Books

Judah Magnes The Prophetic Politics of a Religious Binationalist

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  • David Barak-Gorodetsky (author)
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About the Book

PUBLICATION DATE: November 2021

This comprehensive intellectual biography of Judah Magnes—the Reform rabbi, American Zionist leader, and inaugural Hebrew University chancellor—offers novel analysis of how theology and politics intertwined to drive Magnes’s writings and activism—especially his championing of a binational state—against all odds.

Like a prophet unable to suppress his prophecy, Magnes could not resist a religious calling to take political action, whatever the cost. In Palestine no one understood his uniquely American pragmatism and insistence that a constitutional system was foundational for a just society. Jewish leaders regarded his prophetic politics as overly conciliatory and dangerous for negotiations. Magnes’s central European allies in striving for a binational Palestine, including Martin Buber, credited him with restoring their faith in politics, but they ultimately retreated from binationalism to welcome the new State of Israel.

In candidly portraying the complex Magnes as he understood himself, David Barak-Gorodetsky elucidates why Magnes persevered, despite evident lack of Arab interest, to advocate binationalism with Truman in May 1948 at the ultimate price of Jewish sovereignty. Accompanying Magnes on his long-misunderstood journey, we gain a unique broader perspective: on early peacemaking efforts in Israel/Palestine, the American Jewish role in the history of the state, binationalism as political theology, an American view of binationalism, and the charged realities of Israel today.

“One might imagine that nothing novel could be written about Judah Magnes, but this highly original, sophisticated, and brilliantly insightful portrait of Magnes against the backdrop of his times allows Magnes to come alive anew as a man of great religious conviction, shedding crucial new light on Magnes and highlighting his significance for our moment. I enthusiastically recommend this book to anyone interested in Magnes, the history of Zionism and the Yishuv, and modern Jewish intellectual and religious history.”—Rabbi David Ellenson, chancellor emeritus, Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion

“More than any previous scholar, Barak-Gorodetsky succeeds in unraveling the braided intellectual strands—American, liberal, and Jewish—that combined to shape Magnes’s binationalism and distinctive approach to Zionism.”—Jonathan D. Sarna, Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History, Brandeis University

“In this book, David Barak-Gorodetsky offers fascinating new perspective on Judah L. Magnes. Part Jeremiah, part Gandhi, and part Sisyphus, Magnes was an American in Palestine, a religious man in a political world, and an idealist among pragmatists. Barak-Gorodetsky’s superb excavation of Magnes’s roots in American theology opens our eyes to a much fuller portrait than has been offered before. One grasps Magnes’s animating sensibilities, as well as the discomfort he felt and generated in his transplanted home in Jerusalem. But generating discomfort was one of his goals, as he challenged the verities of Zionism with his prophetic voice, pointing to a different, moral standard as the ideal axis around which the national movement should revolve. A pathbreaking biography of an ever-intriguing and enigmatic figure.”—David N. Myers, professor and Sady and Ludwig Kahn Chair in Jewish History, University of California, Los Angeles

“With this compelling biography, David Barak-Gorodetsky offers important revision to our understanding of Judah Magnes, rightly centering his religious fervor and idealism at the core of his politics.”—Pamela S. Nadell, author of America’s Jewish Women: A History from Colonial Times to Today

David Barak-Gorodetsky

David Barak-Gorodetsky is Israel Institute Visiting Fellow at the Divinity School and the Greenberg Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Chicago. He is also editor of Stripes, Stars, and Magen David: The Jewish American Contribution to the Yishuv and the State of Israel and Connected Vessels: Thoughts in Jewish Education.

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