Who Are the Jews—And Who Can We Become?

About the Book

2023 National Jewish Book Awards Finalist in Modern Jewish Thought and Experience

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November 2023

Who Are the Jews—And Who Can We Become? tackles perhaps the most urgent question facing the Jewish people today: Given unprecedented denominational tribalism, how can we Jews speak of ourselves in collective terms?

Crucially, the way each of us tells our “shared” story is putting our collective identity at risk, Donniel Hartman argues. We need a new story, built on Judaism’s foundations and poised to inspire a majority of Jews to listen, discuss, and retell it. This book is that story.

Since our beginnings, Hartman explains, the Jewish identity meta-narrative has been a living synthesis of two competing religious covenants: Genesis Judaism, which defines Jewishness in terms of who one is and the group to which one belongs, independent of what one does or believes; and Exodus Judaism, which grounds identity in terms of one’s relationship with an aspirational system of values, ideals, beliefs, commandments, and behaviors. When one narrative becomes too dominant, Jewish collective identity becomes distorted. Conversely, when Genesis and Exodus interplay, the sparks of a rich, compelling identity are found.

Hartman deftly applies this Genesis-Exodus meta-narrative as a roadmap to addressing contemporary challenges, including Diaspora Jewry’s eroding relationship with Israel, the “othering” of Israeli Palestinians, interfaith marriage, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and—collectively—who we Jews can become.


“Who are the Jews? Jewish tradition’s answer to this question is hidden in the stories of the Bible. In his new book, Donniel Hartman dives into these stories, reveals the answer, and uses it to shine a new light on the great challenges facing the state of Israel and the American Jewish community today. This is a fascinating book—immersive and rewarding. I highly recommend it.”—Micah Goodman, author of Catch 67: The Left, the Right, and the Legacy of the Six-Day War and Maimonides and the Book That Changed Judaism

“Rich, responsible, and provocative, this book is extremely important for anyone invested in the future of Judaism.”—Ishay Rosen-Zvi, chair, Department of Jewish Philosophy and Talmud, Tel-Aviv University

“Who Are the Jews—And Who Can We Become? is an important book for this watershed moment in our collective history. Hartman, a gifted teacher of Judaism, has succeeded in providing a language for understanding the divide between Israel and the Diaspora, the polarities dividing Israel, and the cultural and spiritual drift of North American Jews. Rabbis and educators will find it very useful as a text to initiate discussions about many core Jewish issues. As a congregational rabbi, I attest that I will delight in building an adult education course around this book.”—Rabbi Edward Feinstein, senior rabbi, Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, California

“In this groundbreaking book, Donniel Hartman takes on the great Jewish question of our time: who are we? Combining deep erudition with passion and love, Hartman explores the complexities of Jewish identity, writing with sympathy for the variety of ways in which we express our Jewishness even as he insists that we aspire to our highest values. Who Are the Jews—And Who Can We Become? belongs on the short shelf of indispensable books on contemporary Judaism.”—Yossi Klein Halevi, author of Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor

“Hartman adroitly argues that ‘as long as the story we tell ourselves about ourselves embraces and strengthens the complexity of our identities… we provide ourselves with the tools to expand our moral aperture,’ and invites essential debates about Judaism’s past, present, and future. This impresses.”Publisher’s Weekly

“This book brave­ly chal­lenges age-old ques­tions about what it means to be a Jew, what has it meant to be a Jew his­tor­i­cal­ly, and what the future of Judaism might hold.”—Josh Hanft, Jewish Book Council

Donniel Hartman

Donniel Hartman is president of the Shalom Hartman Institute, where he holds the Kaufman Family Chair in Jewish Philosophy. He is the author of Putting God Second: How to Save Religion from Itself and The Boundaries of Judaism, among other books; the founder of religious education, training, and enrichment programs in Israel and North America; and host of the popular Jewish podcast For Heaven’s Sake.

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