Deutscher and the Jews


1. Isaac Deutscher, “The Non-Jewish Jew” in The Non-Jewish Jew and Other Essays, Tamara Deutscher, ed. (New York: Hill and Wang and Oxford University Press, 1968), 25-41. Subsequent parenthetical page numbers in the text are from this volume.

2. Rather than making a case for the “Jewishness” of Karl Marx, Deutscher just assumes it. Marx’s father had converted to Christianity so one may wonder about what made Marx “Jewish.” I want to thank David Finkel for calling my attention to this matter. Personal communication of March 27, 2013. 

3. Freud had a more active association with organized Jewry than was the case for several of the other major “non-Jewish Jews” identified by Deutscher, although he was nevertheless ambivalent toward his own Jewish background. See Peter Loewenberg, “Sigmund Freud as a Jew: A Study in Ambivalence and Courage,” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, No. 7 (1971), 363-369.

4. Roy Medvedev, Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism, ed. and trans. George Shriver, revised and expanded edition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989), 869.

5. Of course, my purpose here is not to evaluate Napoleon’s policies and actions towards the Jews (he emancipated them everywhere he ruled) but rather Deutscher’s vision of the French emperor.

6. The historian Ezra Mendelsohn makes an important distinction between assimilation and acculturation. Thus, during the in terwar period there was significant acculturation of Polish Jews to the Polish language and culture but very little assimilation. Ezra Mendelsohn, “A Note on Jewish Assimilation in the Polish lands,” in Vela Vago, ed., Jewish Assimilation in Modern Times (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1981), 145-146. In this context, it is revealing and significant that historians of the Jews such as Simon Dubnov and Raphael Mahler thought that the replacement of Hebrew and Yiddish by modern European languages would carry the Jewish people towards its complete assimilation and self-destruction. Jonathan Frankel, “Assimilation and the Jews in nineteenth-century Europe: towards a new historiography?” in Jonathan Frankel and Steven J. Zipperstein, eds., Assimilation and Community: The Jews in Nineteenth Century Europe (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 21. 

7. There were also some 4,000 Sephardic Jews of Turkish origin and several hundred North American Jews on the island. However, my family and most Ashkenazi Jews had little contact with the members of these two other communities. Intercommunal contacts began to gradually increase after the Holocaust and the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948.

8. Enzo Traverso, The Marxists and the Jewish Question: The History of a Debate 1843-1943, translated by Bernard Gibbons (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1994).

9. Traverso, 21.

10. Traverso, 217.

11. Hal Draper, “Marx and the Economic-Jew Stereotype,” Special Note A, in Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution: Part I State and Bureaucracy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977), 591-608.

12. Traverso, 227-28. For a more extended discussion, although from a Zionist point of view, of the evolution of Trotsky’s thinking about the fate of the Jews in the 1930s see Joseph Nedava, Trotsky and the Jews (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1972), 202-210. 

13. Traverso, 104. Medem’s view remained his own since it was not officially adopted by the Bund. 

14. Cited by Traverso, 228. 

15. Many prominent, educated, elite Jews such as Theodor Herzl and Max Nordau also felt that “only anti-Semitism had made Jews of us.” Cited by Steven Zipperstein, who describes the comment as “half-frivolous, but also deadly earnest” in “Ahad Ha’am and the politics of assimilation,” in Jonathan Frankel and Steven J. Zipperstein (eds.), Assimilation and Community: The Jews in Nineteenth Century Europe (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 344. 

16. For a different approach, see Moshe Machover, “Zionist myths: Hebrew versus Jewish identity,” Weekly Worker, 962, May 16, 2013.

17. For a brief discussion of Soviet Jewry, which underlines how anti-Semitic discrimination helped to prevent assimilation, see Yaacov Ro’i, “The Dilemma of Soviet Jewry’s Assimilation After 1948,” in Vago, ed., Jewish Assimilation in Modern Times, 165-170. 

18. It is perhaps ironic that Deutscher’s essay “The Non-Jewish Jew” was based on a lecture delivered during Jewish Book Week to the World Jewish Congress, in February 1958.

19. Mariam K. Slater, “My Son the Doctor: Aspects of Mobility Among American Jews,” American Sociological Review, Vol. 34, No. 3 (June 1969): 359-373. Stephen Steinberg has pointed out that sociologists have argued not that Jewish intellectual traditions were in themselves important but rather that they fostered a positive orientation toward learning that was easily adapted to secular education. However, that was not Deutscher’s view about Jewish intellectuality. Stephen Steinberg, The Ethnic Myth: Race, Ethnicity and Class in America (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989), 132-133. 

20. Slater, 365.

21. Slater, 365-366. Interestingly, in her introduction to this volume, Tamara Deutscher cites her late husband to the effect that his religious training provided a “pseudo-knowledge” that “cluttered and strained my memory, took me away from real life, from real learning, from real knowledge of the world around me. It stunted my physical and mental development” (7).

22. Slater, 366. Slater is quoting here Louis Wirth, “Education for Survival: the Jews,” in Charles S. Johnson, ed., Education and the Cultural Process, reprinted from the American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 48, No. 6 (May 1943).

23. Antony Polonsky, “Introduction. The Shtetl: Myth and Reality,” in Antony Polonsky, ed., The Shtetl: Myth and Reality, Studies in Polish Jewry, Volume Seventeen (Oxford: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2004), 18. 

24. Steinberg, 101-102.

25. Tony Michels, A Fire in Their Hearts: Yiddish Socialists in New York (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), 109-110.

26. Steinberg, 98.

27. Michels, 77.

28. Slater, 371.

29. Ira Sheskin and Arnold Dashefsky, Jewish Population in the United States, 2011, Number 4, 2011, Berman Institute—North American Jewish Data Bank, University of Connecticut; and Naomi Zeveloff, “U.S. Population Pegged at 6 Million,” Forward.Com, published Jan. 17, 2012 issue of Jan. 20, 2012.

30. Joseph Berger, “With Orthodox Growth, City’s Jewish Population is Climbing Again,” The New York Times, June 12, 2012, A18.

31. I would have expected a lower proportion of Orthodox Jews outside of New York but not such a large difference (40 percent of Jews in New York compared to 10 percent in the U.S. as a whole).

32. Laurie Goodstein, “Poll Shows Major Shift in Identity of U.S. Jews,” The New York Times, Oct. 1, 2013; and Pew Research Religion & Public Life Project, A Portrait of Jewish Americans, Oct. 1, 2013.

33. It is worth noting, however, that perhaps in response to their relative decline and the gradual move to the right of the Jewish community, the Conservative and even the Reform wings of American Judaism are moving closer to Orthodox religious practices.

34. “Nones” on the Rise. One-in-Five Adults Have no Religious Affiliation. Poll conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, Oct. 9, 2012.

35. 2007 Survey of American Jews—[North American Jewish Data Bank]. 

36. Peter Beinart, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” The New York Review of Books, June 10, 2010. 

37. Cited by Traverso, 49.

38. Michels, 123.

39. Michels, 126.

40. It is worth noting the similarity between this Jewish socialist stance and the reluctance of the American socialist leader Eugene Debs to go beyond the defense of Black workers as workers and develop a political program specifically addressed to the problems and oppression that Black people faced as Blacks.

41. A military clash between Cuba and Israel could have potentially taken place when the Cuban Army sent a tank brigade to reinforce Syria’s border with Israel near the Golan Heights after the “Yom Kippur” war of 1973. Ignacio Ramonet, Fidel Castro. Biografía a Dos Voces (Barcelona: Random House Mondadori, S.A., 2006), 529.