Pearl and Jack Mandel Lecture in Jewish Studies
Kenneth Moss (University of Chicago)
Nationalism's Pathologies, Diaspora's Fragility, and Zionism's Promises in the Polish Jewish 1930s
Beginning in the late 1920s, rising political pathologies across Europe forced Polish Jews of all ideological persuasions toward a reckoning: was it reasonable to expect that things would work out well for a middleman minority in a region wracked by economic woe, populist nationalism, fear, and desperation; and was it reasonable to imagine that Jews, comprising 10% of the polity, could substantially shape the course of the larger political processes that would determine their fate whatever they did or did not do? This lecture reveals how -- in ways ill-captured by familiar siloed histories of Jewish nationalism and Jewish radicalism alike -- the Polish Jewish 1930s birthed a new political culture marked by a growing recognition of the limits of communal political agency, a reorientation of cultural energies from creative hopes toward concern for the psychic health of the besieged Jewish subject, a triage politics marked by post-ideological relations to Zionism and Palestine, and new forms of reasoning about the pained relationship between communal salvage and individual self-help. Rediscovering a tradition of Jewish politics defined less by ideological certainties than by felt danger and collective incapacity, this lecturer recaptures an overlooked chapter in the unfinished global history of progressivism’s halting effort to comprehend the unexpected power of enmity-politics and of the special predicaments such politics has posed to targeted communities.
Speaker Bio: Kenneth B. Moss is the Harriet and Ulrich E. Meyer Professor of Jewish History at the University of Chicago. He is the author of An Unchosen People: Jewish Political Reckoning in Interwar Poland (Harvard University Press, 2021), which received the 2022 National Jewish Book Award for History from the Jewish Book Council, the 2022 Oskar Halecki Award for Polish and East Central European History from the Polish Institute for Arts and Sciences in America, and honorable mention for the 2022 Kulczycki Book Prize in Polish Studies and of Jewish Renaissance in the Russian Revolution (Harvard University Press, 2009), which received the 2010 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature and has now appeared in a revised Hebrew version as Yemei ha-ma’asim: tkhiat ha-tarbut ha-yehudit be-tkufat ha-mahpekhah ha-rusit. With Ben Nathans and Taro Tsurumi, he coedited From Europe’s East to the Middle East (UPenn, 2021) and with Israel Bartal, he is co-editing volume 7 of the Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization: National Renaissance and International Horizons, 1880–1918 (Yale University Press, forthcoming autumn 2023). From 2014 to 2020, he coedited Jewish Social Studies. Having lived for many years in the city where Shaul Tshernikhovski unwittingly published his first poem, he now lives in the city where the L. M. Shteyn Farlag published some especially lovely editions of Yiddish books.
This event will be delivered in-person in JHB100 (170 St. George Street) on Monday, October 2, 2023 at 4 PM.