The well-known Hebrew University Bible scholar, Yair Zackovitz published a book in 2019 devoted to the biblical idea of God: The Bible: The Revolution of God (Jerusalem: Magnes, 2019). Zackovitz’s thesis and the importance of the book concerns the double-edged complexity of this idea: On the one hand the biblical monotheistic God constitutes a fundamental revolution vis a vis the idolatrous, polytheistic culture of the ancient Middle East. Yet on the other hand, the Bible and the ancient Israelites continued to talk about the one God and characterize and worship Him in terms taken from this pagan culture (to the point that archaeological inscriptions assign YHWH-Shomron an Ashera-Consort.) The heart of the book is the relationship between the uniqueness of Israel and its religion and its membership in its regional cultural, political and religious context.
Prof. Nissim Mizrachi of the Sociology and Anthropology Department of Tel Aviv University raised quite a stir through an extensive interview he gave to the weekend magazine of the very liberal Haaretz newspaper (December 19, 2019). He pointed out the shortcomings the “critical sociology” that have been dominant in the Israeli universities for the past 20 years. According to the analysis of this approach, the Zionist Ashkenazic “hegemony” had in various ways exploited oppressed or excluded subordinate groups in Israeli society, such as Palestinians, Mizrachim (Jews from North Africa and the Middle East) and women. Mizrachi argued that this sociological approach cannot explain the most salient political and social fact of Israeli society, the massive support that the Mizrachi population gives to the Zionist, right-wing Likud party. According to the critical approach, the Mizrachim, together with the Palestinians and other groups, such as women and LGBTQ, should form an active left-wing opposition. Mizrachi stated that this expectation demonstrates that Israeli sociology has no real understanding of the object of its research: the Israeli population. Mizrachi suggested that sociological research should attempt to empathically understand the nationalist and traditional views of the majority of the population and why this population does not feel liberated by left-wing views, but rather feels threatened by them.
George Steiner’s characterization of Jews as eternal outsiders was given an American illustration in the television mini-series “Mrs. America.” The series portrays the struggle between feminist and conservative women around the (failed) ratification of the equal rights amendment (ERA) in the 1970s. Among the four feminist protagonists two and a half are Jewish: Betty Friedan and Rep. Bella Abzug were fully Jewish, the third, feminist icon Gloria Steinem had a Jewish father and the family identified Jewishly.
(The fourth feminist protagonist was Shirley Chisholm, the black Congresswoman from NY.) The conservative women’s side was led by Phyllis Schlafly, who surprisingly led a successful campaign against the ratification of the amendment. Mrs. Schlafly (portrayed by Cate Blanchett) is well-mannered and uses all the conventions of white upper-class femininity (lipstick, high heels etc.) to her advantage. While it is clear that at least in part, the Jewish feminists were motivated by a Jewish sense of justice, their “outsiderness,” represented by their strident manners and their remoteness from ordinary housewives, doomed their project to failure. Not only would George Steiner recognize the dynamics described by the series but so, perhaps, would Nissim Mizrachi.