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The Beta Israel Cover

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The Beta Israel

Falasha in Ethiopia: From Earliest Times to the Twentieth Century

Steven Kaplan

...balanced and well informed...a striking piece of scholarship aimed at demythologizing the origins of the Ethiopian Falasha.
-Foreign Affairs

Kaplan's definitive treatment will be of interest to students and scholars of Jewish history, African history, and comparative religion, as well as anyone interested in Jewish affairs and the modern Middle East.

The Midwest Book Review

Kaplan's conceptualizations are judicious and clearly expressed...incisive and well documented... and provides essential background for the process of assimilation now taking lace in Israel.
-The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Kaplan's able interdisciplinary approach is of great value for persons interested in religion, civilization, and process of change.
-Religious Studies Review

Kaplan's well-written, lucid presentation make[s] this important, competent contribution accessible to all levels of readers. Highly recommended.

Choice

Insightful and thorough, a welcome contribution.Kay Kaufman Shelemay, Professor of Music, Harvard University

Undoubtedly the most detailed, most scholarly, and most dispassionate argument of Falasha history hitherto published. [T]his work deserves ... the most careful study by all those (and in particular in Israel) who have any practical or scholarly connection with the Beta Israel.
-- Edward UllendorffEmeritus Professor of Ethiopian Studies, University of LondonFellow of the British Academy

Given Kaplan's facility with both written and oral sources, he is in a unique position to synthesize and reconcile the new historical findings of ethnographers with the written sources and differing conclusions of earlier historians and linguists. His work is insightful and thorough, a welcome contribution.
-- Kay Shelemay, Wesleyan University

The origin of the Black Jews of Ethiopia has long been a source of fascination and controversy. Their condition and future continues to generate debate. The culmination of almost a decade of research, The Beta Israel (Falasha) in Ethiopia marks the publication of the first book-length scholarly study of the history of this unique community.
In this volume, Steven Kaplan seeks to demythologize the history of the Falasha and to consider them in the wider context of Ethiopian history and culture. This marks a clear departure from previous studies which have viewed them from the external perspective of Jewish history. Drawing on a wide variety of sources including the Beta Israel's own literature and oral traditions, Kaplan demonstrates that they are not a lost Jewish tribe, but rather an ethnic group which emerged in Ethiopia between the 14th and 16th century. Indeed, the name, Falasha, their religious hierarchy, sacred texts, and economic specialization can all be dated to this period. Among the subjects the book addresses are their links with Ethiopian Christianity, the medieval legends concerning their existence, their wars with the Ethiopian emperors, their relegation to the status of a despised semi-caste, their encounters with European missionaries, and the impact of the Great Famine of 1888-1892.
Kaplan's definitive treatment will be of interest to students and scholars of Jewish history, African history, and comparative religion, as well as anyone interested in Jewish affairs and the modern Middle East.

Between Jewish Tradition and Modernity Cover

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Between Jewish Tradition and Modernity

Rethinking an Old Opposition

Edited by Michael A. Meyer and David N. Myers

Although the ideas of “tradition” and “modernity” may seem to be directly opposed, David Ellenson, a leading contemporary scholar of modern Jewish thought, understood that these concepts can also enjoy a more fluid relationship. In honor of Ellenson, editors Michael A. Meyer and David N. Myers have gathered contributors for Between Jewish Tradition and Modernity: Rethinking an Old Opposition to examine the permutations and adaptations of these intertwined forms of Jewish expression. Contributions draw from a range of disciplines and scholarly interests and range in subject from the theological to the liturgical, sociological, and literary. The geographic and historical focus of the volume is on the United States and the State of Israel, both of which have been major sites of inquiry in Ellenson’s work. In twenty-two essays, contributors demonstrate that modernity did not simply replace tradition in Judaism but rather entered into a variety of relationships with it: adopting or adapting certain elements, repossessing rituals that had once been abandoned, or struggling with its continuing influence. In four parts—Law, Ritual, Thought, and Culture—contributors explore a variety of subjects, including the role of reform in Israeli Orthodoxy, traditions of twentieth-century bar/bat mitzvah, end-of-life ethics, tensions between Zionism and American Jewry, and the rise of a 1960s New York Jewish countrerculture. An introductory essay also presents an appreciation of Ellenson's scholarly contribution. Bringing together leading Jewish historians, anthropologists, sociologists, philosophers and liturgists, Between Jewish Tradition and Modernity offers a collective view of a historically and culturally significant issue that will be of interest to Jewish scholars of many discplines.

Between Worlds Cover

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Between Worlds

Dybbuks, Exorcists, and Early Modern Judaism

By J. H. Chajes

After a nearly two-thousand-year interlude, and just as Christian Europe was in the throes of the great Witch Hunt and what historians have referred to as "The Age of the Demoniac," accounts of spirit possession began to proliferate in the Jewish world. Concentrated at first in the Near East but spreading rapidly westward, spirit possession, both benevolent and malevolent, emerged as perhaps the most characteristic form of religiosity in early modern Jewish society.

Adopting a comparative historical approach, J. H. Chajes uncovers this strain of Jewish belief to which scant attention has been paid. Informed by recent research in historical anthropology, Between Worlds provides fascinating descriptions of the cases of possession as well as analysis of the magical techniques deployed by rabbinic exorcists to expel the ghostly intruders.

Seeking to understand the phenomenon of spirit possession in its full complexity, Chajes delves into its ideational framework—chiefly the doctrine of reincarnation—while exploring its relation to contemporary Christian and Islamic analogues. Regarding spirit possession as a form of religious expression open to—and even dominated by—women, Chajes initiates a major reassessment of women in the history of Jewish mysticism. In a concluding section he examines the reception history of the great Hebrew accounts of spirit possession, focusing on the deployment of these "ghost stories" in the battle against incipient skepticism in the turbulent Jewish community of seventeenth-century Amsterdam.

Exploring a phenomenon that bridged learned and ignorant, rich and poor, men and women, Jews and Gentiles, Between Worlds maps for the first time a prominent feature of the early modern Jewish religious landscape, as quotidian as it was portentous: the nexus of the living and the dead.

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Beyond Alliances

The Jewish Role in Reshaping the Racial Landscape of Southern California

edited by George J. Sanchez

This volume focuses on the special role that Jews played in reshaping the racial landscape of southern California in the twentieth century. Rather than considering this issue in terms of broad analyses of organizations or communities, each contribution instead approaches it by examining the activity of a single Jewish individual, and how he or she navigated the social terrain of a changing southern California. In particular, this volume is one of the first to take seriously the unique racial/ethnic makeup of southern California for Jewish activism, with a particular focus on the relationship between Jews and Mexican Americans in the area around Los Angeles. The Jewish individuals who are this volume’s subjects represent a wide spectrum of backgrounds and perspectives, ranging from an elected official to an activist lawyer, and from a local businessman to a Democratic Party organizer. The volume culminates with an interview with one of the most beloved of local university rabbis, who has been operating in the ever-changing environment of higher education in Los Angeles over the past thirty years. While its overall message is one of optimism, the volume does not shy away from taking on some of the more vexed issues in the scholarship of racial/ethnic interaction. While Jewish activism in shaping local civil rights is thoroughly discussed, the specific and unequal dynamics of power within the civil rights community is also analyzed. The changing relationship of Jews to “whiteness” in southern California during the late twentieth century, in both geographic and political terms, shapes many of these ongoing relationships. Finally, the volume provides a unique historical perspective on our understanding of contemporary Los Angeles in all its ethnic complexity, and specifically in thinking through the future of Jewish role in urban southern California.

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Beyond Anne Frank

Hidden Children and Postwar Families in Holland

Diane L. Wolf

The image of the Jewish child hiding from the Nazis was shaped by Anne Frank, whose house—the most visited site in the Netherlands— has become a shrine to the Holocaust. Yet while Anne Frank's story continues to be discussed and analyzed, her experience as a hidden child in wartime Holland is anomalous—as this book brilliantly demonstrates. Drawing on interviews with seventy Jewish men and women who, as children, were placed in non-Jewish families during the Nazi occupation of Holland, Diane L. Wolf paints a compelling portrait of Holocaust survivors whose experiences were often diametrically opposed to the experiences of those who suffered in concentration camps.

Although the war years were tolerable for most of these children, it was the end of the war that marked the beginning of a traumatic time, leading many of those interviewed here to remark, "My war began after the war." This first in-depth examination of hidden children vividly brings to life their experiences before, during, and after hiding and analyzes the shifting identities, memories, and family dynamics that marked their lives from childhood through advanced age. Wolf also uncovers anti-Semitism in the policies and practices of the Dutch state and the general population, which historically have been portrayed as relatively benevolent toward Jewish residents. The poignant family histories in Beyond Anne Frank demonstrate that we can understand the Holocaust more deeply by focusing on postwar lives.

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Beyond Religious Borders

Interaction and Intellectual Exchange in the Medieval Islamic World

Edited by David M. Freidenreich and Miriam Goldstein

"This volume on various aspects of Judeo-Arabic civilization in its most productive age is a book for our time. In viewing Jewish culture as a constituent part of a large 'Islamicate' society, the contributors to this collection share a view of the way cultures interact that is far more sophisticated than the borrower-lender model that obtained a generation ago. The scholarship is of the highest level. Any new synthesis of the subject that is to emerge from the work of the present generation of scholars will depend on studies such as those here assembled."--Raymond P. Scheindlin, Jewish Theological Seminary The medieval Islamic world comprised a wide variety of religions. While individuals and communities in this world identified themselves with particular faiths, boundaries between these groups were vague and in some cases nonexistent. Rather than simply borrowing or lending customs, goods, and notions to one another, the peoples of the Mediterranean region interacted within a common culture. Beyond Religious Borders presents sophisticated and often revolutionary studies of the ways Jewish, Christian, and Muslim thinkers drew ideas and inspiration from outside the bounds of their own religious communities. Each essay in this collection covers a key aspect of interreligious relationships in Mediterranean lands during the first six centuries of Islam. These studies focus on the cultural context of exchange, the impact of exchange, and the factors motivating exchange between adherents of different religions. Essays address the influence of the shared Arabic language on the transfer of knowledge, reconsider the restrictions imposed by Muslim rulers on Christian and Jewish subjects, and demonstrate the need to consider both Jewish and Muslim works in the study of Andalusian philosophy. Case studies on the impact of exchange examine specific literary, religious, and philosophical concepts that crossed religious borders. In each case, elements native to one religious group and originally foreign to another became fully at home in both. The volume concludes by considering why certain ideas crossed religious lines while others did not, and how specific figures involved in such processes understood their own roles in the transfer of ideas. David M. Freidenreich teaches Jewish studies at Colby College. Miriam Goldstein is Lecturer in the Department of Arabic Language and Literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Beyond Sacred Violence Cover

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Beyond Sacred Violence

A Comparative Study of Sacrifice

Kathryn McClymond

For many Westerners, the term sacrifice is associated with ancient, often primitive ritual practices. It suggests the death—frequently violent, often bloody—of an animal victim, usually with the aim of atoning for human guilt. Sacrifice is a serious ritual, culminating in a dramatic event. The reality of religious sacrificial acts across the globe and throughout history is, however, more expansive and inclusive. In Beyond Sacred Violence, Kathryn McClymond argues that the modern Western world’s reductive understanding of sacrifice simplifies an enormously broad and dynamic cluster of religious activities. Drawing on a comparative study of Vedic and Jewish sacrificial practices, she demonstrates not only that sacrifice has no single, essential, identifying characteristic but also that the elements most frequently attributed to such acts—death and violence—are not universal. McClymond reveals that the world of religious sacrifice varies greatly, including grain-based offerings, precious liquids, and complex interdependent activities. Engagingly argued and written, Beyond Sacred Violence significantly extends our understanding of religious sacrifice and serves as a timely reminder that the field of religious studies is largely framed by Christianity.

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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.

The Bible's Many Voices Cover

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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.

Blacks in the Jewish Mind Cover

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Blacks in the Jewish Mind

A Crisis of Liberalism

Seth Forman

Since the 1960s the relationship between Blacks and Jews has been a contentious one. While others have attempted to explain or repair the break-up of the Jewish alliance on civil rights, Seth Forman here sets out to determine what Jewish thinking on the subject of Black Americans reveals about Jewish identity in the U.S. Why did American Jews get involved in Black causes in the first place? What did they have to gain from it? And what does that tell us about American Jews?

In an extremely provocative analysis, Forman argues that the commitment of American Jews to liberalism, and their historic definition of themselves as victims, has caused them to behave in ways that were defined as good for Blacks, but which in essence were contrary to Jewish interests. They have not been able to dissociate their needs--religious, spiritual, communal, political--from those of African Americans, and have therefore acted in ways which have threatened their own cultural vitality.

Avoiding the focus on Black victimization and white racism that often infuses work on Blacks and Jews, Forman emphasizes the complexities inherent in one distinct white ethnic group's involvement in America's racial dilemma.

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