Featured weekly article: State or Diaspora: Jewish History as a Form of National Belonging

State or Diaspora: Jewish History as a Form of National Belonging

By Yitzhak Conforti

Volume 15, Issue 2, pages 230-250


This study addresses the writing of Jewish history as a form of national belonging in Israel and in the Diaspora. Simon Dubnow laid the foundation for Jewish national historiography in the beginning of the twentieth century. Beginning in the 1920s, Zionist historians in Palestine emphasized the centrality of the Land of Israel in Jewish history, while Jewish historians in the Diaspora preferred an elliptical model, which recognized two national centres – ‘Babylon and Jerusalem’. In the 1930s, a debate broke out between two principal Jewish historians, Salo Baron and Yitzhak Baer. While Baer stressed the Zionist conception of Jewish history, Baron emphasized the world dimensions of Jewish history. Similarly, during the 1950s a dispute arose between Jewish scholar Simon Rawidowicz and David Ben-Gurion. For Rawidowicz, a Jewish centre in the Diaspora was parallel in significance to the State of Israel. By contrast, for Ben-Gurion only a Jewish nation-state could provide true Jewish national belonging. In this article, I analyse both arguments and draw conclusions for the current relationship between Israeli historical awareness and the use of Jewish history in the Diaspora.

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