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Who Are the Jews—And Who Can We Become?

Given unprecedented denominational tribalism, how can we Jews speak of ourselves in collective terms?
Jewish Publication Society
Publication Year

Who Are the Jews—And Who Can We Become? tackles perhaps the most urgent question facing the Jewish people today: Given unprecedented denominational tribalism, how can we Jews speak of ourselves in collective terms?

Crucially, the way each of us tells our “shared” story is putting our collective identity at risk, Donniel Hartman argues. We need a new story, built on Judaism’s foundations and poised to inspire a majority of Jews to listen, discuss, and retell it. This book is that story.

Since our beginnings, Hartman explains, the Jewish identity meta-narrative has been a living synthesis of two competing religious covenants: Genesis Judaism, which defines Jewishness in terms of who one is and the group to which one belongs, independent of what one does or believes; and Exodus Judaism, which grounds identity in terms of one’s relationship with an aspirational system of values, ideals, beliefs, commandments, and behaviors. When one narrative becomes too dominant, Jewish collective identity becomes distorted. Conversely, when Genesis and Exodus interplay, the sparks of a rich, compelling identity are found.

Hartman deftly applies this Genesis-Exodus meta-narrative as a roadmap to addressing contemporary challenges, including Diaspora Jewry’s eroding relationship with Israel, the “othering” of Israeli Palestinians, interfaith marriage, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and—collectively—who we Jews can become.

“Who are the Jews? Jewish tradition’s answer to this question is hidden in the stories of the Bible. In his new book, Donniel Hartman dives into these stories, reveals the answer, and uses it to shine a new light on the great challenges facing the state of Israel and the American Jewish community today. This is a fascinating book—immersive and rewarding. I highly recommend it.” —Micah Goodman, author of Catch 67: The Left, the Right, and the Legacy of the Six-Day War

“In this groundbreaking book, Donniel Hartman takes on the great Jewish question of our time: who are we? Combining deep erudition with passion and love, Hartman explores the complexities of Jewish identity, writing with sympathy for the variety of ways in which we express our Jewishness even as he insists that we aspire to our highest values. Who Are the Jews—And Who Can We Become? belongs on the short shelf of indispensable books on contemporary Judaism.” —Yossi Klein Halevi, author of Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor

“Hartman adroitly argues that ‘as long as the story we tell ourselves about ourselves embraces and strengthens the complexity of our identities… we provide ourselves with the tools to expand our moral aperture,’ and invites essential debates about Judaism’s past, present, and future. This impresses.” —Publisher’s Weekly

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