“Jewish Emancipation: A History Across Five Centuries” by David Sorkin— How Jews Became Citizens in the Modern World

Sorkin, David. “Jewish Emancipation: A History Across Five Centuries”, Princeton University Press, 2019.

How Jews Became Citizens in the Modern World

Amos Lassen

Many of us really do not seem to understand the importance of emancipation in the world today and that is probably because we have never had to fight for it. The Holocaust and the founding of the State of Israel are monumental events in Jewish history and we all feel tied to both because we are so aware of the lives that were lost in both of these events. If there is one central event in Jewish history, it is emancipation. What writer David Sorkin attempts to do here is to look at Jewish history from a point of view of reorientation and he gives us a comprehensive look at how Jews became citizens with civil and political rights wherever in the modern world. He begins in the mid-sixteenth and takes us to the beginning of the twenty-first giving the  history of how Jews have “gained, kept, lost, and recovered rights in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, the United States, and Israel.”

We see that emancipation was not a one-time or linear event that began with the Enlightenment or  the French Revolution and ended with Jews’ acquisition of rights in Central Europe in 1867–71 or Russia in 1917.It is important to understand that emancipation “was and is a complex, multidirectional, and ambiguous process characterized by deflections and reversals, defeats and successes, triumphs and tragedies.” How many of us are aware that  American Jews mobilized twice for emancipation: the first time was in the nineteenth century for political rights, and  then again in the twentieth century for lost civil rights. Israel  has struggled from the start to institute equality among its many diverse citizens.

This history of emancipation seems to have been lost and Sorkin wants to bring it back. He gives us an accessible new interpretation of modern Jewish history that is pushed forward by arguments that cause us to rethink how we understand emancipation. Bringing together historical and research, we learn what so many of us either forgot about or never learned before. This is a global history that shows the real importance of emancipation as a main event in the history of the Jewish people.

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