An old joke has it that every three Jews have (at least) four different views. Students will come to appreciate the kernel of truth in that joke during the semester, as we will examine the multifaceted spectrum of ideologies, movements, parties, and individuals that constituted the emerging Jewish politics during their formative years. Focusing primarily on three centers – Eastern Europe, the U.S., and the Middle East – we will look at how those different movements sought to solve what was called “The Jewish Question”. We will look at how the various forces on the Jewish street sought to settle that question, where did they think Jews should live, what language(s) should Jews speak, with which political and cultural movements in the Gentile world did they empathize, and what political tactics did they favor.
Moreover, the questions and situations faced by Jewish ideologies and political movements were often, quite literally, a matter of life or death: among other topics, our discussion would turn to patterns of collaboration and resistance under Nazi rule, or the fierce internal Zionist debates about the use of force in the increasing Jewish-Arab conflict in the Land of Israel. Those crucial dilemmas generated profound intra-Jewish controversies and divisions, some of which have continued to this very day.