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From Professor Forbath: Based on a set of lectures, the paper is a first sketch of a book-length study of law, legal imagination and rival lawyer-leaders in the shaping of twentieth-century Jewish identities in the U.S. It reconstructs received accounts of the invention of “Jewish liberalism” and the “Jewish civil rights lawyer.” It also retrieves the remarkable circulation of ideas about national, group and collective rights that émigré and exiled Jewish-socialist-nationalist lawyers and revolutionaries brought back and forth across the Atlantic from struggles abroad in Europe and Russia. The story centers on an epic contest over a Jewish Bill of Rights during World War I, between assimilationist-minded, classical liberal Reform Jews, on one hand, and pluralist-minded, Zionist and diasporic nationalist Jews, on the other. Fighting over what rights Jews should demand and enjoy both in the U.S. and abroad – in the post-war states-to-be-crafted out of the Hapsburg, Tsars’ and Ottoman empires, rival lawyer-leaders fashioned rival accounts of American Jewishness and rival vocabularies of individual and group rights, along with rival performances of belonging and apartness, being American, yet remaining a people apart. The project is also a critical examination of one of modern America’s first engagements with the competing claims of liberalism and pluralism, integration and separatism, individual and group rights on the part of ethno-racial minorities.
William E. Forbath is among the nation’s leading legal and constitutional historians. His books include Law and the Shaping of the American Labor Movement and the forthcoming The Anti-Oligarchy Constitution. He has written dozens of articles, book chapters and essays on subjects including political, social and economic inequality in American constitutional thought and politics – past, present, and future; social and economic rights in the courts, state institutions and social movements of the Southern Hemisphere. At LAPA, Forbath is pursuing research in Jews, law, and identity politics in the early twentieth century.
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