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The Choosing People: Interpreting the Puzzling Politics of American Jewry

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 October 2014

Kenneth D. Wald*
University of Florida
Address correspondence and reprint request to: Kenneth D. Wald, Department of Political Science, University of Florida, P.O. Box 117325, Gainesville, FL 32611-7325. E-mail:


The political liberalism of American Jews is puzzling because it contradicts the assumption that economic self-interest drives political behavior. Attempts to solve this puzzle with “Judaic” explanations compound the problem by offering theories that are static and universal while American Jewish political behavior is dynamic and situational. Using both historical and behavioral data, I argue that the solution to these puzzles is found in the overriding concern of American Jews with maintaining their equal citizenship in a society with a classic liberal regime of religion and state. This situational model also helps integrate work on Jewish political studies with theories and concepts commonly used by political scientists to explain mass political behavior.

Copyright © Religion and Politics Section of the American Political Science Association 2014 

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The title of this paper, first used by Asher Arian in a 1973 book about Israeli politics, is meant as a tribute to one of the pioneers of Jewish political studies. I am grateful for comments, suggestions, and insights of my colleagues in the 2011–2012 fellowship group at the Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies, University of Michigan. I also appreciate the input of various audiences, academic and non-academic, to whom some of these arguments have been presented in various talks and seminars. A much earlier version of this paper is posted in the Guiding Papers series of the American Religion Data Archives (



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