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Rethinking an Old Opposition
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.
Dybbuks, Exorcists, and Early Modern Judaism
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.
The Jewish Role in Reshaping the Racial Landscape of Southern California
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.
Hidden Children and Postwar Families in Holland
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.
Interaction and Intellectual Exchange in the Medieval Islamic World
"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.
A Comparative Study of Sacrifice
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.
A Crisis of Liberalism
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.
The subject of Jewish identity is one of the most vexed and contested issues of modern religious and ethnic group history. This interdisciplinary collection draws on work in law, anthropology, history, sociology, literature, and popular culture to consider contemporary and historical responses to the question: "Who and what is Jewish?"
Ruth Calderon has recently electrified the Jewish world with her teachings of talmudic texts. In this volume, her first to appear in English, she offers a fascinating window into some of the liveliest and most colorful stories in the Talmud. Calderon rewrites talmudic tales as richly imagined fictions, drawing us into the lives of such characters as the woman who risks her life for a sister suspected of adultery; a humble schoolteacher who rescues his village from drought; and a wife who dresses as a prostitute to seduce her pious husband in their garden. Breathing new life into an ancient text, A Bride for One Night offers a surprising and provocative read, both for anyone already intimate with the Talmud and for anyone interested in one of the most influential works of Jewish literature.