In Trying to Show That There Are No “Bad Jews,” a New Book Declares That the Only Good Jews Are Leftists

December 1, 2022 | Elliot Kaufman
About the author: Elliot Kaufman is the letters editor for the Wall Street Journal.

In her recent book Bad Jews: A History of American Jewish Politics and Identities, Emily Tamkin provides a loose survey of the past century of Jewish life in the U.S., intertwined with some reflections about her own experiences. Elliot Kaufman writes in his review:

Tamkin claims to argue that there’s no such thing as a good Jew or bad Jew. But her heart isn’t in it. At every opportunity, she valorizes her bad Jews, the ones who vilify Israel and the American Jewish community. They’re the heroes. Eli Valley, the Jewish cartoonist known for drawing Israelis and pro-Israel Americans as Nazis, she fawns over.

The flip side is that Tamkin clearly thinks her good Jews are bad. The major Jewish organizations are portrayed throughout as morally indefensible; even Jewish leadership in the civil-rights movement is unconvincingly labeled a “myth.” Anti-Communists and Israel supporters are cast as fear- and guilt-ridden tyrants, synagogue-goers as conformist and xenophobic. In her most disgusting passage, Tamkin blames the deadly 2018 shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue on Donald Trump and then immediately uses the tragedy to dump on Orthodox Jews—themselves the victims of most anti-Semitic violence—for several paragraphs.

At the end, Tamkin has one last somersault to perform: excusing left-wing anti-Semitism. . . . Senator Bernie Sanders, it is made clear, is the ideal type [of politically engaged Jew]. At last, and in so many words, we have Tamkin’s elusive definition of a good Jew: a leftist.

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