On Zionists & Jews, Communal & Associative Relationships (Max Weber)

max weber

Working through the “Basic Sociological Terms” in Max Weber’s masterpiece, Economy and Society is this little point of interest regarding the difference between Communal and  Associative Relationships with a special reference to Zionists and Jews.

As defined by Weber, the ideal type of the communal social relationship is built upon the subjective feeling of the parties, whether affectual or traditional, that they belong to each other.” This does not have to reflect an objective reality as much as a subjective interpretation or “meaning.” (For Weber, meanings are always a matter of subjective interpretation) (p.4) In contrast, the associative social relationship rests on “‘rationally motivated adjustments of interest.” (vol.1, pp.40-1). Communal relationships are understood by Weber in terms of largely “emotional values” (p.41).

But there is more to communal relationships than common qualities, feelings, or situations. “We” usually think without hesitation that the Jews constitute a community. Counter-intuitively, Weber observes that Jews  “often repudiate the existence of a Jewish ‘community.'” Most likely this contention reflects the views of assimilated German Jews at the time. This is also of interest. Posed by him as the exception to this rule repudiating the existence of a Jewish community were “Zionist circles” and “the action of certain associations promoting specifically Jewish interests” (p.42).

There is much food for thought here for contemporary American Jews, Zionists, anti-Zionists, non-Zionists, and post-Zionists alike. Central is the fundamental question concerning the very existence or non-existence of this thing called “the Jewish community.” “Do we belong to each other?” Or is what generally goes under the name Jewish community something more like an association, i.e. a “compromise of opposed by complementary interests,” purely “voluntary associations of individuals motivated by an adeherence to a set of common absolute values,” as in the case of  “a rational sect” “insofar as it does not cultivate  emotional and affective interests, but seeks only to serve a ’cause'”(p.41)?

(note, pun intended, the painting, meant here to provoke and tease a little, is by the American Jewish artist, also named Max Weber)


About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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1 Response to On Zionists & Jews, Communal & Associative Relationships (Max Weber)

  1. dmf says:

    “In this talk, Dr. Ilan Baron makes a case for why studying Diaspora Jews’ relationship with Israel ought to be done using a hermeneutic phenomenological approach. However, instead of making the case using a methodologically and philosophically abstract argument, he does so by going over empirical and related theoretical conclusions from his work on this topic.”

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