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Modern Jewish Literatures

Intersections and Boundaries

Edited by Sheila E. Jelen, Michael P. Kramer, and L. Scott Lerner

Publication Year: 2011

Is there such a thing as a distinctive Jewish literature? While definitions have been offered, none has been universally accepted. Modern Jewish literature lacks the basic markers of national literatures: it has neither a common geography nor a shared language—though works in Hebrew or Yiddish are almost certainly included—and the field is so diverse that it cannot be contained within the bounds of one literary category.

Each of the fifteen essays collected in Modern Jewish Literatures takes on the above question by describing a movement across boundaries—between languages, cultures, genres, or spaces. Works in Hebrew and Yiddish are amply represented, but works in English, French, German, Italian, Ladino, and Russian are also considered. Topics range from the poetry of the Israeli nationalist Natan Alterman to the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam; from turn-of-the-century Ottoman Jewish journalism to wire-recorded Holocaust testimonies; from the intellectual salons of late eighteenth-century Berlin to the shelves of a Jewish bookstore in twentieth-century Los Angeles.

The literary world described in Modern Jewish Literatures is demarcated chronologically by the Enlightenment, the Haskalah, and the French Revolution, on one end, and the fiftieth anniversary of the State of Israel on the other. The particular terms of the encounter between a Jewish past and present for modern Jews has varied greatly, by continent, country, or village, by language, and by social standing, among other things. What unites the subjects of these studies is not a common ethnic, religious, or cultural history but rather a shared endeavor to use literary production and writing in general as the laboratory in which to explore and represent Jewish experience in the modern world.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

This book emerges from the yearlong project at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania on the topic ‘‘Modern Jewish Literatures: Language, Identity, Writing.’’ This was the first seminar at the Center devoted exclusively to literary studies, and it brought together some twenty scholars of literature, as well as one ...

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Introduction: Intersections and Boundaries in Modern Jewish Literary Study

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pp. 1-23

The act of defining, circumscribing, and demarcating has long been a principal activity of modern Jewish literary scholarship, yet the boundaries have proved elusive. While many definitions of Jewish literature have been offered, none has been universally accepted, and questions about who is and who is not a Jewish writer, what is and what is not a Jewish book,...

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Chapter 1. Literary Culture and Jewish Space around 1800: The Berlin Salons Revisited

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pp. 24-43

An article in the ‘‘Style and Entertaining’’ section of the New York Times Magazine, dated October 6, 2002, offers a glimpse of present-day New York.Titled ‘‘Whiskey a` Go-Go,’’ it features Hope Atherton, a young and stylish woman, who has undertaken to "reinvent the salon ...

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Chapter 2. Joseph Salvador's Jerusalem Lost and Jerusalem Regained

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pp. 44-65

In the summer of 1819, Joseph Salvador, then a young doctor in Paris, happened upon a newspaper account of a bloody attack on the Jews of a small town in Germany. The dispatch deeply affected him, especially the‘‘war cry’’ - Hep! Hep! - uttered by the assailants. The author of the article had glossed Hep as an acronym for the Latin phrase Hierosolyma est perdita,...

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Chapter 3. The Merchant at the Threshold: Rashel Khin, Osip Mandelstam, and the Poetics of Apostasy

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pp. 66-82

The entrance to the Trinity Church in the Kiev Cave Monastery is bordered by a peculiar eighteenth-century fresco, illustrating the above passage from the Gospel According to John. In case there is any doubt as to the saved and condemned in the scene, Jesus has a full face, reminiscent of the holy figures of Orthodox icons, whereas most of the moneychangers show only one eye, an iconographic symbol of evil.1

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Chapter 4. Shmuel Saadi Halevy/Sam L

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pp. 83-103

By the turn of the twentieth century, the life of Ottoman Sephardim had undergone dramatic political, social, and cultural transformations as a result of modernizing and secularizing processes under way in the empire.Consequently, Ottoman Jewish identity had been redefined by a number of factors and had assumed a new form. Indisputably, the most significant...

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Chapter 5. I. L. Peretz's ''Between Two Mountains'': Neo-Hasidism and Jewish Literary Modernity

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pp. 104-126

I. L. Peretz’s writing can be said to represent an entire literary corpus: the Hasidic writing of other modern writers of his time. Most of the prevailing studies dealing with Peretz’s literary and personal approach to the Hasidic heritage tend to stress the opposite, arguing that Peretz’s work is an anomaly and not to be read in conjunction with other writings in dialogue with...

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Chapter 6. Neither Here nor There: The Critique of Ideological Progress in Sholem Aleichem's Kasrilevke Stories

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pp. 127-146

At the center of Sholem Aleichem’s voluminous and enduringly popular creativity stands his semi-mythical, semi-satirical shtetl, Kasrilevke. Although contemporary critical scrutiny has focused primarily on canonical works such as the Tevye monologues, the Menakhem-Mendl letters, and the adventures of Motl the Cantor Peyse’s son, the particular typology and...

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Chapter 7. Brenner: Between Hebrew and Yiddish

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pp. 147-168

In the research on Zionism and Hebrew culture, it is common to posit a dichotomy between the Land of Israel and the Diaspora, between Hebrew culture and Yiddish culture.2 The Eretz Israel identity crystallized in conscious antithesis to, and negation of, Jewish culture in the Diaspora. One...

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Chapter 8. Eisig Silberschlag and the Persistence of the Erotic in American Hebrew Poetry

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pp. 169-188

The Hebrew poetry that flourished in America between the two world wars of the previous century can be understood in part as a struggle to negotiate the influence of Hayyim Nahman Bialik and Shaul Tchernichovsky, the two great forces in Hebrew poetry at the turn of that century.1 Unfolding at the same time in the emerging literary center in Palestine is a very different...

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Chapter 9. The Art of Sex in Yiddish Poems: Celia Dropkin and Her Contemporaries

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pp. 189-212

Is there such a thing as "women’s poetry"? The Yiddish critics in the first half of the twentieth century thought so, and the women who wrote poetry in Yiddish in those years were constantly challenged as they tried to write against the parameters that their male contemporaries set. In this chapter, I will examine some assumptions held in the 1920s and 1930s about women...

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Chapter 10. Ethnopoetics in the Works of Malkah Shapiro and Ita Kalish: Gender, Popular Ethnography, and the Literary Face of Jewish Eastern Europe

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pp. 213-236

In ‘‘Thank God for His Daily Blessings,’’ Amos Oz describes a walk through Geulah, the neighborhood in Jerusalem where he grew up among Labor Zionists but that has since evolved into an ultraorthodox enclave: ‘‘The Orthodox Eastern European Jewish world continues as though nothing had happened, but the fathers of modern Hebrew literature, Mendele and Ber-...

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Chapter 11. Eternal Jews and Dead Dogs: The Diasporic Other in Natan Alterman's The Seventh Column

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pp. 237-262

The Seventh Column comprises Natan Alterman’s main body of journalistic verse.1 It was published regularly on Fridays as the seventh column of the second page of the widespread daily Davar from 1943 to 1967, and was avidly read and received. Dealing with all things public, large or small,written with brilliantly lucid poetic diction, deftly combining wit and...

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Chapter 12. Inserted Notes: David Boder's DP Interview Project and the Languages of the Holocaust

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pp. 263-279

The choice of language among European Jews was never neutral. During the Holocaust, contention over languages intensified: idealistic calls for a return to Jewish languages competed with realistic defections to the vernacular. Speaking a flawless German, Polish, or Ukrainian, moreover, could help one escape the persecutor’s net. In the main arenas of terror, Jews forged their own tongues: coded communication in the ghetto, a fabricated jargon in the camps. In the war’s aftermath, language continued to be marked by these wartime struggles. ...

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Chapter 13. Unpacking My Father's Bookstore

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pp. 280-302

Two early memories of my father’s bookstore, J. Roth / Bookseller of Fine &Scholarly Judaica, are a prologue of sorts for this essay. Here is the first: it is 1967, and I am six years old. My father, Jack Roth, is having an IBM ...

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Chapter 14. The Art of Assimilation: Ironies, Ambiguities, Aesthetics

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pp. 303-326

Circa 1990, the heyday of ethnic literary study. African, Asian, Hispanic,and Native Americans were all boldly claiming their place in the academy, demanding critical attention and respect for neglected literatures that they jealously claimed as their own. Canons were exploding everywhere, curricula were being challenged and rewritten, and faculties were being ...

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Chapter 15. Hebraism and Yiddishism: Paradigms of Modern Jewish Literary History

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pp. 327-342

In 1974, the Yiddish poet Malka Heifetz Tussman, born in Russia, living in California, published a small volume of poems in Israel. This peripatetic author’s text is paradigmatic of the cosmopolitan, multilingual nature of modern Jewish literature. The book, written by a woman who at various times was a Yiddish teacher, an anarchist, and a writer of Russian poetry...

List of Contributors

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pp. 343-346


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pp. 347-360

E-ISBN-13: 9780812204360
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812242720

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Jews -- Identity
  • Judaism and literature.
  • Judaism in literature.
  • Jews in literature.
  • Jewish literature -- History and criticism.
  • Hebrew literature -- History and criticism.
  • Yiddish literature -- History and criticism.
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