Insider/Outsider: American Jews and Multiculturalism, edited by David Biale, Michael Galchinsky, and Susannah Heschel, has been on my shelf since I bought it in the late 1990s—the book was published in 1998—but I only started reading it last month. I wish I’d read it sooner. It is filled with really interesting and provocative takes on contemporary questions of Jewish identity as they relate to multiculturalism, intersectionality, canonicity, diaspora studies and more. This is a paragraph from Amy Newman’s (no relation) “The Idea of Judaism in Feminism and Afrocentrism:”
The specific content of…negative images of Judaism…is remarkably malleable. During the eighteenth century, when European scholars were infatuated with pure reason, Judaism was criticized as an irrational faith. Now that rationalist ideology has come to be viewed with suspicion, hwoever, Judaism is more often conceived as the source of sterile rationality. When the hallmark of rational religion was its universalism, Judaism was criticized for its particularism; now that universalism has given way to an emphasis on difference, some assert that Judaism is the original source of universalistic thinking. In nineteenth-century German revolutionary thought, scientific method was viewed as a good thing and the Jewish tradition was accordingly conceived as hostile to a modern scientific worldview. In contemporary social criticism, scientific method has come under suspicion, and now we learn that the desire to dominate the world often equated with the scientific worldview originated in the Hebrew tradition. In modern German theories of race, Jews were often categorized as “black” because their ancestors had intermingled with Africans; in some recent Afrocentric scholarship, Jews are portrayed as the original “white” racists. (174)
Newman’s article is a long and complex critique of the way some feminist and Afrocentric scholars locate Jews and Judaism as the source of their partricular oppressions (patriarchy and/or racism), and is not something I can do justice to here. This paragraph made me think, however, about how even a cursory glance at the intellectual history of antisemitism demonstrates what a profoundly flexible a hatred it has been and continues to be, being easily molded to fit the purposes—ideological and otherwise—of whichever party needed it, on the left, on the right, or anywhere in between.