It isn’t too commonplace for people to promote reviews critical of their scholarship. Since I’m frequently asked, however, about my exchange with David Vital in the TLS I decided it would be worthwhile to have the whole thing open and available in one place (sorry TLS paywall). Vital has no specific criticism of my book’s contents because he didn’t read it. He didn’t need to. His opposition is ideological and un-apologetically ahistorical. He believes the Jews in Central and Eastern Europe to have been doomed; their leaders unimaginative and self-serving and ordinary Jewish men and women too passive (as he explains in his rejoinder to my letter). Even from this rather problematic standpoint it is not clear to me why he opposes so vociferously scholarship that seeks to deepen our understanding of the ideological ferment from which Zionism emerged (one, by the way, that existed beyond Central and Eastern Europe as well). I am hardly a “champion,” as he suggests, of the people I study (nor for that matter is his other target, Jess Olson), a fact that should be amply clear from my introductory essay. Yet I do see the value in reading – whether with empathy or critically – from the full oeuvre of the debate about Jewish nationality and self-preservation in the modern world, without separating the pile into winners and losers.
You dear readers can decide:
And of course if you want a true picture you should go back to the source: here is my book.
PS: For a rather different perspective on Jess Olson’s book see Kalman Weiser’s review in MRB.