Matthew Mark SilverJun 3, 2022
Zionism and the Melting Pot
Preachers, Pioneers, and Modern Jewish Politics
University of Alabama Press 2020
Zionism and the Melting Pot: Preachers, Pioneers, and Modern Jewish Politics (U Alabama Press, 2020) moves away from commonplace accounts of the origins of Jewish politics and focuses on the ongoing activities of actors instrumental in the theological, political, diplomatic, and philanthropic networks that enabled the establishment of new Jewish communities in Palestine and the United States. M. M. Silver’s new study highlights the grassroots nature of these actors and their efforts—preaching, fundraising, emigration campaigns, and mutual aid organizations—and argues that these activities were not fundamentally ideological in nature but instead grew organically from traditional Judaic customs, values, and community mores.
Silver examines events in three key locales—Ottoman Palestine, czarist Russia and the United States—during a period from the early 1870s to a few years before World War I. This era which was defined by the rise of new forms of anti-Semitism and by mass Jewish migration, ended with institutional and artistic expressions of new perspectives on Zionism and American Jewish communal life. Within this timeframe, Silver demonstrates, Jewish ideologies arose somewhat amorphously, without clear agendas; they then evolved as attempts to influence the character, pace, and geographical coordinates of the modernization of East European Jews, particularly in, or from, Russia’s czarist empire.
In his multidisciplinary approach, Silver combines political and diplomatic history, literary analysis, biography, and organizational history. Chapters switch successively from the Zionist context, both in the czarist and Ottoman empires, to the United States’ melting-pot milieu. More than half of the figures discussed are sermonizers, emissaries, pioneers, or writers unknown to most readers. And for well-known figures like Theodor Herzl or Emma Lazarus, Silver’s analysis typically relates to texts and episodes that are not covered in extant scholarship. By uncovering the foundations of Zionism—the Jewish nationalist ideology that became organized formally as a political movement—and of melting-pot theories of Jewish integration in the United States, Zionism and the Melting Pot breaks ample new ground.
Roberto Mazza is visiting professor at Northwestern University. He is the host of the Jerusalem Unplugged Podcast and to discuss and propose a book for interview can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter and IG: @robbyref