Wayne State University Press

Raphael Patai Series in Jewish Folklore and Anthropology

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Raphael Patai Series in Jewish Folklore and Anthropology

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Aesthetics of Sorrow

The Wailing Culture of Yemenite Jewish Women

Tova Gamliel

The term “wailing culture” includes an array of women’s behaviors and beliefs following the death of a member of their ethnic group and is typical of Jewish life in Yemeni culture. Central to the practice is wailing itself—a special artistic genre that combines speech with sobbing into moving lyrical poetry that explores the meaning of death and loss. In Aesthetics of Sorrow: The Wailing Culture of Yemenite Jewish Women, Tova Gamliel decodes the cultural and psychological meanings of this practice in an ethnography based on her anthropological research among Yemenite Jewish communities in Israel in 2001–2003. Based on participant-observervation in homes of the bereaved and on twenty-four in-depth interviews with wailing women and men, Gamliel illuminates wailing culture level by level: by the circles in which the activity takes place; the special areas of endeavor that belong to women; and the broad social, historical, and religious context that surrounds these inner circles. She discusses the main themes that define the wailing culture (including the historical origins of women’s wailing generally and of Yemenite Jewish wailing in particular), the traits of wailing as an artistic genre, and the wailer as a symbolic type. She also explores the role of wailing in death rituals, as a therapeutic expertise endowed with unique affective mechanisms, as an erotic performance, as a livelihood, and as an indicator of the Jewish exile. In the end, she considers wailing at the intersection of tradition and modernity and examines the study of wailing as a genuine methodological challenge. Gamliel brings a sensitive eye to the vanishing practice of wailing, which has been largely unexamined by scholars and may be unfamiliar to many outside of the Middle East. Her interdisciplinary perspective and her focus on a uniquely female immigrant cultural practice will make this study fascinating reading for scholars of anthropology, gender, folklore, psychology, performance, philosophy, and sociology.

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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.

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Dialogic Moments

From Soul Talks to Talk Radio in Israeli Culture

Tamar Katriel

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

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Ex-Soviets in Israel

From Personal Narratives to a Group Portrait

Larisa Fialkova and Maria N. Yelenevskaya

In the final years of the Soviet Union and into the 1990s, Soviet Jews immigrated to Israel at an unprecedented rate, bringing about profound changes in Israeli society and the way immigrants understood their own identity. In this volume ex-Soviets in Israel reflect on their immigration experiences, allowing readers to explore this transitional cultural group directly through immigrants’ thoughts, memories, and feelings, rather than physical artifacts like magazines, films, or books. Drawing on their fieldwork as well as on analyses of the Russian-language Israeli media and Internet forums, Larisa Fialkova and Maria N. Yelenevskaya present a collage of cultural and folk traditions—from Slavic to Soviet, Jewish, and Muslim—to demonstrate that the mythology of Soviet Jews in Israel is still in the making. The authors begin by discussing their research strategies, explaining the sources used as material for the study, and analyzing the demographic profile of the immigrants interviewed for the project. Chapters use immigrants’ personal recollections to both find fragments of Jewish tradition that survived despite the assimilation policy in the USSR and show how traditional folk perception of the Other affected immigrants’ interaction with members of their receiving society. The authors also investigate how immigrants’ perception of time and space affected their integration, consider the mythology of Fate and Lucky Coincidences as a means of fighting immigrant stress, examine folk-linguistics and the role of the lay-person’s view of languages in the life of the immigrant community, and analyze the transformation of folklore genres and images of the country of origin under new conditions. As the biggest immigration wave from a single country in Israel’s history, the ex-Soviet Jews make a fascinating case study for a variety of disciplines. Ex-Soviets in Israel will be of interest to scholars who work in Jewish and immigration studies, modern folklore, anthropology, and sociolinguistics.

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The Heart Is a Mirror

The Sephardic Folktale

Tamar Alexander-Frizer

Since their expulsion from Spain in 1492, Sephardic Jews have managed to maintain their Jewish faith and Spanish group identity and have developed a uniquely Judeo-Spanish culture wherever they settled. Among the important cultural ties within these Sephardic groups are Judeo-Spanish folktales, stories that have been passed down from generation to generation, either in the distinct language of the group, Judeo-Spanish (Ladino), or in other languages, such as Hebrew. In The Heart Is a Mirror, Tamar Alexander-Frizer examines the folk narratives of Sephardic Jews to view them both in relation to universal narrative traditions and the traditions of Jewish culture. In part 1, Alexander-Frizer investigates the relationship between folk literature and group identity via the stories’ connection to Hebrew canonical sources, their historical connection to the land of origin, their treatment of prominent family members and historical events, and their connection to the surrounding culture in the lands of the Spanish Diaspora. Part 2 contains an analysis of several important genres and subgenres present in the folktales, including legends, ethical tales, fairy tales, novellas, and humorous tales. Finally, in part 3, Alexander-Frizer discusses the art of storytelling, introducing the theatrical and rhetorical aspects tied up in the Sephardic folktales, such as the storyteller, the audience, and the circumstances of time and place. This thorough and thought-provoking study is based on a corpus of over four thousand stories told by descendents of the Spanish Diaspora. An introduction addresses methodological problems that arise from the need to define the stories as Judeo-Spanish in character, as well as from methods used to record and anthologize them. Jewish studies scholars, as well as those interested in folktale studies, will gain much from this fascinating and readable volume.

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In the Company of Others

The Development of Anthropology in Israel

Orit Abuhav

In Israel, anthropologists have customarily worked in their “home”—in the company of the society that they are studying. In the Company of Others: The Development of Anthropology in Israel by Orit Abuhav details the gradual development of the field, which arrived in Israel in the early twentieth century but did not have an official place in Israeli universities until the 1960s.Through archival research, observations and interviews conducted with active Israeli anthropologists, Abuhav creates a thorough picture of the discipline from its roots in the Mandate period to its current place in the Israeli academy. Abuhav begins by examining anthropology’s disciplinary borders and practices, addressing its relationships to neighboring academic fields and ties to the national setting in which it is practiced. Against the background of changes in world anthropology,she traces the development of Israeli anthropology from its pioneering first practitioners—led by Raphael Patai, Erich Brauer, and Arthur Ruppin—to its academic breakthrough in the 1960s with the foreign-funded Bernstein Israel Research Project. She goes on to consider the role and characteristics of the field’s professional association, the Israeli Anthropological Association (IAA), and also presents biographical sketches of fifty significant Israeli anthropologists. While Israeli anthropology has historically been limited in the numbers of its practitioners, it has been expansive in the scope of its studies. Abuhav brings a first-hand perspective to the crises and the highs, lows, and upheavals of the discipline of Israeli anthropology, which will be of interest to anthropologists, historians of the discipline, and scholars of Israeli studies.

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Israeli Folk Narratives

Settlement, Immigration, Ethnicity

Haya Bar-Itzhak

The goals and challenges that face the people of Israel are vividly illustrated by the country’s many folk stories. Here Haya Bar-Itzhak presents these tales—gathered from the early settlers of the kibbutz, from immigrants who arrived in Israel after independence, and from ethnic groups—to create a panoramic view of a fascinatingly complex society. Creating stories set in the past, even the recent past, is a way for societies to express their problems, adversities, yearnings, and hopes. Bar-Itzhak finds this true among inhabitants of the kibbutz, who find their society at a crossroads as a result of changes in Israeli society at large. She reveals the symbolic dimensions of their stories—some dealing with the death of young soldiers (sacrificed sons) in battle—as pointing to the complexity of a local culture that expresses the ethos of Labor Zionism. In a section dealing with the folklore of immigrants, Bar-Itzhak focuses on the narratives of Yemenite Jews and Polish Jews. Their stories express their traumatic meeting with Israeli society while providing a means for coming to grips with it. The final section, dealing with ethnic folklore of Moroccan Jews, explores the wonder tale through the perspective of disabled and elderly storytellers, who in the language of their community seek to defend their own values and norms, and examines the saints’ legends and the body language usually employed in the telling of them. Throughout, the author illuminates the unique challenge of experiencing ethnicity as Jews vis-à-vis other Jews. Israeli Folk Narratives combines new data with insightful analyses. Anyone interested in folk stories and Israeli culture will be enlightened by this sensitive, thought-provoking book.

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Jewish Magic before the Rise of Kabbalah

Yuval Harari

"Magic culture is certainly fascinating. But what is it? What, in fact, are magic writings, magic artifacts?" Originally published in Hebrew in 2010, Jewish Magic Before the Rise of Kabbalah is a comprehensive study of early Jewish magic focusing on three major topics: Jewish magic inventiveness, the conflict with the culture it reflects, and the scientific study of both. The first part of the book analyzes the essence of magic in general and Jewish magic in particular. The book begins with theories addressing the relationship of magic and religion in fields like comparative study of religion, sociology of religion, history, and cultural anthropology, and considers the implications of the paradigm shift in the interdisciplinary understanding of magic for the study of Jewish magic. The second part of the book focuses on Jewish magic culture in late antiquity and in the early Islamic period. This section highlights the artifacts left behind by the magic practitioners-amulets, bowls, precious stones, and human skulls-as well as manuals that include hundreds of recipes. Jewish Magic before the Rise of Kabbalah also reports on the culture that is reflected in the magic evidence from the perspective of external non-magic contemporary Jewish sources. Issues of magic and religion, magical mysticism, and magic and social power are dealt with in length in this thorough investigation. Scholars interested in early Jewish history and comparative religions will find great value in this text.

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Journey to a Nineteenth-Century Shtetl

The Memoirs of Yekhezkel Kotik

Edited with an Introduction and Notes by David Assaf

Originally published in Warsaw in 1913, this beautifully written memoir offers a panoramic description of the author’s experiences growing up in Kamieniec Litewski, a Polish shtetl connected with many important events in the history of nineteenth-century Eastern European Jewry. Although the way of life portrayed in this memoir has disappeared, the historical, cultural, and folkoric material it contains will be of major interest to historians and general readers alike. Kotik’s story is the saga of a wealthy and influential family through four generations. Masterfully interwoven in this tale are colorful vignettes featuring Kotik’s family and neighbors, including rabbis and zaddikim, merchants and the poor, hasidim and mitnaggedim, scholars and illiterates, believers and heretics, matchmakers and informers, and teachers and musicians. Stories of personal warmth and despair intermingle with descriptions of the rise and decline of Jewish communal institutions and descriptions or the relationships between Jews, Russian authorities, and Polish lords. Such events as the brutal decrees of Tsar Nicholas I, the abolishment of the Jewish communal board known as the Kahal, and the Polish revolts against Russia are reflected in the lives of these people. The English edition includes a complete translation of the first volume of memoirs and contains notes elucidating terms, names, and customs, as well as bibliographical references to the research literature. The book not only acquaints new readers with the talent of a unique storyteller but also presents an important document of Jewish life during a fascinating era.

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Judeo-Arabic Literature in Tunisia, 1850-1950

Yosef Tobi and Tsivia Tobi

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.

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