By Chidinma Onuoha
Academic scholars from all over the world attended The Practice of Jewish Politics conference at this university to share their ideas on Jewish involvement in politics on Sunday and Monday.
Jewish history professor Bernard D. Cooperman said when people think of Jewish politics, it’s in the sense that Jews strove for political legitimacy in their homeland.
There were Jewish political parties in Russia, Romania and Poland in the 19th and 20th centuries. Specifically in Eastern Europe, Jewish Zionists and socialists wanted a socialist government to recognize the Jewish community’s ethnic rights.
Cooperman said that there have been many conferences in the past, but this conference was the first to address Jewish politics in practice.
The conference dealt with the ways in which countries around the world, along with Jews and Jewish communities, organize in order to accomplish political goals in society outside the Jewish community and create policy in an organized fashion. Topics such as “Lincoln and the American election of 1864,” and “Jews as political actors in pre-modern Europe” were addressed amongst several others in the two-panel conference.
Guest speakers Yair Mintzker of Princeton University and Cooperman, of this university, also took to the podium presenting their historical findings about Jewish political activity in the 13th and 14th centuries, debunking preconceived notions that Jews had little involvement in politics.
Cooperman and Rachel Manekin, who are both professors at the Center for Jewish Studies and History, along with Francois Guesnet of the University College London came up with the idea to have a conference specifically devoted to pre-organized politics when they were at a conference at Yale a year ago.
They wanted to see how this idea started.
“Where did it come from? What’s the point of bringing a bunch of people together to talk in a room?” Cooperman asked.
The real goal was to advance the scholarly discussion—academics talking to each other in order to give more insight to a topic and to educate the public.
“[Scholarly discourse] is the way in which society develops and the way ideas are shaped,” said Cooperman. “The main purpose of conference like this is to be given an opportunity for scholars to come together to share their ideas and advance the scholarly discourse.”
The conference was something that “no one has ever done before,” Cooperman said. Cooperman said the conference brought people together to highlight Jewish political activity, educate the population and make people aware of what’s going on.
Jonathan D. Sarna of Brandeis University said in the coming election of 1864, the Jews were insistent on voting but that several scholarly articles said the Jews were politically divided and there was no solid Jewish vote. Articles also said that most of the Jews should have no political aspirations but to be loyal citizens and that Rabbi’s had no right to advise the community. However, he said there was a scholarly article that challenged every previous claim.
“Jews as Jews were much more engaged in proposing Abraham Lincoln’s 1864 reelection,” said Sarna. “Historians have been somewhat mislead by the prescriptive literature warning jews against the evil of group politics. When one looks at what Jews actually did [they] discover that leaders paid lip service to these rules in public but failed to obey them in private.”
David Malamud, a senior Jewish studies major, said that he had taken a class with Dr. Cooperman his freshman year. He added, however, that it was also very interesting to hear from different scholars.
“Some things that I’ve heard [here] I’ve been introduced to previously. But then learning, for instance, about Lincoln and Jewish politics was totally new to me. It makes me want to really push myself and learn a lot more things,” said Malamud.