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Medieval and Modern Affirmations and Denials of the Visual
Conventional wisdom holds that Judaism is indifferent or even suspiciously hostile to the visual arts due to the Second Commandment's prohibition on creating "graven images," the dictates of monotheism, and historical happenstance. This intellectual history of medieval and modern Jewish attitudes toward art and representation overturns the modern assumption of Jewish iconophobia that denies to Jewish culture a visual dimension.
Kalman Bland synthesizes evidence from medieval Jewish philosophy, mysticism, poetry, biblical commentaries, travelogues, and law, concluding that premodern Jewish intellectuals held a positive, liberal understanding of the Second Commandment and did, in fact, articulate a certain Jewish aesthetic. He draws on this insight to consider modern ideas of Jewish art, revealing how they are inextricably linked to diverse notions about modern Jewish identity that are themselves entwined with arguments over Zionism, integration, and anti-Semitism.
Through its use of the past to illuminate the present and its analysis of how the present informs our readings of the past, this book establishes a new assessment of Jewish aesthetic theory rooted in historical analysis. Authoritative and original in its identification of authentic Jewish traditions of painting, sculpture, and architecture, this volume will ripple the waters of several disciplines, including Jewish studies, art history, medieval and modern history, and philosophy.
Pillars, Lines, Ladders
Ascensions on high took many forms in Jewish mysticism and they permeated most of its history from its inception until Hasidism. The book surveys the various categories, with an emphasis on the architectural images of the ascent, like the resort to images of pillars, lines, and ladders. After surveying the variety of scholarly approaches to religion, the author also offers what he proposes as an eclectic approach, and a perspectivist one. The latter recommends to examine religious phenomena from a variety of perspectives. The author investigates the specific issue of the pillar in Jewish mysticism by comparing it to the archaic resort to pillars recurring in rural societies. Given the fact that the ascent of the soul and pillars constituted the concerns of two main Romanian scholars of religion, Ioan P. Culianu and Mircea Eliade, Idel resorts to their views, and in the Concluding Remarks analyzes the emergence of Eliade's vision of Judaism on the basis of neglected sources.
Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and Its Realities
"These are pages that one reads with almost physical pain...all the way to its stoic conclusion." —Primo Levi
"The testimony of a profoundly serious man.... In its every turn and crease, it bears the marks of the true." —Irving Howe, New Republic
"This remarkable memoir...is the autobiography of an extraordinarily acute conscience. With the ear of a poet and the eye of a novelist, Amery vividly communicates the wonder of a philosopher—a wonder here aroused by the ‘dark riddle’ of the Nazi regime and its systematic sadism." —Jim Miller, Newsweek
"Whoever has succumbed to torture can no longer feel at home in the world. The shame of destruction cannot be erased. Trust in the world, which already collapsed in part at the first blow, but in the end, under torture, fully, will not be regained. That one’s fellow man was experienced as the antiman remains in the tortured person as accumulated horror. It blocks the view into a world in which the principle of hope rules. One who was martyred is a defenseless prisoner of fear. It is fear that henceforth reigns over him." —Jean Amery
At the Mind’s Limits is the story of one man’s incredible struggle to understand the reality of horror. In five autobiographical essays, Amery describes his survival—mental, moral, and physical—through the enormity of the Holocaust. Above all, this masterful record of introspection tells of a young Viennese intellectual’s fervent vision of human nature and the betrayal of that vision.
Essays in Jewish Self-Fashioning
Examines the nature of autobiographical writing by Jews from antiquity to the present, and the ways in which such writings can legitimately be used as sources for Jewish history. Drawing on current literary theory, which questions the very nature of autobiographical writing and its relationship to what we normally designate as truth, Michael Stanislawski analyzes a small number of autobiographies written by Jews.
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.
A Jew on the Bayou
Jennifer Anne Moses left behind a comfortable life in the upper echelons of East Coast Jewish society to move with her husband and children to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Searching for connection to her surroundings, she decided to volunteer at an AIDS hospice. But as she encountered a culture populated by French Catholics and Evangelical Christians, African Americans and Cajuns, altruistic nurses and nuns, ex-cons, street-walkers, impoverished AIDS patients, and healers of all stripes, she found she had embarked on an unexpected journey of profound self-discovery.
In a keenly observed memoir that embraces both pathos and humor, Moses takes us into a world that is strange and sad but also suffused with the holy. As witness to dire poverty and extreme adversity, Moses discovers a deeper commitment to her own faith—Judaism that asks not for blind belief, but rather daily commitment. She recounts the challenges of taking on a life committed to God in a postmodern world that has little use for the divine. Telling her story of redemption with an honesty that goes right for the guts, she leaves the reader with new hope.
Outstanding Book, selected by the American Association of School Librarians, and Best Books for Regional Special Interests, selected by the Public Library Association
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.
How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism
When non-Orthodox Jews become frum (religious), they encounter much more than dietary laws and Sabbath prohibitions. They find themselves in the midst of a whole new culture, involving matchmakers, homemade gefilte fish, and Yiddish-influenced grammar. Becoming Frum explains how these newcomers learn Orthodox language and culture through their interactions with community veterans and other newcomers. Some take on as much as they can as quickly as they can, going beyond the norms of those raised in the community. Others maintain aspects of their pre-Orthodox selves, yielding unique combinations, like Matisyahu’s reggae music or Hebrew words and sing-song intonation used with American slang, as in “mamish (really) keepin’ it real.”Sarah Bunin Benor brings insight into the phenomenon of adopting a new identity based on ethnographic and sociolinguistic research among men and women in an American Orthodox community. Her analysis is applicable to other situations of adult language socialization, such as students learning medical jargon or Canadians moving to Australia. Becoming Frum offers a scholarly and accessible look at the linguistic and cultural process of “becoming.”
Oral Torah as Written Tradition in Medieval Jewish Cultures
In Becoming the People of the Talmud, Talya Fishman examines ways in which circumstances of transmission have shaped the cultural meaning of Jewish traditions. Although the Talmud's preeminence in Jewish study and its determining role in Jewish practice are generally taken for granted, Fishman contends that these roles were not solidified until the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries. The inscription of Talmud—which Sefardi Jews understand to have occurred quite early, and Ashkenazi Jews only later—precipitated these developments. The encounter with Oral Torah as a written corpus was transformative for both subcultures, and it shaped the roles that Talmud came to play in Jewish life.
What were the historical circumstances that led to the inscription of Oral Torah in medieval Europe? How did this body of ancient rabbinic traditions, replete with legal controversies and nonlegal material, come to be construed as a reference work and prescriptive guide to Jewish life? Connecting insights from geonica, medieval Jewish and Christian history, and orality-textuality studies, Becoming the People of the Talmud reconstructs the process of cultural transformation that occurred once medieval Jews encountered the Babylonian Talmud as a written text. According to Fishman, the ascription of greater authority to written text was accompanied by changes in reading habits, compositional predilections, classroom practices, approaches to adjudication, assessments of the past, and social hierarchies. She contends that certain medieval Jews were aware of these changes: some noted that books had replaced teachers; others protested the elevation of Talmud-centered erudition and casuistic virtuosity into standards of religious excellence, at the expense of spiritual refinement. The book concludes with a consideration of Rhineland Pietism's emergence in this context and suggests that two contemporaneous phenomena—the prominence of custom in medieval Ashkenazi culture and the novel Christian attack on Talmud—were indirectly linked to the new eminence of this written text in Jewish life.
The Operation Reinhard Death Camps
"... Mr. Arad reports as a controlled and effective witness for the prosecution.... Mr. Arad’s book, with its abundance of horrifying detail, reminds us of how far we have to go."—New York Times Book Review
"... some of the most gripping chapters I have ever read.... the authentic, exhaustive, definitive account of the least known death camps of the Nazi era." —Raul Hilberg
Arad, historian and principal prosecution witness at the Israeli trial of John Demjanjuk (accused of being Treblinka’s infamous "Ivan the Terrible"), uses primary materials to reveal the complete story of these Nazi death camps.