Jews and Power
By Ruth R. Wisse
(Schocken, Hardcover, 9780805242249, 256pp.)
Publication Date: August 28, 2007
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Part of the Jewish Encounter series
Taking in everything from the Kingdom of David to the Oslo Accords, Ruth Wisse offers a radical new way to think about the Jewish relationship to power. Traditional Jews believed that upholding the covenant with God constituted a treaty with the most powerful force in the universe; this later transformed itself into a belief that, unburdened by a military, Jews could pursue their religious mission on a purely moral plain. Wisse, an eminent professor of comparative literature at Harvard, demonstrates how Jewish political weakness both increased Jewish vulnerability to scapegoating and violence, and unwittingly goaded power-seeking nations to cast Jews as perpetual targets.
Although she sees hope in the State of Israel, Wisse questions the way the strategies of the Diaspora continue to drive the Jewish state, echoing Abba Eban's observation that Israel was the only nation to win a war and then sue for peace. And then she draws a persuasive parallel to the United States today, as it struggles to figure out how a liberal democracy can face off against enemies who view Western morality as weakness. This deeply provocative book is sure to stir debate both inside and outside the Jewish world. Wisse's narrative offers a compelling argument that is rich with history and bristling with contemporary urgency.
Ruth R. Wisse is Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard University. Born in Czernowitz (now part of Ukraine) and raised in Montreal, she was the first professor to offer courses in Yiddish literature at McGill University, where she helped found the Department of Jewish Studies in the late 1960s. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Praise for Ruth Wisse’s Jews and Power
“In an era of deepening political and moral confusion, Ruth Wisse supplies a voice that is both clarion and courageous. Hers is a vital message for anyone who cares about Israel's fate and the future of the Jewish people. Jews and Power is a book for our times and a cogent call for clarity.”
–Michael Oren, author of Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present
“Wisse's brilliantly discerning analysis supplies insights so historically striking, and so currently indispensable, that no honest thinker can do without them.”
–Cynthia Ozick, author of Heir to the Glimmering World
"A book . . . that celebrates the Jewish return to sovereign power, in all its promise and complexity, is as unusual as it is welcome. Wisse has written such a book . . . [Jews and Power is] a good, fighting book that contains much information in few pages."
—New York Times Book Review
"Challenging, erudite and penetrating. . . Wisse shows no fear in these pages in saying exactly what she thinks, and you can't help but be impressed with her chutzpah, even if you totally disagree with her . . . Jews and Power makes no claim for objectivity, but it is an elucidating book. It will cause liberals to question their self-consciousness about Israel, since Wisse's argument about Jewish apologism challenges liberal ideas of victimhood. For conservatives, the book offers an intellectual understanding of what otherwise might seem to be only tribalistic loyalties.
—Los Angeles Times