Jewish Political Thought Can’t Be Separated from the Messiness of Jewish Political History

In their series The Jewish Political Tradition—the third of a projected four volumes has recently appeared—Michael Walzer, Menachem Lorberbaum, and Noam Zohar present primary sources as well as original essays covering the entirety of Jewish history from the Bible to the present day. Elisheva Carlebach, in her review, points to some problems with the project:

The imposing volumes of The Jewish Political Tradition confront the reader with an almost seamless new scripture on Jewish politics. Texts that were originally contingent, dialectical, interpretive, or narrative appear alongside apodictic and authoritative pronouncements, joined together in one comprehensive tradition. Yet such a presentation inevitably violates the true meaning of the texts, which were written in wholly different historical contexts and distinct literary genres. Rather than being presented as part of conversations that took place in response to specific challenges in other times, places, and political configurations, they appear here only as snippets in intertextual dialogue with one another.

Moreover, no attempt is made to differentiate between ideas expressed in biblical and Second Temple texts when Jews had at least some measure of sovereignty and those that developed during a period of extensive communal autonomy within another state such as [existed in Babylonia during the final centuries of the first millennium], or, finally, those that arose in vulnerable Jewish communities, some of them living on the verge of expulsion. It is hard to see how a usable tradition can be retrieved with such methods. It is here that the perspective of historians could have come in handy, but no historians of the Jewish political experience itself appear in the pages of this volume.

In a project whose stated goal is to provide inspiration and guidelines for a thriving state, the absence of lived historical context is particularly puzzling. The book contains, for instance, no echo of the world documented by the Cairo Genizah, with its multiple competing Jewish communities and its (sometimes polygamous) family structures, deeply embedded in the caliphal framework. The emphasis on text over experience produces a far more idyllic image of Jewish politics past than history itself actually reflects.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Cairo Geniza, Jewish history, Jewish political tradition, Michael Walzer

 

How the Death of Mahsa Amini Changed Iran—and Its Western Apologists

Sept. 28 2022

On September 16, a twenty-two-year-old named Mahsa Amini was arrested by the Iranian morality police for improperly wearing a hijab. Her death in custody three days later, evidently after being severely beaten, sparked waves of intense protests throughout the country. Since then, the Iranian authorities have killed dozens more in trying to quell the unrest. Nervana Mahmoud comments on how Amini’s death has been felt inside and outside of the Islamic Republic:

[I]n Western countries, the glamorizing of the hijab has been going on for decades. Even Playboy magazine published an article about the first “hijabi” news anchor in American TV history. Meanwhile, questioning the hijab’s authenticity and enforcement has been framed as “Islamophobia.” . . . But the death of Mahsa Amini has changed everything.

Commentators who downplayed the impact of enforced hijab have changed their tune. [Last week], CNN’s Christiane Amanpour declined an interview with the Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi, and the Biden administration imposed sanctions on Iran’s notorious morality police and senior officials for the violence carried out against protesters and for the death of Mahsa Amini.

The visual impact of the scenes in Iran has extended to the Arab world too. Arabic media outlets have felt the winds of change. The death of Mahsa Amini and the resulting protests in Iran are now top headlines, with Arab audiences watching daily as Iranian women from all age groups remove their hijabs and challenge the regime policy.

Iranian women are making history. They are teaching the world—including the Muslim world—about the glaring difference between opting to wear the hijab and being forced to wear it, whether by law or due to social pressure and mental bullying. Finally, non-hijabi women are not afraid to defy, proudly, their Islamist oppressors.

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Read more at Nervana

More about: Arab World, Iran, Women in Islam