University of Virginia

James Loeffler

James Loeffler is Associate Professor of History at the University of Virginia. Educated at Harvard, Columbia, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he specializes in modern Jewish and European history, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Jewish music.

His new book, Rooted Cosmopolitans: Human Rights and Jewish Politics in the Twentieth Century, published in May 2018, has already been hailed as a “masterpiece [that] reshapes Jewish and human rights history alike.” His first book, The Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire, published in 2010, won eight awards and honors, including from the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), and the Association for Jewish Studies.

He has held fellowships from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the U.S. Fulbright Program, the Library of Congress, the Wexner Foundation, and the American Council of Learned Societies, among others. In 2013-2014 he was the Dean’s Visiting Scholar on the Andrew Mellon Foundation New Directions Fellowship at Georgetown University Law Center.

Other works include a forthcoming edited volume, The Law of Strangers: Jews and International Law in Historical Perspective and journal articles on American Zionism, the UN Genocide Convention, Chopin’s antisemitism, Soviet Holocaust music, and Israeli folk song.

He has written for the New York Times, the New Republic, Tablet, Mosaic, and other publications.

A trained pianist and musicologist, he has consulted to National Public Radio, the Center for Jewish History, and Carnegie Hall. For ten years he served as scholar-in-residence for the Pro Musica Hebraica concert series at the Kennedy Center. Before that he worked at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and the Jewish Music Research Center at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


  • Zionism and Human Rights: A Forgotten History
    Drawing on his acclaimed new book, in this lecture Professor Loeffler retraces the unknown stories of how Zionist leaders helped create the modern international human rights movement. Using newly-discovered sources from the archives of the UN, Amnesty International, and Israel, he offers vital historical perspective on the current controversies involving human rights in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  • Beyond Babi Yar: The Holocaust in Soviet Music
    Soviet Jews are often remembered as the Jews of Silence. But they actually produced their own series of powerful musical monuments to the Holocaust that challenge our contemporary preconceptions about Holocaust art and the ethics of memory (with musical examples).
  • The 1960 Swastika Epidemic: Lessons from the First Legal Fight against Global Antisemitism
    The dramatic rise in global antisemitism has sparked efforts today to pass laws to counter antisemitism. The roots of that idea go back to a now-forgotten story of 1960s Cold War intrigue. Professor Loeffler retraces those events and the Jewish efforts at the UN to pass an international law banning all antisemitism – with timely lessons for today’s effort to address BDS, anti-Zionism, and antisemitism through the courts.
  • A Long Tradition?: How Jewish Lawyers Remade International Law and Reinvented Jewishness
    Why are there so many Jews in the roster of famous international lawyers? Does the answer lie in the ancient pages of the Talmud? Or the modern history of Jewish emancipation? In this lecture, Professor Loeffler explores these questions drawing on his forthcoming anthology of Jewish legal biographies.