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At Home in Exile: Why Diaspora Is Good for…
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At Home in Exile: Why Diaspora Is Good for the Jews

by Alan Wolfe

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The controversy over the Jewish Diaspora is something I've only been familiar with in passing, and yet I found that Wolfe's work was not only readable and clear, but offered with depth and insight. In some cases, I'm positive I would have gotten more out of his arguments if I'd had more background, but for the most part, I felt Wolfe did an impressive job of balancing his writing to benefit a variety of readers. Wolfe's argument that Diaspora has, in large part, been a good thing for Jews -- despite many scholars and religious leaders arguing the opposite -- is delivered thoughtfully and with real depth, and offers a lot of inspiration for further discussion and thought.

All told, I'd have to recommend this work to anyone interested in the subject, or in religion at large. ( )
  whitewavedarling | Apr 12, 2017 |
I received this book through the Early Reviewers. Since this is not a topic I know very much about, I felt some of it was a little deep. However, the author makes some good points. I especially agreed with his thoughts on millennials not attaching importance to organized religion, and being accepting of inter marriage and gay marriage. For those who know more about the topic than me, the rating would be higher. ( )
  chgstrom | Mar 21, 2016 |
This book is an erudite, scholarly tome that delves deeply into the titled subject matter. The author cites many sources and helpfully defines many of the words he uses, however, I would have very much appreciated a glossary for reference and review. This subject can provoke deep emotional and spiritual responses and the author presents many points of view. This is a complex subject (one I was unfamiliar with) and this book provides an excellent overview. ( )
1 vote Cheryl-L-B | Mar 6, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is an unsettling book, and my more Zionist Israel-is-always-right friends will hate it. It doesn't criticize Israel, mind you, but our general culture surrounding the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora. Wolfe deals with, among other topics, the rejection of the legitimacy of life in Diaspora ("Diaspora negation"), a culture established on survivor guilt ("Six million Jews...did not die so that another six million could lead the good life in New York....Every living Jew must understand that he or she is taking the place of another who never had the opportunity." (p. 4) He looks at the founding of the State of Israel and attitudes the yishuv had toward Diaspora Jews, as well as early relations Israel had with the Diaspora community, including arguing against the founding of Brandeis University. He looks at the ongoing tension between Jewish prophetic universalism and a more parochial particularism, and how that tension determines the relationship between the Diaspora and Israel. The universalism/particularism tension also sets messages regarding intermarriage and other crises that the Jewish community faces -- but he suggests that Jews have survived a great many things, and intermarriage will be no different (this ignores the Orthodox perspective that counts only matrilineal Jews). Wolfe also questions that notion that anti-Semitism is as pervasive and dangerous as our standard narrative says, and suggests, provocatively, that the "the world is out to get us" narrative is disingenuous and manipulative. As he documents claims of widespread anti-Semitism, he eventually even accuses Jews of ingratitude toward the Diaspora: "Jews seem lacking in the confidence that would enable them to become a little more appreciative of just how securely this one part of the Diaspora has offered them a home." (p. 172) He considers the conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism to be an expansion of the manipulation, with the argument that since insufficient real anti-Semitic examples can be found, those setting the narrative have to reach for criticism of Israel (and there are plenty of examples of that) to bolster their case. (He notes the irony that major Jewish organizations have "welcomed those who utter" real contempt for Jews in the name of accessing e.g. Evangelical Christian support for Israel.) "It may seem odd for Jewish organizations to reach out to right-wing Christians, but once the criterion for finding anti-Semitism becomes not what one things of the Jews but how much one supports Israel, Christians who dislike Jews but love Israel are preferable to those who cite the Hebrew prophets as forerunners but are critical of the Jewish state." (p. 178) Not that he denies that there is real anti-Semitism, but he sees the expansion of "anti-Semitism" into the Israel realm as essentially giving company to the real anti-Semites. In the end he comes out in favor of exile as good for the Jews, and concludes "There remain large sections of world Jewry convinced that the linked memories of the...Holocaust and salvation offered by statehood must never be forgotten...For them, a younger generation of new, more universalistic Jews will be written off as too narcissistic...to recognize why Israel must always remain at the center of everything Jewish. But the events of the 1930s and 1940s are not the only events constituting Jewish memory." (p. 215)

I'm not sure I agree with everything he says, but he supports most of his statements with documentation, and certainly holds a challenging mirror up to how Jews think about themselves in the Diaspora and in Israel.
  jwpell | Jan 21, 2016 |
from the hand-wringers who claim the baby has been thrown out with the bath water, to those who are all too happy to throw the baby out with the bathwater, this book covers a lot of ground and in a very balanced manner. being new to the subject of the Diaspora debate, most of the names are unfamiliar to me but it will serve as a handy reference when reading other articles. the author makes the argument that not only is the diaspora not a disaster, but that it has been good for the Jewish people and for Judaism itself. Jews are in a place today to bring out the best in themselves and Judaism and to work for the well being of all peoples and Israel, a balance of particularism and universalism. There are threats today as ever, but Jews as well as other minorities, have access to media and politics and education and social institutions in a way never before available in order to promote justice and protection for themselves and others in a cooperative spirit. Partly due to assimilation and acceptance, this works like any other two-edged sword, but it can be a source of strength and growth for Jews, Judaism and Israel. I received this book through LT early reviewers. ( )
1 vote Savta | Dec 27, 2015 |
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Universalism or nationalism, the author describes how the Holocaust and the creation of a State for the Jews in Palestine creates a tension that is not necessary irreconcilable between Jews of the Diaspora and Jews living in Israel. All have a common duty to those that were lost.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0807033138, Hardcover)

An eloquent, controversial argument that says, for the first time in their long history, Jews are free to live in a Jewish state—or lead secure and productive lives outside it
 
Since the beginnings of Zionism in the twentieth century, many Jewish thinkers have considered it close to heresy to validate life in the Diaspora. Jews in Europe and America faced “a life of pointless struggle and futile suffering, of ambivalence, confusion, and eternal impotence,” as one early Zionist philosopher wrote, echoing a widespread and vehement disdain for Jews living outside Israel. This thinking, in a more understated but still pernicious form, continues to the present: the Holocaust tried to kill all of us, many Jews believe, and only statehood offers safety. 
 
But what if the Diaspora is a blessing in disguise? In At Home in Exile, renowned scholar and public intellectual Alan Wolfe, writing for the first time about his Jewish heritage, makes an impassioned, eloquent, and controversial argument that Jews should take pride in their Diasporic tradition. It is true that Jews have experienced more than their fair share of discrimination and destruction in exile, and there can be no doubt that anti-Semitism persists throughout the world and often rears its ugly head. Yet for the first time in history, Wolfe shows, it is possible for Jews to lead vibrant, successful, and, above all else, secure lives in states in which they are a minority.
 
Drawing on centuries of Jewish thinking and writing, from Maimonides to Philip Roth, David Ben Gurion to Hannah Arendt, Wolfe makes a compelling case that life in the Diaspora can be good for the Jews no matter where they live, Israel very much included—as well as for the non-Jews with whom they live, Israel once again included. Not only can the Diaspora offer Jews the opportunity to reach a deep appreciation of pluralism and a commitment to fighting prejudice, but in an era of rising inequalities and global instability, the whole world can benefit from Jews’ passion for justice and human dignity.
 
Wolfe moves beyond the usual polemical arguments and celebrates a universalistic Judaism that is desperately needed if Israel is to survive. Turning our attention away from the Jewish state, where half of world Jewry lives, toward the pluralistic and vibrant places the other half have made their home, At Home in Exile is an inspiring call for a Judaism that isn’t defensive and insecure but is instead open and inquiring.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:50 -0400)

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