Two Historians Reconsider the Question of Jews, Money, and Modernity

In Modernity and the Jews in Western Social Thought, Chad Alan Goldberg considers the ways thinkers like Karl Marx, Werner Sombart, and Max Weber tended to consider Jews either avatars of modernity or emblems of stubborn backwardness—but rarely in a positive light. Generally such ideas focused on the relationship between Jews and capitalism. Jonathan Karp sums up Goldberg’s argument in his review:

[T]he peculiar dualism casting Jews as either progressive or regressive ultimately derives from what [Goldberg] calls a secularized Protestant “habit of thought” of reckoning in metaphors derived from Christian theology. In particular, social theorists unconsciously adopted the replacement theology which posited that Christianity had superseded Judaism, the New Testament and Covenant having decisively displaced the old ones. This helps explain Marx’s seemingly grotesque description of commodities that function as money as “inwardly circumcised Jews.” As Goldberg insightfully explains, this means that modern capitalists have so absorbed and improved upon medieval Jewish usury that they no longer need any corresponding outward sign (Old Testament physical circumcision) but instead exemplify Paul’s inward “circumcision of the heart.”

In a very different book, Jewish Materialism, Eliyahu Stern examines the great figures of non-rabbinic Russian Jewish thought of the 1870s, and argues that their prime concern during this decade was not socialism, nationalism, or religious reform but how to remedy the dire economic situation faced by Jews in the Pale of Settlement. Karp writes in the same essay:

The goal for Jewish materialists like Moshe Leib Lilienblum wasn’t fitting into the non-Jewish occupational structure; it was bread. This shift away from liberal assimilationism went hand in hand with a break from earlier efforts at religious reform. Lilienblum—who had once been active in such movements—presently professed little interest in the Jewish soul; it was the Jewish body alone that mattered now. . . .

Stern even recasts Peretz Smolenskin, the [novelist and] renowned founder of Jewish [proto-Zionist] nationalism, as ultimately a materialist. What is clear at least from Stern’s account is that Smolenskin felt himself sufficiently engulfed by the growing materialist tide to acknowledge that while Jews were uniquely a nation defined by Geist (spirit), in order to realize their religious aspiration for redemption Israel must manifest itself in a material form by acquiring a land and spoken language of its own. When, in the aftermath of the 1881 pogroms, the leading Russifying Jewish liberal Leon Pinsker, [who became the founder of pre-Herzlian Zionism], adopted as his key metaphor the image of a disembodied nation that could be cured only by finding a material body to house its tormented soul, we are truly convinced: Jewish materialism had clearly won the day.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Capitalism, History & Ideas, Jewish history, Russian Jewry, Sociology, Zionism


Planning for the Day after the War in the Gaza Strip

At the center of much political debate in Israel during the past week, as well as, reportedly, of disagreement between Jerusalem and Washington, is the problem of how Gaza should be governed if not by Hamas. Thus far, the IDF has only held on to small parts of the Strip from which it has cleared out the terrorists. Michael Oren lays out the parameters of this debate over what he has previous called Israel’s unsolvable problem, and sets forth ten principles that any plan should adhere to. Herewith, the first five:

  1. Israel retains total security control in Gaza, including control of all borders and crossings, until Hamas is demonstrably defeated. Operations continue in Rafah and elsewhere following effective civilian evacuations. Military and diplomatic efforts to secure the hostages’ release continue unabated.
  2. Civil affairs, including health services and aid distribution, are administered by Gazans unaffiliated with Hamas. The model will be Area B of Judea and Samaria, where Israel is in charge of security and Palestinians are responsible for the civil administration.
  3. The civil administration is supervised by the Palestinian Authority once it is “revitalized.” The PA first meets benchmarks for ending corruption and establishing transparent institutions. The designation and fulfillment of the benchmarks is carried out in coordination with Israel.
  4. The United States sends a greatly expanded and improved version of the Dayton Mission that trained PA police forces in Gaza after Israel’s disengagement.
  5. Abraham Accords countries launch a major inter-Arab initiative to rebuild and modernize Gaza.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security, U.S.-Israel relationship