Jay Berkowitz Professor of Jewish History
Ida and Nathan Kolodiz Director of Jewish Studies
Office Hours: Mondays, 3:30-5:00 and by appointment
Field & Specialties
Human rights history
B.A. Harvard University, 1996
M.A. Columbia University, 2000
Ph.D. Columbia University, 2006
James Loeffler is Jay Berkowitz Professor of Jewish History at the University of Virginia, where he also serves as Ida and Nathan Kolodiz Director of the Jewish Studies Program. Between 2013 and 2015 he was a Mellon Foundation New Directions Fellow in International Law and Dean’s Visiting Scholar at the Georgetown University Law Center. At UVa he teaches courses in Jewish and European history, Russian and East European history, international legal history, and the history of human rights. He is a co-covenor of the UVa Human Rights Research Network, a faculty partner in the UVa Religion, Race & Democracy Lab, and co-editor of the Association for Jewish Studies Review. In 2020 he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy for Jewish Research.
His publications include The Law of Strangers: Jewish Lawyers and International Law in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge University Press, 2019), Rooted Cosmopolitans: Jews and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century (Yale University Press, 2018) and The Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire (Yale University Press, 2010).
His current research interests include the history of American civil rights law, the relationship between antisemitism and racism, and the political and cultural origins of the concept of genocide.
The Law of Strangers: Jewish Lawyers and International Law in the Twentieth Century, ed. with Moria Paz (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019).
Rooted Cosmopolitans: Jews and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018).
- Natan Prize Best Jewish Public Affairs Book, Finalist.
- American Association of Publishers PROSE Award Finalist in World History.
- Haaretz Year in Review Top 11 Books, 2018.
- European Journal of International Law Blog Favorite Books of 2018.
The Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010; paperback edition, 2013).
- Association for Jewish Studies Jordan Schnitzer Book Award in Cultural Studies and Media Studies, Honorable Mention
- Foundation for Jewish Culture Sidney and Hadassah Musher Publication Award for Outstanding First Book in Field of Jewish Studies
- Association for Jewish Studies Cahnmann Publication Award for Outstanding First Book in the Field of Jewish Studies
- American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers (ASCAP) Deems Taylor-Béla Bartók Award for Outstanding Ethnomusicology Book
- Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies USC Book Prize in Literary and Cultural Studies for outstanding monograph published on Russia, Eastern Europe or Eurasia in the fields of literary and cultural studies
- Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature of the Jewish Book Council, Finalist
- Historia Nova Prize for the Best Book on Russian Intellectual History, Long List
The Beautiful Crime: Raphael Lemkin between Holocaust and Genocide [in preparation].
Blind Justice: Antisemitism and Law in Modern America [in preparation].
In Search of Hebrew Music: Abraham Zvi Idelsohn’s Life and Legacy, ed., with Edwin Seroussi [in preparation].
Selected Journal Articles and Book Chapters
“The First Genocide: Antisemitism and Universalism in Raphael Lemkin’s Thought,” Jewish Quarterly Review, forthcoming.
"Three Days in December: Jewish Human Rights Activism between the United Nations and the Middle East in 1948," Journal of Global History, forthcoming.
"The Religions of Human Rights," Harvard Theological Review, forthcoming.
“Promise and Peril: Reflections on Jewish International Legal Biography," in Jewish-European Émigré Lawyers: Twentieth-Century International Humanitarian Law as Idea and Profession (Göttingen, 2021), eds. Annette Weinke and Leora Bilsky, 33-48.
“Anti-Zionism,” in Key Concepts in the Study of Antisemitism, eds. S. Goldberg, S. Ury, and K. Weiser (London, 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. A. Green and S. Levis Sullam (London, 2020), 365-86.
"Prisoners of Zion: American Jews, Human Rights, and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict," 29th David W. Belin Lecture in American Jewish Affairs (2019).
"The 'Natural Right of the Jewish People': Zionism, International Law, and the Paradox of Hersch Zvi Lauterpacht," in J. Loeffler and M. Paz, eds., The Law of Strangers: Jewish Lawyers and International Law in the Twentieth Century (2019), 23-42.
"The Future of Human Rights Scholarship," Law and Contemporary Problems, Special Issue, 81:4 (2018): i-x.
"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 (2017).
"'The Famous Trinity of 1917': Zionist Internationalism in Historical Perspective," Jahrbuch Des Simon-Dubnow-Instituts 15 (2016): 211-38.
"The Particularist Pursuit of American Universalism: The American Jewish Committee’s 1944 Declaration on Human Rights," Journal of Contemporary History 50:2 (October 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.
"Nationalism without a Nation? On the Invisibility of American Jewish Politics," Jewish Quarterly Review 105:3 (Summer 2015): 367-98.
"'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 (September 2013): 401-28.
“Between Zionism and Liberalism: Oscar Janowsky and Diaspora Nationalism in America,” Association for Jewish Studies Review 34:2 (November 2010): 289-308.
“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.
I work broadly on the intersection of culture, politics, and law in modern Eastern Europe, Israel, and the United States. My recent book, Rooted Cosmopolitans: Jews and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century (Yale University Press, 2018), looks at the Jewish role in building and critiquing the modern human rights movement before and after World War II, focusing on transnational Jewish political activity in international legal circles at the United Nations and its predecessor, the League of Nations, over the period from the 1930s to the 1980s. I aim through this work to rethink Jewish internationalism and the history of modern Jewish politics across the twentieth century, as well as relations between the State of Israel and the Jewish Diaspora. This work also opens up into a larger reconsideration of the history of human rights and the relationship between nationalism, internationalism, and transnationalism in modern legal thought. Connected to this work, I have recently co-edited an anthology, The Law of Strangers: Jewish Lawyers and International Law in the Twentieth Century, that is devoted to rethinking how Jewish identity intersected with the careers and ideas of leading international lawyers across the middle decades of the twentieth century.
My current research seeks to remap the history of modern Jewish liberalism in two distinct ways. First, I continue to look at the interplay between liberalism, nationalism, and internationalism in twentieth-century European Jewish history. I explore that in my articles and book-in-preparation about the Polish-Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, the man who pioneered the UN Genocide Convention. A first iteration of this work, which doubles as an intervention into the contemporary scholarly debates about Holocaust and Genocide Studies, based on new archival research on Lemkin's early years in interwar Poland, can be found here. Another forthcoming article examines Lemkin's forgotten polemic with the most famous classicist and historian of ancient religion in interwar Poland, Tadeusz Zieliński. Their brief, explosive debate over universal ethics and exterminationist violence in the Hebrew Bible formed Lemkin's first encounter with intellectual antisemitism. In the process, he would confront the challenge of arguing for universal values and international law out of the sources of Jewish history. I argue that this overlooked episode decisively shaped Lemkin's later fashioning of an origins-story about his "discovery" of the crime of genocide in the barbaric violence of the ancient Romans. The eventual book will examine both Lemkin's singular life and surprising afterlives. In this way, I seek both to write the history of Jewish internationalism and the uses of the Holocaust and genocide in contemporary debates about antisemitism, racism, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The second dimension of my research on Jewish liberalism is a book project entitled Blind Justice? Antisemitism and Law in Modern America. I intend it to be a new history of antisemitism in modern American life, and the different ways in which American Jews have tried (and not tried) to use law to fight it. I tell the story through three moments of violence and law-making that stretch from 1940s Chicago to 1970s Skokie to Charlottesville in 2017. These episodes of antisemitism offer a new way to think about race, religion, and law in American society. A preview of my research and thinking on this topic can be found in this recent article of mine.
Zionism remains a key interest of mine, and I have long focused on its history, especially in relation to the question of the relationship between Zionism and Diaspora Nationalism in modern Jewish politics, and the relationship between culture and politics in Hebrewist cultural production. The former topic I've addressed in Rooted Cosmopolitans and in a number of articles on this topic, two of which can be found here and here. Eventually I intend to write a new intepretitive history of Zionism based on this work. The latter theme was a key topic in my first book, The Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire (Yale University Press, 2010), which examines the role of music in the formation of modern Jewish national identity in nineteenth and twentieth-century Russia. Related articles include studies of antisemitism's impact on modern Jewish culture and the place of music in Zionist and Israeli culture, and The Idelsohn Project a digital humanities open archive research initiative, co-directed with Professor Edwin Seroussi of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, on the life and legacies of Avraham Zvi Idelsohn, the pioneering scholar of Jewish music, Zionist cultural activist, and composer of "Hava Nagila."
Awards & Honors
Elected Permanent Fellow, American Academy for Jewish Research, 2020.
Robert A. Savitt Fellow, Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Spring 2015.
Kluge Fellow, John W. Kluge Center, Library of Congress, Fall 2014.
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation New Directions Faculty Fellow, 2013-2014.
Association for Jewish Studies, Board Member, 2013-2016
Association for Jewish Studies, Co-Chair, Conference Division on Modern Jewish History in Europe, Asia, Israel and Other Communities, 2014-2015
Academic Advisory Council, Center for Jewish History, 2011-2014
Scholar-in-Residence, Pro Musica Hebraica Foundation, Washington, DC
Non-Resident Research Fellow, Jewish Music Research Centre, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
Academic Vice-Chair, The Jewish Music Forum, American Society for Jewish Music, 2006-present
University of Virginia Buckner W. Clay Endowment Faculty Award, 2011-2012
American Council for Learned Societies/National Endowment for the Humanities/Social Science Research Council Combined Postdoctoral Fellowship for Research on Eastern Europe and Eurasia, 2009-2010
University of Virginia Mead Honored Professors Teaching Award, 2009-2010
Irene Fromer Fellow in Jewish Studies, Columbia University, 2005-2006
Hays-Fulbright Doctoral Dissertation Research Award to Russia and Ukraine, 2003-2004
National Foundation for Jewish Culture Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, 2003-2004
Center for Jewish History Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, 2002-2003
Wexner Foundation Graduate Fellowship, 1998-2002
HIME 2012 Israel/Palestine, 1948
HIST 2559 History of Human Rights
HIEU 3559 Nation & Empire in Eastern Europe
HIEU 4502 History of Human Rights
HIEU 5559 Law, Violence, and Empire in Modern Europe
HIST 5559 Race, Religion, and Rights in the Global Twentieth Century
HIST 5559 History of Human Rights
HIST 7559 The Historiography of Human Rights
HIEU 9032 Historiography of Fascism
HIEU 9032 Writing Israel/Palestine: Methods & Problems in Public-Facing Scholarship
HIEU 9032 Human Rights Historiography
Internet and Popular Press Publications
"How to Remember the Holocaust," The Atlantic, Apr. 8, 2021.
"The Jewish Grandchildren of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson," Thoughts from the Lawn UVA Blog, Nov. 9. 2020
"The Problem with the 'Judeo-Christian Tradition,'" The Atlantic, Aug. 1, 2020.
"The Lust Machine," Tablet, July 2, 2020.
“How Jews Can Fight Antisemitism with the Law,” The Atlantic, June 16, 2019.
“Antisemitism, Adorno and the Theory of Hate,” Marginalia - LA Review of Books, Mar. 1, 2019.
“Human rights treaties promised a better future. Why did they fail?” Washington Post, Dec. 20, 2018.