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Personal Meaning and Religious Authority
German rabbi, scholar, and theologian Abraham Geiger (1810--1874) is recognized as the principal leader of the Reform movement in German Judaism. In his new work, Ken Koltun-Fromm argues that for Geiger personal meaning in religion -- rather than rote ritual practice or acceptance of dogma -- was the key to religion's moral authority. In five chapters, the book explores issues central to Geiger's work that speak to contemporary Jewish practice -- historical memory, biblical interpretation, ritual and gender practices, rabbinic authority, and Jewish education. This is essential reading for scholars, rabbis, rabbinical students, and informed Jewish readers interested in Conservative and Reform Judaism.
Published with the generous support of the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation.
Writing as a Woman and a Jew in America
For Norma Rosen, the Holocaust is the central event of the twentieth century. In this book, she examines the relationship of post-Holocaust writers to their work in terms of subject, language, imagery, and facing up to the task of writing in a post-Holocaust era. She considers the work of such major influences on our time as T. S. Eliot, Simone Weil, Anne Frank, E. L. Doctorow, Norman Mailer, Eugenio Montale, Philip Roth, and Saul Bellow. Accidents of Influence combines critical analysis with personal response and autobiographical moments. It includes quotidian encounters in friendship, sex, society, art, politics, response to violence, and religious observance, which struggle for moral ground in this post-Holocaust era.
English Antisemitism from Bede to Milton
England during the Middle Ages was at the forefront of European antisemitism. It was in medieval Norwich that the notorious "blood libel" was first introduced when a resident accused the city's Jewish leaders of abducting and ritually murdering a local boy. England also enforced legislation demanding that Jews wear a badge of infamy, and in 1290, it became the first European nation to expel forcibly all of its Jewish residents. In The Accommodated Jew, Kathy Lavezzo rethinks the complex and contradictory relation between England’s rejection of “the Jew” and the centrality of Jews to classic English literature. Drawing on literary, historical, and cartographic texts, she charts an entangled Jewish imaginative presence in English culture.
In a sweeping view that extends from the Anglo-Saxon period to the late seventeenth century, Lavezzo tracks how English writers from Bede to Milton imagine Jews via buildings—tombs, latrines and especially houses—that support fantasies of exile. Epitomizing this trope is the blood libel and its implication that Jews cannot be accommodated in England because of the anti-Christian violence they allegedly perform in their homes. In the Croxton Play of the Sacrament, Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta, and Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, the Jewish house not only serves as a lethal trap but also as the site of an emerging bourgeoisie incompatible with Christian pieties. Lavezzo reveals the central place of “the Jew” in the slow process by which a Christian “nation of shopkeepers” negotiated their relationship to the urban capitalist sensibility they came to embrace and embody. In the book’s epilogue, she advances her inquiry into Victorian England and the relationship between Charles Dickens (whose Fagin is the second most infamous Jew in English literature after Shylock) and the Jewish couple that purchased his London home, Tavistock House, showing how far relations between gentiles and Jews in England had (and had not) evolved.
Judaism in Christian Painting, Poetry, and Politics
Throughout most of Western European history, Jews have been a numerically tiny or entirely absent minority, but across that history Europeans have nonetheless worried a great deal about Judaism. Why should that be so? This short but powerfully argued book suggests that Christian anxieties about their own transcendent ideals made Judaism an important tool for Christianity, as an apocalyptic religion—characterized by prizing soul over flesh, the spiritual over the literal, the heavenly over the physical world—came to terms with the inescapable importance of body, language, and material things in this world.
Nirenberg shows how turning the Jew into a personification of worldly over spiritual concerns, surface over inner meaning, allowed cultures inclined toward transcendence to understand even their most materialistic practices as spiritual. Focusing on art, poetry, and politics—three activities especially condemned as worldly in early Christian culture—he reveals how, over the past two thousand years, these activities nevertheless expanded the potential for their own existence within Christian culture because they were used to represent Judaism. Nirenberg draws on an astonishingly diverse collection of poets, painters, preachers, philosophers, and politicians to reconstruct the roles played by representations of Jewish “enemies” in the creation of Western art, culture, and politics, from the ancient world to the present day.
This erudite and tightly argued survey of the ways in which Christian cultures have created themselves by thinking about Judaism will appeal to the broadest range of scholars of religion, art, literature, political theory, media theory, and the history of Western civilization more generally.
The Wailing Culture of Yemenite Jewish Women
The term “wailing culture” includes an array of women’s behaviors and beliefs following the death of a member of their ethnic group and is typical of Jewish life in Yemeni culture. Central to the practice is wailing itself—a special artistic genre that combines speech with sobbing into moving lyrical poetry that explores the meaning of death and loss. In Aesthetics of Sorrow: The Wailing Culture of Yemenite Jewish Women, Tova Gamliel decodes the cultural and psychological meanings of this practice in an ethnography based on her anthropological research among Yemenite Jewish communities in Israel in 2001–2003. Based on participant-observervation in homes of the bereaved and on twenty-four in-depth interviews with wailing women and men, Gamliel illuminates wailing culture level by level: by the circles in which the activity takes place; the special areas of endeavor that belong to women; and the broad social, historical, and religious context that surrounds these inner circles. She discusses the main themes that define the wailing culture (including the historical origins of women’s wailing generally and of Yemenite Jewish wailing in particular), the traits of wailing as an artistic genre, and the wailer as a symbolic type. She also explores the role of wailing in death rituals, as a therapeutic expertise endowed with unique affective mechanisms, as an erotic performance, as a livelihood, and as an indicator of the Jewish exile. In the end, she considers wailing at the intersection of tradition and modernity and examines the study of wailing as a genuine methodological challenge. Gamliel brings a sensitive eye to the vanishing practice of wailing, which has been largely unexamined by scholars and may be unfamiliar to many outside of the Middle East. Her interdisciplinary perspective and her focus on a uniquely female immigrant cultural practice will make this study fascinating reading for scholars of anthropology, gender, folklore, psychology, performance, philosophy, and sociology.
1492 and the Making of Sephardic Jewry
After Representation? The Holocaust, Literature, and Culture
After Representation? explores one of the major issues in Holocaust studiesùthe intersection of memory and ethics in artistic expression, particularly within literature. Contributors examine the shifting cultural contexts for Holocaust representation and reveal how writersùwhether they write as witnesses to the Holocaust or at an imaginative distance from the Nazi genocideùarticulate the shadowy borderline between fact and fiction, between event and expression, and between the condition of life endured in atrocity and the hope of ameaningful existence.
The Song of Songs in Israeli Culture
Agnon's Moonstruck Lovers explores the response of Israel’s Nobel laureate S. Y. Agnon to the privileged position of the Song of Songs in Israeli culture. Standing at a unique crossroads between religion and secularism, Agnon probes the paradoxes and ambiguities of the Zionist hermeneutic project. In adopting the Song, Zionist interpreters sought to return to the erotic, pastoral landscapes of biblical times. Their quest for a new, uplifting, secular literalism, however, could not efface the haunting impact of allegorical configurations of love. With superb irony, Agnon's tales recast Israeli biblicism as a peculiar chapter within the ever-surprising history of biblical exegesis.
Acknowledging the Holocaust
How can a fictional text adequately or meaningfully represent the events of the Holocaust? Drawing on philosopher Stanley Cavell's ideas about "acknowledgment" as a respectful attentiveness to the world, Emily Miller Budick develops a penetrating philosophical analysis of major works by internationally prominent Israeli writer Aharon Appelfeld. Through sensitive discussions of the novels Badenheim 1939, The Iron Tracks, The Age of Wonders, and Tzili, and the autobiographical work The Story of My Life, Budick reveals the compelling art with which Appelfeld renders the sights, sensations, and experiences of European Jewish life preceding, during, and after the Second World War. She argues that it is through acknowledging the incompleteness of our knowledge and understanding of the catastrophe that Appelfeld's fiction produces not only its stunning aesthetic power but its affirmation and faith in both the human and the divine. This beautifully written book provides a moving introduction to the work of an important and powerful writer and an enlightening meditation on how fictional texts deepen our understanding of historical events.
Jewish Literature and Culture -- Alvin H. Rosenfeld, editor