A History of American Jewish Politics and Identities
A journalist examines the history of Jewish people in America and explores their ever-evolving relationship to the nation’s culture and identity—and each other.
What does it mean to be a Bad Jew?
Many Jews use the term ‘Bad Jew’ as a weapon against other members of the community or even against themselves. You can be called a Bad Jew if you don’t keep kosher; if you only go to temple on Yom Kippur; if you don’t attend or send your children to Hebrew school; if you enjoy Christmas music; if your partner isn’t Jewish; if you don’t call your mother often enough. The list is endless.
In Bad Jews, Emily Tamkin argues that perhaps there is no answer to this timeless question at all. Throughout American history, Jewish identities have evolved and transformed in a variety of ways. The issue of what it means, or doesn’t, to be a Good Jew or a Bad Jew is particularly fraught at this moment, American Jews feel and fear antisemitism is on the rise. There are several million people who identify as American Jews–but that doesn’t mean they all identify with one another. American Jewish history is full of discussions and debates and hand wringing over who is Jewish, how to be Jewish, and what it means to be Jewish.
In Bad Jews, Emily Tamkin examines the last 100 years of American Jewish politics, culture, identities, and arguments. Drawing on over 150 interviews, she tracks the evolution of Jewishness throughout American history, and explores many of the evolving and conflicting Jewish positions on assimilation; race; Zionism and Israel; affluence and poverty, philanthropy, finance, politics; and social justice. From this complex and nuanced history, Tamkin pinpoints perhaps the one truth about American Jewish identity: It is always changing.
Emily Tamkin is a writer and reporter. She is the author of The Influence of Soros, and her work has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, the Economist, the New Republic, Politico, Slate, and the Washington Post, among other publications. She previously covered foreign affairs on staff at Foreign Policy and BuzzFeed News. She studied Russian literature and culture at Columbia University and Russian and East European studies at the University of Oxford. She researched Soviet dissidence in Moscow, Russia; Tbilisi, Georgia; and, on a Fulbright grant, in Bremen, Germany. She lives in Washington, DC.