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Course Information

Instructor Info:James Wald
Office Extension x5592
Term: 2013F
Meeting Info: Monday Wednesday
02:30 PM - 03:50 PM Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) 102
02:30 PM - 03:50 PM Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) 102
Description:

According to a famous and revealing anecdote, antisemitism means hating the Jews more than necessary. Among the most perplexing things about antisemitism is its persistence. It has flourished for over two millennia in a wide variety of settings, and, despite the rise of modern multiculturalism, seems to be on the rise again. It is no wonder that it has been called the longest hatred. Among the questions we will ask: How does it relate to other forms of prejudice? What are its origins? What forms does it take, and how do they change over time? What are its religious, psychological, or social roots? What were its effects? How did the Jews respond? The course moves from from the cultural prejudices of the Classical world, through the anti-Judaic teachings of the Christian churches, to the rise of modern social, political, and racial antisemitism and their new contemporary manifestations, including the Middle East conflict.

Course Objectives:

Hating the Jews more than necessary:  Can we think of a comparable phrase in another context of prejudice?  Why was it necessary to hate the Jews in the first place?

Summary/Overview

The course moves from the cultural prejudices of the Classical world, through the anti-Judaic teachings of the Christian churches, to the rise of modern social, political, and racial antisemitism culminating in the Shoah, or Nazi genocide against the Jews.  In the aftermath of World War II, the survival of antisemitism seemed unthinkable.  Nonetheless, antisemitism soon reappeared in various contexts, including lands in which there were relatively few Jews.  Beginning with the purge trials of the communist bloc, its center of gravity moreover seemed to be shifting from right to left.  The course therefore concludes with an exploration of recent and contemporary antisemitism, including the debates over its changing definition in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Further, rather than treating its topic in isolation, the course seeks to locate it in the broader course of Jewish and European history. The course is no substitute for a Jewish history course, for it must be made clear that Jewish history cannot be reduced to a history of antisemitism.  By the same token, the Jews cannot be reduced to passive subjects.  They devised a wide range of responses that varied with the era and their freedom of action:  apologetics, negotiation, assimilation, domestic political action, armed resistance, and Zionism.

One thing to bear in mind is that, just as Jewish history cannot be reduced to the history of antisemitism, so, too, antisemitism cannot be reduced to the handful of justly remembered traumatic moments:  the Crusades, the Expulsion from Spain, the massacres of the 17th century, the pogroms of the late 19th century, or the Shoah.  On the one hand, less dramatic forms of subjugation and humiliation were the more enduring reality. On the other, relationships between Jews and gentiles entailed daily complex patterns of coexistence as well as conflict.

Rather than providing pat answers, the course attempts to pose careful questions. It provides a survey of developments, access to primary sources and evolving scholarship, and a framework for their interpretation.  Some aspects of the topic may elude consensus, but students will come to understand why, in the process learning to make explicit their own assumptions and to support their own conclusions with historical perspectives and evidence.

The overarching goal of the course is to guide students through a systematic exploration of the questions raised in the course description. Participants will acquire an understanding of the subject matter, the concepts and methods appropriate to such an investigation, and the interpretation of primary sources and secondary literature.

Concepts, Content, and Method

Rather than treating its topic in isolation, the course seeks to locate it in the broader course of Jewish and European history. (The emphasis is on European history because that was the classic locus of antisemitism, which there unfolded its essential traits. Antisemtism existed elsewhere but did not necessarily develop distinct and influential forms. We will touch on antisemitism in the US at several points as appropriate, and I will be happy to assist students in pursuing investigations in areas of individual interest.) That said, the course is no substitute for a Jewish history course, for it must be made clear that Jewish history cannot be reduced to a history of antisemitism and persecution (what Salo W. Baron some eight decades ago famously called the “lachrymose" conception of Jewish history). Relationships between Jews and gentiles entailed complex patterns of daily coexistence as well as occasional conflict. They also did not unfold in linear and progressive fashion: Jews in the year 900 were arguably better off than they were in 1600. (The “Whig” conception of Jewish history makes no more sense than the “lachrymose” one.)

By the same token, the Jews cannot be reduced to passive subjects, at the low end of the spectrum stretching from total dependency and powerlessness to autonomy and power. They devised a wide range of responses to persecution that varied with the era, their freedom of action, and their individual or collective orientation: theological interpretation, apologetics, negotiation, assimilation, conversion, emigration, political action (domestic or international, particular or universal), armed resistance, and Zionism. Just as Jewish history cannot be reduced to the history of antisemitism, so, too, antisemitism cannot be reduced to the handful of justly remembered traumatic moments: the Crusades, the Expulsion from Spain, the massacres of the 17th century, the pogroms of the late 19th century, or the Shoah (Nazi genocide). Less dramatic forms of subjugation and humiliation were the more enduring reality.

Antisemitism is a shorthand and not unproblematic term, chosen principally for reasons of convenience and familiarity. The older term, “Jew-hatred,” is in some ways preferable because it is broader, unambiguous, more descriptive, and raw. Hence, too, the title of the course. “Hating the Jews more than necessary”: Can one think of a more revealing phrase? Can one think of a comparable phrase in another context of prejudice? (hating the Latinos more than necessary? Asian-Americans? homosexuals?) Why was it necessary to “hate” the Jews in the first place? The exquisitely humorous-cynical formulation, which has been attributed to various sources, signals both the venerable nature of the animus and the divide between the traditional hostility and new, more vicious (and vulgar or déclassé) modern forms arising in Central Europe over a century ago. The ubiquity and perdurability of Jew-hatred lead one to ask not only how it could last so long and under such different circumstances, but also whether any such phenomenon—manifesting itself in forms ranging from religious bigotry and social discrimination to genocidal pseudo-scientific racism—can truly be subsumed under a single meaningful definition.

That problem has been complicated by developments of recent decades. Prior to the Shoah, antisemites were not afraid to proclaim themselves as such. Afterward, the survival of antisemitism initially seemed unthinkable. Those who still disliked Jews in any case had to deny the charge, which, ironically, became easier because the phenomenon was so closely associated with the ultimate and unique extreme of Auschwitz.

Persecution and hatred of Jews nonetheless reappeared in various contexts, including lands in which there were few Jews. Beginning with the "anti-cosmopolitan campaign" and purge trials of the communist bloc, the center of gravity of antisemitism moreover seemed to be shifting from right to left. Although it was possible to dismiss the tendency as yet another Soviet betrayal of the left’s noble traditions, “anti-Zionism,” as the principal form of criticism of Jews (whether as Jews or as people who just happened to be Jews) became a fixture of left and Third World political discourse and arguably intensified after the fall of communism. The course therefore concludes with an exploration of debates over recent and contemporary antisemitism, including its role or changing definition in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the antiglobalization movement, and anti-Americanism.

Our concern here, it should be emphasized, is not to re-fight the Middle East conflict:
(1) That is not within the purview of the class.
(2) Others have been conducting it quite competently—and with weapons—for over a century.
(3) Honorable people can be found on both sides of the question.
Criticism of Israel, let us make this clear, is not automatically to be equated with antisemitism. That said, the fact that Jews of/and the Jewish state as such have become a particular focus of worldwide political animus and that much of the anti-Zionist discourse draws upon motifs found in classic antisemitic discourse and often seems to extend to Diaspora Jews gives us pause for thought. It is a moral dilemma and an intellectual opportunity.

Rather than providing pat answers, then, the course attempts to pose careful questions. It provides a survey of developments, access to primary sources and evolving scholarship, and a framework for their interpretation. Some aspects of the topic may elude consensus, but students will come to understand why, in the process learning to make explicit their own assumptions and to support their own conclusions with historical perspectives and evidence.

These latter points are of particular importance when dealing with emotionally charged or contemporary issues. Membership in an intellectual community—what used to be called the Republic of Letters—entalls the ability to rise above personal passions (though not commitment) and articulate opinions in a civil manner and on the basis of reasoned and universally accessible argument. As Rosa Luxemburg said, freedom is always the freedom of those who choose to think differently.

Evaluation Criteria:

As you will see, there is a great deal of reading in the syllabus (a "reading-intensive course," as the jargon would have it). Never fear: there are reasons for this.

(1) In order to understand something thoroughly, you need to have a command of the full range of source material.

(2) Both learning how to learn in general and learning about a specific field or subject entail developing reading strategies. The task and challenge for you are to learn how to work through the mass of material, both obtaining an overview of the sources and issues and deciding what, to your mind, is most important (whether illuminating or perplexing). Simple logic and mathematics dictate that we cannot discuss every single page of every single text. The goal for individual class preparation and group discussion should be to address the overarching issues of any given class with reference to specific evidence from the relevant readings. Because our class has no prerequisites and enrolls students with varied interests and varied levels of background knowledge, the syllabus is a very full one. It represents an ideal of thoroughness but in practice assumes no prior knowledge on the part of the student. Some of you will want to explore every text in detail, and some of you will be content with a more basic grasp of the issues. That is fine, and I always strive to satisfy all possible clienteles. Whenever possible, I will also provide explanations and study tips in the syllabus.

(3) Most important, then, remember that this is your class: Your participation in discussion in the seminar format is what makes or breaks it. You are not expected to understand everything perfectly (otherwise, why would you need a teacher?). Rather, do your best with the readings, and then bring your reactions—impressions, conclusions, confusions, dilemmas—to class, and together, we will explore them. At first, the number and nature of the texts may be daunting (perhaps, seemingly, overwhelming). I guarantee, however, that things will get easier as the semester unfolds. It always works.

(4) The ability to work through a mass of evidence, draw, and elegantly express your own reasoned conclusions is the most important skill of the historical craft and moreover the one that is most transferable to personal and professional life outside the college walls. The resultant time management skills are pretty handy, too.

(5) As noted below ("Additional Info"), the essential requirement regarding the reading is that you do it. That means—regardless of whether you purchase books and print out pdfs—that you need to (a) read actively rather than passively and thoroughly rather than superficially; (b) be able to discuss a given piece in some depth as concerns both concepts and evidence, and (c) that in turn presupposes that you have some way of retaining and organizing information information between the time that you read and the time that you come to class, and from one class to the next—particularly when it comes time to write an essay. Taking good notes is the key. It takes a bit longer in the short run but saves you time in the long run, so that you don't have to go back and do double work.

(6) My best hint on reading strategy: Set aside a small block of time and go through all the readings for a given day at a fairly quick pace. Don't take notes or worry about details this time. When you finish a given piece, stop to ask yourself why it was assigned, i.e. what its main point were, and how they contribute to the class session in question and the unfolding of the course as a whole. Jot down the key ideas or facts— or the questions that remain unresolved. Once you've gone through the whole set of the day's readings in this way, you can go back over each piece much more intelligently and efficiently. You'll know where to focus your efforts and why. Take some more notes on individual pieces, and then see whether you can put together a little summary of the whole batch. (On many occasions, there will be a required reading response that serves these purposes.) 

Remember, above all, that the purpose of a seminar is both diagnostic and cumulative. What we are striving for all along and evaluating or grading is not perfection from the start (an impossibility anyway), but individual growth and progress. The task of the teacher is to facilitate that process.

Readings

Students are expected to complete the readings before class, and to come to class prepared to discuss them in detail. The aim is not perfection on the first try. Just make good-faith effort, and bring your questions to class. Together, we will find the answers.

Writing assignments

Students will post periodic brief online reading responses and write several essays based on the course material, with the opportunity/option to do a larger research project.

 

Summary: I don't believe in assigning rigid weights to any single class exercise or assignment: i.e., it is not a zero-sum game, in which a "poor" performance on a single paper can drag down an otherwise excellent grade or evaluation. Rather, I consider the progression, the trajectory, and the overall result: What have you learned or how have you grown intellectually?

Hampshire classes employ the portfolio evaluation method. When we can see your entire work in front of us at once, we are best able to understand its development and appreciate its growth (it also allows me to control and check my reactions to earlier work, so that I can ensure I was fair and consistent). It's a lot more work for the teacher, but ultimately more satisfying for all parties. Please note: This means that you need to retain copies of all your individual writing assignments, along with my comments. You will need to turn in this portfolio of work at the end of the term. (I in turn will return all work to you after I have evaluated/graded it.) 

Additional Info:

The following books are available for purchase at Amherst Books:

8 Main St., Amherst
http://www.amherstbooks.com/Textbooks/index.shtml
tel. 413-256-1547

You are of course free to obtain the books wherever it is convenient, but I do think it important to support independent bookstores (not least because the owner is a Hampshire alumnus who has also taught here).

Amherst Books prices are competitive, and above all, the service is top-notch. You will find there people who actually know books. They can also order additional copies very quickly.

I am all too aware of the cost of college books, though I should note that the kinds of books we use in our history courses are relatively cheap. If you were taking the Modern Europe survey course at many a college or university, the single traditional "textbook" (an updated edition of the one that I used and the generation before me used) would cost you well over $ 100. That's just for one title. The situation is, if anything, worse in language instruction and the natural and social sciences.

Bottom line: It is a course requirement that you do the reading, but it makes no difference to me how you do it.  You are free to purchase the books, borrow the books from a library--whatever. For that matter, I encourage you to consider sharing, if that works. If, for example you have a friend or neighbor in the class and can share the same copy, that's fine with me. However, there really is a strong reason to purchase books: it makes it much easier to do the work, and owning a personal library (even if some of the contents change as you buy new books or sell those you no longer need) is part of being an intellectually engaged person.

Required Books:

• Norman Solomon, Judaism: A Very Short Introduction (NY: Oxford University Press, 1996)

• Albert S. Lindemann and Richard S. Levy, eds., Antisemitism: A History (NY: Oxford University, 2010)

• Robert Chazan, ed., Church, State, and Jew in the Middle Ages (NY: Behrman House, 1980)

• Marvin Perry and Frederick M. Schweitzer, Antisemitic Myths: A Historical and Contemporary Anthology (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2008)

• George L. Mosse,Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism (NY: Howard Fertig, 1997)

[there may be another title, but I'll let you know]

All other readings will be available online (generally, as pdfs or as links to websites)