In defense of the Jewish diaspora.
Turning to his Jewish roots, Wolfe (Political Science/Boston Coll.; Political Evil: What It Is and How to Combat It, 2011, etc.) explores the long and often acrimonious debate between Jewish diaspora and Zionism. The author’s study exposes a sometimes-shocking level of chauvinism displayed by pro-Zionist activists over the past two centuries, which has left a heritage in which even non-Israeli Jews often see themselves as second-class citizens compared to those living in the Holy Land. Wolfe sets out to demonstrate that Judaism has not merely survived the diaspora, but flourished in it, despite the horrid testimony of Hitler and Stalin. In fact, argues the author, it may be in diaspora that Jews most truly fulfill their mission to the world. Wolfe introduces readers to a number of intellectuals on both sides of the debate, some well-known and others quite obscure. He also brings up a shower of -isms: selectivism, particularism, universalism, nationalism and, of course, Zionism, just to name a few. Yet he manages to stop short of turning the book into a dry intellectual history by returning continually to current applications for the ideas expressed. For instance, Wolfe takes on the Jewish tendency toward pessimism, countering the hand-wringing over assimilation and intermarriage to emphasize the strength of a global faith community that has overcome astounding obstacles. Living in Israel was not a prerequisite for success as a people. “There are many ways to be Jewish,” he writes. “The notion that there ought to be a contest for the worst way, and that the prize should go to those who live among non-Jews, seems increasingly perverse.” In an age when the existence of a Jewish state, controversial though it may be, is taken for granted, Wolfe provides good fodder for Jews to debate the role of that state in their lives and in the life of their faith.
A thought-provoking and optimistic look at global Judaism.