Emerging and comparative trends in modern Jewish history

Beyond exceptionalism

Authored by: Michal Rose Friedman

The Routledge Companion to Jewish History and Historiography

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138193611
eBook ISBN: 9780429458927
Adobe ISBN:


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In a recent lecture at Oxford University, prominent historian of modern French Jewish history Pierre Birnbaum concluded, rather pessimistically, that the French project of Jewish assimilation and integration had essentially failed with the decline of a strong state, resulting in less Jewish participation in French politics, whether in parliament or public administration. Birnbaum views this process as precarious, suggesting that due to their decreased number, French Jews might progressively be seen by non-Jews as less French, and simultaneously as favoring a purported affiliation and loyalty to the State of Israel. 1 Leaving aside the question whether such a pessimistic view of current affairs is warranted, it is important to note that such a view is constructed, to a large extent, on the premise of an earlier and widely accepted deterministic model of the relationship between Jews and the modern nation-state. 2 In this context, Jews were not only examined through the lens of the exclusive centrality of the nation-state, rendering Jews as mainly passive actors fully dependent on its mandates and trajectory, but also disconnected from other horizontal relationships and alternate contemporaneous political designs.

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