Jewish Emancipation: A History Across Five Centuries

Cover of the book titled "Jewish Emancipation: A History Across Five Centuries."

David Sorkin, the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Judaic Studies

(Princton University Press)

The Holocaust and the founding of the State of Israel now loom so large in modern Jewish history that we have mostly lost sight of the fact that they are only part of —  and indeed reactions to — the central event of that history: emancipation. In this book, David Sorkin seeks to reorient Jewish history by offering the first comprehensive account in any language of the process by which Jews became citizens with civil and political rights in the modern world. Ranging from the mid-16th century to the beginning of the 21st, “Jewish Emancipation” tells the ongoing story of how Jews have gained, kept, lost, and recovered rights in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, the United States, and Israel.

Emancipation, Sorkin writes, was not a one-time or linear event that began with the Enlightenment or French Revolution and culminated with Jews’ acquisition of rights in Central Europe in 1867-71 or Russia in 1917. Rather, he contends, emancipation was and is a complex, multidirectional, and ambiguous process characterized by deflections and reversals, defeats and successes, triumphs, and tragedies. For example, American Jews mobilized twice for emancipation: in the 19th century for political rights, and in the 20th for lost civil rights. Similarly, Israel itself has struggled from the start to institute equality among its heterogeneous citizens, Sorkin belives.

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