James Loeffler

Jay Berkowitz Professor of Jewish History

Personal website

Field & Specialties

Jewish history
European history
International history
Human rights history
Legal history


  • B.A. Harvard University, 1996
  • Post-Graduate Studies, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1997
  • M.A. Columbia University, 2000
  • Ph.D. Columbia University, 2006
  • Dean's Visiting Scholar, Georgetown University Law Center, 2013-2014

James Loeffler is Jay Berkowitz Professor of Jewish History at the University of Virginia. Between 2013 and 2015 he was a Mellon Foundation New Directions Fellow in International Law and Dean’s Visiting Scholar at Georgetown University Law School. At UVA he teaches courses in Jewish and European history, legal history, and the history of human rights. 

His most recent publications include two books: Rooted Cosmopolitans: Jews and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century (Yale University Press, May 2018), and a co-edited volume, The Law of Strangers: Jewish Lawyering and International Law in Historical Perspective (Cambridge University Press, 2019). His first book, The Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire (Yale University Press, 2010), won eight awards and honors. Currents works in progress include a new biography of Polish Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin and the forgotten political origins of the genocide convention, a co-authored study of early twentieth-century musician Avraham Zvi Idelsohn and the birth of cultural Zionism; and an edited collection of essays on new historiography of Zionism.

His other research interests include international legal history, American Jewish politics, the past and present of Zionism, contemporary Jewish culture and its East European roots, and the history and future of Jewish music. For ten years he served as scholar-in-residence at Pro Musica Hebraica in Washington, DC, where he curated historically-informed concerts at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He has also served as a consultant to the Center for Jewish History, Carnegie Hall, National Public Radio, and the Moscow Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, among other institutions.



Rooted Cosmopolitans: Jews and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century (Yale University Press, 2018).

The Law of Strangers: Critical Perspectives on Jewish Lawyering and International Legal Thought, ed. with Moria Paz (Cambridge Univ. Press, forthcoming).

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 MentionŸ
  • 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


Journal Articles

"Becoming Cleopatra: the forgotten Zionism of Raphael Lemkin," Journal of Genocide Research 19:3 (July 2017): 340-360.


"'The Famous Trinity of 1917': Zionist Internationalism in Historical Perspective," Jahrbuch des Simon-Dubnow-Institut 15 (2016): 211-238.


"Modern Jewish Politics" (Oxford Bibliographies in Jewish Studies) (2017).


 "Nationalism without a Nation? On the Invisibility of American Jewish Politics," Jewish Quarterly Review 105:3 (Summer 2015): 367-398.


"The Particularist Pursuit of American Universalism: The American Jewish Committee’s 1944 Declaration on Human Rights," Journal of Contemporary History 50:2 (October 2014): 274-295.


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


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


"The Lust Machine: Commerce, Sound and Nationhood in Jewish Eastern Europe," draft manuscript.


"How Zionism Became Racism: International Law, Antisemitism, and Jewish Lawyering at the United Nations, 1945-1975," draft manuscript.


"Did Zionism Destroy Diaspora Nationalism?" draft manuscript.


"'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.


“‘A Special Kind of Antisemitism’: On Russian Nationalism and Jewish Music,” Yuval Online. Studies of the Jewish Music Research Center (2013).


"The Holocaust and Human Rights: A New Perspective," in preparation.


"The Missing Decade: The Forgotten Roots of  Raphael Lemkin's "Genocide" in 1920s Polish Zionism," in preparation.


“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.


“Israeli Music at 60: New Perspectives,” Introduction and Guest Editorship of Special Issue of Min-Ad: Israel Studies in Musicology Online 7:2 (2008-2009).


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


Book Chapters

"Hersch Lauterpacht and the Zionist Rights of Man: Rethinking Jewish Legal Internationalism," to appear in The Law of Strangers: Critical Perspectives on Jewish Lawyering and International Legal Thought, under review.


“The Unfinished Hebrew Revolution: The Future of Jewish Nationhood in Israel and Beyond,” Imagining Israel in 2040 –Different Visions, eds. Michael Brenner and Pamela Nadell. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2017.

“When Hermann Cohen Cried: Zionism, Music, Emotion,” in Zionism as a Cultural Movement, eds. Israel Bartal   and Rachel Rojanski, forthcoming from Brill Publishers.


"The Features on My Face: Vladimir Stasov, Dmitrii Shostakovich, and Russian Philosemitism Reconsidered," Jewish Music in Eastern and Central Europe. Conference Proceedings, 2011 (in preparation).


“‘A Special Kind of Antisemitism’: On Russian Nationalism and Jewish Music” and “Three Jews, Two Opinions: Revisiting the Great Yiddish Folk Song Debate of 1901” On the History of Jewish Music in Russia, Volume 3 [Russian], eds. G. Kopytova and A. Frenkel (St. Petersburg: Russian Institute for the History of the Arts), forthcoming.


“Music,” Encyclopedia of Jewish History and Culture, ed. Dan Diner, in association with the Simon Dubnow Institute for Jewish History and Culture, Leipzig. Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler Verlag, 2014.


“International Law,” Encyclopedia of Jewish History and Culture, ed. Dan Diner, in association with the Simon Dubnow Institute for Jewish History and Culture, Leipzig. Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler Verlag, forthcoming.


“Joel Engel and the Development of Jewish Musical Nationalism [Russian],” On the History of Jewish Music in Russia. Volume 2. [Russian], eds. G. Kopytova and A. Frenkel (St. Petersburg: Russian Institute for the History of the Arts, 2006).


English Translation of Vassily Grossman story, “Stary Uchitel’,” in Maxim Shrayer, ed., An Anthology of Russian-Jewish Literature, 1800-2000 (M. E. Sharpe, 2006).


Di Rusishe Progresiv Muzikal Yunyon No. 1 af Amerike: The First Klezmer Union in the United States” in American Klezmer: Its Roots and Offshoots, ed. Mark Slobin (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).


“Neither the King’s English nor the Rebbetzin’s Yiddish: Yinglish Literature in America,” in American Babel: Literatures of the United States from Abnaki to Zuni, ed. Marc Shell. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002).


Internet and Popular Press Publications

"The Zionist Founders of the Human Rights Movement," New York Times op-ed, May 14, 2018

"The Third Roth," The Prosen People: Blog of the Jewish Book Council, Dec. 5, 2017

"How an American Jewish Opera Star Accidentally Launched the Soviet Jewish Movement," Tabletmag, June 30, 2016

"Wagner's Jewish Followers," Mosaic, Jan. 22, 2015

"The Death of Jewish Culture Revisited," Mosaic, July 16, 2014

"Wagner's Anti-Semitism Still Matters," The New Republic, July 4, 2014

"The Death of Jewish Culture," Mosaic, May 4, 2014

"Jewish Culture and its Discontents," Mosaic, May 26, 2014

"Why The New ‘Holocaust Music’ Is An Insult To Music—And To Victims Of The Shoah," Tabletmag, July 11, 2013

Media Appearances

Anthony Tommasini, “Two Russian Tours, One Led by Evgeny Kissin, the Other by the American Symphony Orchestra,” New York Times, Dec. 18, 2015

James Oestreich, "Murry Sidlin's 'Defiant Requiem' Returns to Avery Fisher Hall," New York Times, March 6, 2015

Anne Midgette, "Evgeny Kissin plays forgotten composers and declaims poetry in stunning performance," Washington Post, Feb. 25, 2014

Alex Ross, "As If Music Could Do No Harm," New Yorker, Aug. 20, 2014

Anne Midgette, "Holocaust Music: Art or History?" Washington Post, July 26, 2013


Current Research

I work broadly on the intersection of Jewish culture, politics, and identity in modern Eastern Europe, Israel, and the United States, as well as the history of international law, nationalism, and internationalism in the twentieth century. My new book, Rooted Cosmpolitans: Jews and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century, looks at the Jewish role in building and critiquing the modern human rights movement after World War II, focusing on  American, European, and Israeli Jewish political activity in international legal circles and at the United 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. Connected to this work, I have just completed a co-edited anthology devoted to Jewish lawyering and international legal thought in the twentieth century.


In a related project, I reexamine the history of Zionism, offering a new theory of the relationship between Zionism and Diaspora Nationalism in modern Jewish politics. By rereading the political writings of interwar American and East European Zionist leaders, and retrieving forgotten moments in global Jewish political organization (including the 1918 American Jewish Congress, the 1927 European Congress of Minorities, the 1943 American Jewish Conference, the 1945 San Francisco UN Conference, and the 1960 Paris Conference on Soviet Jewry), I argue for a reconceptualization of nationalism, liberalism, and minority rights in twentieth-century Jewish political history. My goal is to demonstrate how Zionist internationalism shaped European, American, and Israeli Jewish attitudes towards modern statehood and global nationhood before and after 1948. I have written 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. 


My first bookThe Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire (Yale University Press, 2010), 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.


I also have published extensively in the field of Jewish musical studies, with a specialization in the history of Jewish folk and art music traditions in Eastern Europe. Much of this research has informed my current non-academic writing about contemporary Holocaust memory and Jewish cultural identity in American society, including recent articles on "The Death of Jewish Culture" in Mosaic Magazine and "Richard Wagner's Antisemitism," in The New Republic

Awards & Honors


Natan Book Award, Jewish Book Council, Finalist, 2017

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, C0-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

Courses Taught

HIEU 1502 Antisemitism: The Limits of History

HIEU 1503 Jewish Nationalism in Historical Perspective

HIEU 2101 Jewish History I: The Ancient and Medieval Experience

HIEU 2102 Jewish History II: The Modern Experience

HIME 2012 Israel-Palestine, 1948

HIST 2559 History of Human Rights

HIUS 3219 American Jewish History

HIEU 3452 East European Jewish History and Culture

HIEU 3559 Nation and Empire in Eastern Europe: Jews, Poles, and Russians in Historical Perspective

HIEU 4502/5559 History of Human Rights

HIEU 4502/5559 Law, Violence, and Empire in Modern Europe

HIEU 5009 The European-Jewish Encounter, 1750-1938

HIST 5559 Human Rights History

HIST 7001 Approaches to Historical Study

HIST 7559 The Historiography of Human Rights

HIST 9032 Independent Studies with Graduate Students in Modern Jewish History, Jewish Historiography, American Jewish History, Modern Jewish Politics, History of Fascism

Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904


(434) 924-7147
(434) 924-7891
M-F 8am to 4:30pm
Department Contacts