I put it down when I reached page eighty-four.
Some of the displaced persons who made their way from Germany to the new State of Israel felt more displaced in their new homeland than in the camps they left behind.
The earliest literary commemoration of Zionism’s fallen heroes was a book entitled Yizkor, published in Palestine in 1911 by members of Poalei Zion (Workers of Zion).
Tens of thousands of Jews made their way into Portugal in waves between the fall of France in 1940 and the end of World War II. The ordeals Marion Kaplan depicts were not terribly long, but to the people who endured them, they often seemed endless.
Alexander Kaye understates the extent to which medieval Judaism gave rise to the idea of a halakhic state.
Adam Sutcliffe is an intellectual historian, not a theologian or a philosopher, so he doesn’t try to answer the question of what purpose Jews serve in the world, but he has a lot to say about the attempts to do so that Jews and non-Jews have been making for ages.
From his intensive study of Hebrew and Jewish history to a surprisingly romantic Zionist congress in Basel, and the horrors of the Kishinev Pogrom, 1903 seems to have been a turning point for the young Jabotinsky.
Why isn’t Israel more like America, Jews from that country wonder. In his ambitious new book, Alexander Kaye instructively raises the question of why Israel isn’t even less like the United States.
Stephen Whitfield’s group portrait of a large number of men and women of the Left who taught and studied at Brandeis from its inception at the end of the 1940s to the present is as attentive to the personalities of his subjects as it is to their ideas.
A leading Israeli legal scholar, public intellectual, and founding JRB editorial board member has passed away. Allan Arkush remembers her.
Retracing her father’s wartime journey from Poland, across the USSR, through Iran and eventually to Palestine, Michal Dekel learns a lot about what it means to belong to a people.
Was America in 1940 primed for an antisemitic leader, as Roth and his adapters would have us believe?
Which played a larger role in Jewish migrations: oppression or economics?
When the Young Men's Christian Association began offering wholesome recreation to soldiers in 1916, Jewish leaders were as as worried about evangelism as they were about bars and bordellos.
Punctuality seemed like one of the requirements of working with a yekke, the kind of Central European Jew who wore a jacket and tie even if he had no plans to leave the house.
“Arkush, Arkush. What does that mean?” That was the third question one of the greatest Jewish scholars of the 20th century asked me.
“Nonstatist” Zionists, as the historian David Myers has dubbed them, have received a lot of attention in recent years. Dmitry Shumsky, a historian at the Hebrew University, is grateful for this scholarship but believes that it has not gone far enough.
Over the years, I’ve spoken privately with several Israeli novelists but with only two of the internationally famous ones. And these very brief conversations took place more than 40 years…
Yirimiyahu be-Tzion is a solid work of intellectual history, devoted above all to understanding Judah Magnes as he understood himself, sympathetic but honest, and attentive to the weaknesses as well as the strengths of his thinking.
My grandfather had a way of mentioning the Kiev guberniya (province) that made it sound to me, when I was a boy, like it was our place in the Old Country—and more than half a century later, it still does.
In Jacob & Esau: Jewish European History Between Nation and Empire, Malachi Haim Hacohen provides a dense but lucid account of how the history of this typology of sibling rivalry unfolded, first in the later books of the Bible and then, following the invention of a linkage between Edom and the Roman Empire, in rabbinic literature, and, finally, in later Jewish and Christian writings, down to modern times.
From the Brandeis Book Stall to the sands of Iwo Jima (and halakhic flexibility).
Visitors to the Hazon Ish's house would sometimes enter through the window; the venerable sage occasionally left home the same way. “A window,” the Hazon Ish reassuringly explained, “is in fact just a door with a high threshold.”
At the 1965 International Bible Contest, David Ben-Gurion posed some of the questions. He also asked two to the entire audience: “How many of you are ready to make aliyah to the Land of Israel?” And then, more specifically, “How many of you are ready to come and live with me in the Negev?”
After the bookseller had read something from a random page, he suddenly exclaimed, almost in panic and in as broad a Texan accent as I had ever heard, “Wait a minute. I know what this is. I’m not going to sell this! Get this out of my store. Take it. Get this out of my store!”
Eating very long breakfasts, lunches, and dinners with dozens of aging members of the Greatest Generation was the best part of Arkush's teaching experience.
Tim Grady makes a careful but controversial case about the way Jews contributed to or supported Germany's worst excesses in World War I.
That Judah, the great victor of the Hanukkah story, ultimately died fighting the Seleucids is something that surprisingly few Jews know. And were the Maccabees actually underdogs?
Gil Troy and Allan Arkush on Troy’s new book, The Zionist Ideas.
While I would like to leave this issue behind us, I have to add one more thing.
O’Brien himself didn’t consider his history of Zionism to be anything more than a bit of haute vulgarization, but it is much more than that. It is one of those uncommon works of political history in which a man who knows how the world works tells a great story with dazzling literary skill.
Arthur Hertzberg's classic anthology The Zionist Idea has received a 21st century makeover. But is the new version really an improvement over the old one? And what does Yossi Klein Halevi have to say in 2018 that hasn't been said before?
Five leading Jewish thinkers discuss the continuing impact of the American melting pot.
A rejoinder to Jack Wertheimer, David Biale, Edieal Pinker, and Erica Brown.
Late August 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth and the first Yahrzeit of his brother, Burton, who wrote an incredible family memoir.
Are they for the Jewish state or against? A new book from Israel distills recent scholarship on the haredim.
More than a century after Zangwill's play debuted, the melting pot is still bubbling. What does that really mean for American Jewry?
When Vice President Pence spoke in Jerusalem, he was tapping into a long tradition. . .
In their respective new books, Schama and Feiner attempt not to relate the whole history of the Jews during the period covered by their volumes but to tell their story—indeed, to a large extent, to let them tell their story in their own words, culled from their letters, diaries, and autobiographical works.
The facts of Hans Kohn’s life are so extraordinary that it almost seems as if the first half of one remarkable figure’s biography had been spliced together with another’s in the second part.
Following the Six-Day War, the East German government and the West German far left demonized Israel time and again, often vilely equating it with the worst thing in their own nation’s history: Nazism.
How did Zionist elites create a new national identity for rank and file members whose ideals did not match their own?
Could the hot dog-munching, movie-going young colonel named Nasser have become our man if we had tried harder to accommodate him at the very outset?
Anyone looking for a single-volume introduction to Jewish civilization for a class full of highly educated professionals with only a limited knowledge of the subject will find nothing better in print.
The university presses of Cambridge and Oxford have released two new works of Jewish political theory that blend theoretical defenses of Zionism with robust critique of what Chaim Gans calls the “Zionist mainstream.”
In his new book, Hillel Cohen offers an analysis of the Arab-Jewish violence of 1929 that goes very much against the grain of the usual Zionist narrative and even the non-partisan historical research concerning this period.
Would the demise or even disappearance of human beings be, on the whole, a good thing. Yuval Noah Harari seems to think so, or is at least willing to entertain the thought.
If an Israeli ambassador to the United States can’t consume ham in public, he may still have to engage in something like pork-barrel politics.
It is sad to watch the territorialists engage in their wild goose chases all over the globe at a time when multitudes of Jews were in need of a place, any place, to go.
The JRB editors celebrate our fifth anniversary with our top-five book lists.
“Who’s this guy,” asked one of my sister’s friends, “who writes about secret truths? I can’t remember his name.”
The Six-Day War marked a critical turning point in the evolution of the Western world’s attitude toward Israel.
Nathan Birnbaum, one of Zionism's early leaders, looked like Herzl and wrote like Herzl (albeit not as successfully). But his unusual trajectory has reduced the space that might have been assigned to him in the history of Zionism.
Derek Penslar's new book returns to aim Jewish soldiers of the diaspora to their rightful place in Jewish history.
We were sitting in our apartment one evening when a Spanish philosopher dropped in ...
Alvin H. Rosenfeld in 2013: “How aggressive this new antisemitism is likely to get and, ultimately, how destructive it will be if it proceeds unchecked are open questions.”
Is Renewal a path toward the future or a road away from Judaism?
Shaul Magid argues that Zalman Schachter-Shalomi is the Rebbe for post-ethnic America. But is cosmotheism a good idea?
In which direction should Israel orient itself?
Daniel Schwartz's excellent new book is the first ever to chart the changing image of Spinoza throughout the centuries.
Anita Shapira's new book raises the bar for short histories of Israel.
Historian Bernard Wasserstein narrates Jewish life in Europe between the world wars.
Robert Eisen was walking to campus on 9/11 when he saw a dark cloud above the Pentagon. Alick Isaacs fought for the IDF in Lebanon. Their experiences prompted them to rethink peace and Judaism.
Two philosophies—one analytical, the other amorous—of the modern Jewish condition.
Like Newport, Rhode Island, Worms, Germany is the quiet, waterside home to its country's most venerable synagogue—but the similarities stop there.
Debates about Zion and its relation to the diaspora aren't new. David Myers and Noam Pianko have retrieved the forgotten ideas of several interesting figures, foremost among them Simon Rawidowicz. Do they speak to us now?
The "Other" Jewish tradition.
Israel's relationship with apartheid South Africa is an inconvenient—perhaps unavoidable—truth.
Immortality in Jerusalem.
Theodor Herzl is indisputably Israel’s principal Founding Father. He was not the first person in modern times to call for the creation of a Jewish state, but he summoned into existence the movement that made it possible and marked out the path that it was to pursue. When he first published The Jewish State in 1896, the proto-Zionist groups in…