Torn at the Roots: The Crisis of Jewish Liberalism in Postwar Americaby Michael E. Staub
When Jewish neoconservatives burst upon the political scene, many people were surprised. Conventional wisdom held that Jews were uniformly liberal. This book explodes the myth of a monolithic liberal Judaism. Michael Staub tells the story of the many fierce battles that raged in postwar America over what the authentically Jewish position ought to be on issues… See more details below
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When Jewish neoconservatives burst upon the political scene, many people were surprised. Conventional wisdom held that Jews were uniformly liberal. This book explodes the myth of a monolithic liberal Judaism. Michael Staub tells the story of the many fierce battles that raged in postwar America over what the authentically Jewish position ought to be on issues ranging from desegregation to Zionism, from Vietnam to gender relations, sexuality, and family life. Throughout the three decades after 1945, Michael Staub shows, American Jews debated the ways in which the political commitments of Jewish individuals and groups could or should be shaped by their Jewishness. Staub shows that, contrary to conventional wisdom, the liberal position was never the obvious winner in the contest.By the late 1960s left-wing Jews were often accused by their conservative counterparts of self-hatred or of being inadequately or improperly Jewish. They, in turn, insisted that right-wing Jews were deaf to the moral imperatives of both the Jewish prophetic tradition and Jewish historical experience, which obliged Jews to pursue social justice for the oppressed and the marginalized. Such declamations characterized disputes over a variety of topics: American anticommunism, activism on behalf of African American civil rights, imperatives of Jewish survival, Israel and Israeli-Palestinian relations, the 1960s counterculture, including the women's and gay and lesbian liberation movements, and the renaissance of Jewish ethnic pride and religious observance. Spanning these controversies, Staub presents not only a revelatory and clear-eyed prehistory of contemporary Jewish neoconservatism but also an important corrective to investigations of "identity politics" that have focused on interethnic contacts and conflicts while neglecting intraethnic ones.Revising standard assumptions about the timing of Holocaust awareness in postwar America, Staub charts how central arguments over the Holocaust's purported lessons were to intra-Jewish political conflict already in the first two decades after World War II. Revisiting forgotten artifacts of the postwar years, such as Jewish marriage manuals, satiric radical Zionist cartoons, and the 1970s sitcom about an intermarried couple entitled Bridget Loves Bernie, and incidents such as the firing of a Columbia University rabbi for supporting anti-Vietnam war protesters and the efforts of the Miami Beach Hotel Owners Association to cancel an African Methodist Episcopal Church convention, Torn at the Roots sheds new light on an era we thought we knew well.
Jewish liberalism and its history is a familiar subject, but this book by Michael Staub offers a great deal of new insight and information; indeed, it is arguably the best treatment of the rightward drift of the Jewish mainstream from the late 1940s to the early 1970s.
Abraham J. Peck
Pamela S. Nadell
[Staub] challenges commonly held notions regarding the purported liberalism of US Jewry while underscoring the growing importance of spirituality for left-of-center Jews... This is an important work... highly recommended.
Masterful... A vibrant history of the liberal quest for improving the world, a history relevant for the present and future, and one which deserves wide reading and discussion.
Marjorie N. Feld
Peter J. Haas
[T]hrough Staub's book we have a much clearer and better appreciation for the depths of the intra-Jewish, internecine struggles that took place within the American Jewish community from the end of World War II until the end of the war in Vietnam. Torn at the Roots paints a sobering picture of a Jewish community torn by ideological conflict.
Torn at the Roots contributes significantly to our understanding of what Jewish identity meant to different groups of American Jews, those marching on the left, sitting in the establishment's center, and leaning towards the conservative right in the decades after the Holocaust.
Staub's work is important precisely because it records the history of competing visions of Jewishness.
Staub's carefully researched and cogently argued book explores the evolution and complex dimensions of Jewish politics, calling into question many widely-held assumptions about Jewish liberalism.... [Torn at the Roots] offer[s] new insights into the dimensions of Jewish culture in postwar America.
Another welcome addition to the already large literature on the suprisingly tenacious adherence of Jews to liberalism.
Torn at the Roots will force important and powerful historiographic changes. It is a rich, well-researched, and intricate study.
a vibrant history of the liberal quest for improving the world
A window into just how complex the conservative - liberal split has been in the American Jewish community... It adds an important chapter to the story of what the American Jewish community is really like.
What People are saying about this
Thoughtful, well-written and well-researched, this volume should be must reading for anyone seeking to understand what American Jews have been fighting about since the 1950s.
Jonathan D. Sarna, Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History, Brandeis University
In this stunning book... Staub recovers the epic struggles for the soul of American Jewry--its liberal vision of a better world--and reclaims a vital history for a new century. Anyone who wants to understand American politics and religion, and American Jews today, should read this book.
Deborah Dash Moore, Vassar College
In this wonderfully readable and compelling history, Michael Staub traces American Jewish political engagements from the early cold war through the sexual revolution, from Montgomery to Jerusalem.
Michael Rogin, University of California, Berkeley
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