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At the Crossroads

Essays on Ahad Ha'am

A founding father of modern Israel, Ahad Haam (18561927) was one of the shapers of the contemporary Zionist consciousness. His career spanned the era of Russian Jewry’s nationalist awakening. During the last decade of the nineteenth century, he was the leading theorist of the Russian Zionist movement. Afterwards, he was overshadowed by Theodore Herzl, who imposed his own stamp on Zionism. With the failure of Herzl’s diplomacy and his early death in 1904, Russian Zionists abandoned Herzl’s priorities and gradually refashioned the program of the Zionist organization in their own image. More than anyone else, Ahad Haam provided the ideological authority for this shift.

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Auschwitz

True Tales From a Grotesque Land

Sara Nomberg-Przytyk

From the moment I got to Auschwitz I was completely detached. I disconnected my heart and intellect in an act of self-defense, despair, and hopelessness." With these words Sara Nomberg-Przytyk begins this painful and compelling account of her experiences while imprisoned for two years in the infamous death camp. Writing twenty years after her liberation, she recreates the events of a dark past which, in her own words, would have driven her mad had she tried to relive it sooner. But while she records unimaginable atrocities, she also richly describes the human compassion that stubbornly survived despite the backdrop of camp depersonalization and imminent extermination.

Commemorative in spirit and artistic in form, Auschwitz convincingly portrays the paradoxes of human nature in extreme circumstances. With consummate understatement Nomberg-Przytyk describes the behavior of concentration camp inmates as she relentlessly and pitilessly examines her own motives and feelings. In this world unmitigated cruelty coexisted with nobility, rapacity with self-sacrifice, indifference with selfless compassion. This book offers a chilling view of the human drama that existed in Auschwitz.

From her portraits of camp personalities, an extraordinary and horrifying profile emerges of Dr. Josef Mengele, whose medical experiments resulted in the slaughter of nearly half a million Jews. Nomberg-Przytyk's job as an attendant in Mengle's hospital allowed her to observe this Angel of Death firsthand and to provide us with the most complete description to date of his monstrous activities.

The original Polish manuscript was discovered by Eli Pfefferkorn in 1980 in the Yad Vashem Archive in Jerusalem. Not knowing the fate of the journal's author, Pfefferkorn spent two years searching and finally located Nomberg-Przytyk in Canada. Subsequent interviews revealed the history of the manuscript, the author's background, and brought the journal into perspective.

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Authorizing Marriage?

Canon, Tradition, and Critique in the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions

Mark D. Jordan

The opponents of legal recognition for same-sex marriage frequently appeal to a "Judeo-Christian" tradition. But does it make any sense to speak of that tradition as a single teaching on marriage? Are there elements in Jewish and Christian traditions that actually authorize religious and civil recognition of same-sex couples? And are contemporary heterosexual marriages well supported by those traditions?

As evidenced by the ten provocative essays assembled and edited by Mark D. Jordan, the answers are not as simple as many would believe. The scholars of Judaism and Christianity gathered here explore the issue through a wide range of biblical, historical, liturgical, and theological evidence. From David's love for Jonathan through the singleness of Jesus and Paul to the all-male heaven of John's Apocalypse, the collection addresses pertinent passages in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament with scholarly precision. It reconsiders whether there are biblical precedents for blessing same-sex unions in Jewish and Christian liturgies.

The book concludes by analyzing typical religious arguments against such unions and provides a comprehensive response to claims that the Judeo-Christian tradition prohibits same-sex unions from receiving religious recognition. The essays, most of which are in print here for the first time, are by Saul M. Olyan, Mary Ann Tolbert, Daniel Boyarin, Laurence Paul Hemming, Steven Greenberg, Kathryn Tanner, Susan Frank Parsons, Eugene F. Rogers, Jr., and Mark D. Jordan.

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Autonomy and Judaism

The Individual and Community in Jewish Philosophical Thought

This volume brings together leading philosophers of Judaism on the issue of autonomy in the Jewish tradition. Addressing themselves to the relationship of the individual Jew to the Jewish community and to the world at large, some selections are systematic in scope, while others are more historically focused. The authors address issues ranging from the earliest expressions of individual human fulfillment in the Bible and medieval Jewish discussions of the human good to modern discussions of the necessity for the Jew to maintain both a Jewish sensibility as well as an active engagement in the modern pluralistic state. Contributors include Eugene Borowitz, Elliot N. Dorff, Daniel H. Frank, Robert Gibbs, Lenn E. Goodman, Ze’ev Levy, Kenneth Seeskin, and Martin D. Yaffe.

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Aversion and Erasure

The Fate of the Victim after the Holocaust

In Aversion and Erasure, Carolyn J. Dean offers a bold account of how the Holocaust's status as humanity's most terrible example of evil has shaped contemporary discourses about victims in the West. Popular and scholarly attention to the Holocaust has led some observers to conclude that a "surfeit of Jewish memory" is obscuring the suffering of other peoples. Dean explores the pervasive idea that suffering and trauma in the United States and Western Europe have become central to identity, with victims competing for recognition by displaying their collective wounds.

She argues that this notion has never been examined systematically even though it now possesses the force of self-evidence. It developed in nascent form after World War II, when the near-annihilation of European Jewry began to transform patriotic mourning into a slogan of "Never Again": as the Holocaust demonstrated, all people might become victims because of their ethnicity, race, gender, or sexuality-because of who they are.The recent concept that suffering is central to identity and that Jewish suffering under Nazism is iconic of modern evil has dominated public discourse since the 1980s.

Dean argues that we believe that the rational contestation of grievances in democratic societies is being replaced by the proclamation of injury and the desire to be a victim. Such dramatic and yet culturally powerful assertions, however, cast suspicion on victims and define their credibility in new ways that require analysis. Dean's latest book summons anyone concerned with human rights to recognize the impact of cultural ideals of "deserving" and "undeserving" victims on those who have suffered.

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Avodah

Ancient Poems for Yom Kippur

Michael D. Swartz and Joseph Yahalom

Avodah: Ancient Poems for Yom Kippur is the first major translation of one of the most important genres of the lost literature of the ancient synagogue. Known as the Avodah piyyutim, this liturgical poetry was composed by the synagogue poets of fifth- to ninth-century Palestine and sung in the synagogues on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Although it was suppressed by generations of rabbis, its ornamental beauty and deep exploration of sacred stories ensured its popularity for centuries. Piyyut literature can teach us much about how ancient Jews understood sacrifice, sacred space, and sin. The poems are also a rich source for retrieving myths and symbols not found in the conventional Rabbinic sources such as the Talmuds and Midrash. Moreover, these compositions rise to the level of fine literature. They are the products of great literary effort, continue and extend the tradition of biblical parallelism, and reveal the aesthetic sensibilities of the Mediterranean in Late Antiquity.tAvodah: Ancient Poems for Yom Kippur is the first volume in The Penn State Library of Jewish Literature, overseen by Baruch Halpern and Aminadav Dykman. This series will constitute a library of primary source material for the Jewish and Hebrew literary traditions. The library will present Jewish and Hebrew works from all eras and cultures, offering both scholars and general readers original, modern translations of previously overlooked texts.

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B'nai B'rith and the Challenge of Ethnic Leadership

B’nai B’rith has a history almost as diverse as the story of American Jewry itself. The oldest secular Jewish organization in the United States, it was founded in 1843. Thereafter, it followed in the footsteps of its immigrant founders, spreading into the cities, towns, and villages of America, eventually becoming the worldwide order it is today.

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Back to School

Jewish Day School in the Lives of Adult Jews

Alex Pomson & Randal F. Schnoor With a Foreword by Jack Wertheimer

A groundbreaking study on the impact of Jewish day schools in the lives of parents and children.

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Bar Mitzvah, a History

Michael Hilton

The Jewish coming-of-age ceremony of bar mitzvah was first recorded in thirteenth-century France, where it took the form of a simple statement by the father that he was no longer responsible for his thirteen-year-old son. Today, bar mitzvah for boys and bat mitzvah for girls are more popular than at any time in history and are sometimes accompanied by lavish celebrations.

How did bar mitzvah develop over the centuries from an obscure legal ritual into a core component of Judaism? How did it capture the imagination of even non-Jewish youth? Bar Mitzvah is a comprehensive history of the ceremonies and celebrations for both boys and girls. As cultural anthropology informed by rabbinic knowledge, it explores the origins and development of the most important coming-of-age milestone in Judaism. Rabbi Michael Hilton has sought out every reference to bar mitzvah in the Bible, the Talmud, and numerous other Jewish texts spanning several centuries, extracting a fascinating miscellany of information, stories, and commentary.

 

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Battering States

The Politics of Domestic Violence in Israel

Madelaine Adelman

Battering States explores the most personal part of people's lives as they intersect with a uniquely complex state system. The book examines how statecraft shapes domestic violence: how a state defines itself and determines what counts as a family; how a state establishes sovereignty and defends its borders; and how a state organizes its legal system and forges its economy. The ethnography includes stories from people, places, and perspectives not commonly incorporated in domestic violence studies, and, in doing so, reveals the transformation of intimate partner violence from a predictable form of marital trouble to a publicly recognized social problem.

The politics of domestic violence create novel entry points to understanding how, although women may be vulnerable to gender-based violence, they do not necessarily share the same kind of belonging to the state. This means that markers of identity and power, such as gender, nationality, ethnicity, religion and religiosity, and socio-economic and geographic location, matter when it comes to safety and pathways to justice.

The study centers on Israel, where a number of factors bring connections between the cultural politics of the state and domestic violence into stark relief: the presence of a contentious multinational and multiethnic population; competing and overlapping sets of religious and civil laws; a growing gap between the wealthy and the poor; and the dominant presence of a security state in people's everyday lives. The exact combination of these factors is unique to Israel, but they are typical of states with a diverse population in a time of globalization. In this way, the example of Israel offers insights wherever the political and personal impinge on one another.

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