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The New Jew in Film

Exploring Jewishness and Judaism in Contemporary Cinema

Nathan Abrams

Publication Year: 2012

Jewish film characters have existed almost as long as the medium itself. But around 1990, films about Jews and their representation in cinema multiplied and took on new forms, marking a significant departure from the past. With a fresh generation of Jewish filmmakers, writers, and actors at work, contemporary cinemas have been depicting a multiplicity of new variants, including tough Jews; brutish Jews; gay and lesbian Jews; Jewish cowboys, skinheads, and superheroes; and even Jews in space. The New Jew in Film is grounded in the study of over three hundred films from Hollywood and beyond. Nathan Abrams explores these new and changing depictions of Jews, Jewishness, and Judaism, providing a wider, more representative picture of this transformation. In this compelling, surprising, and provocative book, chapters explore masculinity, femininity, passivity, agency, and religion in addition to a departure into new territory—including bathrooms and food. Abrams’s concern is to reveal how the representation of the Jew is used to convey confidence or anxieties about Jewish identity and history as well as questions of racial, sexual, and gender politics. In doing so, he provides a welcome overview of important Jewish films produced globally over the past twenty years.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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List of illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Writing this book has been a pleasure. Rarely can one say that I have work to do, and that work involves watching a film a night. My gratitude for this must go to the School of English at what was then the University of Wales, Bangor which, in 2005, took a chance and hired me as a Lecturer in Film Studies, despite having had a background primarily in American History ...

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pp. 1-18

This is a book in search of Jewish stereotypes and self-images in contemporary cinema, that is mainstream fiction film since 1990. It is not about how ‘Jewish’ a film is, if such a definition is even possible. But it does engage in discussions about the nature of the Jewishness and Judaism that such stereotypes and images exhibit. In this way, it seeks to map the ...

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Chapter 1. The Jew

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pp. 19-42

Given that the history of Jews in cinema is almost synonymous with the representation of the Jewish man, often conflated into the overarching term ‘the Jew’, it seems redundant here to rehash fully that history which I sketched out in my introduction. However, to summarise the period before 1990, representations and stereotypes of the Jew traditionally fell into one ...

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Chapter 2. The Jewess

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pp. 43-67

Strangely, given the growth of women’s and gender studies, little has been written about Jewish female representation in contemporary cinema, especially when compared with television. Perhaps this is explained by the fact that the Jewess on film suffered from consistent under-representation, being relegated to a limited number of secondary roles. If this book tends ...

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Chapter 3. Sex

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pp. 68-90

Since Jewish sexuality overlaps with the representations outlined in the previous two chapters, it has been similarly subjected to a series of selfimages and stereotypes some of which date back to antiquity. Alongside the archetypal in-group-created variations of the Jew as the schlemiel, nebbishy, neurotic, lacking, queer, impotent and sissy (what the film Being Ron Jeremy [dir. Brian Berke, 2003] refers to as ‘skinny horny needy Jews ...

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Chapter 4. Passivity

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pp. 91-108

A classic Jewish adage states, ‘Who is a hero? He who conquers his desire’. Since toughness was downgraded in normative rabbinic culture, physical, martial and bodily virtues, which flowered in natural surroundings, were rejected in favour of a scholarliness that thrived indoors. Denied the right to bear arms, ride horses, duel, joust or arch competitively, diaspora Jews, in ...

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Chapter 5. Agency

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pp. 109-133

In response to the nationalistic antisemitism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries there emerged an emphasis on Jewish ‘toughness, courage and physicality […] loyalty, self-discipline, readiness for self-sacrifice, robustness, manliness,’ that is the inversion of the weak, victimised Jew (Breines 1990: 126–27). Initially, this was encoded in the body of the ‘Muscle- Jew’. As Zionism developed, he was replaced by ‘the hardy, bronzed ...

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Chapter 6. Religion

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pp. 134-159

Given the volume of research dedicated to analysing the Jewish contribution to film, both in front of and behind the camera, it is surprising to note that to date not much work has been done on Judaism, overshadowed by a tendency to focus either on the image of the Jew/ess or on the Holocaust on film. As a consequence, it is possible to read entire books on these subjects with almost no references to Judaism. ...

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Chapter 7. Food

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pp. 160-182

There is a deliciously long list of films in which foods – marked as Jewish and kosher, Jewish but not kosher, or goyish and treyf – are not simply glimpsed as part of a film’s setting, but are also employed as important plot devices that explore cultural, ethnic and religious issues. Woody Allen, for example, makes much use of the nature and function of food and dining in ...

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Chapter 8. Bathrooms

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pp. 183-206

Much has been written on the cultural and semiotic connotations of the bathroom, particularly the public one. It is a place of structural oppositions: clean/dirty; public/private; hygienic/unhygienic; technical/organic. It is the boundary between the acceptable and unacceptable; a place in which submission to or defiance of authority is negotiated. The bathroom is also ...

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pp. 207-214

‘There is more than one way to be Jewish,’ said Israeli novelist Sami Michael, opening a gay pride rally in Jerusalem in 2006. Contemporary cinema’s depiction of the Jew/ess since 1990 convincingly demonstrates this, as ‘Jews are comfortably “out” in a variety of senses’ (Rosenberg 1996: 44). In addition to the stereotypes and self-images of the past, we have witnessed New Jews ...


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pp. 215-218


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pp. 219-236


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pp. 237-245


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pp. 247-258

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About the Author

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Nathan Abrams is Senior Lecturer ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813553436
E-ISBN-10: 0813553431
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813553405
Print-ISBN-10: 0813553407

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 23 photographs
Publication Year: 2012