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American Talmud

The Cultural Work of Jewish American Fiction

Ezra Cappell

Publication Year: 2007

Looks at the role of Jewish American fiction in the larger context of American culture. 'In American Talmud, Ezra Cappell redefines the genre of Jewish American fiction and places it squarely within the larger context of American literature. Cappell departs from the conventional approach of defining Jewish American authors solely in terms of their ethnic origins and sociological constructs, and instead contextualizes their fiction within the theological heritage of Jewish culture. By deliberately emphasizing historical and ethnographic links to religions, religious texts, and traditions, Cappell demonstrates that twentieth-century and contemporary Jewish American fiction writers have been codifying a new Talmud, an American Talmud, and argues that the literary production of Jews in America might be seen as one more stage of rabbinic commentary on the scriptural inheritance of the Jewish people.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series in Modern Jewish Literature and Culture


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

It is a great pleasure to acknowledge my family, friends, and colleagues who have supported me throughout the writing of this book. I would especially like to thank David Ruiter, Director of Literature at the University of Texas at El Paso, who tirelessly read numerous drafts of this book. His friendship, insight, and generosity inspire all who are fortunate enough to know him. ...

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pp. 1-25

The Babylonian Talmud1 contains two distinct parts: Halacha and Aggadah. Halacha refers to any legal issues and their discussion, while Aggadah comprises anything outside the legal sphere. Aggadah encompasses roughly one quarter of the Talmud as a whole and generally consists of stories and homilies, advice on ethics, biographies of wise men, and midrashim or interpretations of important, as well as confusing and troubling, biblical passages. ...

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1. Henry Roth’s First Novel:Call It Jewish?

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pp. 27-36

Recently, at the Modern Language Association’s annual meeting, I helped organize a panel on contemporary Jewish American writing. We decided on the topic of “New Voices,” and as part of that panel I discussed the work of Henry Roth, a writer usually associated with the modernist movement in literature—hardly a “new voice” that the panel seemed to call for. ...

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2. Reflecting the World: Bernard Malamud’s Post-Holocaust Judaism

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pp. 37-54

Unlike Henry Roth with his extraordinarily complex career trajectory, Bernard Malamud, even now twenty years after his death, is still frequently portrayed as the archetypal Jewish American writer. Malamud is credited with the literary invention of “Yinglish,” the affecting mixture of Yiddish cadences and subject-verb reversal within the English dialogue of the first-generation Eastern European Jewish immigrants who populate his fiction. ...

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3. Bellow’s Short Fiction: Something Jewish To Remember Him By

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pp. 55-106

...Irving Howe maintained that by the 1960s Jewish American fiction had passed its high point. The great theme of Jewish American novels had been immigration: Jews becoming Americans for better or (usually) for worse. Howe’s remark presupposes the idea that the great Jewish novelists of the fifties and sixties had immigration and Americanization as their one (and only) great theme. ...

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4. Rebecca Goldstein: The Ethics of Second-Generation Witnessing

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pp. 107-118

...Renee Feuer, the first-person narrator of Rebecca Goldstein’s novel The Mind-Body Problem, wanders into a small restaurant in Vienna faint from hunger. Renee has been following her husband Noam Himmel, a world-renowned mathematician, across the European continent on an academic journey that doubles as their honeymoon. ...

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5. Four Questions for Allegra Goodman

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pp. 119-148

As a crossover best-selling success Allegra Goodman is a leading voice on nearly every major issue confronting modern Judaism in the diaspora. For almost twenty years Goodman has been writing fiction that covers the full spectrum of diasporic Jewish life in America, from Orthodoxy and feminism to Holocaust representation and liberal ideology. ...

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6. Henry Roth’s Second Novel: Mercy for a Rude Youth

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pp. 149-168

Attempting to understand Henry Roth’s monumental literary shifts over the long arc of his career might confound even the most dedicated student of his craft. From Communism to Zionism, from lyrical high modernism to unadorned realism, from Shakespearean influenced Yiddish translations in Call It Sleep to the redolent, biblical inflections of Mercy of a Rude Stream, Roth’s literary life and art present a seemingly insoluble conundrum. ...

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Conclusion: The Future of Jewish Fiction in America

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pp. 169-177

On the last page of Bernard Malamud’s 1957 novel The Assistant, Frank Alpine endures a painful brit mila, a circumcision ceremony. In Malamud’s symbolic system, Alpine’s act is seen as a homecoming, as a sign of his finally belonging to the Jewish people. Frank’s circumcision is also a marker of his complete transformation from selfish sinner into a selfless saint, a symbol of his becoming a true mentsch—on par with his suffering mentor, Morris Bober. ...

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Appendix: An Interview with Rebecca Goldstein

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pp. 179-200

Coinciding with the publication of her novel Properties of Light, Rebecca Goldstein was invited to participate in a panel discussion of writers who use math and science in their work. The symposium, titled Proof, took place at New York University on October 15, 2000; at the conclusion of the conference Goldstein graciously agreed to be interviewed by me. ...


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pp. 201-211


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pp. 213-221


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pp. 223-233

E-ISBN-13: 9780791479957
E-ISBN-10: 0791479951
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791471234
Print-ISBN-10: 0791471233

Page Count: 244
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: SUNY series in Modern Jewish Literature and Culture