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Between Worlds

The Life and Thought of Rabbi David ben Judah Messer Leon

It is a work of sound scholarship dealing with an interesting historical figure and his unique cultural world. The author focuses correctly on the transition from Italian to Ottoman Jewish culture in the life of David Messer Leon and reveals much about the continuities and discontinuities between both societies. He nicely fuses social and intellectual history, and uses a life to illuminate a number of interesting and important cultural trends among early modern Jews, particularly the integration of kabbalah and philosophy, Humanism and Thomism. The presentation of the symbiotic nature of Jewish culture with contemporary intellectual trends and the appropriation of Christian theological strategies by a Jewish thinker to explain Judaism make this study a fascinating one.

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Beyond Sectarianism

The Realignment of American Orthodox Judaism

Ferziger, Adam S.

In 1965 social scientist Charles S. Liebman published a study that boldly declared the vitality of American Jewish Orthodoxy and went on to guide scholarly investigations of the group for the next four decades. As American Orthodoxy continues to grow in geographical, institutional, and political strength, author Adam S. Ferziger argues in Beyond Sectarianism: The Realignment of American Orthodox Judaism that one of Liebman’s principal definitions needs to be updated. While Liebman proposed that the “committed Orthodox” —observant rather than nominally affiliated—could be divided into two main streams: “church,” or Modern Orthodoxy, and “sectarian,” or Haredi Orthodoxy, Ferziger traces a narrowing of the gap between them and ultimately a realignment of American Orthodox Judaism. Ferziger shows that significant elements within Haredi Orthodoxy have abandoned certain strict and seemingly uncontested norms. He begins by offering fresh insight into the division between the American sectarian Orthodox and Modern Orthodox streams that developed in the early twentieth century and highlights New York’s Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun as a pioneering Modern Orthodox synagogue. Ferziger also considers the nuances of American Orthodoxy as reflected in Soviet Jewish activism during the 1960s and early 1970s and educational trips to Poland taken by American Orthodox young adults studying in Israel, and explores the responses of prominent rabbinical authorities to Orthodox feminism and its call for expanded public religious roles for women. Considerable discussion is dedicated to the emergence of outreach to nonobservant Jews as a central priority for Haredi Orthodoxy and how this focus outside its core population reflects fundamental changes. In this context, Ferziger presents evidence for the growing influence of Chabad Hasidism – what he terms the “Chabadization of American Orthodoxy.” Recent studies, including the 2013 Pew Survey of U.S. Jewry, demonstrate that an active and strongly connected American Orthodox Jewish population is poised to grow in the coming decades. Jewish studies scholars and readers interested in history, sociology, and religion will appreciate Ferziger’s reappraisal of this important group.

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Beyond Stereotypes

American Jews and Sports in the Twentieth Century

Edited by Ari F. Sclar

In the decades after the Civil War, sports slowly gained a prominent position within American culture. This development provided Jews with opportunities to participate in one of the few American cultures not closed off to them. Jewish athleticism challenged anti-Semitic depictions of Jews’ supposed physical inferiority while helping to construct a modern American Jewish identity. An Americanization narrative emerged that connected Jewish athleticism with full acceptance and integration into American society. This acceptance was not without struggle, but Jews succeeded and participated in the American sporting culture as athletes, coaches, owners, and fans. The diversity of topics in this volume reflect that the field of the history of American Jews and sports is growing and has moved beyond the need to overcome the idea that Jews are simply “People of the Book.” The contributions to this volume paint a broad picture of Jewish participation in sports, with essays written by respected historians who have examined specific sports, individuals, leagues, cities, and the impact of sport on Judaism. Despite the continued belief that Jewish religious or cultural identity remains somehow distinct from the American idea of the “athlete,” the volume demonstrates that American Jews have had a tremendous contribution to American sports—and conversely, that sports have helped construct American Jewish culture and identity.

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Beyond Yiddishkeit

The Struggle for Jewish Identity in a Reform Synagogue

“Beyond Yiddishkeit deals in an intelligent and perceptive way with the issue of Jewish identity in an affluent and highly educated suburban community. Particularly significant is that it relies upon participant observation, as well as ethnographic interview techniques and data, on the part of the author. In this way, the work constitutes the first major study of this type conducted within the liberal Jewish American community. As such, it is a “pioneering” work. Equally impressive is the author’s command of the sociological literature on issues of identity and her ability to apply it to the data gathered in this study. She makes sociological jargon intelligible and presents an easily-read and well-constructed book. Her ability throughout the work to focus on issues of modernity is insightful and brilliant. I found myself racing through the book and, indeed, read it in one sitting. This really is an unparalleled work in this field.” — David Ellenson, Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion

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The Bible's Many Voices

Michael Carasik

The most common English translations of the Bible often sound like a single, somewhat archaic voice. In fact, the Bible is made up of many separate books composed by multiple writers in a wide range of styles and perspectives. It is, as Michael Carasik demonstrates, not a remote text reserved for churches and synagogues but rather a human document full of history, poetry, politics, theology, and spirituality.
 
Using historic, linguistic, anthropological, and theological sources, Carasik helps us distinguish between the Jewish Bible’s voices—the mythic, the historical, the prophetic, the theological, and the legal. By articulating the differences among these voices, he shows us not just their messages and meanings but also what mattered to the authors. In these contrasts we encounter the Bible anew, as a living work whose many voices tell us about the world out of which the Bible grew—and the world that it created.

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Binding of Isaac and Messiah, The

Law, Martyrdom, and Deliverance in Early Rabbinic Religiosity

The author provides an interpretation of the words of Jews living during the intertestamental period and through the third century, including several hassidim. A hermeneutics grounded in the perception of early Rabbinic texts as sharing in events rather than as linguistically autonomous is used. The phenomenology of Jewish martyrdom is read as an acting-out of the Binding of Isaac. The search leads into the question of the bindingness of the Law. The religious soul’s passion for the revelation of Law is followed out in its path of temptation to martyrdom. A grand drama of sacrifice and messianic yearnings is thereby unearthed.

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Birthmark

Stephen Clingman

When Stephen Clingman was two, he underwent an operation to remove a birthmark under his right eye. The operation failed, and the birthmark returned, but in somewhat altered form. In this captivating book, Clingman takes the fact of that mark—its appearance, disappearance, and return—as a guiding motif of memory. Not only was the operation unsuccessful, it affected his vision, and his eyes came to see differently from each other. Birthmark explores the questions raised by living with divided vision in a divided world—the world of South Africa under apartheid, where every view was governed by the markings of birth, the accidents of color, race, and skin. But what were the effects on the mind? Clingman's book engages a number of questions. How, in such circumstances, can we come to a deeper kind of vision? How can we achieve wholeness and acceptance? How can we find our place in the midst of turmoil and change? In a beguiling narrative set on three continents, this is a story that is personal, painful, comic, and ultimately uplifting: a book not so much of the coming of age but the coming of perspective.

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Black Power, Jewish Politics

Reinventing the Alliance in the 1960s

Marc Dollinger

In this provocative critique, Marc Dollinger charts the transformation of American Jewish political culture from the Cold War liberal consensus of the early postwar years to the rise and influence of Black Power–inspired ethnic nationalism. He shows how, in a period best known for the rise of black anti-Semitism and the breakdown of the black-Jewish alliance, black nationalists enabled Jewish activists to devise a new Judeo-centered political agenda and express it in more visible forms of Jewish identity—including the emancipation of Soviet Jews, the development of a new form of American Zionism, the opening of hundreds of Jewish day schools, and the creation of revitalized worship services with gender-inclusive liturgy.

This study of postwar American Jewish life challenges much of the historiography describing the motivations for and limits on Jewish involvement in various social protest movements, as well as the accepted wisdom on the origins and nature of the Jewish turn inward; in the process, it undermines commonly held beliefs about the nature of the black-Jewish alliance and the course of American Jewish liberalism since the mid-1960s. Dollinger argues that a new political consensus emerged at a moment of great intergroup conflict, drawing blacks and Jews together under the identity-politics banner even as their alliance in the civil rights movement—inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King—became fractured.

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The Blessed Abyss

Inmate #6582 in Ravensbrück Concentration Camp for Women

Nanda Herbermann Translated by Hester Baer Edited by Hester Baer and Elizabeth R. Baer

On February 4, 1941, Nanda Herbermann, a German Catholic writer and editor, was arrested by the Gestapo in Münster, Germany. Accused of collaboration with the Catholic movement, Herbermann was deported to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp for Women in July 1941 and later released upon direct orders from Heinrich Himmler on March 19, 1943. Although she was instructed by the Gestapo not to reveal information about the camp, Herbermann soon began to record her memories of her experiences. The Blessed Abyss was originally published in German under the imprint of the Allied occupation forces in 1946, and it now appears in English for the first time. Hester Baer and Elizabeth Baer include an extensive introduction that situates Herbermann's work within current debates about gender and the Holocaust and provides historical and biographical information about Herbermann, Ravensbrück, and the Third Reich.

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Blood Libel in Late Imperial Russia

The Ritual Murder Trial of Mendel Beilis

Robert Weinberg

On Sunday, March 20, 1911, children playing in a cave near Kiev made a gruesome discovery: the blood-soaked body of a partially clad boy. After right-wing groups asserted that the killing was a ritual murder, the police, with no direct evidence, arrested Menachem Mendel Beilis, a 39-year-old Jewish manager at a factory near the site of the crime. Beilis's trial in 1913 quickly became an international cause célèbre. The jury ultimately acquitted Beilis but held that the crime had the hallmarks of a ritual murder. Robert Weinberg's account of the Beilis Affair explores the reasons why the tsarist government framed Beilis, shedding light on the excesses of antisemitism in late Imperial Russia. Primary documents culled from the trial transcript, newspaper articles, Beilis's memoirs, and archival sources, many appearing in English for the first time, bring readers face to face with this notorious trial.

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