Jonathan Frankel: Historian of Modern Jewry (Obit.)

Historians in the News

Jonathan Frankel was the most highly regarded historian of modern Jewry of his generation. A man of unusual generosity of spirit and the author of many works, his academic reputation is based primarily on two masterpieces of historical scholarship – Prophecy and Politics: socialism, nationalism and the Russian Jews, 1862-1917 (1981) and The Damascus Affair (1997). He wrote, on an epic scale, dense yet lucid examinations of international politics and its intersection with Jews, profoundly original work that never broadcast its innovations, which were left to readers to discover, in prose that was subtle and unobtrusively learned.

Born in London in 1935, and educated at Jesus College, Cambridge, Frankel completed his PhD in 1961 and moved to Israel in 1964 to teach at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He remained there until retirement, while also teaching (and holding, intermittently, a Chair) at University College London, and at Columbia, Stanford and elsewhere.

He came from a family of Jewish businessmen, public figures, professionals, artists, scholars and, in the not-too-distant past, rabbis, and he was raised in a traditional Jewish home with strong Zionist commitments. His devotion to Israel ran deep; it was wedded to an unyielding belief in liberalism, a crucial feature of Frankel's highly active political life as well as his scholarship, and he was a fixture of Israel's peace movement. He wrote often for intellectual magazines about Israeli affairs, and for years sat regularly at the Peace Now table outside one of Jerusalem's larger department stores, arguing patiently with passers-by...

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