Louis Brandeis and Jewish Political Identity

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Louis Brandeis and Jewish Political Identity

“Whence comes this combination of qualities of mind, body and character? These are qualities with which every one of us is familiar, singly and in combination; which you find in friends and relatives; and which other doubtless discover in you. They are qualities possessed by most Jews who have attained distinction or other success. In combination, they may properly be called Jewish qualities. For they have not come to us by accident; they developed by three thousand years of civilization, and nearly two thousand years of persecution; developed through our religion and spiritual life; through our traditions; and through the social and political conditions under which our ancestors lived. They are, in short, the product of Jewish life.” – Louis D. Brandeis

Louis Brandeis makes an inspirational plea to the educated Jews in this passage, calling on them to push for the establishment of a Jewish home. Zionism, a movement which came about very recently in Jewish history, pushed on with power through the early twentieth century fueled by the past. As Jewish identity was stretched thin between geographical association and religious affiliation, Jews found themselves struggling for national recognition. Louis Brandeis, in A Call to the Educated Jew said “the glorious past can really live only if it becomes the mirror of a glorious future; and to this end the Jewish home in Palestine is essential. We Jews of prosperous America above all need its inspiration” (Glatzer 713).

Brandeis’s depiction of Jewish qualities is, more than anything, a call to understand Jewish identity. As a proponent of Zionism, Brandeis recognized the importance of unity, and tried to bring Jews together in identifying their characteristics: “…qualities with which every one of us is familiar…” (Glatzer 707). In the United States, a country whose Jewish population was composed of Jews from other nations around the globe, a sense of strong identity was of singular importance. These treasured qualities of mind, body and character “…may properly be called Jewish qualities.” (Glatzer 707). Brandeis redefines the meaning of “Jew” for those who had lost themselves in immigration and overwhelming anti-Semitism.

So what can we understand about Jewish identity from this piece? Brandeis does not shy away from the importance of Jewish history. In fact he lauds it as the impetus behind the outstanding qualities which the Jews of his day possessed. “…They have not come to us by accident; they developed by three thousand years of civilization…” (Glatzer 707).

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