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Jews and Power

Jews and Power

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Written by Ruth R. WisseAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Ruth R. Wisse

  • Format: Hardcover, 256 pages
  • Publisher: Schocken
  • On Sale: August 28, 2007
  • Price: $27.95
  • ISBN: 978-0-8052-4224-9 (0-8052-4224-4)
Also available as an eBook.
about this book

From the kingdom of David to the Oslo accords, Ruth Wisse's sweeping narrative offers a radical new way to think about the
Jewish relationship to power. It is her bracing theory that the Jewish people have been corrupted—not by power, but by

Focusing on key moments in Jewish history—the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70, the disputation in Barcelona between the great sage Nachmanides and Christian agents of the King in the year 1263, the arguments employed by Theodor Herzl in his 1902 book Altneuland—Wisse explores the way the very survival strategies that evolved during the Diaspora out of religious, political, and historical necessity today imperil Jewish survival as never before.

A distinguished professor of comparative literature at Harvard, Wisse argues provocatively that in displaying the resilience necessary to survive in exile, the Jews stretched too far, accepting their powerlessness and even transforming it into a blessing; unburdened with the weight of governance, Jews could pursue their mission of repairing the world on a purely moral plane. Wisse sees this veneration of political weakness as a tragically naïve strategy that has only increased the Jewish people's vulnerability to scapegoating, treachery, and violence. Although she sees hope in the state of Israel--at last, the Jewish people have something to offer the world politically--Wisse explores the way the strategies of the Diaspora continue to drive the Jewish state, echoing Abba Eban's observation that Israel was the only nation to win a war and then sue for peace. She uses the Oslo accords as a prime example of the way Israel literally armed its enemies to propitiate, rather than persuade through force. She warns that if Israel remains trapped in the Diasporic mindset, a lasting peace will be impossible. And she draws a persuasive parallel to the present situation of America, as it struggles to figure out how a liberal democracy can face off against enemies who view western morality as weakness, compromise as proof of vulnerability. Wisse quotes the former CIA director James Woolsey: "We are all Jews now."

This deeply provocative book is sure to stir debate both inside and outside the Jewish world. Wisse's narrative offers a compelling argument rich with history and bristling with contemporary urgency.

“Ruth Wisse’s diagnostically penetrating history of a people powerless for two millennia—exiled, landless, stateless, abused, slaughtered—discloses how a creative remnant of Jews managed to survive, despite weakness and dependency, and in the face of spasmodic oppression and cynical expediency. Wisse shows how powerlessness too owns a politics—but it is a politics of appeasement and accommodation, while relying on the ardent hope of divine justice. For contemporary Jews, a stingingly urgent question remains: given the violence of what passes for statecraft among Israel’s neighbors, has the politics of the Jewish polity matured, have independence and democratic self-government altered an accustomed and venerable Jewish psychology? Wisse’s brilliantly discerning analysis supplies insights so historically striking, and so currently indispensable, that no honest thinker can do without them.”—Cynthia Ozick, author of Heir to the Glimmering World

“In an era of deepening political and moral confusion, Ruth Wisse supplies a voice that is both clarion and courageous. Hers is a vital message for anyone who cares about Israel's fate and the future of the Jewish people. Jews and Power is a book for our times and a cogent call for clarity.”—Michael Oren, author of Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present

“A book . . . that celebrates the Jewish return to sovereign power, in all its promise and complexity, is as unusual as it is welcome. Wisse has written such a book . . . [Jews and Power is] a good, fighting book that contains much information in few pages.”—New York Times Book Review

“Challenging, erudite and penetrating. . . Wisse shows no fear in these pages in saying exactly what she thinks, and you can't help but be impressed with her chutzpah, even if you totally disagree with her . . . Jews and Power makes no claim for objectivity, but it is an elucidating book. It will cause liberals to question their self-consciousness about Israel, since Wisse's argument about Jewish apologism challenges liberal ideas of victimhood. For conservatives, the book offers an intellectual understanding of what otherwise might seem to be only tribalistic loyalties.”—Los Angeles Times