Contested Utopia Jewish Dreams and Israeli Realities

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  • Marc J Rosenstein (author)

About the Book


This original volume—the first to examine the idea of the Jewish state through the lens of Jewish utopian thought from its biblical beginnings to modernity—offers a fresh perspective on the political, religious, and geopolitical life of Israel. As historian Rosenstein argues, the Jewish people’s collective memories, desires, hopes, and faith have converged to envision an ideal life in the Land of Israel—but, critically, the legacy is a kaleidoscope of conflicting (and sometimes overlapping) visions. And after three millennia of imagining a utopian Jewish polity, it is almost impossible for Jews to respond to Israel’s realities without being influenced—even unconsciously—by these images.

Charting the place of utopian thought in Judaism, Rosenstein then devotes a series of chapters to illustrating, with original texts, diverse utopian visions of the Jewish state: A Torah state (Yavetz), a holy community (based on nostalgic memories of the medieval community), a national/cultural home (Lewinsky), a “normal” state (Herzl), a socialist paradise (Syrkin), anarchy (Jabotinsky), and a polity defined by Israel’s historic or divinely ordained borders.

His subsequent analysis of how these disparate utopian visions collide in Israel’s attempts to chart policy and practice regarding the Sabbath, social welfare, immigration, developing vs. conserving the land, and the Israel-Diaspora relationship yields novel perspectives on contemporary flashpoints. His own utopian vision, and a Study/Discussion guide (available online) offer additional entryways for both Israelis and Diaspora Jews into more aware, informed, and nuanced conversations about the “Jewish state” we hope to see.

“An engaging and provocative exploration of how utopian aspirations and the tensions between vision and reality have played out in Jewish history over time. At once intellectually rigorous and eminently practical, I believe Contested Utopia will help to shape philosophical and political discourse around the future of the Jewish State for a long time to come.

Rabbi Lisa Grant, Director of the Rabbinical Program and Professor of Jewish Education, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, New York

Marc J Rosenstein

Marc J. Rosenstein is the former director of both the Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion’s Israel Rabbinical Program and the Galilee Foundation for Value Education. He is the author of Galilee Diary and Turning Points in Jewish History (JPS, 2018).  Ordained at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, he holds a PhD in modern Jewish history from the Hebrew University.  He grew up in the Chicago area and held positions as a Jewish educator in Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia, before making aliyah with his family in 1990.  Since then, he has lived in Moshav Shorashim, in the Galilee.

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