In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, in the course of reviewing Touré’s new book on “post-black” identity, Orlando Patterson wrote, “This sounds remarkably like a black version of what Alan Dershowitz calls ‘the Tsuris Theory of Jewish Survival,’ in which assimilated American Jews desperately need external troubles and imagined enemies to maintain their identity.”
The Tsuris Theory of Jewish Survival!
I had to know more. Quick Googling shows this got prominent airing in 1997’s The Vanishing American Jew. “Under this theory, the Jews need external troubles to stay Jewish,” Dershowitz wrote. “Many Jewish leaders, both religious and secular, have argued that Jews need enemies—that without anti-Semitism, Judaism cannot survive.” He convincingly cites Theodor Herzl, the Lubavitcher rebbe, and Albert Einstein on this score.
“But there is more—much more—to Jewish identity than collective self-defense,” he insists, continuing:
If Jewish life cannot thrive in an open environment of opportunity, choice, freethinking, affluence, success, and first-class status—if we really do need tsuris, czars, pogroms, poverty, insularity, closed minds, and anti-Semitism to keep us Jewish—then Jewish life as we know it will not, and should not, survive the first half of the twenty-first century. We have been persecuted long enough. The time has come to welcome the end of our victimization without fear that it will mean the end of our existence as a people.
I will leave it to others to determine whether Dershowitz has practiced what he has so eloquently and thoughtfully preached. And I will refer you to this essay by Leon Wieseltier for further elaboration.
Related: Hitler Is Dead [TNR/Beliefnet]