Derek J. Penslar is the Samuel Zacks Professor of Jewish History at the University of Toronto and the Stanley Lewis Professor of Israel Studies at the University of Oxford. His many books include Shylock's Children: Economics and Jewish Identity in Modern Europe, Israel in History: The Jewish State in Comparative Perspective, and The Origins of Israel, 1882-1948: A Documentary History.
Penslar's new book is Jews and the Military: A History.
From his Q & A with Samuel Moyn at Tablet magazine:
How did you come to write this book?Visit Derek Penslar's website.
About 10 years ago an old college friend and I were chatting about what I might write about next, and he said he was intrigued by the moral dilemmas faced by Jews in modern armies who for the first time faced the prospect of fighting other Jews in the enemy army. This idea resonated with me, and it eventually became the subject of one of this book’s chapters.
There is a back story, though. Since graduate school I’ve been thinking about Jewish history in the context of the modern state and the tensions between Jewish solidarity, on the one hand, and acculturation and state patriotism, on the other. I like thinking about how the environment in which Jews live has influenced how they ran their communities and, eventually, the Zionist movement and state of Israel.
My books have in one way or another been about the relationship between Jews and state power. My first book was about the origins of Zionism’s technocratic elite, which was less visible than the political-military elite but still tremendously influential. I wrote another book about modern Jewish economic life that showed how important financial success was as a justification for Jewish emancipation and a source of power in the form of philanthropy. When my friend made his suggestion I realized that in my work I had always avoided dealing with the most blatant and destructive form of power, that of armed force. And so...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: Jews and the Military.