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This book explodes the myth of a monolithic, liberal Judaism and tells the story of the many fierce battles that raged in postwar America over what an authentically Jewish position ought to be on issues ranging from desegregation to Zionism, and from Vietnam to gender relations, sexuality, and family life.

Staub, Michael

Torn at the Roots

The Crisis of Jewish Liberalism in Postwar America

Series:Religion and American Culture


    29,95 € / $33.99 / £24.99*

    eBook (PDF)
    Publication Date:
    February 2004
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    Aims and Scope

    When Jewish neoconservatives burst upon the political scene, many people were surprised. Conventional wisdom held that Jews were uniformly liberal. This book explodes the myth of a monolithic liberal Judaism. Michael Staub tells the story of the many fierce battles that raged in postwar America over what the authentically Jewish position ought to be on issues ranging from desegregation to Zionism, from Vietnam to gender relations, sexuality, and family life. Throughout the three decades after 1945, Michael Staub shows, American Jews debated the ways in which the political commitments of Jewish individuals and groups could or should be shaped by their Jewishness. Staub shows that, contrary to conventional wisdom, the liberal position was never the obvious winner in the contest.

    By the late 1960s left-wing Jews were often accused by their conservative counterparts of self-hatred or of being inadequately or improperly Jewish. They, in turn, insisted that right-wing Jews were deaf to the moral imperatives of both the Jewish prophetic tradition and Jewish historical experience, which obliged Jews to pursue social justice for the oppressed and the marginalized. Such declamations characterized disputes over a variety of topics: American anticommunism, activism on behalf of African American civil rights, imperatives of Jewish survival, Israel and Israeli-Palestinian relations, the 1960s counterculture, including the women's and gay and lesbian liberation movements, and the renaissance of Jewish ethnic pride and religious observance. Spanning these controversies, Staub presents not only a revelatory and clear-eyed prehistory of contemporary Jewish neoconservatism but also an important corrective to investigations of "identity politics" that have focused on interethnic contacts and conflicts while neglecting intraethnic ones.

    Revising standard assumptions about the timing of Holocaust awareness in postwar America, Staub charts how central arguments over the Holocaust's purported lessons were to intra-Jewish political conflict already in the first two decades after World War II. Revisiting forgotten artifacts of the postwar years, such as Jewish marriage manuals, satiric radical Zionist cartoons, and the 1970s sitcom about an intermarried couple entitled Bridget Loves Bernie, and incidents such as the firing of a Columbia University rabbi for supporting anti-Vietnam war protesters and the efforts of the Miami Beach Hotel Owners Association to cancel an African Methodist Episcopal Church convention, Torn at the Roots sheds new light on an era we thought we knew well.


    392 pages
    38 illus 38 Fig.
    Professional and scholarly;

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    Michael E. Staub teaches English and American Studies at Bowling Green State University. He is the author of Voices of Persuasion: Politics of Representation in 1930s America. He lives in Ann Arbor, MI.


    Peter J. Haas:
    A window into just how complex the conservative - liberal split has been in the American Jewish community... It adds an important chapter to the story of what the American Jewish community is really like.

    Gad Nahshon:
    a vibrant history of the liberal quest for improving the world

    Marc Dollinger:
    Torn at the Roots will force important and powerful historiographic changes. It is a rich, well-researched, and intricate study.

    Nathan Abrams:
    Another welcome addition to the already large literature on the suprisingly tenacious adherence of Jews to liberalism.

    Beth Wenger:
    Staub's carefully researched and cogently argued book explores the evolution and complex dimensions of Jewish politics, calling into question many widely-held assumptions about Jewish liberalism.... [Torn at the Roots] offer[s] new insights into the dimensions of Jewish culture in postwar America.

    Marjorie N. Feld:
    Staub's work is important precisely because it records the history of competing visions of Jewishness.

    Masterful... A vibrant history of the liberal quest for improving the world, a history relevant for the present and future, and one which deserves wide reading and discussion.

    [Staub] challenges commonly held notions regarding the purported liberalism of US Jewry while underscoring the growing importance of spirituality for left-of-center Jews... This is an important work... highly recommended.

    Pamela S. Nadell:
    Torn at the Roots contributes significantly to our understanding of what Jewish identity meant to different groups of American Jews, those marching on the left, sitting in the establishment's center, and leaning towards the conservative right in the decades after the Holocaust.

    Staub explores divisions within Jewish liberalism during the Sixties and into the Seventies, showing that Jews have long differed in their stances on key political issues... recommended.

    Abraham J. Peck:
    [T]hrough Staub's book we have a much clearer and better appreciation for the depths of the intra-Jewish, internecine struggles that took place within the American Jewish community from the end of World War II until the end of the war in Vietnam. Torn at the Roots paints a sobering picture of a Jewish community torn by ideological conflict.

    Jewish liberalism and its history is a familiar subject, but this book by Michael Staub offers a great deal of new insight and information; indeed, it is arguably the best treatment of the rightward drift of the Jewish mainstream from the late 1940s to the early 1970s.

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