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Contested Utopia

Contested Utopia

Jewish Dreams and Israeli Realities

by Marc J. Rosenstein

Published by: The Jewish Publication Society

328 pages, 152.00 x 229.00 mm, 3 maps, 1 table, index

  • ISBN: 9780827614727
  • Published: March 2021


This first book to examine the Jewish state through the lens of Jewish utopian thought, from its biblical beginnings to modernity, offers a fresh perspective on the political, religious, and geopolitical life of Israel. As Marc J. Rosenstein argues, the Jewish people’s collective memories, desires, hopes, and faith have converged to envision an ideal life in the Land of Israel—but, critically, the legacy is a kaleidoscope of conflicting (and sometimes overlapping) visions. And after three millennia of imagining utopia, it is almost impossible for Jews to respond to Israel’s realities without being influenced—even unconsciously—by these images.

Charting the place of utopian thought in Judaism, Rosenstein then illustrates, with original texts, diverse utopian visions of the Jewish state: Torah state (Yavetz), holy community (based on nostalgic memories of the medieval community), national-cultural home (Lewinsky), “normal” state (Herzl), socialist paradise (Syrkin), anarchy (Jabotinsky), and a polity defined by Israel’s historic or divinely ordained borders. Analyzing how these disparate utopian visions collide in Israel’s attempts to chart policy and practice regarding the Sabbath, social welfare, immigration, developing versus conserving the land, and the Israel-Diaspora relationship yields novel perspectives on contemporary flashpoints. His own utopian vision offers a further entryway for both Israelis and Diaspora Jews into more informed and nuanced conversations about the “Jewish state.”