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Torn at the Roots

Torn at the Roots: The Crisis of Jewish Liberalism in Postwar America

MICHAEL E. STAUB
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/stau12374
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    Torn at the Roots
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50643-4
    Subjects: Religion, History, Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. “Making My Jewishness Too Visible”: An Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    IN MAY 1969 Columbia University’s Jewish Advisory Board voted not to renew the contract of A. Bruce Goldman, a Reform rabbi and chaplain to Jewish students. The board, as reason for this dismissal, cited that during the 1968 Columbia strike Rabbi Goldman spoke strongly in favor of student demands and condemned the administration for bringing police onto campus to put it down. In a press interview board chairman Gerard Oestreicher said:

    The university has bent over backwards to allow so many Jewish students to enter. This [Goldman’s] behavior is hardly appropriate recognition of the manner in which Columbia welcomed Jewish...

  4. 1 “The Racists of America Fly Blindly at Both of Us”: Atrocity Analogies and Anticommunism
    (pp. 19-44)

    In May 1958 the American Jewish Congress invited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a minister from Montgomery, Alabama and the leader of a local bus boycott, to Miami Beach to address its national biennial convention (figure 1.1). In several important respects this was a memorable event. For one thing, it was the first time the American Jewish Congress, one of the foremost American Jewish defense organizations, held its national convention in the South. What is more, it was the first time Dr. King had been invited to speak before an audience of both African Americans and whites at an integrated...

  5. 2 “Liberal Judaism Is a Contradiction in Terms”: Antiracist Zionists, Prophetic Jews, and Their Critics
    (pp. 45-75)

    On August 28, 1963, at the March on Washington rally held at the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. Joachim Prinz, rabbi of Temple B’nai Abraham in Newark, New Jersey and president of the American Jewish Congress, gave a brief address entitled “The Issue Is Silence.” At Prinz’s side stood Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech that same afternoon and had spoken so memorably at an AJCongress convention in Miami Beach five years earlier. (It was also during the 1958 convention that Prinz was elected to the AJCongress presidency.) In August 1963 Prinz now drew directly...

  6. 3 “Artificial Altruism Sows Only Seeds of Error and Chaos”: Desegregation and Jewish Survival
    (pp. 76-111)

    The first half of the 1960s was a time of tremendous uncertainty, ambivalence, and internal divisiveness for American Jewish liberalism. The divisiveness was especially evident in communal debates over the appropriateness of Jewish support for civil rights activism. On the one hand, and as Jews during this period often noted, young Jews predominated among white Americans willing to fight alongside African Americans in Freedom Summer and voter registration drives in the South. Northern rabbis also began increasingly to take a public stand in their synagogues and in the streets against de facto segregation in their communities. On the other hand,...

  7. 4 “Protect and Keep”: Vietnam, Israel, and the Politics of Theology
    (pp. 112-152)

    At the end of 1965 a sociological inquiry into Jewish attitudes toward black civil rights argued that there existed no newly minted Jewish “backlash” against integration. But the reasons sociologist B. Z. Sobel and historian May L. Sobel gave for this conclusion were unexpected. Citing both substantial anecdotal and quantifiable evidence, the Sobels said that American Jews were quite similar to other whites when it came both to racial prejudices and social commitments. The perception that Jews were more liberal than other whites, the Sobels contended, rested largely on the activism of Jewish agency professionals; the American Jewish community as...

  8. 5 “If There Was Dirty Linen, It Had to Be Washed”: Jews for Urban Justice and Radical Judaism
    (pp. 153-193)

    The story of Jews for Urban Justice, a strongly Jewish-identified New Left group based in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area, has been written out of the history books. Its existence and the several projects in which it was involved are discussed minimally or not at all in accounts of New Left activities of the 1960s and in histories of postwar American Jewry. Nor does it merit more than fleeting mention in the far fewer texts on the decade’s radical Jewish movement—and this despite the fact that JUJ was the first radical Jewish group of the 1960s. At the time,...

  9. 6 “We Are Coming Home”: New Left Jews and Radical Zionism
    (pp. 194-240)

    In November 1969 a group of young radical Jews took over the Jewish Federation-Council in Los Angeles, affixing two hundred mezuzahs to the doors in the building, dramatically symbolizing what they saw as the Federation-Council’s indifference to Jewish educational, spiritual, and cultural concerns.¹ Also in November, a group of three hundred protesters calling themselves Concerned Jewish Students gathered in Boston to picket at the national convention of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds (CJF). The CJF was responsible for the coordination of priorities for over two hundred Jewish charities in the U.S. and Canada. Having threatened to disrupt...

  10. 7 “Are You Against the Jewish Family?” Debating the Sexual Revolution
    (pp. 241-279)

    Beginning in the early 1970s the tone of discussion about the purportedly perilous state of the American Jewish family became noticeably overwrought. It was almost as if, having decided to turn inward and attend to personal concerns more than activism on behalf of others, the mainstream Jewish community was as disturbed by the state of affairs on the home front as it had been by developments on city streets or overseas. In 1971 Brandeis professor Jacob Cohen declared in his speech, “New Sexuality in America,” at a meeting of the university’s Women’s Committee that “an unprecedented pagan, sense-ridden civilization has...

  11. 8 “If We Really Care About Israel”: Breira and the Limits of Dissent
    (pp. 280-308)

    In the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War in October 1973, Response editor Bill Novak publicly announced his decision to quit Havurat Shalom in Somerville, Massachusetts because he felt group members’ reaction to the war had been inadequate. Dismayed that the spiritual side of the havurah resulted in members “remaining ignorant of or uninterested in the physical aspects of their Jewish commitment,” Novak found his own “frantic worries during the Yom Kippur war made little sense to those around me” in the havurah. Unable any longer to sustain (what he saw as) the false “dichotomy” between the spiritual inward turning...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 309-364)
  13. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 365-366)
  14. Index
    (pp. 367-386)