Purdue University Press

Studies in Jewish Civilization

Leonard J. Greenspoon

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Studies in Jewish Civilization

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Jews and Humor

Edited by Leonard J. Greenspoon

Jews and humor is, for most people, a natural and felicitous collocation. In spite of, or perhaps because of, a history of crises and living on the edge, Jews have often created or resorted to humor. But what is “humor”? And what makes certain types, instances, or performances of humor “Jewish”? These are among the myriad queries addressed by the fourteen authors whose essays are collected in this volume. And, thankfully, their observations, always apt and often witty, are expressed with a lightness of style and a depth of analysis that are appropriate to the many topics they cover. The chronological range of these essays is vast: from the Hebrew Bible to the 2000s, with many stops in between for Talmudic texts, medieval parodies, eighteenth-century joke books, and twentieth-century popular entertainment. The subject matter is equally impressive. In addition to rounding up many of the “usual suspects,” such as Woody Allen, the Marx Brothers, and Gilda Radner, these authors also scout out some unlikely comic resources, like the author of the biblical book of Exodus, the rabbinic writer of Genesis Rabbah, and the party records star Belle Barth. Without forcing any of these characters into a preconstructed mold, the scholars who contributed to this collection allow readers both to discern the common features that make up “Jewish humor” and to delight in the individualism and eccentricities of the many figures whose lives and accomplishments are narrated here. Because these essays are written in a clear, jargon-free style, they will appeal to everyone—even those who don’t usually crack a smile!

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Jews in the Gym

Judaism, Sports, and Athletics -SJC Vol. 23

edited by Leonard J. Greenspoon

For some, the connection between Jews and athletics might seem far-fetched. But in fact, as is highlighted by the fourteen chapters in this collection, Jews have been participating in—and thinking about—sports for more than two thousand years. The articles in this volume scan a wide chronological range: from the Hellenistic period (first century BCE) to the most recent basketball season. The range of athletes covered is equally broad: from participants in Roman-style games to wrestlers, boxers, fencers, baseball players, and basketball stars. The authors of these essays, many of whom actively participate in athletics themselves, raise a number of intriguing questions, such as: What differing attitudes toward sports have Jews exhibited across periods and cultures? Is it possible to be a “good Jew” and a “great athlete”? In what sports have Jews excelled, and why? How have Jews overcome prejudices on the part of the general populace against a Jewish presence on the field or in the ring? In what ways has Jewish participation in sports aided, or failed to aid, the perception of Jews as “good Germans,” “good Hungarians,” “good Americans,” and so forth? This volume, which features a number of illustrations (many of them quite rare), is not only accessible to the general reader, but also contains much information of interest to the scholar in Jewish studies, American studies, and sports history.

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Mishpachah

edited by Leonard J. Greenspoon

Dictionary definitions of the term mishpachah are seemingly straightforward: “A Jewish family or social unit including close and distant relatives—sometimes also close friends.” As accurate as such definitions are, they fail to capture the diversity and vitality of real, flesh-and-blood Jewish families. Families have been part of Jewish life for as long as there have been Jews. It is useful to recall that the family is the basic narrative building block of the stories in the biblical book of Genesis, which can be interpreted in the light of ancient literary traditions, archaeological discoveries, and rabbinic exegesis. Rabbinic literature also is filled with discussions about interactions, rancorous as well as amicable, between parents and among siblings. Sometimes harmony characterizes relations between the parent and the child; as often, alas, there is conflict. The rabbis, always aware of the realities of life, chide and advise as best they can. For the modern period, the changing roles of males and females in society at large have contributed to differing expectations as to their roles within the family. The relative increase in the number of adopted children, from both Jewish and non-Jewish backgrounds, and more recently, the shifting reality of assisted reproductive technologies and the possibility of cloning human embryos, all raise significant moral and theological questions that require serious consideration. Through the studies brought together in this volume, more than a dozen scholars look at the Jewish family in wide variety of social, historical, religious, and geographical contexts. In the process, they explore both diverse and common features in the past and present, and they chart possible courses for Jewish families in the future.

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Wealth and Poverty in Jewish Tradition

Economic inequity is an issue of worldwide concern in the twenty-first century. Although these issues have not troubled all people at all times, they are nonetheless not new. Thus, it is not surprising that Judaism has developed many perspectives, theoretical and practical, to explain and ameliorate the circumstances that produce serious economic disparity. This volume offers an accessible collection of articles that deal comprehensively with this phenomenon from a variety of approaches and perspectives. Within this framework, the fourteen authors who contributed to Wealth and Poverty in Jewish Tradition bring a formidable array of experience and insight to uncover interconnected threads of conversation and activities that characterize Jewish thought and action. Among the questions raised, for which there are frequently multiple responses: Is the giving of tzedakah (generally, although imprecisely, translated as “charity”) a command or an impulse? Does the Jewish tradition give priority to the donor or to the recipient? To what degree is charity a communal responsibility? Is there something inherently ennobling or, conversely, debasing about being poor? How have basic concepts about wealth and poverty evolved from biblical through rabbinic and medieval sources until the modern period? What are some specific historical events that demonstrate either marked success or bitter failure? And finally, are there some relevant concepts and practices that are distinctively, if not uniquely, Jewish? It is a singular strength of this collection that appropriate attention is given, in a style that is both accessible and authoritative, to the vast and multiform conversations that are recorded in the Talmud and other foundational documents of rabbinic Judaism. Moreover, perceptive analysis is not limited to the past, but also helps us to comprehend circumstances among today’s Jews. It is equally valuable that these authors are attuned to the differences between aspirations and the realities in which actual people have lived.

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