Jew­ish Iden­ti­ty: The Chal­lenge of Peo­ple­hood Today

Ruth Shamir Popkin
  • Review
By – November 11, 2015

Ruth Shamir Popkin’s lat­est book, Jew­ish Iden­ti­ty: The Chal­lenge of Peo­ple­hood Today, is a fas­ci­nat­ing, eru­dite study of Jew­ish nation­al self-iden­ti­ty. Pop­kin pro­vides a thor­ough step-by-step analy­sis of the many fac­tors that have shaped Jew­ish nation­al­ism since the time of ancient Israel. 

Pop­kin is a won­der­ful sto­ry­teller; each chap­ter pro­vides a grip­ping account of fac­tors affect­ing the devel­op­ment of peo­ple­hood. One of the most inter­est­ing chap­ters is Iden­ti­ty Strug­gles with­in Israel,” in which Pop­kin pro­vides a clear analy­sis of the writ­ings of the New His­to­ri­ans” and their views of the War of Inde­pen­dence in 1948. Ben­ny Mor­ris is one of the most famous New His­to­ri­ans. Accord­ing to Pop­kin, his work became a major water­shed in the his­to­ri­og­ra­phy of the Israel-Pales­tine con­flict” because it was the first com­pre­hen­sive schol­ar­ly inquiry into the prob­lem of the Pales­tin­ian refugees based on recent­ly opened Israeli archives.” The Arab states have con­sis­tent­ly refused to open their archives to researchers. 

The descrip­tion of the dif­fer­ent phas­es of the Pales­tin­ian Arab exo­dus makes for riv­et­ing read­ing. Both Jews and Arabs were expelled in some cas­es and vol­un­tar­i­ly chose to flee in oth­ers. For exam­ple, fear­ful Pales­tini­ans left mixed neigh­bor­hoods in Haifa and Jaf­fa of their own accord. Jews were forced out of cer­tain areas, such as the Jew­ish Quar­ter in the Old City, and often fled areas with large Arab pop­u­la­tions. Pop­kin goes on to pro­vide a par­tic­u­lar­ly cogent analy­sis of the work of var­i­ous post­mod­ern and post-Zion­ist” writ­ers who demand the debunk­ing of Zion­ist ideals and nation­al self-identity. 

This brief review can­not do jus­tice to the com­plex­i­ty of the issues described in Jew­ish Iden­ti­ty: The Chal­lenge of Peo­ple­hood Today. Pop­kin demon­strates that since ear­ly Tem­ple times, Jew­ish nation­al iden­ti­ty has been con­tin­u­al­ly evolv­ing. To sus­tain the Dias­po­ra and a strong and healthy Israel, Pop­kin sug­gests that Jews inter­nal­ize the core ideas of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism — plu­ral­ism and diver­si­ty.” The Jew­ish sense of iden­ti­ty needs to be mul­ti­fac­eted, all inclu­sive,” and must pos­i­tive­ly reflect the free­dom of the world today.

Index, notes, references. 

Relat­ed Content:

Car­ol Poll, Ph.D., is the retired Chair of the Social Sci­ences Depart­ment and Pro­fes­sor of Soci­ol­o­gy at the Fash­ion Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy of the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York. Her areas of inter­est include the soci­ol­o­gy of race and eth­nic rela­tions, the soci­ol­o­gy of mar­riage, fam­i­ly and gen­der roles and the soci­ol­o­gy of Jews.

Discussion Questions