Jewish Studies at the Crossroads of Anthropology and History

Jewish Studies at the Crossroads of Anthropology and History: Authority, Diaspora, Tradition

Ra‘anan S. Boustan
Oren Kosansky
Marina Rustow
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 448
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Jewish Studies at the Crossroads of Anthropology and History
    Book Description:

    Over the past several decades, the field of Jewish studies has expanded to encompass an unprecedented range of research topics, historical periods, geographic regions, and analytical approaches. Yet there have been few systematic efforts to trace these developments, to consider their implications, and to generate new concepts appropriate to a more inclusive view of Jewish culture and society. Jewish Studies at the Crossroads of Anthropology and History brings together scholars in anthropology, history, religious studies, comparative literature, and other fields to chart new directions in Jewish studies across the disciplines. This groundbreaking volume explores forms of Jewish experience that span the period from antiquity to the present and encompass a wide range of textual, ritual, spatial, and visual materials. The essays give full consideration to non-written expressions of ritual performance, artistic production, spoken narrative, and social experience through which Jewish life emerges. More than simply contributing to an appreciation of Jewish diversity, the contributors devote their attention to three key concepts-authority, diaspora, and tradition-that have long been central to the study of Jews and Judaism. Moving beyond inherited approaches and conventional academic boundaries, the volume reconsiders these core concepts, reorienting our understanding of the dynamic relationships between text and practice, and continuity and change in Jewish contexts. More broadly, this volume furthers conversation across the disciplines by using Judaic studies to provoke inquiry into theoretical problems in a range of other areas.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0486-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
    David B. Ruderman
  4. Introduction: Anthropology, History, and the Remaking of Jewish Studies
    (pp. 1-28)
    Ra‘anan S. Boustan, Oren Kosansky and Marina Rustow

    This volume is organized around three terms—authority, diaspora, and tradition—that have exerted a tenacious hold on the field of Jewish studies. The centrality of these terms reflects their analytical utility for the study of the Jewish past and present: Jews from antiquity onward have made use of competing sources of legitimacy, followed patterns of geographic dispersion, and lodged claims to historical continuity; print capitalism, the existence of a Jewish state, and post-Enlightenment secularism have not rendered these terms outmoded in the least. The rough correspondence between these concepts and “native” Jewish ideas such as masoret (authoritative tradition) and...

    • Chapter 1 “How Do You Know That I Am a Jew?”: Authority, Cultural Identity, and the Shaping of Postwar American Judaism
      (pp. 31-57)
      Riv-Ellen Prell

      In 1955, Bernard Malamud, a writer much taken with metaphorical relationships between Jews and African Americans in the United States, wrote “Angel Levine,” a story that might be read as a comment upon authenticity and authority in Jewish life.¹ In Malamud’s fiction, a modern-day Job, a tailor and pious Jew whom he calls simply—and not without irony—Manischewitz, suffers a tragic reversal of fortune.² He loses his business because of a fire and is left in penury despite insurance. His son has been killed in the war, and his daughter has married “a lout” and disappeared. He is wracked...

    • Chapter 2 Rabbis and Their (In)Famous Magic: Classical Foundations, Medieval and Early Modern Reverberations
      (pp. 58-79)
      J. H. Chajes

      Is magic something distinct from religion? If so, is the difference to be found in social organization (individual or group engagement with the divine realm) or in intentionality (coercive versus petitionary)? Might certain beliefs or practices be inherently magical, or is the magical valence of a belief or practice found exclusively in the eyes of the beholder? If the term is subjective, is it invariably pejorative—that is, what we do is good (religion), and what they do is bad (magic)? These are central questions in anthropological, sociological, and historical studies of the most variegated human cultures; they are also...

    • Chapter 3 Dreamers in Paradise: The Rise and Fall of a New Holy Site in Beit She’an, Israel
      (pp. 80-101)
      Yoram Bilu

      In recent years, Israel has witnessed a proliferation of holy sites and cultic practices related to saint worship. Old-time saints’ sanctuaries are enjoying renewed popularity, new ones are being added to the native “sacred geography,” and the list of contemporary charismatic rabbis acknowledged as zaddikim is growing.¹ While this revival is too widespread to be the monopoly of one particular group, Jews from Morocco have emerged as a major force behind it, impregnating the cult of saints in contemporary Israel with a distinctive Maghribi flavor.² The case I am presenting here may be viewed as part of the contribution of...

    • Chapter 4 Words, Images, and Magic: The Protection of the Bride and Bridegroom in Jewish Marriage Contracts
      (pp. 102-132)
      Shalom Sabar

      The Jewish marriage contract (ketubbah) exists between two worlds: the written text and material culture. Its primary feature and raison d’être is the text: the literal meaning of the word ketubbah is “that which is written,” though it refers to the basic minimal sum of money, stipulated in the contract, that the talmudic rabbis deemed the husband should pay his wife upon the dissolution of their marriage.¹ But the ketubbah also developed into an object with a conspicuous physical presence in the wedding ceremony. In many communities, ketubbot were artistically ornamented, making them central objects of attention in the ceremony....

    • Chapter 5 The Dislocation of the Temple Vessels: Mobile Sanctity and Rabbinic Rhetorics of Space
      (pp. 135-146)
      Ra‘anan S. Boustan

      Over the past two decades, a growing chorus of scholars and intellectuals, both within and beyond the field of Jewish studies, has advanced the claim that the notions of exile and diaspora, despite their apparent affinities, stand in profound tension with each other.¹ While “exile” is configured, in historical sources as well as contemporary scholarship, as an abnormal and unsustainable state of crisis governed by a narrative of sin, punishment, and longing for restoration, “diaspora” has come to signify a dynamic and even generative politico-spatial condition that is characterized by porous social boundaries and cultural vitality.² This revisionist interpretation of...

    • Chapter 6 Sacred Space, Local History, and Diasporic Identity: The Graves of the Righteous in Medieval and Early Modern Ashkenaz
      (pp. 147-163)
      Lucia Raspe

      In 1470, the cantor of the Jewish community of Regensburg was questioned by Christian interrogators interested in hearing the Jewish view on Saint Emmeram, the city’s patron saint. The cantor confirmed that his coreligionists believed that the saint had been a Jew named Amram and that he lay buried not in the abbey bearing Saint Emmeram’s name, but in the Jewish cemetery. This was, he said, what he had been told by his parents. Although the grave was unmarked, the cantor was prepared to point out the hole in the ground that was believed to be the saint’s burial place....

    • Chapter 7 Detours in a “Hidden Land”: Samuel Romanelli’s Masa’ba‘rav
      (pp. 164-184)
      Andrea Schatz

      In the eighteenth century, Ashkenazi Jews encountered the “orient” as an unstable, shifting, and elusive place where they were said to be at home.¹ Christian discourse described the orient as an archaic sphere of origins and insisted on situating the Hebrew language as well as Jewish religious and cultural practices within its remote scenery.² This had favorable as well as unfavorable implications. The orient was conceived as the cradle of mankind and depicted as the location of an infant stage of history. Ancient Jewish history thereby assumed universal significance, and noble origins were attributed to the Jewish nation.³ But the...

    • Chapter 8 The Rhetoric of Rescue: “Salvage Immigration” Narratives in Israeli Culture
      (pp. 185-204)
      Tamar Katriel

      As “imagined communities,”¹ the nation-states of late modernity construct themselves in and through an array of globalized and localized discourses that often link notions of “homeland” and “diaspora.” In a world characterized by large-scale population migrations, public discourses surrounding the issue of immigration make up a distinctive subclass of national and transnational discourses. Indeed, discourses on immigration and its regulation have been long-standing features of public debates concerning the construction and deconstruction of national boundaries in many countries around the globe. Such discourses have found their articulation in such cultural-discursive arenas as the language of law and international agreements, popular...

    • Chapter 9 Judaism and Tradition: Continuity, Change, and Innovation
      (pp. 207-237)
      Albert I. Baumgarten and Marina Rustow

      How and why did appeals to continuity become the principal means by which Judaism absorbed innovations? How, in short, did Judaism become a religion centered on tradition?

      In his introduction to the classic volume The Invention of Tradition, Eric Hobsbawm distinguishes between “custom,” the common set of behaviors that people observe in traditional societies, and “tradition,” which, he argues, serves ideological functions, including that of legitimating and justifying power. Custom, Hobsbawm writes, “cannot afford to be invariant, because even in ‘traditional’ societies life is not so.” He defines tradition, by contrast, as unvarying, repetitive, and frequently marked by rituals, costumes,...

    • Chapter 10 In the Path of Our Fathers: On Tradition and Time from Jerusalem to Babylonia and Beyond
      (pp. 238-249)
      Sylvie Anne Goldberg

      The Hebrew terms masoret and qabbalah—both meaning “tradition”—offer us a concise, concrete overview of the dual dimensions of the concept of tradition in Judaism. While the verb masar means “to transmit,” the verb qibbel means “to receive.” Both terms convey the idea of some sort of movement.

      To delve more deeply into their semantic meaning, one must consider the contexts in which they were originally used. The two sources of the term masoret are the prophecy of Ezekiel and Mishnah Avot.¹ Ezekiel describes the biblical covenantal tradition as masoret ha-berit (the masoret of the covenant), while in Avot,...

    • Chapter 11 Prayer, Literacy, and Literary Memory in the Jewish Communities of Medieval Europe
      (pp. 250-270)
      Ephraim Kanarfogel

      Our knowledge and understanding of the popular history of the Jews in Christian Europe during the high Middle Ages has been significantly enriched in recent years, largely due to new archival research.¹ Nonetheless, large gaps remain. The partial results that are sometimes presented on the basis of rabbinic literature reveal the methodological problems inherent in sketching popular history on the basis of the literature of the rabbinic elite, whose educational levels were presumably much higher than those of the average person. Much can be learned from the rabbinic oeuvre about the lives and the intellectual capabilities of scholars. Far less...

    • Chapter 12 A Temple in Your Kitchen: Hafrashat Ḥallah—The Rebirth of a Forgotten Ritual as a Public Ceremony
      (pp. 271-293)
      Tamar El-Or

      At the center of this chapter is the ritual of hafrashat ḥallah: a Jewish precept (or mitzvah, in Jewish parlance) that requires a woman, when she bakes bread, to separate out, sanctify, and discard a portion of dough as an offering to God. The commandment appears in the book of Numbers. The rabbis who translated the precepts of the Torah into practical rules made this ritual incumbent on women, one of the three principal observances with which they are charged. Nevertheless, until recently, it was a private rather than public ceremony. In the modern age, many women buy rather than...

    • Chapter 13 Judaism and the Idea of Ancient Ritual Theory
      (pp. 294-317)
      Michael D. Swartz

      Ritual, despite its universality as a form of human activity, is remarkable for its resistance to definitive interpretation. Indeed, some have argued that its very opacity is indispensable to its effectiveness. As Catherine Bell has pointed out, in many cases ritual is invalidated if it is understood: if we understood the (supposedly) “real” reasons why we shake hands, knock on wood, or throw rice at a wedding, there would be no reason to do so. This idea can be traced to Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of misrecognition. Describing the process of gift-giving, Bourdieu argues that the appearance of a disinterested voluntary...

  8. Epilogue: Toward an Integrative Approach in Jewish Studies: A View from Anthropology
    (pp. 318-334)
    Harvey E. Goldberg

    I approach the task of writing this epilogue with gratification and humility: gratification because this book makes it clear that cross-fertilization between anthropology and Jewish studies is taking place; and humility in the face of the quality of work that historians and scholars of religion who look beyond texts, and anthropologists who incorporate textual analyses and diachronic perspectives into their ethnographic work, have begun to produce. In this epilogue, I reflect more generally on the challenges of linking anthropology to the study of Jewish history and texts. That link has, until recently, proved particularly elusive, since the discipline of history...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 335-413)
  10. List of Contributors
    (pp. 414-416)
  11. Index
    (pp. 417-432)
  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 433-433)