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Jews and American Politics

Tue, December 19, 10:15 to 11:45am, Marriott Marquis Washington, DC, George Washington University

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


This panel will bring together four scholars to address different aspects of Jewish involvement in formal and informal American political spaces.

In “A Toast to Silence: Forging an Orthodox Jewish Politics in Prohibition-Era America,”
Tania Tulcin argues that during the Prohibition era, a significant number of rabbis flouted the law by taking advantage of a limited exemption for ritual wine and procuring additional allotments for sale to unauthorized persons, reaping large profits in return. Contrary to the regnant scholarship, which attributes Orthodox silence on the permissibility of grape juice to pecuniary motives, this paper locates the Orthodox “response” within a distinctly political frame. The Orthodox crafted a uniquely American solution to a set of internal religious concerns, demonstrating the impact of American law and politics on shaping Jewish values.

Sandra Fox, in ““We’ll Turn this Camp Right Upside Down”: Generational Tension, Politics, and Youth Power in Postwar Jewish Summer Camps” analyzes the inner politics of postwar Jewish camps, considering the nature of youths’ power and agency, shedding light on the dynamics between postwar establishment leaders and the youth it paternalistically aimed to serve, and the prehistory of the Jewish “continuity problem.”

In “The Politics of Libertarian Jews,” Herbert Weisberg develops a typology of American Jews’ ideological views on domestic policy, focusing on an unexpectedly large category: Libertarian Jews. The implications of the emergence of this large ideological group for the future of American Jewry are analyzed.

Finally, Daniel David May, in “The Politics of Whiteness : Race and Nation in W.E.B DuBois, Mordecai Kaplan, and Contemporary Struggles for Racial Justice,” demonstrates that one of the cardinal achievements of the Movement for Black Lives has been shifting the language from a rhetoric of “racism” to “white supremacy.” But “white supremacy” cannot be eradicated without ending “whiteness,” an identity predicated upon the domination of others. Mordecai Kaplan and W.E.B. Dubois were both influenced by the thought of American pragmatism, and sought ways to re-imagine the meaning of their respective communities to meet the challenges of their times. How successful were they in rejecting racialized identities? How did they see the relationship between Jewish nationalism and Black nationalism? And what might their work offer for American Jews developing communities of solidarity to meet contemporary challenges?”

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