The previously unexplored legacy of religious anarchism in traditional Jewish theology is examined for the first time in this book. Probing the life and thought of figures whose writings have gone largely unread since they were first published, Hayyim Rothman makes, in the first place, a case for the existence of this heritage. He shows that there existed, from the late nineteenth though the mid-twentieth century, a loosely connected group of rabbis and traditionalist thinkers who explicitly appealed to anarchist ideas in articulating the meaning of the Torah, of traditional practice, of Jewish life, and the mission of modern Jewry. Supported by close readings of the Yiddish and Hebrew writings of Yaakov Meir Zalkind, Yitshak Nahman Steinberg, Yehuda Leyb Don-Yahiya, Avraham Yehudah Hen, Natah Hofshi, Shmuel Alexandrov, and Yehudah Ashlag this book traces a complicated story about the intersection, not only of religion and anarchism, but also of pacifism and Zionism, prophetic anti-authoritarianism, and mystical antinomianism. Bringing to light, not merely fresh source material, but uncovering a train of modern Jewish political thought that has scarcely been imagined, much less studied, No masters but God is a groundbreaking contribution.
many faces of
orthodoxy, part 1’ Modern Judaism 2:1 (February 1982), 26–27.
4 In context (Orlah 3:9) the Mishnah is referring to when new grain may be
5 D.Ellenson, Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer (Tuscaloosa 1990), 19. The view
of the dangerous nature of modernity was exacerbated by the speed with
which it arrived in the Jewish world, an aspect which Meyer has noted:
M.A. Meyer, ‘Modernity as a crisis for the Jews’ Modern Judaism 9:2 (May
6 J. Katz, ‘Religion as a uniting and dividing force’ in Katz (ed) The role of
religion in modernJewishhistory
which Jewish civilians were literally hacked to pieces. The imperial government responded, not by holding perpetrators responsible, but by punishing the Jews for atrocities committed against them; already crippling restrictions were tightened, thus leading to the ‘complete economic collapse of Russian Jewry (Dubnow 1920 , 22).’ A mass exodus of Russian Jews to Western Europe, Great Britain, the Americas, and Palestine ensued; it included many figures discussed in this book. Kishinev became a turning point in modernJewishhistory (Penkower 2004 ), not only because
others were amongst the smallest. But what is inevitably downplayed in Weissbach’s work, given the number of case studies, is the importance of specific places and their impact on the formation of majority and minority identities. In this respect, an alternative model is provided within British Jewish historiography through the work of Bill Williams.
Williams’s The Making of Manchester Jewry 1740–1875 (1975) was a pathbreaking study in both urban history and modernJewishhistory. A classic example of the new social history emerging from