Lifestyle Podcast Post

The Jewish Question with Dr. Steven Katz

George Grombacher October 20, 2023

share close

The Jewish Question with Dr. Steven Katz

LifeBlood: We talked about the Jewish question, what it means to be a Jew, the roots of antisemitism, the conflict in Israel, the importance of the actual land of Israel, the future of Judaism, and what more people should know about Jews, with Dr. Steven Katz, Founding Director of the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies and Boston University.       

Listen to learn how to think about a decreasing Jewish population!

You can learn more about Steven at Wikipedia and BU.EDU

Get your copy of The Cambridge Companion to Antisemitism here

and The Holocaust In Historical Context here 

Thanks, as always for listening! If you got some value and enjoyed the show, please leave us a review here:


You can learn more about us at LifeBlood.Live, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook or you’d like to be a guest on the show, contact us at contact@LifeBlood.Live. 

Stay up to date by getting our monthly updates.

Want to say “Thanks!” You can buy us a cup of coffee.

Invest in yourself. Bring it All Together.

Work with a coach to unlock personal and professional potential.

Our Guests

George Grombacher

Dr. Steven Katz

Dr. Steven Katz

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:02
Dr. Steven Katz is an American philosopher and scholar. He is the founding director of the La Vie cells center for Judaic Studies at Boston University. He is an author, welcome Dr. Katz.

Dr. Steven Katz 0:14
Thank you very much. It’s nice to be here with you and excited to

george grombacher 0:17
excited to have you on. Tell us a little about your personal life, some more about your work and why you do what you do

Dr. Steven Katz 0:24
very traditional home in New Jersey, I went to rabbinical schools till I was college age. And then I went to Rutgers and NYU. And then I was able to get a fellowship to go to Cambridge, I got my PhD at Cambridge, finished in 72. I met my wife there, she chased me, she caught me and worked together 54 years. And I came back in 72, to teach at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, which was a wonderful experience. And then I moved in 1984, to Cornell. And from Cornell, I moved in 1996, to Boston University, because the university had a very good friend of mine teaching here named le V. Zell. And Ellie was being honored by the university with a center and his name. And he asked if I would come down and share the center and establish the parameters of the center. I couldn’t say no to Le so I came to Boston in 96. And for the last 2527 years, I’ve been here very happily.

george grombacher 1:29
Excellent. Well, thank you for sharing that. What does it mean to be Jewish, if anything at all?

Dr. Steven Katz 1:36
Well, first of all, it means, I think, to be very specially identified with a tradition which has had a lot of ups and downs through its historical experience. But from within the community, it’s, I think, a privilege, something of very special character. And something that brings lots of joy and satisfaction, support strong family life, it teaches you how to raise your children appropriately. It tells you what things mean, and what things don’t mean. So it’s quite a heavy burden, in a sense to really grasp at all, but one feels a responsibility to continue the tradition.

george grombacher 2:22
When I was raised Episcopalian, and I’m obviously just kind of aware of that Christians go all over the world, spreading the Good News, and trying to bring other people that are non Christians into their religion. That’s not the case with Judaism. Why is that?

Dr. Steven Katz 2:41
Judaism does not believe it’s necessary to be achieved in order to be quote, saved. Remember the medieval doctrine of the Church extra Ecclesia. outside the church, there is no salvation. Judaism doesn’t believe that Judaism believes that everybody who maintains a moral lifestyle, we see this in the interpretation of the book of Genesis, where after the flood of Noah, which is this week’s biblical reading, in fact, the commentators tell us that God gave Noah seven basic laws of morality. This is a shorter list than the 10 commandments and has the listing without some of the commandments. But the idea is that a basic natural law was established with mankind, and everyone can keep that law. We’re all rational, we’re all human, we all have the same spirit. And therefore there’s no need to convert. What you need to do is just keep the moral laws and we’ll all be okay.

george grombacher 3:45
Fair enough. We are having this conversation on Friday, October the 20th. And obviously, we’re experiencing or there’s conflict in the Middle East. What is so this is maybe a dumb question, but I’ll just ask it. What is so important about the actual land of Israel?

Dr. Steven Katz 4:09
Well, if you know the Bible at all, you know that God created a covenant with the Jewish people. And as a participant in that covenant with three partners, God, the Jewish people in the land of Israel, and the Land of Israel was a sign that God was with the people and more importantly, was meant to be a laboratory, in which one could live out a really bold, holy life, wholly in the sense of being dedicated to good things. And that when the Jewish people were in the land, they were able to accomplish various goals of education of piety of morality. When they lost the land, they went into exile. Plus, it was physically mentally psychologically debilitating, but they never gave up hope of return. All right through the middle ages, we have migrations. And then in the end of the 18th century, we have two important migrations by two different groups of Jews. And then of course, we have modern Zionism, which is going back to the foundation, that you have to be in the land to keep all the rules.

george grombacher 5:19
Passing fascinating to me. Well, so, I had asked you why Jews don’t necessarily go out and recruit the way that other faiths do. And you talked about because you don’t need to be a Jew to find salvation. How do how do Jews think about interacting and having relationships with Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists,

Dr. Steven Katz 5:47
they think that it should be a perfectly natural and normal things, neither side should repress it on the other, that neither side should be powerless. And that this shouldn’t be an equitable relationship between the people of Israel and its neighbors and with the world in general.

george grombacher 6:07
So when you see conflict like we have going on today, what, what, what are your thoughts on it?

Dr. Steven Katz 6:14
My thoughts are very, very sad, because all the basic rules were violated a week ago on Saturday morning, raping Jewish girls, murdering Jewish babies, taking Holocaust survivors as hostages, cutting off the heads of children. This is outside any ordinary order. And it’s all based on a deep misunderstanding of what the state of Israel is and what the Zionist movement is.

george grombacher 6:46
And I think that you told me a little bit about what the whole purpose of the Zionist movement is just a minute ago, but if you would, just tell me a little bit more about that, about the misunderstanding of it.

Dr. Steven Katz 6:58
Zionism is an old phenomenon, the idea that it was created in modern times, and that it’s quote, colonialist is just a mistake. The fact is, it goes back to the idea we talked earlier about the importance of the Land of Israel and being in the land. For 2000 years since the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in the year 70. And then the Jewish sovereignty and the land of Israel. Jews have always felt that they were in exile, and they were in exile, there was persecution, there was special taxation. There was physical violence as in the First Crusade. Around the Black Death, all kinds of myths were propagated about Jews poisoning the wells. You see that again today with the COVID people blaming the COVID exercise on Jewish individuals. So Zionism was the idea that Jews should go back to the Land of Israel for one reason. In Europe, we had centuries, millennia of anti semitism. Once emancipation took place in Europe, in the 18th century, French Revolution gave Jews freedom to be citizens. In 1789, the American Revolution was the first country to do that. And the revolutionary is 7680 7076 to 1781. Europe S itself a question, what should it do with the Jews now? Should it just let them in? Should it make demands that the negotiation was really two sided, you would be free from your disabilities from the outside from the non Jewish world? No more ghettos no more discrimination about taxation. And on the other hand, you should free yourself from your Judaism that was understood. Not always said, but it was understood that Judaism continued to have a serious reputation. The result was that Europe, and it’s true is wrestled with this question called the Jewish question. Some people said Jews should convert. Other people said you should assimilate. Other people said Jews should be socialists, reformed Jews, conservative Jews, Orthodox Jews. All of them were based on the idea that Europe could keep the promise that it would let the Jews in. But the fact was, there was a response to this conversation, an outgrowth called Modern anti semitism, the heart of which was racial anti semitism. Racial anti semitism said, it’s not the Jewish action. It’s the Jewish blood that is the cause of all of its misdemeanors. The Jews can’t help being evil, they can’t help being exploiters. They can’t help being parasites. So the only thing we can do, and this is why Hitler call that the final solution to the Jewish question, the Anglos and the Yun frog in Europa is that you will murder the Jews and then you’ll be solving the problem all the other things that Calendly said All the other ideas of emancipation, of assimilation of acculturation of intermarriage, they’re all not going to work because you can’t change your blood. Now, this was understood, came to a head in a thing called the Dreyfus trial in Paris in 1893, when a Jewish soldier who was completely assimilated, and on the General Staff of the French army, the pride of France, was accused of betraying France in the previous war that France lost to Germany for the first time. Of course, it was all a lie. It was all staged by people in the army, the French army, who needed a scapegoat for why they had lost. They found Dreyfus guilty. A man named Hertzel came from Vienna as a newspaperman to cover the trial. He saw the signs on the streets of Paris didn’t say yes to Dreyfus, they said death to the Jews. And he realized that Europe was unable to keep its commitment to emancipate the Jews with equality and freedom. He said, The only solution can’t be found in Europe. All the options I mentioned to you assimilation, acculturation, conversion, socialism, Reformed Judaism, they all take place in Europe, but they’ll never work. He said, in Europe, you have to go back, have to create a state. And most importantly, you have to create an environment where Jews have some power to defend themselves. They have some power to legislate what’s the interest of the Jewish people, they have to again, the tradition speak Hebrew. So this phenomenon of Zionism is a response to the 2000 years of anti semitism culminating in modern anti semitism.

george grombacher 11:50
I’m not sure I know that. With other faiths, they’re seeing a decline in people being a part of organized religion. What is are their trends here in the United States with Judaism,

Dr. Steven Katz 12:05
very important trends, you put your finger on the most important, the number of Jews is declining as an absolute number, and also as a percentage of the population. So now we have another 350 million people in the United States 250 million people? Or is it 353 50 350 million people in the United States and Jews, depending on how you count them, which is a complicated methodological question is less than 2%. And that 2% is going to continue to decline because the general population is growing all the time. But the Jewish people are not having sufficient replacement numbers. So we don’t have large families anymore as a rule, except for the ultra orthodox. We send our boys and we send our girls to college, then we send them to graduate school. So they married later, many don’t marry at all. Now we have the issue, which is a good sign and a bad sign. Everything in Jewish history is always dialectical. The good sign is there’s a very dramatic increase over the last 50 years of intermarriage, which means Jews are being accepted. On the other hand, intermarriage usually results in the production of families that are not Jewishly committed. So the whole phenomenon demographic phenomenon, the Jewish people is in serious decline. And the numbers only in Israel are increasing. If you look at the European countries like France, which had the biggest population in Europe. If you look at England, when I was a student at Cambridge, there were 500,000, estimated 500 to 550,000 Jews in England. Now they’re estimated 225 250,000. And that may be an optimistic estimate. France much declined. All over Eastern Europe. Of course, there are no Jews left really in Poland. No Jews left in Romania, no Jews in Bulgaria, almost the small population compared to what it was over 3 million in Russia before the Holocaust. Now, I don’t know the exact number, but certainly less than a million in Russia. Only in Israel, is the birth rate high enough to see population growth.

george grombacher 14:27
what’s the way forward?

Dr. Steven Katz 14:29
Well, it depends on what your objective is. If your objective is to culture aid to a civil aid and think that you’ll solve the problems of the Jewish people and of anti semitism by the disappearance of Judaism. Then you would advocate from still more intermarriage, more small population growth, no children, no Jewish education and so on. If you believe that there is something special about the Jewish people and its destiny, then you would encourage them Jewish education, which is very important from early childhood, you’d encourage synagogues to be more active in the recruitment of membership of people coming to services. And you’d be very, very active in the support of Israel.

george grombacher 15:19
It is a it’s i I see my perception from the outside looking in of of a lot of organizations within Christianity are we’re going to create these more community based churches, worship houses that people can come in, it does matter what your background and there’s a lot of music, and it’s, for lack of a better term watered down.

Dr. Steven Katz 15:46
Well, we have a movement in the American and worldwide Jewish community, which is called a bog. That’s an acronym for hakama been on three basic ideas of mysticism. And they have made it a primal objective of theirs, to spread out in the Jewish world, from one end to the other, to build schools, to build synagogues, to build kosher restaurants, all without asking who you are, without any judgement about your behavior, without any censure of whether you keep the commandments that don’t keep the commandments, the door is always open. And they’ve been quite successful in a lot of their efforts over the last 50 years.

george grombacher 16:33
What do you think about that? Well, I

Dr. Steven Katz 16:35
think it’s been an extremely valuable and important phenomenon in the Jewish world. The fact is that if you go to college campuses, you’ll find that on many, many college campuses, there’s what’s called a kebab house run by one of their members that brings students in without judgment, doesn’t ask you if you have a Jewish education, or you don’t have a Jewish education, it just says Come have a Sabbath meal with us Friday night, come and have services with us on the Day of Atonement. So it draws in lots and lots of people who are from the mainstream point of view, marginal who have become assimilated highly acculturated. So it’s brought in a lot of people. And it’s been a lifeline in a lot of places. For example, if you go to Alaska, and you need a Jewish community, you’ll find a bug. If you go to Venice, Italy, and you need a Jewish community for services for food for whatever it might be, you’ll find how about we my wife and I are in Nepal, of all places, they run a big Passover meal. And they Paul, every year, 1000s of people come from all over Asia. So they’ve done a lot of important things.

george grombacher 17:44
Got it? When the Jewish Jews are 2% of the American population, give or take their 60 million living Jews on planet Earth right now. And your contributions to the world, the Jewish Jewish people have been amazing, from Nobel Prize winners and scientists and just in every walk of life, for lack of a better term a very outsized influence and an impact such a positive way, and then have so much hatred and you explained very well, a lot of the reasons behind that.

Dr. Steven Katz 18:26
See, the problem is George, the issue is this. This is an old tradition, the modern forms, including racial anti semitism don’t come from nothing. The Latins the Romans use, I was saying x Nilo, Neil fits from nothing comes nothing. So the root of this is the spine of this tradition comes from the important polemic in the New Testament. Unfortunate unfortunately, as a famous Christian theologian, rosemary, rosemary, Ruth has said, anti semitism is the left hand of Christology. That is to say, when the early church was getting started, they interpreted they’re all Jews, of course, they interpreted scripture in one way, and the mainline Jewish community interpreted scripture in the other way. Now, if Jewish interpretation of Scripture was correct, then the Christian interpretation of Scripture was absolutely false. If the Christian view was true than Judaism was absolutely false. So built into the fundamental meeting of Jews and Jewish Christians of the first century following the crucifixion was this deep polemic most famously described by Paul St. Paul, right. And he said, Judaism as a spiritual cadaver, there’s no spiritual life. And the fact is as famous phrase, there is no salvation in the law that says keeping the commandments doing the midst, what we call mitzvah with the obligations, has no spiritual benefit. So that’s set in place of fundamental condition, then you had two other very crucial issues. One was in Matthew, at the crucifixion, Jews are Polit words and put into the mouth of the Jews. Let his blood be upon us and our children. So you have a legacy of saying that Jews are the enemies of Christ. They’re the Seidel people that committed the crucifixion, all these terrible things that continue to go on. And then you have in John, chapter eight, verse 4344, the claim that Jews are, quote, the spawn of the devil, children of the devil. So you have in the roots of Christianity, an important principle people don’t understand. It’s Mithila zation. The Jews become mythic creatures. So you have all these medieval strange ideas about us, for example, that Jewish women have a special smell, they can only overcome with perfume. And they’ll only get rid of a permanently when they convert that Jews poison the wells, right? The Jews take Christian children and murder them for their blood, so that they can make matzah and Passover. And the most interesting I find when I tell my students is that Jewish men menstruate, you don’t have to worry about that, George, we don’t do that anymore. But the fact is, that these mythic ideas are very hard to disconfirm. So you see it today and all over right, the blood libel is circulating now with the bombing of why Hamas by Islamic Jihad of a hospital. But it said that the Jews did it even though all the intelligence services of the world are clear that they didn’t, then there’s the idea that the Jews poison the wells in Gaza, repeating the claim of the Black Death 1348 49. Then there’s the idea that Jews the spreading COVID, and then the idea that Jews are killing Christian, Muslim babies are hot purposes or pieces, so they can put them into operations. These are all myths. Very powerful, still circulating very well known myth. And then it’s very hard to disconfirm them. People in Europe and America have tried for the last 250 years to do so. But there’s enough of it ingrained in the very substance of Western civilization, to make it an extremely difficult issue of how to respond to anti semitism.

george grombacher 22:40
Obviously, an absolutely horrible thing that we’re living through right now. Is it surprising to you? Is it shocking? Or is it just more of the same

Dr. Steven Katz 22:52
that we’re having another conflict is not at all shocking, one would expect that this is the routine every few years as a flare up. What is shocking is the extent of the hate, that led to the kinds of behavior, that would be a mistake, it would be a calumny against savages, to say it was Savage, it would be calumny against animals to say it was animalistic, because the kinds of things that were done to women and children with joy, they are so happy about it, the Palestinian terrorists even made movies, put them on the video to show you what heroes they were. So that was surprising and accord Israel also off guard. And that’s why you’re now having this very intense response.

george grombacher 23:41
I was I was having a conversation with my mom just the other day about everything that’s going on. And she’s been a Christian for her whole life. And she said, I don’t I don’t understand. Or I don’t remember what the context was. But if she said, she said that if I were a young family, and and I were Jewish, and you had all these people who just hated me so much and wanted to kill me because of that I would stop being Jewish. What do you think about that?

Dr. Steven Katz 24:13
Well, that’s an old argument, right? The people who converted for the last hundreds of years, thought the same thing that one of the crucial benefits of conversion was you would separate yourself from the Jewish people and you wouldn’t be a target. But the Jewish people are not prepared to commit suicide. This of course, would be spiritual suicide by leaving their tradition. That would be a sign that they lacked the dignity, the commitment to stay loyal to their parents and their grandparents and 3000 years of Jewish history. So there is a very strange thing you know, the King of Prussia Frederick the Great was once asked, How do you know There is a God. And he said the survival of the Jewish people. And that idea has been repeated many times. There is something very puzzling about the Jewish people. You’ve mentioned, the contribution how is it that a small population produces an Einstein, and a Freud, and all of these who sought Jonas Salk with the Salk vaccine, and all the other amazing kinds of contributions, there is something puzzling about Jewish history, it doesn’t seem to conform to the generalizations that is starting to make about the way history works.

george grombacher 25:37
If you could, well, what do you wish that that people knew about Judaism and Jews? What are some things,

Dr. Steven Katz 25:47
I wish that they would all understand that we’re not mythic creatures, we’re just like everyone else. We have our good, we have our bad, we have our good guys, we have our bad guys, we have our foibles. And we have our virtues. And they should deconstruct the kind of context in which the conversation usually takes place, which is so saturated with all of this historical baggage, and just go on the turrets of ideas Zionism was that the State of Israel would all would finally make Jews normal. And that’s what he said, he’ll be satisfied his dream of Zion would be successful when life and Israel was normal. So what have horse thieves, it would have prostitutes, it would have good guys and bad guys just to be normal. And that’s the prayer that we all should have is that we treat each other as old normal people without a lot of baggage.

george grombacher 26:46
Well said, Well, Dr. Steven Katz, thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you? How can I engage with you?

Dr. Steven Katz 26:55
Well, my books, I would suggest two things. In 2120 21, I edited a book called The Cambridge companion to anti semitism, which will give people a very good overview of the whole tradition we’ve been talking a lot about this afternoon. Secondly, from my own work, I suggest that they look at my Holocaust work. And my book I wrote years ago called the Holocaust in historical context. I think today it is 94 Oxford University Press. We’ll give them a long, detailed, complicated discussion which we can’t do in this format. And we’ll teach them the kinds of things that they might start to think about with regard to going forward.

george grombacher 27:42
And where can they get those books?

Dr. Steven Katz 27:44
Well, I imagine Amazon would certainly have them

george grombacher 27:48
probably, probably stands to reason that right there. Well, if you enjoyed this as much as I did, show Steven, your appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas, pick up your copy of the Cambridge companion to anti semitism as well as the Holocaust in historical context, and I will link both of those in the notes of the show. Thank you again, Steven.

Dr. Steven Katz 28:13
Thank you very much for the courtesy of inviting me. Till

george grombacher 28:17
next time, remember, do your part by doing your best you

Thanks, as always for listening! If you got some value and enjoyed the show, please leave us a review wherever you listen and we’d be grateful if you’d subscribe as well.

You can learn more about us at LifeBlood.Live, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Facebook.

Our Manifesto

We’re here to help others get better so they can live freely without regret
Believing we’ve each got one life, it’s better to live it well and the time to start is now If you’re someone who believes change begins with you, you’re one of us We’re working to inspire action, enable completion, knowing that, as Thoreau so perfectly put it “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” Let us help you invest in yourself and bring it all together.

Feed your life-long learner by enrolling in one of our courses.

Invest in yourself and bring it all together by working with one of our coaches.

If you’d like to be a guest on the show, or you’d like to become a Certified LifeBlood Coach or Course provider, contact us at Contact@LifeBlood.Live.

Please note- The Money Savage podcast is now the LifeBlood Podcast. Curious why? Check out this episode and read this blog post!

We have numerous formats to welcome a diverse range of potential guests!

  • Be Well- for guests focused on overall wellness
  • Book Club-for authors
  • Brand-for guests focused on marketing
  • Complete-for guests focused on spirituality
  • Compete-for competitors, sports, gaming, betting, fantasy football
  • Create-for entrepreneurs
  • DeFi-for guests focused on crypto, blockchain and other emerging technologies
  • Engage-for guests focused on personal development/success and leadership
  • Express-for journalists/writers/bloggers
  • General-for guests focused on finance/money topics
  • Lifestyle-for guests focused on improving lifestyle
  • Maximize-for guests focused on the workplace
  • Numbers-for accounting and tax professionals
  • Nurture-for guests focused on parenting
  • REI-for guests focused on real estate

Feed your Life-Long Learner

Get what you need to get where you want to go

Rate it
Previous post