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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.
Jewish Poetry and Martyrdom in Medieval France
When Crusader armies on their way to the Holy Land attacked Jewish communities in the Rhine Valley, many Jews chose suicide over death at the hands of Christian mobs. With their defiant deaths, the medieval Jewish martyr was born. With the literary commemoration of the victims, Jewish martyrology followed. Beautiful Death examines the evolution of a long-neglected corpus of Hebrew poetry, the laments reflecting the specific conditions of Jewish life in northern France. The poems offer insight into everyday life and into the ways medieval French Jews responded to persecution. They also suggest that poetry was used to encourage resistance to intensifying pressures to convert.
The educated Jewish elite in northern France was highly acculturated. Their poetry--particularly that emerging from the innovative Tosafist schools--reflects their engagement with the vernacular renaissance unfolding around them, as well as conscious and unconscious absorption of Christian popular beliefs and hagiographical conventions. At the same time, their extraordinary poems signal an increasingly harsh repudiation of Christianity's sacred symbols and beliefs. They reveal a complex relationship to Christian culture as Jews internalized elements of medieval culture even while expressing a powerful revulsion against the forms and beliefs of Christian life.
This gracefully written study crosses traditional boundaries of history and literature and of Jewish and general medieval scholarship. Focusing on specific incidents of persecution and the literary commemorations they produced, it offers unique insights into the historical conditions in which these poems were written and performed.
A Jewish Genealogical Journey
In Because of Eva, an American Jewish woman travels to Eastern Europe and Israel to solve mysteries in her family’s past by delving into World War II and Holocaust history. What began as a seemingly simple search for “Eva,” the elderly relative who had signed Gordon's grandfather's death certificate in New York long ago, became a journey of discovery when Gordon found her in Tel Aviv. There, she heard Eva’s stories of survival during the Holocaust, especially in Nazi-occupied Budapest. Eventually, Gordon would retrace Eva’s steps in Budapest and visit ancestral towns in Ukraine to bear witness to the slaughter of entire populations of Jews. Amid remnants of loss and destruction in the small town where her grandfather was born, Gordon also uncovered details of her family’s world before relatives immigrated to America. Gordon’s journey into her past provided the deep sense of connection and belonging she needed as an adult child of divorce and abuse. Gaining insight about her family’s history, Gordon reconciles issues of betrayal and loyalty, and finally finds her place in Judaism. Part memoir, part detective story, Because of Eva is an intimate tale of one woman’s history within the epic sweep of world events in the twentieth century.
National Ideals and Everyday Life in the 1950s
With a light touch and many wonderful illustrations, historian Anat Helman investigates “life on the ground” in Israel during the first years of statehood. She looks at how citizens—natives of the land, longtime immigrants, and newcomers—coped with the state’s efforts to turn an incredibly diverse group of people into a homogenous whole. She investigates the efforts to make Hebrew the lingua franca of Israel, the uses of humor, and the effects of a constant military presence, along with such familiar aspects of daily life as communal dining on the kibbutz, the nightmare of trying to board a bus, and moviegoing as a form of escapism. In the process Helman shows how ordinary people adapted to the standards and rules of the political and cultural elites and negotiated the chaos of early statehood.
The Bolshevik Experiment in Minsk
Minsk, the present capital of Belarus, was a heavily Jewish city in the decades between the world wars. Recasting our understanding of Soviet Jewish history, Becoming Soviet Jews demonstrates that the often violent social changes enforced by the communist project did not destroy continuities with prerevolutionary forms of Jewish life in Minsk. Using Minsk as a case study of the Sovietization of Jews in the former Pale of Settlement, Elissa Bemporad reveals the ways in which many Jews acculturated to Soviet society in the 1920s and 1930s while remaining committed to older patterns of Jewish identity, such as Yiddish culture and education, attachment to the traditions of the Jewish workers' Bund, circumcision, and kosher slaughter. This pioneering study also illuminates the reshaping of gender relations on the Jewish street and explores Jewish everyday life and identity during the years of the Great Terror.
In Being Jewish in the New Germany, Peck explores the diversity of contemporary Jewish life and the complex struggles within the community—and among Germans in general—over history, responsibility, culture, and identity. He provides a glimpse of an emerging, if conflicted, multicultural country and examines how the development of the European Community, globalization, and the post–9/11 political climate play out in this context. With sensitive, yet critical insight into the nation’s political and social life, chapters explore issues such as the shifting ethnic/national makeup of the population, changes in political leadership, and American, Israeli, and European Jewish relations with the growing Jewish population in Germany.
Portraits of Identity in Cynthia Ozick's Fiction
Shows how Ozick's characters attempt to mediate a complex Jewish identity, one that bridges the differences between traditional Judaism and secular American culture. 'Shows how Ozick’s characters attempt to mediate a complex Jewish identity, one that bridges the differences between traditional Judaism and secular American culture. In Belonging Too Well, Miriam Sivan draws on contemporary literary theory as well as traditional Jewish texts and culture to explore the question of identity in Cynthia Ozick’s fiction. Many critics have pointed to a split in Ozick’s work between Judaic and secular culture and values. Sivan suggests, however, that Ozick never settles for a simple either/or dichotomy between traditional Judaism and secular American culture, but that her protagonists instead fashion new means of living genuinely Jewish lives within the American Diaspora. Often they struggle not with not belonging to either the Old or the New Worlds, but of belonging too well to both. Part of a recent trend toward analyzing Jewish American literature in the context of a deep encounter with and understanding of Judaism and traditional Jewish texts, Sivan’s study enables readers of Ozick’s fiction to penetrate the complex webs she creates among cultures, time periods, and characters, some quite sober, others fantastic, all unusual. Miriam Sivan teaches in the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Haifa in Israel.
The first full-scale history of the creation, growth, and ultimate decline of the dominant twentieth-century model for American Jewish education Samson Benderly inaugurated the first Bureau of Jewish Education in 1910 amid a hodgepodge of congregational schools, khayders, community Talmud Torahs, and private tutors. Drawing on the theories of Johann Pestalozzi, Herbert Spencer, and John Dewey, and deriving inspiration from cultural Zionism, Benderly sought to modernize Jewish education by professionalizing the field, creating an immigrant-based, progressive supplementary school model, and spreading the mantra of community responsibility for Jewish education. With philanthropist Jacob Schiff and influential laymen financing his plans, Benderly realized that his best hope for transforming the educational landscape nationwide was to train a younger generation of teachers, principals, and bureau leaders. These young men became known collectively as the “Benderly Boys,” who, from the 1920s to the 1970s, were the dominant force in Jewish education—both formal and informal—in the United States.
A Centennial Tribute
Master storyteller and literary stylist, Bernard Malamud is considered one of the top three most influential postwar American Jewish writers, having established a voice and a presence for other authors in the literary canon. Along with Philip Roth and Saul Bellow, Malamud brought to life a decidedly American Jewish protagonist and a newly emergent voice that came to define American letters and that has continued to influence writers for over half a century. This collection is a tribute to Malamud in honor of the hundredth anniversary of his birth. Literary critic Harold Bloom suggests that "Malamud is perhaps the purest storyteller since Leskov," the nineteenth-century Russian novelist and satirist. Novelist Cynthia Ozick, in a tribute to Malamud, described him as "the very writer who had brought into being a new American idiom of his own idiosyncratic invention." Unlike other collections devoted to Malamud, this collection is international in scope, compiling diverse essays from the United States, France, Germany, Greece, and Spain, and demonstrating the wide range of scholarship and approaches to Bernard Malamud's fiction. The essays show the breadth and depth of this masterful craftsman and explore through his short fiction and his novels such topics as the Malamudian protagonist's relation to the urban/natural space; Malamud's approach to death; race and ethnicity; the Malamudian hero as modern schlemiel; and the role of fantasy in Malamud's fiction. Bernard Malamud is a comprehensive collection that celebrates a voice that helped to shape the last fifty years of literary works. Readers of American literary criticism and Jewish studies alike will appreciate this collection.
Magician, Mystic, and Leader
Now available in English, a provocative new biography of the founder of Hasidism Founded in Eastern Europe in the eighteenth century, the Hasidic movement and its religious thinking have dramatically transformed modern Judaism. The figure of the Ba’al Shem Tov (known in acronym form as the BeSHT)—the purported founder of the Hasidic movement—has fascinated scholars, Jewish philosophers, and laypeople interested in popular Jewish mysticism in general and the contemporary Hasidic movement in all its variety. In this volume, Etkes enters a rich and heated debate over the origins of the movement, as well as the historicity of its mythic founder, Rabbi Israel Ba’al Shem Tov, who lived much of his life as a miracle worker. The eighteenth century, as Etkes vividly portrays, was the heyday of the kabbalists, who dabbled in the magical power of letters and words to solve personal and communal problems—and to earn a living. Etkes sheds light on the personality of the Besht, on his mysticism, and on his close circle of followers. But equally important, he challenges the popular myth of the Besht as a childlike mystic, wandering the fields in prayer, seeing visions and engaging in acts of godliness and piety. Although Etkes shows great empathy for his subject, the Besht who emerges in these pages is much more down to earth, much more a man of his times. Indeed, according to Etkes, it was never the intention of the Besht to found a religious movement. Etkes looks at the Besht’s mystical roots, examining him not only from the vantage point of a social historian, but as a religious figure. Moshe Rosman, author of Founder of Hasidism, a biography of the Besht, claims that In Praise of the Besht—a volume published about the Besht in 1814, many years after his death, which portrayed his character by means of stories told by his close followers—could not be a reliable source. Etkes, disputing this claim, shows definitively that this well-known text (translated and interpreted by, among others, Martin Buber) may indeed offer trustworthy accounts of the Besht’s life and thinking.