Monday, April 9, 2012

How Einstein promoted Zionism

Einstein biographer (and idolizer) Walter Isaacson wrote a 2009 Atlantic Monthly magazine article on How Einstein Divided America's Jews. He makes it clear that being a Jew was extremely important to Einstein, and how he was politically dedicated to the Zionist cause.
So when he arrived in New York in April, he was greeted by adoring throngs as the world’s first scientific celebrity, one who also happened to be a gentle icon of humanist values and a living patron saint for Jews. ...

“In your letter,” he responded, “I notice that the word Jew is ambiguous in that it refers (1) to nationality and origin, (2) to the faith. I am a Jew in the first sense, not in the second.”
I think of Judaism as a religion, but Einstein was not religious in the way that Christians use the word. He did not believe in a personal God, or attend religious services, or pray, or have faith in a spiritual world. To him, being a Jew meant that he was born a Jew and that he was a believer in Jewish identity politics.

There is often controversy on the Albert Einstein Wikipedia article about whether to prominently identify him as a Jew. Some argue that Judaism is a religion and Einstein was not religious, or that Einstein is famous for his physics and that his Jewishness is only of interest to prejudiced people. However it seems obvious that Einstein's Jewishness is essential to any biography. His Jewishness was extremely important to him, even more important than being German or being a naturalized American. He is mainly famous for being a physicist, but he is also frequently quoted for his opinions on God, religion, and peace. He was an active Zionist and a Nazi refugee. People are fascinated with the details of Einstein's life, and his Jewishness is one of the first things they learn.

A reader supplies Einstein's 1921 interview/essay on How I Became a Zionist.


  1. Judaism is both a nationality and a religion. Some say it is a race, but if so, the race cannot be a pure race because Jews accept converts.

    One doesn't have to believe in God to be Jewish. One is Jewish if and only if his mother is Jewish or if one converts to Judaism. One can even believe in one God and the truth of the Torah and still not be Jewish. In this way, Judaism is different than Christianity and Islam. Also, Jews don't actively seek converts like Christianity and Islam.

    But it is part of the Torah that Jews must be faithful to the country in which they reside and follow its laws, so in this way Judaism is a faith and not a nationality, as you can have Iranian Jews, American Jews, Russian Jews.

    This website is a good source of information about Judaism:
    Judaism is a complicated and perplexing subject, but the website does a good job of making it less complicated.

    1. In my experience, it's a little like The Borat Defense.

      If you're Jewish, discussing Einstein's Jewishness is perfectly kosher but if you're a Gentile asking questions about it, the issue suddenly becomes your fascination with it rather than "it it". Just saying that's been my experience; I'm a Bayesian, and ... "just sayin'."

  2. Jonathan,

    I'm Jewish and very religious. I don't see anything wrong with anything Roger has said about Einstein and his Jewishness. To me, what he has said is perfectly kosher - and interesting too.

    1. Craig,

      I've had several Jewish friends since childhood. When we we alone, they felt free to express doubts about their family's religion, and religion in general. When their folks were around, different outcome. I also noticed this behavior among non-Jewish friends, but I think *overly* clannish behavior is more prevalent among groups who've been historically oppressed.

      Hopefully that clears it up, if anything needed clearing up. If not, read this recent review of Roger's book, especially parts at the end which treat of overly zealous Jews. No one here is anti-Jewish; not me, and (IMHO) not Roger. I'm just anti-"overly-pro"-Jewish.

      "It's all a matter of scale." -- Dr. Albert Young, physicist.
      (personal communication circa 1992)


    2. oops ... review is here:

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