What does it mean to be a Jew today? What do Jews bring to the world today?
Being Jewish today includes both a positive and a negative element. On the positive side, Jews have contributed enormously to every aspect of life in the world—literary, scientific, legal, medical. We tend to be overachievers, leaders and people who exert considerable influence on our communities. But this success continues to breed jealousy. To be a Jew today means always being put on the defensive about something, whether it’s Israel’s imperfections or the imperfections of individual Jews. Being a Jew means never being bored, never being able to say that we are completely safe and secure and never being able to forget the past. As Jews, we must offer the world a vision of moral clarity. There is no clearer moral litmus test in the world today than attitudes toward Israel. By defending Israel while being critical of some of its actions, we force the world to confront its bigotry, its imposition of a double standard on the Jewish state and its refusal to confront the oldest of prejudices in the newest of guises.
Alan Dershowitz is an author, trial lawyer and professor at Harvard Law School.
Stephen J. Dubner
Judaism provides a social, political, historical and religious blueprint for the way civilization has unfolded. That’s not because Judaism was necessarily the best or even the first, but because it is a very robust religious tradition that taught the world what civilization can and should look like. It has informed the way people have thought for centuries about vengeance, guilt, punishment, law and order and justice. Millions of Jews since then have done a remarkable job of extending that religious tradition into political, social and moral realms. Marx, Freud and Einstein, three of the essential intellects who shaped the 20th century, were Jewish. Not only is that not a coincidence, but it’s also not insignificant in informing how we think about Judaism beyond the shul. Judaism has a great deal to offer the world in terms of thinking about justice, government, science, medicine, language and music, as do a great many other traditions that I also love with all my heart.
Stephen J. Dubner is the co-author of Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics.
For some, religious identity may be cut and dried, but it isn’t for me or for many Jews who saw what happened as a result of Hitler and who have been denied homes and land because of their religion. All these things enter into who we are today. Since the whole history of the Jewish people has been one of struggle, there’s much strength to draw from Judaism. The motivation, drive, staying power, all those traits we have needed, are not just inherent in the scriptures or the Ten Commandments but in the whole of our history. The strength of purpose and the care and compassion we give to others are important. Whatever God has given us, we use to the fullest. I think that defines who we are and what we bring. Dianne Feinstein is a United States senator from California.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
I am a judge, born, raised and proud of being a Jew. The demand for justice runs through the entirety of Jewish history and Jewish tradition. I hope, in all the years I have the good fortune to serve on the bench of the Supreme Court of the United States, I will have the strength and courage to remain steadfast in the service of that demand.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.