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The Future of the Jewish Past

Yehuda Kurtzer

Publication Year: 2012

Modern Jews tend to relate to the past through "history," which relies on empirical demonstration and rational thought, rather than through "memory," which relies on the nonrational architectures of mythology. By now "history" has surpassed "memory" as a means of relating to the past, a development that falls short in building identity and creates disconnection between Jews and their collective history. Kurtzer seeks to mend this breach. Drawing on key classical texts, he shows that "history" and "memory" are not exclusive and that the perceived dissonance between them can be healed by a selective reclamation of the past and a translation of that past into purposefulness.

Published by: Brandeis University Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Frontispiece

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

This book came about thanks to an extraordinary opportunity created by Charles R. Bronfman and the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, in collaboration with Brandeis University. Mr. Bronfman created a chair at Brandeis for someone to join the faculty...

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Introduction: From Memory to History

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pp. 1-24

Once upon a time, the past was present, and the future was redemptive and hopeful. Never mind that the present was itself forgettable; the premodern world was probably not fun to inhabit, especially for Jews. Still, this arc of time and the way Jews related to it were useful...

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1. Mitzvah: Memory as Commandedness

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pp. 25-41

Our first task is to try to come up with a theory of Jewish memory. What does it mean for a people to have memory? How does collective memory interface with the memories that each of us carries around? And once we establish a sense of collective memory...

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2. Yir’ah: Awe as Inquiry and Discernment

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pp. 43-59

In examining the essential relationship between memory and mitzvah, we considered how we recount the events of our collective and mythical past and what obligations become attendant upon us with that recollection. Memory is always selective and at the same time...

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3. Ahavah: Love as Desire and Purpose

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pp. 61-79

And yet, awe only tells half the story. In classical sources, awe (yir’ah) is paired with love (ahavah). These two impulses are meant to characterize behavioral stances we take in performance of the commandments—so we do commandments motivated by love and...

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4. Hurban: Cataclysm and Creativity

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pp. 81-98

It would be impossible to write a book about Jewish memory in the shadow of the twentieth century and not devote special attention to the memory of the Holocaust, just as it would be remiss to take stock of the history of Jewish memory and not consider the central...

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5. Teshuva: Returning as Reimagining

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pp. 99-115

In this caricature by Leo Strauss, the Jew is a cliché—the last believer in the idea of the universal society and desperately eager to join it, only to discover, in a moment of great disenchantment, that it does not exist. The grass only grows greener outside the imposed...

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6. Enlightenment: A Parable

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pp. 117-133

A tale is told in the Talmud...

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Conclusion: . . . and Back Again: What Will Be the Future of the Jewish Past?

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pp. 135-146

Recently the New York Times reported on the famous shtetl photographs taken and published by Roman Vishniac. The journalist Alana Newhouse had dug up the records at Vishniac’s daughter’s...

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pp. 147-152

My goal in writing this book has been to introduce a system and a conceptual framework to think about the Jewishness of our time. The reader may understandably now be asking: to what does this translate? What are the programmatic and specific takeaways that...

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Author’s Note

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pp. 153-155

I am aware that this book is unusual, that its balance between the use of scholarly categories and its concern for lived Judaism makes it anomalous to both enterprises. The book was designed to be accessible to broader audiences as compared to most academic...


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pp. 157-160


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pp. 161-168

E-ISBN-13: 9781611682328
E-ISBN-10: 1611682320
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611682304

Page Count: 184
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 791642953
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Shuva

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Subject Headings

  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) -- Influence.
  • Commandments (Judaism).
  • Love -- Religious aspects -- Judaism.
  • Memory -- Religious aspects -- Judaism.
  • Judaism -- History -- Philosophy.
  • Repentance -- Judaism.
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