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Jewish Multiple Identity

Modernity And Beyond

Under the pressures of modern secularizing and state-building tendencies, the unique mix of a sense of core unity and adaptive flexibility that sustained Jewish diasporic communities for millennia was massively weakened. Among both Jews and non-Jews, the collective identity of autonomous communities came to be seen as inimical to modernity. Debates raged for decades as to whether Jewish identity was primarily religious, national, or racial; and movements for reform, the establishment of a Jewish nation-state (in Palestine or elsewhere), and the elimination of Jewish difference through intermarriage and assimilation were promoted accordingly. From the Enlightenment until the rise of European fascism, it was commonly believed that it was possible for Jews to identify both with their co-religionists everywhere and with fellow citizens of their countries of residence.

Since World War II, it has been a commonplace that the twin pillars of shared Jewish identity are the memory of Nazi genocide and identification with the Jewish state of Israel. However, since the last decades of the twentieth century these emphases have been countered, or at least balanced, by a renewed engagement with the Jewish textual tradition and by a reinvention of the liturgical and ritual tradition, both placing more emphasis than ever before on the goal of making women equal participants in Jewish identity. These phenomena, along with the dramatic regeneration of Orthodox Jewish communities, demonstrate the continued vitality of Jewish capacities for the negotiation of multiple Jewish and human identities.


Biale, David, ed. Cultures of the Jews: A New History. New York: Schocken, 2002.

Gilman, Sander L. Jewish Self-Hatred: Anti-Semitism and the Hidden Language of the Jews. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.

Goldberg, David Theo, and Michael Krausz, eds. Jewish Identity. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993.

Zimmels, H. J. Ashkenazim and Sephardim: Their Relations, Differences, and Problems as Reflected in the Rabbinical Responsa. Hoboken, N.J.: Ktav, 1996.

Jonathan Boyarin

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Intuitionist logic to KabbalahJewish Multiple Identity - Sephardim And Ashkenazim, Fundaments And Contingencies, Questions Of Gender, Modernity And Beyond, Bibliography