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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Legal History Workshop

Please join the IHRC Friday March 29th for the Legal History Workshop. William Forbath will lead discussion on "Jews, Law and Identity Politics". The workshop will take place at Walter Mondale Hall in room 15 at 10:10am.

The fundamental tension for American Jews has been one between assimilating into the larger national community and keeping a separate identity. Not rabbis but lawyers produced the most important responses to this tension. A century ago, the first generation of nationally prominent Jewish attorneys fashioned an enduring vocabulary of Jewish membership in and apartness from the national community - and with it, key features of American Jewish identity - out of the materials of constitutional law. The context was the mass immigration of two million "poor Russian Jews" around the turn of the last century. Singled out as "un-American" racial others, these newcomers produced a crisis for the small, established Jewish community. The crisis was practical: How to keep the gates open for these fellow Jews, while safeguarding one's own welcome? It was also existential: What was it to be an American and a Jew? Must Jewishness be recast as a private religious faith and nothing more - publicly invisible, with no distinctive social identity and no group claims on the law or polity; or could Jews publicly remain a "people apart," a distinct "nation" and even a separate "race," while participating fully and equally in American life? This handful of elite attorneys crafted the Jewish community's competing answers, fashioning key terms of American Jewish identity for the next century. In the process, the resources and constraints of U.S. constitutionalism shaped their rival accounts of American Jewishness. Scholars have left this history largely unstudied. Examining it reveals much about law's part in the creation of ethnic and cultural identities and how to study it.
The paper is attached below.
Forbath Jews Law Identity Politics.docx