ASSIMILATION AND ITS DISCONTENTS by Barry Rubin

ASSIMILATION AND ITS DISCONTENTS

KIRKUS REVIEW

 A reasoned but too narrowly argued historical brief against Jewish assimilation into Western culture. Rubin (Foreign Policy Institute/Johns Hopkins, Politics and History/Tel Aviv Univ.) states in his introduction that there is a spectrum of assimilation, but his text barely acknowledges that fact. Rubin's history focuses on the extreme end: on converts, from Heinrich Heine to Arnold Schoenberg; on anti-Semitic Jews, from Isaac Asimov to Vladimir Zhirinovsky; and on radical assimilationists, from Rosa Luxemburg to Walter Benjamin. Rubin focuses almost exclusively on the intellectual and economic elite, and his analysis relies heavily on literary citations and secondary sources (with few statistics to support broad statements), especially in chapters on Austria/Germany and America. The chapter on America is the book's strongest, analyzing the Jewish and assimilationist content of Woody Allen's films and effectively portraying the paradoxes faced by American Jews: atavistic fears of persecution contrasting with the security and comfort they actually experience. Assimilation, argues Rubin, has been a no-win situation for Jews; those who abandon their history and their people can reap only guilt, bitterness, and a sense of alienation--though, Rubin adds, this last became a badge of honor for American Jewish intellectuals in the 1950s and '60s. ``Making themselves hate figures or apparently dangerous iconoclasts could be a good career move,'' Rubin sarcastically notes. (Similar repeated comments ironically reinforce stereotypes of Jews as mercenary social climbers.) The author advocates that Jews who have abandoned religion retain a commitment to Jewish culture and knowledge as a source of identity and pride--but his history offers no evidence that such a middle road is possible. Nor, in discussing the impact of the state of Israel on Jewish identity, does he acknowledge that it poses new conundrums not only for Jews outside its borders, but for those who live there as well. A first--but woefully incomplete--stab at understanding the main threat to Jewish continuity in the 21st century.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-8129-2293-X
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Times/Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1995




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