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date: 04 December 2022

Religious Traditions in Politics: Judaismfree

Religious Traditions in Politics: Judaismfree

  • Kenneth D. WaldKenneth D. WaldDepartment of Political Science, University of Florida


Lacking sovereignty, a well-developed theology of politics, and a central organizing mechanism, the Jewish political experience is unique among the three Abrahamic faiths. Apart from research on the political content implicit in Jewish scriptures, there has been little scholarship on what Jews do when they engage in political action. Using a contextual framework, this article examines the politics of Jews by reviewing both single-country studies and the few extant cross-national analyses. In considering why Jewish political behavior differs from one place to another, political process theory and Medding’s theory of Jewish interests guide the analysis. Medding argued that Jewish politics is primarily a response to threats perceived in the political environment. The ability of Jewish communities to resist such threats depends largely on the rules governing the political environment, the political opportunity structure. Where Jews are a majority and control the rules, as in the state of Israel, they have adopted a regime that prioritizes the Jewish character of the state against perceived threats from the country’s Arab citizens. Where Jews are a minority, as in the United States, their ability to control the political environment is limited. However, the political rules of the game embodied in the U.S. Constitution have levelled the playing field to the advantage of religious minorities like Jews. Specifically, by rejecting “blood and soil” citizenship and denying the religious character of the state, those rules provide Jews and other minorities a valuable resource and access to sympathetic allies in the political system. Hence American Jews have been able to counter what they perceive as the major threat to their political interests—a replacement of the secular state by a confessional regime. Focusing on threats, the political opportunity structure, and political context helps to anchor Jewish political studies in research on ethnic political cohesion and to bring such research into the scholarly mainstream.


  • Groups and Identities
  • Political Behavior
  • Political Sociology
  • Political Values, Beliefs, and Ideologies


If this were an article about the political tradition of Islam or Catholicism or one of the many varieties of Protestant Christianity, it would begin by asking what the theology of the religions taught about politics and how those values were implemented when the faith constituted a state religion. Those questions are largely inapplicable to Judaism because of its content and history.

The first of the three monotheistic Abrahamic religions, Judaism is thought to have originated among the Hebrew/Israelite people of the Middle East between three and four thousand years ago. As a religion, Judaism values deed over creed, so theological discussion centers more on conduct than on belief. The Hebrew Bible (the Five Books of Moses known to Christians as the Old Testament) contains 613 explicit commandments (mitzvot in Hebrew), which together constitute the Written Law. The meaning of this comprehensive code of conduct, said to be transmitted by God to Moses atop Mt. Sinai, is adjudicated by the Oral Law. The most authoritative exposition of the Oral Law is, in turn, composed of selected commentaries on the Biblical texts by leading sages and scholars over the centuries. Following the laws (known collectively as halacha, also translated as “the path,” sometimes known as “the yoke of Torah”) is typically the mark of a religiously observant or Orthodox Jew. The various contemporary “streams” of Judaism differ in both the status attributed to halacha—whether it remains binding—and which rabbis have authority under what conditions to make changes in the law. In practice, many contemporary Jews have redefined a “mitzvah” (a singular commandment) as any deed done out of kindness regardless of whether it is considered a religious duty or not.

Compared to the other Abrahamic religions, Christianity and Islam, the Jewish tradition has minimal experience of state power. Christianity was declared the religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century ad and has continued, in its various Catholic and Protestant forms, to be the official religion of succeeding empires and many modern nation-states. Islam, which became the official creed of a Muslim empire in the 7th century ad, retained that status through subsequent empires well into the 20th century. Many of the states carved out from the remains of those empires in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia still enshrine Islam as the state religion (Fox, 2008, Chapter 8).

By comparison, the fusion of Judaism with state power has been brief. The first Jewish kingdom under David, founded about a thousand years before the birth of Jesus, split into two smaller kingdoms, which were eventually conquered. One was destroyed by the Babylonians in about 486 bc; the other was conquered and then fully absorbed by the Roman Empire in 70 ad. Most Jews were expelled, scattered across the globe, living in what they considered exile from the homeland. Almost 19 centuries passed before the reestablishment of a sovereign Jewish state in 1948 (Israel), and that experiment is just 70 years old. Jews thus have very little experience of political sovereignty as a people and most of that was, literally, ancient history.

This history bears on the question of whether Judaism possesses a political theology in its sacred texts. After a close reading of the Hebrew Bible, a leading student of Jewish thought who is known for his careful language asserted flatly “there is no political theory in the Bible” (Walzer, 2012, p. xii). He did not find in its pages “a clear conception of an autonomous or distinct political realm,” a notion of citizenship, nor a “preferred” political regime. Another influential scholar, a student of the Oral Law, emphasized that the Talmud (literally, “instruction”), the authoritative record of rabbinical debates, was concerned above all else with providing Jews practical guidance about living a Jewish life outside the homeland in countries where they were a small minority (Susser, 1981). Because the Talmud was written in exile, when Jews lacked what is called “agency,” the sages whose deliberations were recorded in the Talmud did not waste their energy formulating laws of governance for a people who had no state to govern. Shortly before the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948, a leading exponent of halacha addressed a commission considering how to structure the new country’s government (Leibowitz, 1992). Referring to the influential compendium of Jewish law composed by Joseph Caro in 1563, he said its code had no relevance to even the most basic questions facing those who would design an independent Jewish state in the modern world.

This is not to stay that the Jewish tradition is entirely bereft of political experience. Even in exile, Jews had to manage their relationships to the rulers in the places where they lived and to create mechanisms to govern themselves insofar as they were allowed a degree of communal self-rule.1 These institutions typically had short life spans during the Middle Ages, when Jewish communities were routinely and repeatedly expelled from Christian Europe (Stow, 1992). During the period between the world wars in the 20th century, Jews had the opportunity to form parties and to compete for votes in elections that occurred throughout parts of multi-ethnic states in central and eastern Europe. Jews in the West usually had the right to vote and also participated in national political life but did not typically form Jewish parties. Jews also engaged in political life when they worked to reestablish a Jewish state in the Middle East during the first half of the 20th century. And while there is no broad theory of governance in Jewish theology, Jewish law does embody principles of social justice (Dershowitz, 2000). Nonetheless, it seems fruitless to try to identify a meaningful Jewish theory of the state. Spurred on by the creation of Israel, scholars in a field known as Jewish political studies have mined the tradition to provide guidance about how a Jewish state should behave, but this remains a work in progress (Elazar, 1999).

Given these circumstances, the concept of a “Jewish political tradition” in this article does not refer to a body of doctrine like, say, Catholic social teaching (Curran, 2002) or just war theory (Elshstain, 1992). We know too little about the Biblical period to be confident about the political practices employed at that time. Consider the institution known as the Sanhedrin, which is said to have functioned as a legal and religious council at various periods. Scholars are unsure about the Sanhedrin’s powers, composition, or role, or, indeed, whether such an institution even existed (Grabbe, 2008). As just noted, the seven decades of modern Israeli history have not produced an authoritative model of the political implications of Judaism. Given this uncertainty, “Jewish political tradition” is best defined as what Jews do when they engage in political action

Geographic context matters greatly in how Jews behave politically. Scattered across the globe after their exile from the homeland, lacking a state of their own, Jews never developed the kind of centralized system typical of Catholicism, with a recognized leader (the pope) and bishops granted teaching authority by the Vatican. Even in the classical period during the 4th century ad, there were two different Talmuds and scores of Torah sages distributed widely across the Jewish world. Apart from the major population centers in North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, there were Jewish outposts of uncertain origin in sub-Saharan Africa (Ethiopia), East Asia (China), and South Asia (India). Even though Jews struggled to maintain contact between their scattered communities and to develop some cohesion in belief and structure, Judaism was often radically different from place to place.2 Communities developed their own norms, theologies, structures, and priorities. Not surprisingly, these differences extended to politics, which, as noted, was not a major subject in the Jewish scriptures. To the extent there was any political perspective in Judaism, one might more accurately speak of Jewish political traditions in the plural.

That leaves one last preliminary question: Who, exactly, are the Jews? Jewish law has traditionally limited the term to people born of a Jewish mother or converted by a recognized rabbi.3 Hence, they have a connection to the religion called Judaism. But in the early 21st century, many people with Jewish ancestry whom most rabbis would recognize as Jewish insist they have no religious affiliation but are Jewish only by culture or ethnicity.4 Jews have been collectively defined by themselves and others as a nation, a race, a people, and an ethnic group. In the 19th century, they were as likely to be referred to as Hebrews or Israelites as Jews. Any such designation is problematic, so many scholars often use a hybrid term, referring to Jews as an ethnoreligious group.5 This recognizes that the markers of being Jewish may include not only religious heritage but also common language, history, marital homogamy, and other factors that connote Jewish identity.

Social Science and Jewish Political Behavior

Although scholars of Jewish origin played an outsized role in the development of the social sciences, including political science, the disciplines they helped found do not devote much attention to the topic of Judaism and politics.6 In an important review essay published in the influential American Political Science Review, Alan Zuckerman (1999, p. 936) remarked on the vast “intellectual distance between contemporary social science and the study of Jewish communities,” noting with considerable understatement that “studies about Jews . . . do not hold center stage in the social sciences.”

The neglect and isolation persist despite evidence from various case studies that analysis of Jewish political activity could potentially “address fundamental questions of political science and the scientific understanding of contemporary political and social life” (Zuckerman, 1999, p. 937). Even the exemplary studies Zuckerman highlighted as prototypes for theoretically informed scholarship about Jews had limitations of scope: None approached the topic with a general proposition (sometimes called a “covering law”) that was widely utilized in other studies of the subject.7

Despite the heterogeneity of approaches, Zuckerman discerned a common thread linking the disparate accounts of politics in Jewish communities (Zuckerman, 1999, pp. 943−944). Each of the items he reviewed could be considered a case study addressing a common research question―perhaps the major research question―in the politics of ethnicity: What factors determine whether individuals who share a common ethnic (or ethnoreligious) heritage develop political solidarity (or not)? If this question about cohesion and division is to provide a unifying framework for scholarship on Jewish politics, at a minimum researchers would have to compare the findings of their case studies to similar research, identify the factors that potentially account for differences from one study to the next, and clarify the mechanisms that operate to promote or retard ethnic political cohesion.

Such research is often nested within an approach known generally as contextual analysis of political behavior. This research tradition challenges the prevalent notion that political behavior results from decisions reached in isolation by atomized individuals based on their personal traits. Rather, it emphasizes the political influence of the social environment in which people are enmeshed (Huckfeldt, Johnson, & Sprague, 2005). The operative social context may be as small and intimate as a two-person family unit or as vast as a nation-state. As classic voting studies have revealed, individuals respond to political stimuli in their environment regardless of its size or scope.

“Internal” Studies

Contextual models are based on comparisons. In the study of religion and politics, specific religious groups are typically compared at two different levels—internally and externally. In single-country studies, the question is how much members of the group differ politically among themselves (i.e., cohesion vs. division) and whether, collectively, they differ from other religious groups in the same place. Single-nation studies tend not to pay much attention to geographic context. They ask what factors tend to promote or undermine political cohesion among members of ethnoreligious groups in a particular country. In that sense, they are “internal” studies.

Internal studies typically assume that the level of a group’s internal political cohesion is due to factors like face-to-face contact and interaction, social learning, interpersonal social networks, socialization, and identity formation, among others. The religious composition of an individual’s social network has been shown to be an important determinant of political collective behavior. Numerous studies have demonstrated the potency of religious congregations and environments as theaters of social influence, affecting members’ attitudes to sociopolitical issues, voting choices, political participation, and other important aspects of political behavior (Andersen, 1988; Djupe & Gilbert, 2009; Gilbert, 1993; Himmelstein 1986; Huckfeldt, Plutzer, & Sprague, 1993; Jelen, 1992; Wald, Owen, & Hill, 1988).

What does this approach reveal about Jewish political behavior? To conduct such analysis requires access to data about the attitudes and behavior of individual Jews. Given the challenge of locating and surveying Jews around the world (outside of Israel), such internal comparisons have been undertaken mostly in Israel and the United States. The studies have evolved over time from convenience samples of Jews obtained mostly from organizational lists to local and occasional national studies with probability-based samples.8 Rather than provide an inventory of such research, this article profiles a representative study, Jerome Legge’s “Explaining Jewish Liberalism in the US: An Exploration of Socioeconomic, Religious and Communal Living Variables” (1995).9

As the title of his study suggests, Legge was interested in political variations among American Jews, particularly the degree to which they evinced liberal political sentiments. He drew on the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey, a decennial opinion poll of American Jewry used for planning purposes by Jewish communal organizations. As a survey of Jews, it contained a wealth of questions about the respondents’ involvement with Jewish life as well as what are often called “face-sheet” variables about personal social, economic, and demographic traits. These were used to predict responses to a question that asked participants to locate themselves on a five-point political scale that went from “very liberal” at one end to “very conservative” at the other, with “middle of the road” as the midpoint. Between the midpoint and the extremes, respondents could declare themselves as liberals or conservatives without any qualifier. The dominant political identification, volunteered by nearly half the respondents, was liberalism (combining very liberal and liberal), with “middle of the road” securing the support of just under a third of the sample; conservatism (both very conservative and conservative) was chosen by only about one fifth of the respondents. Using a sophisticated statistical technique to determine the sources of liberalism, Legge tested the predictive power of religious practice, communal living variables, denomination (both current and in which respondent was raised), Jewish and secular education, age, place of parents’ birth, gender, and income.

Legge found statistically significant effects on liberalism associated with several of the independent variables. Political liberalism was enhanced by gender (females), the degree of exposure to secular education, parents from central or eastern Europe, identification as a secular or Reform Jew, and higher levels of religious practice. Income had a small negative influence on liberal self-identification. The only other factor shown to diminish liberalism, the composite scale called communal living, was made up of items that reflected respondents’ desire for, and experience of, high levels of social solidarity with other Jews, what might well be called a strong in-group bias. High scores on the communal living scale were much more common among traditionalist Jews, particularly members of Orthodox congregations, who have been appreciably less politically liberal than the rest of the Jewish community.10 This variable was substantially more powerful than any other factor in the equation, confirming Richard White’s (1968) theory that the intensity of attachments to a religious community magnifies the capacity of the social environment to affect political attitudes and behavior. In this case, it moved respondents with stronger communal connections in an ideologically conservative direction.

Because Legge’s study was based on a specialized survey of Jews, it could not be used to test directly how Jewish political patterns differed from those of non-Jews, the comparison associated with contextual analysis. However, Legge did draw comparisons from other published studies of non-Jews and found that Jews were much more likely than non-Jews to identify themselves as liberal, and that the correlates of liberalism differed between the two groups. For example, income and education typically predict political conservatism and variables representing religious practice and identification have become markedly powerful factors promoting right-wing sociopolitical attitudes among the general public. None of these patterns was evident among Jews. Even with the limits of such comparisons, Jews did appear distinctive in both the content of their political beliefs and the variables that reinforced it.

Given the diversity of focus in single-country studies, Legge’s analysis cannot be described as typical of all work in the genre, but it does help us identify some priority independent variables. Religious commitment has emerged as a powerful predictor of numerous political orientations. Like highly religious Christians and Muslims, religiously engaged Jews, particularly those who practice Orthodoxy, often exhibit a high level of moral traditionalism encompassing attitudes to sex roles, reproduction, birth control, abortion, drug use, and other topics (Pew Research Center, 2015). Jews who describe themselves as Orthodox and have a high level of religious activity also tend to identify more strongly with the state of Israel and to express more hostility to Israel’s opponents (whom they see as enemies).

“External” Studies

Political cohesion by religious groups may have a territorial dimension. Research that compares the same religious groups in different locales puts less emphasis on individual-level influences and asks primarily whether the collective political behavior of religious group members is consistent across national borders. These works take a “macro” perspective, looking at Jews as a population with central tendencies based on structural traits that vary with geographic locale.11

Some of these cross-national comparisons find that people with common religious identities do in fact exhibit similar political profiles across different spaces. This is particularly true for Catholicism, which is arguably the most centralized of religious traditions and where bishops are expected to use their teaching authority to reinforce a common political message regardless of locale (Jelen, O’Donnell, & Wilcox, 1993).

For the most part, however, cross-national comparisons have suggested significant differences between the political attitudes of religious groups in different countries. White evangelical Protestants in the United States are noted for the conservatism of their political values, as indicated by partisanship, ideological identification, vote choice, and attitudes to political and social issues (Smidt, 2013). They are one of the most internally cohesive political constituencies in the American electorate, typically giving 75% to 80% of their presidential vote to the Republican presidential nominee. That would lead the observer to expect similar behavior by people who identify as evangelical Protestants elsewhere.

Researchers have found, however, that Protestant evangelicals in other countries do not share the political views of their American coreligionists. Using matched surveys conducted in the United States and Canada, Hoover, Martinez, Reimer, and Wald (2002) discovered that evangelical beliefs in both countries promoted more conservative values on moral issues, such as abortion and sexuality, but did not have the same effect on economic issues. Canadian evangelicals were not distinctive from other Canadians in their attitudes to the welfare state and income inequality, but American evangelicals, with their strong antigovernment orientation, stood out from their countrymen in rejecting social welfare programs and efforts to promote greater equality in personal income. The major political difference between evangelicals in the two countries was largely due to the composition of the two populations. Specifically, American evangelicals are much more likely to be religious fundamentalists than their Canadian counterparts. Considering the United States as a Christian country, they mobilize politically to promote their preferences in public policy. Canadian evangelicals have a very different subcultural identity that discourages them from engaging actively in political campaigns to implement their values; they prefer missionary work that will spread Christian religious social values to what they perceive is a predominantly secular population (Bean, Gonzalez, & Kaufman, 2008). Hatcher (2017) found similar political differences between English and American evangelicals, while Smith and Haas (1997) documented progressive economic values among Latin American evangelicals that contrast sharply with the views of American evangelicals.

Do Jewish political views similarly change across national boundaries? Apart from the volumes discussed in the Zuckerman review, there are few systematic comparisons of Jewish political behavior across national boundaries. One conspicuous exception examined the impact of religiosity on the attitudes of American and Israeli Jews to four dependent variables: ideological conservativism, views on the Israeli−Palestinian peace process, support for religion in Israeli public life, and attitudes about the Palestinians (Wald & Martinez 2001). Using a slope dummy approach to multiple regression, the authors found mixed results depending on which dependent measure was assessed. Religiosity affected views of both the Oslo peace process and Palestinians to the same degree and in the same direction (negatively) in both countries. This suggests a transnational religious effect that crosses national borders. But the equations predicting ideology and state support for Orthodoxy in Israel yielded a mixed pattern: In both countries, respondents’ closeness to Orthodoxy did enhance both ideological conservatism and support for religion in the public sphere—a finding consistent with a transnational effect—but the impact was much sharper in Israel. Israeli secularists were more opposed to state-supported religion and more likely to identify as left-wing than equivalent American Jews. At the other end of the religiosity spectrum, Orthodox Jews in Israel were much more ideologically right-wing and supporters of political confessionalism than were religiously observant Jews in the United States. The magnitude of the effect was not identical across national borders, suggesting that the political consequences of religious intensity are not uniform among Jews.

In contrast to the paucity of comparative analyses utilizing statistical models, studies produced by historians establish clearly that the nature of Jewish political life has varied dramatically from one nation or region to the next, and, to the extent such comparisons are available, from one locale to another within the same state or region.

The underlying logic of the historical studies seems to follow the words of Henry Cohen (1893, p. 8), an American Jewish lawyer who opined that “the Israelite in all countries differs from his compatriots proportionately to his ill-treatment.” That is, the kind of political strategy pursued by Jews in any country is a function of the way they are treated in law and society. We can see that perspective in three comparative historical studies that emphasize the situation in Europe after World War I.

Jonathan Frankel (1992) distinguished broadly between Eastern and Western Jewish politics from the late 19th to the mid-20th centuries. Jews in the East, especially the Pale of Settlement that encompassed Russia and most of today’s Poland, tended to pursue “auto-emancipation,” a strategy of achieving Jewish independence via a Jewish state or autonomy as a separate nationality within existing states. They espoused socialism, communism, and other ideologies to bring down the existing regimes that kept Jews in an inferior status. Where open political competition was permitted, they formed Jewish parties or Jewish sections of existing parties. These “nationalists” eventually became the dominant group in efforts by the Zionist movement to create a sovereign Jewish state.

The “emancipationists” of the West (including the United States as well as western Europe) sought instead to achieve legal equality for Jews as citizens of the states where they resided. Denying that Jews constituted a nation apart, they emphasized their loyalty to their political homelands and redefined Judaism as a religious system rather than a marker of national identity. As “integrationists” committed to democratic political life, they denied that Jews were an electoral bloc and urged their coreligionists to be Jews in the synagogue but citizens in the street.

To explain this fundamental difference in political goals and methods, Frankel contrasted the objective conditions in the two environments. Eastern Jews faced “a Judeophobic autocracy with its network of discriminatory legislation, a Jewish population of over five million, a demographic explosion, proletarianization and pauperization, mass migration, and a highly traditional community locked in combat with ultramodern, postliberal anticlerical utopianism” (Frankel, 1992, p. 99). By contrast, Western Jews enjoyed civil rights, attained a degree of economic and social security, and developed a modernist orientation to Judaism that was widely accepted by most of their coreligionists.

Looking more narrowly at differences within western/central Europe, where Jews enjoyed citizenship rights, Paula Hyman (1992) applied a similar framework. She argued that political differences among Jews in this region were shaped by the circumstances of their emancipation. Emancipation refers to the 19th- and 20th-century processes by which Jews were admitted to full citizenship without the restrictions and limitations so common in the premodern era (Birnbaum & Katznelson, 1995). Where situational factors produced a broad national consensus in favor of emancipating Jews, she argued, the latter tended to divide their support among different parties. These internal divisions reflected denomination, socioeconomic status, and other traits that similarly divided non-Jewish citizens. But when emancipation was permitted grudgingly and enforced intermittently, Jews flocked to left-wing parties that supported their full inclusion in the body politic. Full inclusion made Judaism irrelevant to political choices, while restrictions imposed upon Jews rendered their religious identity extremely salient and outweighed other factors in choosing among parties and candidates.

Examining the major political movements among Jews between the two world wars, Ezra Mendelsohn (1993, Chapter 2) turned the question around. He asked which environments were most hospitable to the different political trends evinced by Jews, and nationalism in particular. Jewish nationalism in this period meant either communal rights for Jews within existing countries or the creation of a Jewish state in the Middle East. Mendelsohn offered an extremely fine-grained analysis of historically specific factors that facilitated nationalist sentiment among Jewish populations: “exclusivist” nationalism exhibited by the dominant non-Jewish population; the combination of anti-Semitism with some kind of cataclysm, such as war and/or revolution; binational states that formally recognized groups by granting ethnic autonomy; nations dominated by peasants with an “unattractive” primitive culture; and socially backward areas in general. He also indicated that Jews would be especially drawn to nationalism when their own community had been touched by enlightenment. Mendelsohn applied the same broad analysis to locate areas where integrationism was likely to flourish.

These studies identify a diverse set of structural factors that seem to have divided Jews politically. Following the norms of conventional historiography, the works provide accounts that apply in a particular locale at a specific time. Faced with differing outcomes that vary across time, social scientists look for more general theories that provide a unified explanation and promote a more general law. The most promising theory is the concept of “political opportunity structure,” which is derived from research on social movements.12

Division and Cohesion Among Jews: Structural Factors

Some of the cross-national political differences manifested by Jews may be compositional phenomena. The preponderance of political conservatism among Australian Jews today is likely due to the rapid growth of Orthodoxy in the Jewish population (Macgregor, 2008, pp. 84−89). The strong pro-Israel orientation of French Jews could very well result from the large number of North African Jews who emigrated from the former French colonies after they obtained political independence, doubling the size of the Jewish community in France (Abitbol & Astro, 1994). Given their negative encounters with Arab and Muslim culture, the Jews who left for France could well have carried with them a distinctive political worldview. The perceived growth of anti-Semitism and sporadic violence against Jews by Muslim immigrants in the 21st century have added to concerns about communal security, encouraging more Jewish emigration from France to Israel. While compositional differences should be included as controls in cross-national analyses of Jewish political views, they do not provide a strong theoretical framework for understanding cohesion and division among Jews.

The accumulated scholarship emphasizes the impact of national-level governmental structure and policies on Jewish political behavior in different environments. Rather than focusing solely on individual-level traits, such as religiosity, ethnic social networks, and such, these comparative works pay more attention to geography. How does the political behavior of a religious group—its cohesion and divisions—respond to various features of the political system from one country to the next? Although this approach is implicit in some historical societies, it has not been fully teased out in a form that allows for systematic comparison and empirical testing across cases. A much more fruitful discussion about the differences between two forms of nationalism—the Western/civic/liberal and the Eastern/ethnic/liberal—is available to make sense of Jewish political behavior in diverse environments (see Berent, 2010, and especially Jaher, 2002). This distinction matters because each conception of nationalism dictates a particular understanding of citizenship that strongly influences how Jews respond to the national political environment.

To lay out the logic of this approach, recall Peter Medding’s (1977) suggestion that scholars of Jewish political behavior should focus on the potential political threats Jewish communities perceive in different environments. The nature of the threats, he averred, drives communal political strategy. Given the vagaries of Jewish history, it is not surprising that Jewish folk wisdom considers political developments and options by asking “Is it good for the Jews?” This “paradigmatic question of identity politics” (Fish, 2007) recognizes that the design of a political system may affect how Jews define their political self-interest. However, as the language suggests, the theoretical framework encompasses not just Jews but may be applied fruitfully to groups defined by religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, and other traits. This breadth provides a means to integrate scholarly research on Jewish political behavior with studies of group-based political solidarity beyond the Jewish case.

In trying to explain why some groups succeed in inducing political changes that serve their interests and efforts but other groups largely fail, scholars have emphasized how the political environment may advance or retard effective political mobilization. Factors internal to the group surely matter. Research on social movements has identified numerous group characteristics that make success more likely: the degree to which group members identify their interests with the group, the extent to which the group’s concerns can be addressed by political action, the resources (tangible and intangible) possessed by the group. The resources affect the capacity of the group to communicate its messages to the political system. But even a group that is advantaged by high levels of intragroup cohesion, a consensus on the need for political action, and an abundance of leaders and strong communication networks will achieve its goals only if the political system is open to it (Wald, Silverman, & Fridy, 2005).

Political opportunity structure, sometimes known as the political process model (McAdam, 1982), refers to the nature of the political environment, an external factor that is mostly beyond the control of the group. More specifically, it looks at political conditions that present group advocates with openings that affect their political prospects. In Tarrow’s (1994, p. 85) classic definition, political opportunity connotes the “dimensions of the political environment that provide incentives for people to undertake collective action by affecting their expectations for success or failure.” One obvious dimension, as David Martin recognized years ago in a study of religious geography (1978, Chapter 2), is simple numbers. Where members of a group constitute a majority of the population, the political rules of the game are likely to be much more favorable to policies that favor them. In such a system, minorities will face a strategic disadvantage. A political system that treats group political initiatives as threats to be contained, suppressing such efforts by tactics up to and including violence, is also unlikely to yield much ground to social movements.

The “rules of the game” are undeniably important, but they may not be set in stone. Although we tend to think of the “state” in singular terms, it is in fact composed of diverse institutions with conflicting priorities and preferences. Even where a group seeking state action is small, it may yet find ways to penetrate the state. Some elites with key locations inside government agencies may have their own agendas that prompt them to “sponsor” outside groups and work on behalf of their interests. If sympathetic actors can form a large-enough coalition, the group may be able to change the rules in its favor and obtain its preferred outcome. Hence, we need to consider the alignments of political elites when we contrast group behavior across national boundaries.13

Returning specifically to the Jewish case, it makes sense to start with a comparison of Jewish political behavior in two nations. Since the mass exodus of European Jews in the World War II era and the departure of approximately 2 million Jews from what had been the Soviet Union in the 1990s, the vast majority of the global Jewish population now lives in the United States and Israel. Comparing the political behavior of Jews in the two societies demonstrates how Judaism adapts to the political context and the associated political opportunity structure.

Because of the drastic difference in the political environments of Israel and the United States, comparing the political outlooks of Jews in the two societies constitutes an “easy case” to make the argument.14 Contrasting Jewish political behavior in the United States and other Western democracies, where Jews live under democratic governments broadly similar to the American state, presents a more challenging test of claims about the importance of the political opportunity structure.

Israel as an Ethnic Democracy

In Two Worlds of Judaism, Liebman and Cohen (1990) contrasted the political culture of American and Israeli Jews. Overall, the authors found Israeli Jews much more skewed to the political right than their American coreligionists, especially when it came to political tolerance for minority groups.

American Jews are notable in their support for political equality and they display a markedly higher degree of tolerance for minority groups than other Americans. During the post–World War II civil rights era in the United States, Jews were disproportionately committed to efforts to remove barriers that kept black Americans in a subordinate position. Compared to other whites, they not only were more likely to lend moral support to the movement for racial equality but also played important roles as activists, organizers, and advisers to the campaign. Although the alliance ruptured in the late 1960s over questions of Black Power and affirmative action, Jews were still much more sympathetic to the cause than other white Americans (Glaser, 1997). That sympathy for outsider groups explains why Jews similarly supported social movements to champion the rights of gays and lesbians, Latinos, women, and other distinctive minorities.

When it comes to the concerns of Arab citizens, who make up about a fifth of the population of Israel, Israeli Jews are considerably less supportive and empathetic. After independence, the Israeli state imposed a military regime on Arab towns and villages and continues to monitor closely the political activity of Arab Israelis. Mindful of the loyalties of Israeli Arabs to their Palestinian brothers and sisters living barely outside Israel’s borders, it exempted Arab citizens from military service (Lustick, 1980). The authors of a study of Jewish Israeli public opinion concluded that respondents felt so hostile to Israel’s Arab citizens that the relationship was best characterized as hatred (Pedahzur & Yishai, 1999). Fearful of its Arab citizens as a fifth column committed to destruction of the state, Israeli Jews exhibit minimal tolerance for their fellow citizens of Arab descent (Shamir & Sullivan, 1985).

Medding’s political interests theory provides a perspective on the vastly differing political outlooks toward minorities exhibited by Jews in the United States and Israel. Perceiving the source of threats and their political interests very differently, the two populations have fashioned very different political cultures.

Israel was established explicitly as a Jewish state, a state where Jews would constitute a national majority and be free to develop their culture and society on their own terms. To be sure, the Proclamation of Independence declared that all residents of the country, regardless of religion or ethnic/national attachment, would enjoy citizenship, with civil liberties and religious freedom. Yet the nation has not resolved the tension between the two visions. In a lecture years ago, an Arab Knesset member asked pointedly “Who founded Israel—King David or Theodore Herzl?” Was Israel to be a theocratic Jewish commonwealth in the manner of King David’s ancient kingdom or a secular, multicultural state of the Jews, as Herzl seemingly envisioned?

Clearly, Israel was not intended to be, and is not in fact, a theocratic state, a state ruled by religious elites who enforce compliance with Jewish religious law. Yet it is equally apparent that Israel draws on the Jewish heritage for its values, symbols, and culture. The Star of David, the symbol of the state, is also the symbol of Judaism, and the blue and white colors of the national flag mimic the design of the traditional Jewish prayer shawl. The state follows the Jewish calendar and Jewish holidays are formally observed by the government. National events are often solemnized at the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism. The national anthem, HaTikvah (The Hope), refers to a yearning in the soul of every Jew for a return to the homeland. The Law of Return, the first legislative act passed by the Knesset, provided that Jews would become citizens on arrival and would not have to go through the lengthy naturalization process required of non-Jews.

These practices have suggested to some observers that Israel was a state for the Jews. As such, several Israeli scholars have argued, it falls into the category of an “ethnic democracy” (Peled, 1992; Smooha, 2013).15 States so designated hold free and fair elections and conform to the minimal procedural requirements of democracy. Yet the state is effectively “owned” by a dominant ethnic group that uses its majority status to mold policies and practices that advance its ethnic values and interests (Brubaker, 1996). It is not a liberal democracy that confers citizenship rights based on individuals, but it is still democratic.

Israel is also a Zionist state. That means it follows policies meant to ensure Jewish supremacy. If that norm was implicit for decades, it became explicit in 2018 when Israel’s legislature passed a new law describing Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” in which only the Jewish people have the right of national self-determination”. The implication became clearer yet when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel is “the national state, not of all its citizens, but only of the Jewish people.”

These nonliberal tendencies were accentuated by the history of Israel and the configuration of the region where it was established. Even before it was a state, the Jewish settlement in Palestine drew immigrants who sought a haven from the discrimination and violence that characterized Jewish life in much of the diaspora. It also drew religiously observant Jews who wanted to be closer to the land where they believed God was most accessible and where the critical events in Jewish history had unfolded. The subsequent post-World War II in-migration of Holocaust survivors heightened the share of the population that considered the world a dangerous place for Jews.16 Because Israel was located in the midst of a largely Arab and Muslim region, the country faced immediate challenges to its survival. Regarding the new state as a colonial outpost that stole land from the native population, the surrounding regimes denied its legitimacy and declared war on it just hours after the United Nations had authorized its existence. Even as tactics and weaponry have changed over the decades, Israelis consider themselves embroiled in a protracted military conflict. Hence Israel constitutes what Smooha (2013) described as a “defensive state.”

Decades of war and terrorist attacks have tended to shape a perspective among many Israelis known as “the people apart syndrome” (Arian, 1989). This view sees anti-Semitism as a form of bigotry that recurs regardless of what Jews do and means that Jews should not trust anybody outside their own people. The pervasiveness of this sentiment was perfectly expressed in the popular Israeli song of years ago, “The Whole World Hates Us.” This perspective sometimes fuses with a “civil religion” that stresses the divine basis of Israel and the eternal right to control the ancient Land of Israel as promised by God in the Hebrew Bible (Liebman & Don-Yeḥiya, 1983). These secular and religious visions together encourage a tendency to perceive Israel’s neighbors and its own Arab citizens as sworn enemies who will never accept the country as a legitimate state in the Middle East. Hence, many Israelis tend to perceive Arabs as an implacable enemy and favor limitations on the political and social rights of Arab citizens in the Jewish state.

It cannot be emphasized too strongly that the democratic elements in Israel’s political culture have mitigated and limited the impact of these values on the state. Arab citizens of Israel occupy important positions in the government, military, judiciary, mass media, Foreign Ministry, Knesset, and other critical sectors; civil rights violations against Arabs have been counteracted by numerous legal decisions (Dowty, 1998, Chapter 9). Nonetheless, some state institutions and informal restrictions continue to exist that reveal the degree to which the polity is construed by the Jewish majority as a mechanism to serve its values and interests ahead of those of other citizens. This does not make Israel unique, but it does mean that its democracy departs from the liberal model by differentiating among its citizens on ethnonationalist grounds.

Under these circumstances, Israeli Jews have been predominantly aligned on the right side of the nation’s political spectrum since the early 1970s. That spectrum is defined principally not by economic issues, as in most nations, but by positions regarding the ongoing Arab−Israeli conflict (Shamir & Arian, 1999). The starkest differences arise over how Israel should handle the predominantly Arab Muslim territories it acquired in the Six Day War of 1967. Advocates on the left side generally favor a two-state solution in which Israel would cede control of most of the West Bank and the rest of the territories to a Palestinian state in return for a meaningful peace treaty. This would entail Israel’s abandoning some of the settlements established in the disputed territories Israel has controlled since 1967. The politically ascendant right wing is skeptical that any concessions by Israel would be reciprocated and thus stresses the need for tight controls on the Palestinians in the disputed territories and limitations on the political rights of Israel’s Arab citizens.17 Some on the far right call for outright annexation of the territories to Israel proper and the expulsion of their Arab inhabitants.

Nuance is important. Despite the ascendance of the right-wing Likud Party since the 1970s, Israelis have voted several times in the recent past for leaders like Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak, former generals who favored Israeli withdrawal from the territories and advocated negotiated settlement with the Palestinians. Israelis responded very positively to Egypt’s Anwar Sadat, who delivered a famous speech to the Knesset, and Israel eventually returned the Sinai to Egypt by 1982. During the days of the Oslo Agreement in the 1990s, the country accorded some government functions to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza, two of the disputed territories. While the sentiments of Israelis are, in the main, right-wing, they have from time to time made pragmatic accommodations to the Palestinians.

Nonetheless, the political behavior of Israeli Jews has clearly diverged from the classical liberal position imagined by Theodore Herzl’s vision for the “old new land” he hoped to establish in Palestine. This behavior is a response to the realities perceived by Jews as they attempted to reestablish their state after World War II. The political environment and opportunity structure are quite different in the other country where Jews are most numerous, the United States.

The United States as a Liberal Democracy

When identifiable Jewish immigrants first arrived in what was to become the United States in 1654, they were hardly welcomed with parades, but they were able nonetheless to join a society that was far removed from the feudal norms of Europe. As they spread across the colonies over the next century, they began to take prominent public roles and several even assumed positions of political and military leadership in the War of Independence. One of the first Americans to die in combat with British forces, Francis Salvador, was a Jewish immigrant who had been elected to the South Carolina colonial assembly just a few years after his arrival from England.

When the colonies united to form a nation with a central government in 1787, Jews were delighted that the Constitution broke with European norms in three critical respects. First, they were entitled to all the “privileges and immunities” accorded to other citizens of the states, making them the first Jews in the modern world to enjoy equality as a matter of law. This status was extended to all residents, regardless of religion, by Article IV. By a provision in Article VI that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States,” Jews were further empowered to fill public roles, acquiring the prestigious status of “freemen” denied them in most European societies. Finally, by omitting any religious language from the document or oaths of office, the Founders further underlined the secular character of the national state they had crafted. Just a few years later, the secular character of the state was further reinforced by the First Amendment’s prohibition of any laws “respecting an establishment of religion” or interfering with the exercise of religious freedom by citizens. Unlike Europe, where it took decades or even centuries for Jews to become full members of the nation, American Jews were emancipated at birth. They imbibed the Enlightenment principle that the state was incompetent in matters of religion and should not allocate benefits or costs on the basis of race, ethnicity, or religion.

There were limits to emancipation, to be sure. The state governments were permitted to maintain religious establishments and to require religious—meaning Christian if not Protestant—pledges as a condition of serving in state office. Jews also faced an “informal” Protestant cultural establishment (Sehat, 2011) and a current of social anti-Semitism that waxed and waned over time (Dinnerstein, 1987). Though much less severe than the environment they had experienced in Europe, this hostility did emerge from time to time and prompted the founding of Jewish organizations to provide for “communal defense.” Despite these restrictions, American Jews enjoyed then and now “the most benign and welcoming environment Jews have ever known” (Halevi, 2016). Given this most favorable political environment, American Jews emerged as fierce defenders of the Constitution and as unyielding advocates for what they saw as a secular state in which religion was irrelevant to government. The political opportunity structure tilted in their favor by giving them, as well as other white males, political rights and a legal system equipped to enforce them.

Because they were a decided minority in a predominantly Christian society, Jews worked to defend the regime of religion and state that had made them the envy of Jewish communities around the globe.18 By the end of the 19th century, they had distilled a distinctive political culture with six central tenets:

The Constitution created a secular state that left religious matters to the private sphere.

The United States was not in any meaningful sense a “Christian nation.”

Jews were a religious group, but their rights were based on the principle of equal citizenship, not religion.

Jews had an obligation to defend vigorously the separation of religion and state.

Jews should avoid religious language in the public square and engage in politics as individuals, not as Jews.

Jews should remind each other about the world-historical significance of the U.S. Constitution.

These ideas undergirded the rhetoric used by Jews when they contested policies that struck at what they saw as their basic rights as citizens—such tangible threats as a constitutional amendment to declare the United States a Christian nation, local efforts to teach Christianity in public schools, or restrictions on immigration to discourage Jews abroad from obtaining asylum in the United States.

The American Jewish political culture gained renewed influence after World War II when the U.S. Supreme Court began to decide many cases involving religious claims. Having accepted that the First Amendment now applied to all levels of government, rather than just the national level, the Court took up challenges to such long-standing practices as religious exercises in public schools, government funding of religious education, and governmental practices that appeared to disadvantage particular religious minorities or advantage others. The Court decided, for example, that men who sought exemption from military service due to conscientious objections to war could not be required to show religious reasons for their decisions. In another case, the Court ruled that a Seventh Day Adventist who lost her job by refusing to work on Saturdays, the sabbath in her religious tradition, was entitled to federal unemployment benefits. Religions as organizations arguably lost some privileges, while individuals undeniably gained far more scope to claim exemptions from laws based on their personal religious convictions.

In time, this body of law was riven by two contending perspectives, separationism and accommodationism. Advocates of the former emphasized the strict division between religion and government but also insisted that government should not impede religious freedom. Their concern for religious freedom was particularly focused on minorities who might face hostility from the Christian majority in the United States. Accommodationists were more comfortable with displays of religious sentiments by the state but tended not to exempt minorities from what were called neutral laws of general applicability. The Democratic Party was the major carrier of separationist sentiment, and the Republicans adhered mostly to accommodationist sentiments. The Republican attachment to accommodationism strengthened in the late 1970s when the party began to harness the votes of moral traditionalists who were mostly found among white evangelical Protestants and conservative Roman Catholics. As judges appointed by Republicans began to lower the wall separating religion and state, permitting public funding of religious organizations through vouchers and other means, most Jews redoubled their commitment to the Democratic Party, which fought those initiatives.

Jews are today among the most heavily Democratic and politically liberal constituencies in the American electorate. Since the late 1980s, they have tended to vote 3 to 1 or more in favor of Democratic presidential candidates. Over the same time period, white evangelicals became progressively more Republican and have typically given 80% of their presidential vote to the Republican nominee. Precisely because evangelicals have called for more religion in the public square and have emphasized what they conceive as the Christian character of the United States, Jews have turned away from the GOP and the right wing in general.

American Jews have long embraced the Western/civic/liberal model of nationalism, with its emphasis on the secular character of the state. They stand out from other Americans, even from other religious minorities and people with no religious identification, in the degree to which they favor Thomas Jefferson’s metaphorical “wall of separation” between religion and state (Ivers, 1995). Just how much they have internalized this commitment becomes evident in reviewing their approach to the role of religion in the state of Israel.

In the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, many American Jews were skeptical of, if not overtly hostile to, the proposed establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. They feared “Jewish nationalism” would paint them as a state within a state and undermine their standing as loyal citizens in the eyes of other Americans. In the words of a leading rabbi, “A homeland in Palestine in a political sense can only tend to unhome the Jew in other countries” (Kohler, 1918, p. 199). Although American Jews gradually learned to accept the new Israeli state, they continued to insist that they were Americans first and did not take their orders from Israel. An American Zionist leader captured this ambivalence when he distinguished forcefully between American Jews’ “citizenship” in the United States and their “fellowship” with Jews living elsewhere in the world (Jewish Exponent, 1938).

The Six Day War of 1967 galvanized American Jewry, making support for Israel a broadly consensual view in the community. Many Americans saw in Israel a reflection of liberal American political values and a progressive political force. But in time, as Israel increasingly veered in the direction of an ethnic democracy rather than a liberal state, the love affair dimmed considerably (Waxman, 2016). Ironically, many American Jews expressed their commitment to Israel by pressing it to move in the direction of the Western/civic/liberal model.

These efforts included a wide range of actions by multiple actors. Leading Israeli Supreme Court judges and private attorneys, some of American heritage and others trained in American law schools, promoted a liberal interpretation of Israeli laws heavily influenced by Jewish legal scholars in the United States. American Jews became directly involved in Israeli political life as advocates for feminism, equal rights for Israeli Arabs, and uncoupling of the link between Judaism and public law. They reacted with particular vehemence when Israeli religious leaders who occupied public office seemed to delegitimize the non-Orthodox forms of Judaism that were prevalent in the United States (Brackman, 1999; Rosenthal, 2001). As Israel tried to export its version of Zionism to American Jewry, the latter responded with efforts to turn Israel into a nation that more closely resembled the United States in the public role of religion.

Differences in political opportunity structure contributed to the growing wedge between Israeli and American Jews over basic political values.19 Israeli Jews were a cohesive majority who felt threatened by Arabs both inside and outside the state. Their numbers and their control of the political agenda enabled them to put their concerns into law. American Jews were a small minority in a country who believed their interests were best ensured by a liberal political order that emphasized the inviolability of individual rights (Fein, 1988). As noted, the striking differences in the political opportunity structures of the two nations make this comparison especially salient.

The same theoretical framework helps explain how the political behavior of American Jews differs from that of Jewish communities in other Western democracies. In the current era, American Jewry differs politically not just from its Israeli coreligionists but from all the Jewish societies for which we have empirical data (Wald, 2015, p. 11). No other national Jewish community is as cohesively left-wing as the American community. The patterns are complex: Some Jewish communities abroad are predominantly right-wing or centrist, some do not differ from the patterns of non-Jews in their societies, some are evenly divided between parties of the left and right, and some swing dramatically from one party to another across elections.

Jews in other Western democracies do not experience the same liberal regime of religion and state operative in the United States. While they do enjoy a high degree of tolerance, many reside in states where various forms of Christianity are commonly established by law, many of which provide the state church with direct state funding for its religious activities. In such environments, Jewish communities do not work to excise national identity of any religious elements, as do American Jews, and they are quite willing to accept whatever state funding and resources are granted to other religions. That is a rational strategy given the political opportunity structure they face, but it differs significantly from the American model.20


This article begins by noting the uniqueness of the Jewish political experience. Because the Jewish political experience differs so fundamentally from the political traditions of larger religious groups, the Jewish perspective on politics has to be studied from the ground up. The relative neglect of Jewish communities in studies of religion and politics and the disengagement of such work from the larger questions asked by social scientists tends to isolate Jewish political studies from the main currents of scholarly development. Studies of Jewish political behavior could contribute more to scholarship on ethnic politics by identifying general tendencies through proper theoretical grounding. Theories based on political interests and political opportunity structures, key mechanisms affecting mobilization, show promise for providing a framework to unite case studies of Jewish political activity. Such work could better address broad questions about political behavior that interest social scientists who are not principally focused on the Jewish people.


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  • 1. Ironically, non-Jewish scholars did find some political lessons in the experience of Jews during their brief experience of nationhood. In designing the American Constitution, the Christian founders of the United States drew on certain concepts they perceived in the Hebraic political tradition (Shalev, 2009).

  • 2. In a study of Jews in India, Katz (1996) noted that they framed Judaism to emphasize those aspects (purity laws, dietary restrictions, respect for ancestors) that resonated with the dominant Hindu tradition and minimized aspects of the tradition that conflicted with the norms of Asian religion.

  • 3. The religious streams differ on this. Since 1983, Reform Judaism in the United States has accepted as Jewish any person born to a Jewish mother or father while the Orthodox have generally refused to recognize Jews by choice unless the conversion was conducted according to Orthodox rites. These practices have strained relations between Israel and American Jewry.

  • 4. The Pew Study of American Jewry in 2013 reported that nearly one quarter of self-identified Jews in the United States indicated they had no religion. Such “Jews without religion” constitute nearly a third of millennials. Their identification is based on heritage. Surveys that ask people to identify their religious preference thus miss a sizable component of the Jewish population.

  • 5. Use of the term ethnoreligious does not meant that there is one ethnic category among Jews. Jews are commonly divided into two major groups—Sephardi and Ashkenazi, a distinction that maps closely onto other dualities, such as Eastern and Western, and Oriental and Occidental. The Jewish communities in Ethiopia and India are also commonly considered unique ethnic streams of the larger Jewish population.

  • 6. Consider, among others, Durkheim, Marx, Simmel, Levi-Strauss, Merton, Lewin, Mannheim, Lazarsfeld, Lipset, and Eulau.

  • 7. Zuckerman’s review, like this article, focuses only on empirical political science, studies using a behavioral approach that utilize explicit hypothesis testing aimed at developing general laws of human action. There is a tradition of “Jewish political studies,” instigated largely by the late Daniel Elazar (1999), that examines the political implications of Jewish texts from a philosophical perspective. A planned four-volume compendium, The Jewish Political Tradition, published by Yale University Press beginning in 2000 (Walzer, Lorberbaum, Zohar, & Lorberman, 2000), is also directed to specialists in the field of political theory.

  • 8. To overcome the needle-in-a-haystack problem, early studies examined what were considered homogeneous Jewish areas, but even these contained significant numbers of non-Jews who added measurement error. Another technique for nonprobability sample selection, the Distinctive Jewish Names approach, is also used in some studies. Probability samples are expensive in time and money so they are often conducted with PPS (probability proportionate to size), a more efficient way of identifying a small population. The development of online surveys has greatly increased the size of survey samples and thus provided easier access to a significant number of Jewish respondents. Scholars have also combined surveys to obtain a significant number of Jewish respondents (Wald, 2015).

  • 9. Using the 2013 Pew Research Center survey of American Jewry, Kotler-Berkowitz (2017) provided more recent analysis of the factors that influence the political perspectives of Jews across a wide range of political issues, both foreign and domestic. Although the Pew survey uses a superior method of sampling Jewish respondents, it lacks some of the variables available in the data set used by Legge. Kotler-Berkowitz’s findings largely correspond to the patterns detected in Legge’s piece.

  • 10. Readers may be puzzled by evidence that high levels of religious practice promote liberalism, but that Orthodox Jews, who are politically conservative, have the highest level of religious practice among respondents. In this multivariate model, religious practice predicts liberal identification when denomination and communal activity are both controlled. Most Jews, who are neither Orthodox nor deeply engaged in Jewish communal life, are politically liberal.

  • 11. Scholars with access to cross-national data sets have sometimes computed different models for each nation-state and a few have merged national surveys and have assigned respondents dummy variables to assess whether the patterns diverge significantly across international borders. There is likely to be more work using multilevel modeling to better measure the power of individual and national-level variables on political behavior. The emergence of sample-matching techniques has also generated some studies that enabled scholars to measure the extent to which Jews differ not only from one another but from the non-Jewish populations among whom they live (Wald, 2015).

  • 12. For a more general argument in favor of social movement theory as a framework for studying political behavior by religious groups, see Wald, Silverman, and Fridy (2005).

  • 13. The movement known as the Christian Right was midwifed by conservative Republican activists who saw an opportunity to remake the Republican Party after its staggering defeat in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal. Using their fundraising prowess, campaign experience, and ties to insurgents in the GOP, these elites helped create some leading Christian Right organizations that eventually became the base of the Republican Party.

  • 14. In comparative research methodology, this kind of analysis is known as a “most different systems” design.

  • 15. For a critique of the concept, see Berent (2010).

  • 16. Surveys have indicated that Russian Jewish immigrants hold particularly unfavorable views of Arabs and that Jews who migrated from Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa also brought with them anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments.

  • 17. The term Arab citizens refers to those who live within the internationally recognized borders of Israel (the Green line) and are classified by nationality as citizens of the state of Israel. Jewish Israelis often refer to this group as “Israeli Arabs,” while the Arab citizens increasingly define themselves as Palestinian Israelis. Arabs who live in territory that Israel controlled after the Six-Day War—variously called the Occupied Territories, the disputed territories, the administered territories, or Judea and Samaria—live under Israeli law but are not granted citizenship. Arabs who live in East Jerusalem, which Israel formally annexed, have been offered citizenship but are not required to accept it. Most have not.

  • 18. For specifics on these efforts, see Wald (2019).

  • 19. The magnitude of the differences between American and Israeli political views is documented in a report by the Pew Research Center (2017).

  • 20. These issues are explored in greater detail in Wald (2015).