Volume 1, 2009

WORKING PAPERS SERIES:

JEWISH POLITICS AND POLITICAL BEHAVIOR

Editor’s Introduction

David N. Myers (UCLA)

The UCLA Center for Jewish Studies (CJS) is pleased to inaugurate our new online journal Pe’rush. Drawing on the Hebrew word for “interpretation”—an d more broadly, on the long and dynamic tradition of Jewish interpretation—Pe’rush will publish the fruits of innovative research in the field of Jewish studies conducted by UCLA faculty and/or presented at UCLA. Rather than simply confining these fruits to a narrow scholarly audience, we seek to open up the byways of communication and disseminate this work as broadly as possible.

What distinguishes Pe’rush from most other publications in the field and beyond are two qualities. First, many of the papers that will appear in Pe’rush are works initially presented at a UCLA conference, workshop, or seminar. We imagine the journal as a virtual workshop in which research--some of it in unvarnished draft form and some more fully formulated--can be exposed to a broader scholarly community. What allows us to simulate the workshop setting is a second key quality; namely, the journal actively invites reader feedback, input, and criticism. In the right hand column next to each article is a space to post comments by page or paragraph. It is our hope that those who read Pe’rush will comment on articles, and by so doing, contribute to the improvement of work in progress, which can then make its way into more traditional print venues. This process, of course, evokes the long-standing Jewish interpretive imperative that has lent us the name Pe’rush. It reflects the ongoing desire of the CJS to encourage participation in our intellectual mission, as well as to promote high quality and innovative research in Jewish studies at UCLA.

This inaugural issue draws upon the stimulating contributions of scholars to an international symposium on “Jewish Politics and Political Behavior” sponsored by the CJS on October 12, 2008 under the auspices of the University of California-University of Utrecht Collaboration. The symposium was divided into two complementary conceptual sections. One set of papers offered large-scale reflections on the relationship between Jews and politics in the modern age. To begin this section, David Biale (UC Davis) revisited his own important book from twenty years ago Power and Powerlessness in Jewish History. He juxtaposed his work to the conclusions of Harvard literary scholar, Ruth Wisse, in her recent Jews and Power; Biale argued that Wisse adopted an a-historical approach to Jewish power borne of her own, post-9/11 (and post-Oslo) worldview. Legal theorist Chaim Gans (Tel Aviv) presented in his paper a summary of his ongoing attempts, particularly evident in his book A Just Zionism, to imagine anew Jewish nationalism. In particular, Gans sought to advance a morally defensible cultural nationalism that respects the rights to self-determination, as well as territorial claims, of both Jews and Arabs. In my own contribution to this section, I set out the claim that the triumph of Statist Zionism in the heated contest of Jewish nationalist ideologies has created a narrative arc of Jewish nationalism in serious need of revision.

The second section of the symposium—and of this issue--focuses on an illuminating, though oft-neglected example of Jewish politics in situ: the Dutch case. Bart Wallet (Amsterdam) offers a wide-ranging comparison of the experience of emancipation and the nature of communal organization in Britain, France, Germany, and the Netherlands. Following up on this comparative survey, Ido de Haan (Utrecht) commences by inquiring into the normality, or lack thereof, of Jewish political existence in modern Europe. He points to a degree of normality in the form of centralized communal organizations (on a national level) in France, England, and Germany. Their existence stands in contrast to the “Dutch exception,” in which no centralized organization (such as emerged in neighboring European countries) appeared on the scene. It is this mystery to which de Haan’s paper is addressed. Meanwhile, Karin Hofmeester (Amsterdam/Antwerp) explores another angle on the question of a “normal” Jewish politics via the prism of the Netherlands. Her paper explores the ebbs and tides of Jewish participation in the Dutch parliament in the last years of the 18th century and throughout the 19th century, noting the shifting attitudes toward this participation by both Jews and non-Jews.

As a whole, these papers represent a rich interlacing of theory and practice in thinking about Jewish politics. It is our hope that readers will not only appreciate the insights and nuances of the varied perspectives, but will engage in the act of “pe’rush,” of interpretation, and join in a new and dynamic scholarly conversation in the field of Jewish studies.