James Loeffler

James Loeffler

Felix Posen Professor in Modern Jewish History

Contact Information

Research Interests: Modern Jewish History, Global Eastern Europe, Cultural and Legal History, Antisemitism, Human Rights, Genocide, and International Law

Education: PhD, Columbia University

I study modern global politics, law, and culture, with a focus on twentieth-century Jewish history in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. My current research interests include the relationship between antisemitism and racism in American civil rights law, the intertwined histories of Jewish liberalism and internationalism, and the origins of the concept of genocide.

At present I am at work on two books. The first is a history of antisemitism and law in America from 1945 to the present. Writing backwards from the events that took place on August 11-12, 2017 in Charlottesville, I examine three moments in post-World War II American society in which antisemitic violence erupted and Jewish civil rights activists responded with new legal campaigns to eradicate discrimination and ban hate speech.

My second, longer-term book project is a critical biography of Raphael Lemkin, the progenitor of the UN Genocide convention. There, I aim to de-mythologize Lemkin and reinscribe him into his Polish, American, and Middle Eastern contexts in order to rethink the relationship between the Holocaust and other genocides and atrocity-crimes in international law, past and present. Recent publications related to this project include this article on Lemkin’s encounter with antisemitism in interwar Poland. A related digital humanities initiative, The Lemkin Project, retrieves Raphael Lemkin’s lost literary writings to explore the sources of his cosmopolitan legal imagination.

My previous books include Rooted Cosmopolitans: Jews and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century (Yale, 2018), which won the American Historical Association Rosenberg Prize for Best Book in Jewish History and the Association for Jewish Studies Schnitzer Award for Best Book in Modern Jewish History, and The Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire (Yale, 2010), which won eight awards and honors, among them the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies USC Book Prize in Literary and Cultural Studies and the ASCAP Deems Taylor-Béla Bartók Award for Outstanding Ethnomusicology Book.

I also co-edited A Jew in the Street: New Views on European Jewish History (Wayne State, 2024), The Law of Strangers: Jewish Lawyers and International Law in the Twentieth Century, (Cambridge, 2019), and The Future of Human Rights Scholarship (Duke, 2018). I am a co-editor of the The Idelsohn Project a digital open archive devoted to Jewish musical history in late Ottoman and British Mandatory Palestine.

I currently serve as co-editor of the AJS Review, the journal of the Association for Jewish Studies. My public writing appears in various national media, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic, and The Atlantic, where I reported on the historic 2021 Charlottesville trial of the organizers of the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally.

“The Religions of Human Rights,” Harvard Theological Review 116:1 (Jan. 2023): 141-71.

“The First Genocide: Antisemitism and Universalism in Raphael Lemkin’s Thought,” Jewish Quarterly Review 112:1 (Winter 2022): 139-63.

“When Racism and Antisemitism Collide: Charlottesville’s Ugly Legacy,” Newsweek, Aug. 11, 2022.

“The One and the Many: On Comparing the Holocaust,” Sources, March 2022.

“Charlottesville Was Only a Preview,” The Atlantic, Dec. 6, 2021.

“Three Days in December: Jewish Human Rights between the United Nations and the Middle East in 1948,” Journal of Global History 17:2 (Nov. 2021): 1-19.

“How to Remember the Holocaust,” The Atlantic, Apr. 8, 2021.

“The Nationalism of Human Rights,” The New Rambler (March 2021).

“Promise and Peril: Reflections on Jewish International Legal Biography,” in Jewish European Émigré Lawyers: Twentieth-Century International Humanitarian   Law as Idea and Profession, eds. Leora Bilsky and Annette Weinke (Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2021), 33-48.

“Utopias,” in Legacy of Polish Jews, eds. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett and Tamara Sztyma (Warsaw: Polin, 2021), 105-17.

“Anti-Zionism,” in Key Concepts in the Study of Antisemitism, eds. Sol Goldberg, Scott Ury, and Kalman Weiser (London: Palgrave, 2020), 39-51.

“‘A Certain Type of Liberalism’: Minority Rights in Jewish Liberal Discourse, 1848-1948,” in Jews, Liberalism, Anti-Semitism: A Global History, eds. Abigail Green and Simon Levis Sullam (London: Palgrave, 2020), 365-86.

Prisoners of Zion: American Jews, Human Rights, and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, University of Michigan David W. Belin Lectures in American Jewish Affairs 29 (Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, 2020).

“The Problem with the ‘Judeo-Christian Tradition,’” The Atlantic, Aug. 1, 2020.

“The Lust Machine: Commerce, Sound and Nationhood in Jewish Eastern Europe,” Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry 32 (2020): 257-77.

“The Politics of Anti-Politics”: Author’s Response to H-Diplo Roundtable on Rooted             Cosmopolitans: Jews and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century, H-Diplo        Roundtable Review 20:31 (Apr. 2019).

“On Writing and Routing Rights”: Author’s Response to Shofar roundtable on Rooted Cosmopolitans: Jews and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century,” Shofar 37:1 (March 2019): 192-202.

The Future of Human Rights Scholarship, Special Issue of Law and Contemporary Problems             81:4 (2018), ed. with Kevin Cope and Mila Versteeg,

“Becoming Cleopatra: The Forgotten Zionism of Raphael Lemkin,” Journal of Genocide Research, 19:3 (Aug. 2017): 340-60.  

“Modern Jewish Politics,” Oxford Bibliographies in Jewish Studies, ed. Naomi Seidman.     New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

“Nationalism without a Nation? On the Invisibility of American Jewish Politics,” Jewish Quarterly Review 105:3 (Summer 2015): 367-98.

“Promising Harmonies: The Aural Politics of Polish-Jewish Relations in the Russian Empire,” Jewish Social Studies, 20:3 (Spring/Summer 2014): 1-36.

“The Particularist Pursuit of American Universalism: The American Jewish Committee’s 1944 “Declaration on Human Rights,” Journal of Contemporary History 50:2 (Oct. 2014): 274-95.

“‘In Memory of Our Murdered (Jewish) Children’: Hearing the Holocaust in Soviet Jewish Culture,” Slavic Review 73:3 (Fall 2014): 585-611. 

“‘The Conscience of America’: Human Rights, Jewish Politics, and American Foreign Policy at the United Nations San Francisco Conference, 1945,” Journal of American History 100:2 (Sep. 2013): 401-28.

“Between Zionism and Liberalism: Oscar Janowsky and Diaspora Nationalism in America,”               Association for Jewish Studies Review 34:2 (Nov. 2010): 1-20.

“Do Zionists Read Music from Right to Left? Avraham Zvi Idelsohn and the Invention of Israeli Music,” Jewish Quarterly Review 100:3 (Summer              2010): 385-416.

“Richard Wagner’s Jewish Music: Antisemitism and Aesthetics in Modern Jewish Culture,”               Jewish Social Studies 15:2 (Winter 2009 [New Series]): 2-36.