Instructor: Michael Walzer
Many people think that there was no Jewish politics from the time of Bar Kochba to the time of Ben Gurion. In fact, the engagement with politics is continuous in Jewish history, despite the difficulties and vulnerabilities produced by statelessness—and despite the fact that political activity was valued far less than intellectual activity in Jewish tradition. This seminar will look at three aspects of Jewish politics, the first having to do with attitudes, the second with practice, and the third with theory.
In the first session, we will reflect on what Jews thought about politics, its importance and its perils, and discuss what might be called the rules of engagement for Jews in their own politics and in the politics of their host countries.
The second session will focus on the medieval and early modern kahal, the autonomous or semi-autonomous communities within which Jews organized common life. Who ruled in the kahal? How did its institutions work? How was mutual aid organized? What were the recurrent conflicts?
The third session will deal with the Jewish view of war and the conduct of war. Since Jews had neither a state nor an army for most of their history, the topic is, until 1948, largely theoretical, but Jews did think about war—necessarily, because they were so often its victims. In ’48 and after, the subject became an urgent one in which Jews are unavoidably if also unhappily engaged.