The Jewish Centrality of Israel

The 1958 ‘Who Is a Jew?’ Affair as a Case Study

in Israel Studies Review
Author:
Ofer Shiff Ben-Gurion University, Israel oschiff@gmail.com

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Abstract

This article examines reactions in the Jewish Diaspora to the ways the Diaspora is viewed in Israel, especially with regard to the Israeli self-perception of Israel as the ultimate spiritual and religious center for its Diaspora. These ideas are explored using as a case study the 1958 ‘Who is a Jew?’ controversy and David Ben-Gurion's famous correspondence with 51 ‘Jewish sages’ on the question of how to classify on an Israeli identity card a child born in Israel to a non-Jewish mother. Focusing on the responses of the Orthodox Jewish sages, I suggest that this correspondence may be understood as a reflection of different, sometimes conflicting understandings of the nature and meaning of Israel's centrality for Jews and Judaism.

Contributor Notes

OFER SHIFF is a Professor of Jewish History at Ben-Gurion University, where he served as Director of the Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism from 2001 to 2004. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Institute's publishing house and heads the “World Jewry in Israel” research hub at the Center for Israel Studies. His research focuses on relations between American Jewry and Israel. E-mail: oschiff@gmail.com

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