Schaffer, Gavin. “Unmasking the ‘Muscle Jew’: the Jewish Soldier in British War Service, 1899–1945.” Patterns of Prejudice 46.3-4 (2012): 375-396.
Constructions of Jews in twentieth-century Europe have been riddled throughout with inconsistencies and contradictions. However, some themes have been surprisingly persistent, none more so than constructions of Jews as weak, effeminate and cowardly. Schaffer looks at one significant set of responses to such characterizations, specifically at the rise of the ‘muscle Jew’ in Jewish and non-Jewish thinking. After the term was coined by Max Nordau at the turn of the twentieth century, the idea of the ‘muscle Jew’ came to represent a dominant current of Jewish identity reformulation. More recently, a series of scholars have come to understand the idea as a manifestation of Zionist ideology, a statement of a nationalist desire for Jewish reinvention in the face of endemic European antisemitism. By using the example of British Jewish service in the Boer War, the First World War and the Second World War, Schaffer argues rather that the idea of the ‘muscle Jew’ can be better understood as a reflection of Jewish desire for European integration, an attempt to present Jewish soldiers as equal to their non-Jewish equivalents. Moreover, he contends that the ‘muscle Jew’ needs to be understood as an idea rooted in the longue durée of Jewish history, one that represents only one strand of Jewish self-imagining.