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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.
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.
Ancient Poems for Yom Kippur
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.
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.
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.