Noam Pianko Zionism Roads not Taken

Are Jews a nation, religion, ethnicity, culture or descent-based community?

My scholarship traces the evolution of these changing definitions of Jewish identity categories in the modern period in the United States, Europe, and the Land of Israel. From a historical perspective, I am interested in the ways in which diaspora Jewish thinkers

Noam Pianko Hans Kohn Image

Hans Kohn at his desk in Jerusalem

defined Jewish identity in order to challenge dominant conceptions of nationalism, liberalism, and religion. Making space for Jews as a group and as individuals required novel political, social, and cultural formulations.

My book focuses on this phenomenon through the lens of three early twentieth century Jewish

Simon Rawidowicz

Simon Rawidowicz in Bialystok

intellectuals and Zionists. Simon Rawidowicz, Mordecai Kaplan, and Hans Kohn all challenged the solidifying rubrics of Jewish identity as a nation-state in the homeland or a religious community in the diaspora. As Zionists, they believed firmly in Jewish settlement in the historical homeland. However, they did not see the creation of a Jewish nation-state as the ultimate goal of Zionism. Instead, they viewed the contribution of Jewish political thought as demonstrating the possibility that groups could sustain ties that bind members to one another across political and territorial boundaries.

The establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 largely eclipsed their visions of Zionism.

Nevertheless, I view these thinkers as important conversation partners today as demographic, technological, and political trends reopen still unanswered questions about the meaning of peoplehood and its relationship to the Jewish homeland.

More recently, I have been quite intrigued by changing concepts of Jewish identity today. In particular, I am interested in the impact of post-ethnic trends, multi-cultural education, and local community building on reshaping Jewish boundaries in the twenty-first century.  You can see some of my initial thoughts on this topic on the blog. More updates to come as the project develops. Meanwhile, if you are interested in this area of research, please let me know.