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Maimonides and the Outsider
James Diamond's new book consists of a series of studies addressing Moses Maimonides' (1138–1204) appropriation of marginal figures—lepers, converts, heretics, and others—normally considered on the fringes of society and religion. Each chapter focuses on a type or character that, in Maimonides' hands, becomes a metaphor for a larger, more substantive theological and philosophical issue. Diamond offers a close reading of key texts, such as the Guide of the Perplexed and the Mishneh Torah, demonstrating the importance of integrating Maimonides' legal and philosophical writings. Converts, Heretics, and Lepers fills an important void in Jewish studies by focusing on matters of exegesis and hermeneutics as well as philosophical concerns. Diamond's alternative reading of central topics in Maimonides suggests that literary appreciation is a key to deciphering Maimonides’ writings in particular and Jewish exegetical texts in general.
Women and the Synagogue (A Survey of History, Halakhah, and Contemporary Realities)
Daughters of the King explores women's involvement in and around the synagogue from its antecedents in the bibical period to contemporary times. The contributors to the book, including Susan Grossman, Rivka Haut, Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Judith Hauptman, Paula Hyman, and others, represent an interdisciplinary approach to the subject, drawing from history, anthropology, sociology, women's studies, Jewish law, the Bible, and rabbinic thought.
Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season
The Jewish High Holidays—the ten days beginning with the New Year Festival of Rosh Hashanah and culminating with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement—constitute the most sacred period of the Jewish year. During this season, religious as well as nonaffiliated Jews attend synagogue services in unparalleled numbers. Yet much of what they find there can be unwelcoming in its patriarchal imagery, leaving many worshipers unsatisfied.
For those seeking to connect more deeply with their Judaism, and for all readers in search of a contemplative approach to the themes of the fall season, poet and scholar Marcia Falk re-creates the holidays’ key prayers and rituals from an inclusive perspective. Among the offerings in The Days Between are Hebrew and English blessings for festive meals, prayers for synagogue services, and poems and meditations for quiet reflection. Emphasizing introspection as well as relationship to others, Falk evokes her vision of the High Holidays as “ten days of striving to keep the heart open to change.”
Accessible and welcoming to modern readers, The Days Between is steeped in traditional sources and grounded in liturgical and biblical scholarship. It will serve as a meaningful alternative or supplement to the traditional liturgy for individuals, families, synagogues, and communities small and large—that is, for all who seek fresh meaning in the High Holidays.
"Yetzer Hara" and the Problem of Evil in Late Antiquity
In Demonic Desires, Ishay Rosen-Zvi examines the concept of yetzer hara, or evil inclination, and its evolution in biblical and rabbinic literature. Contrary to existing scholarship, which reads the term under the rubric of destructive sexual desire, Rosen-Zvi contends that in late antiquity the yetzer represents a general tendency toward evil. Rather than the lower bodily part of a human, the rabbinic yetzer is a wicked, sophisticated inciter, attempting to snare humans to sin. The rabbinic yetzer should therefore not be read in the tradition of the Hellenistic quest for control over the lower parts of the psyche, writes Rosen-Zvi, but rather in the tradition of ancient Jewish and Christian demonology.
Rosen-Zvi conducts a systematic and comprehensive analysis of the some one hundred and fifty appearances of the evil yetzer in classical rabbinic literature to explore the biblical and postbiblical search for the sources of human sinfulness. By examining the yetzer within a specific demonological tradition, Demonic Desires places the yetzer discourse in the larger context of a move toward psychologization in late antiquity, in which evil—and even demons—became internalized within the human psyche. The book discusses various manifestations of this move in patristic and monastic material, from Clement and Origin to Antony, Athanasius, and Evagrius. It concludes with a consideration of the broader implications of the yetzer discourse in rabbinic anthropology.
From Soul Talks to Talk Radio in Israeli Culture
The vision of communication as authentic dialogue, as the mutual communion of souls, has animated a great many twentieth century discussions of language and communication, both in scholarly writings and in various forms and contexts of popular culture. In its various manifestations, this communicative utopia has identified dialogue or conversation as a locus of authenticity of both individuals and groups. This study traces the ways in which this utopian vision of communication has played itself out in the particular context of Israeli society through the twentieth century, encapsulating central trends in the evolving Israeli cultural conversation over the years. In this sense, it is a historically-situated study of the cultural fluctuations of a given society in all its particularity. In another sense, however, it seeks to offer a more general statement about the culturally constructed nature of the quest for authenticity as a project of modernity by focusing on conceptions of communication and language as its quintessential loci.” —From the Introduction by Tamar Katriel
Varieties of Jewish Identity
Diaspora, considered as a context for insights into Jewish identity, brings together a lively, interdisciplinary group of scholars in this innovative volume. Readers needn't expect, however, to find easy agreement on what those insights are. The concept "diaspora" itself has proved controversial; galut, the traditional Hebrew expression for the Jews' perennial condition, is better translated as "exile." The very distinction between diaspora and exile, although difficult to analyze, is important enough to form the basis of several essays in this fine collection.
"Identity" is an even more elusive concept. The contributors to Diasporas and Exiles explore Jewish identity—or, more accurately, Jewish identities—from the mutually illuminating perspectives of anthropology, art history, comparative literature, cultural studies, German history, philosophy, political theory, and sociology. These contributors bring exciting new emphases to Jewish and cultural studies, as well as the emerging field of diaspora studies. Diasporas and Exiles mirrors the richness of experience and the attendant virtual impossibility of definition that constitute the challenge of understanding Jewish identity.
Jewish Constructions of Race During the Long Eighteenth Century
European Jews, argues Iris Idelson-Shein, occupied a particular place in the development of modern racial discourse during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Simultaneously inhabitants and outsiders in Europe, considered both foreign and familiar, Jews adopted a complex perspective on otherness and race. Often themselves the objects of anthropological scrutiny, they internalized, adapted, and revised the emerging discourse of racial difference to meet their own ends.
Difference of a Different Kind explores Jewish perceptions and representations of otherness during the formative period in the history of racial thought. Drawing on a wide range of sources, including philosophical and scientific works, halakhic literature, and folktales, Idelson-Shein unfolds the myriad ways in which eighteenth-century Jews imagined the "exotic Other" and how the evolving discourse of racial difference played into the construction of their own identities. Difference of a Different Kind offers an invaluable view into the ways new religious, cultural, and racial identities were imagined and formed at the outset of modernity.
Exploring the subject of Jewish philosophy as a controversial construction site of the project of modernity, this book examines the implications of the different and often conflicting notions that drive the debate on the question of what Jewish philosophy is or could be. The idea of Jewish philosophy begs the question of philosophy as such. But "Jewish philosophy" does not just reflect what "philosophy" lacks. Rather, it challenges the project of philosophy itself. Examining the thought of Spinoza, Moses Mendelssohn, Heinrich Heine, Hermann Cohen Franz Rosenzweig, Martin Buber, Margarete Susman, Hermann Levin Goldschmidt, and others, the book highlights how the most philosophic moments of their works are those in which specific concerns of their "Jewish questions" inform the rethinking of philosophy's disciplinarity in principal terms. The long overdue recognition of the modernity that informs the critical trajectories of Jewish philosophers from Spinoza and Mendelssohn to the present emancipates not just "Jewish philosophy" from an infelicitous pigeonhole these philosophers so pointedly sought to reject but, more important, emancipates philosophy from its false claims to universalism.