Contested Utopia


Contested Utopia

Jewish Dreams and Israeli Realities

Marc J. Rosenstein

328 pages
3 maps, 1 table, index


March 2021


$30.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

March 2021


$30.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

March 2021


$30.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

This first book to examine the Jewish state through the lens of Jewish utopian thought, from its biblical beginnings to modernity, offers a fresh perspective on the political, religious, and geopolitical life of Israel. As Marc J. Rosenstein argues, the Jewish people’s collective memories, desires, hopes, and faith have converged to envision an ideal life in the Land of Israel—but, critically, the legacy is a kaleidoscope of conflicting (and sometimes overlapping) visions. And after three millennia of imagining utopia, it is almost impossible for Jews to respond to Israel’s realities without being influenced—even unconsciously—by these images.

Charting the place of utopian thought in Judaism, Rosenstein then illustrates, with original texts, diverse utopian visions of the Jewish state: Torah state (Yavetz), holy community (based on nostalgic memories of the medieval community), national-cultural home (Lewinsky), “normal” state (Herzl), socialist paradise (Syrkin), anarchy (Jabotinsky), and a polity defined by Israel’s historic or divinely ordained borders. Analyzing how these disparate utopian visions collide in Israel’s attempts to chart policy and practice regarding the Sabbath, social welfare, immigration, developing versus conserving the land, and the Israel-Diaspora relationship yields novel perspectives on contemporary flashpoints. His own utopian vision offers a further entryway for both Israelis and Diaspora Jews into more informed and nuanced conversations about the “Jewish state.”

Author Bio

Marc J. Rosenstein is the former director of both the Israel Rabbinical Program at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem and the Galilee Foundation for Value Education. He is the author of Turning Points in Jewish History (JPS, 2018) and Galilee Diary: Reflections on Daily Life in Israel.


"Fascinating."—Rabbi Robert Orkand,

"[Contested Utopia] provides a fascinating look at the variety of utopian visions that abounded before the creation of the state of Israel."—Rabbi Ron Kronish, Jerusalem Report

“In this fascinating study of the utopian roots within both traditional Judaism and Zionism, Rosenstein offers a lens into the identity struggles of the modern Jewish state. An important contribution to the Israeli bookshelf.”—Yossi Klein Halevi, author of Like Dreamers

“Rosenstein takes readers on a stimulating excursion through a fascinating cluster of utopian visions that anticipated what subsequently became the State of Israel. His juxtaposition of these competing versions of ‘what might be’ with the realities that emerged is well worth pondering.”—Deborah Dash Moore, professor of Judaic Studies, University of Michigan

Contested Utopia will help to shape discourse around the future of the Jewish state for a long time.”—Rabbi Lisa Grant, director, Rabbinical Program, Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion, New York

Table of Contents

List of Maps    
Preface: Envisioning a Jewish State    
Introduction: The Jewish State as Utopia    
How to Use This Book for Discussion    

Part 1. Lands of Milk and Honey: Jewish Utopian Visions
1. The Eternal Quest for Utopia    
2. Paradise Lost, Remembered, and Promised    
3. Utopia, Apocalypse, Messiah    

Part 2. A Jewish State: Zionist Utopian Visions
4. A Torah Society    
5. Holy Community    
6. A National Home    
7. Statehood and Power    
8. Enlightenment and Normalization    
9. Promised Borders    
10. A Model of Social Justice    

Part 3. The Modern State of Israel: Reality Meets Utopia
11. Visions in Collision    
12. A Utopian Travel Blog    

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