Publications

2021
Volume 33:No Small MatterFeatures of Jewish Childhood
Anat Helman. 2021. “Volume 33:No Small MatterFeatures of Jewish Childhood.” Studies in Contemporary Jewry. Abstract

For many centuries Jews have been renowned for the efforts they put into their children's welfare and education. Eventually, prioritizing children became a modern Western norm, as reflected in an abundance of research in fields such as pediatric medicine, psychology, and law. In other academic fields, however, young children in particular have received less attention, perhaps because they rarely leave written documentation. The interdisciplinary symposium in this volume seeks to overcome this challenge by delving into different facets of Jewish childhood in history, literature, and film.

No Small Matter visits five continents and studies Jewish children from the 19th century through the present. It includes essays on the demographic patterns of Jewish reproduction; on the evolution of bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies; on the role children played in the project of Hebrew revival; on their immigrant experiences in the United States; on novels for young Jewish readers written in Hebrew and Yiddish; and on Jewish themes in films featuring children. Several contributions focus on children who survived the Holocaust or the children of survivors in a variety of settings ranging from Europe, North Africa, and Israel to the summer bungalow colonies of the Catskill Mountains. In addition to the symposium, this volume also features essays on a transformative Yiddish poem by a Soviet Jewish author and on the cultural legacy of Lenny Bruce.

2018
Volume 30: Place in Modern Jewish Culture and Society

Notions of place have always permeated Jewish life and consciousness. The Babylonian Talmud was pitted against the Jerusalem Talmud; the worlds of Sepharad and Ashkenaz were viewed as two pillars of the Jewish experience; the diaspora was conceived as a wholly different experience from that of Eretz Israel; and Jews from Eastern Europe and "German Jews" were often seen as mirror opposites, whereas Jews under Islam were often characterized pejoratively, especially because of their allegedly uncultured surroundings. Place, or makom, is a strategic opportunity to explore the tensions that characterize Jewish culture in modernity, between the sacred and the secular, the local and the global, the historical and the virtual, Jewish culture and others. The plasticity of the term includes particular geographic places and their cultural landscapes, theological allusions, and an array of other symbolic relations between locus, location, and the production of culture. 

The 30th volume of Studies in Contemporary Jewry includes twelve essays that deal with various aspects of particular places, making each location a focal point for understanding Jewish life and culture. Scholars from the United States, Europe, and Israel have used their disciplinary skills to shed light on the vicissitudes of the 20th century in relation to place and Jewish culture. Their essays continue the ongoing discussion in this realm and provide further insights into the historiographical turn in Jewish studies.

2016
Volume 29: A Club of Their Own: Jewish Humorists and the Contemporary World
Eli Lederhendler; Gabriel N. guest symposium editor: Finder. 2016. “Volume 29: A Club of Their Own: Jewish Humorists and the Contemporary World”. Abstract

Volume XXIX of Studies in Contemporary Jewry takes its title from a joke by Groucho Marx: "I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member." The line encapsulates one of the most important characteristics of Jewish humor: the desire to buffer oneself from potentially unsafe or awkward situations, and thus to achieve social and emotional freedom. By studying the history and development of Jewish humor, the essays in this volume not only provide nuanced accounts of how Jewish humor can be described but also make a case for the importance of humor in studying any culture. 

A recent survey showed that about four in ten American Jews felt that "having a good sense of humor" was "an essential part of what being Jewish means to them," on a par with or exceeding caring for Israel, observing Jewish law, and eating traditional foods. As these essays show, Jewish humor has served many functions as a form of "insider" speech. It has been used to ridicule; to unite people in the face of their enemies; to challenge authority; to deride politics and politicians; in America, to ridicule conspicuous consumption; in Israel, to contrast expectations of political normalcy and bitter reality. However, much of contemporary Jewish humor is designed not only or even primarily as insider speech. Rather, it rewards all those who get the punch line.

A Club of Their Own moves beyond general theorizing about the nature of Jewish humor by serving a smorgasbord of finely grained, historically situated, and contextualized interdisciplinary studies of humor and its consumption in Jewish life in the modern world.

2015
Volume 28: Jews and Their Foodways

Food is not just a physical necessity but also a composite commodity. It is part of a communication system, a nonverbal medium for expression, and a marker of special events. Bringing together contributions from fourteen historians, anthropologists, sociologists, and literary critics, Volume XXVIII of Studies in Contemporary Jewry presents various viewpoints on the subtle and intricate relations between Jews and their foodways. The ancient Jewish community ritualized and codified the sphere of food; by regulating specific and detailed culinary laws, Judaism extended and accentuated food's cultural meanings. Modern Jewry is no longer defined exclusively in religious terms, yet a decrease in the role of religion, including kashrut observance, does not necessarily entail any diminishment of the role of food. On the contrary, as shown by the essays in this volume, choices of food take on special importance when Jewish individuals and communities face the challenges of modernity.

Following an introduction by Sidney Mintz and concluding with an overview by Richard Wilk, the symposium essays lead the reader from the 20th century to the 21st, across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and North America. Through periods of war and peace, voluntary immigrations and forced deportations, want and abundance, contemporary Jews use food both for demarcating new borders in rapidly changing circumstances and for remembering a diverse heritage. 

Despite a tendency in traditional Jewish studies to focus on "high" culture and to marginalize "low" culture, Jews and Their Foodways demonstrates how an examination of people's eating habits helps to explain human life and its diversity through no less than the study of great events, the deeds of famous people, and the writings of distinguished rabbis.

2014
Volume 27: The Social Scientific Study of Jewry: Sources, Approaches, Debates

Continuing its distinguished tradition of focusing on central political, sociological, and cultural issues of Jewish life in the last century, this latest volume in the annual Studies in Contemporary Jewry series focuses on how Jewry has been studied in the social science disciplines. Its symposium consists of essays that discuss sources, approaches, and debates in the complementary fields of demography, sociology, economics, and geography. 

The social sciences are central for the understanding of contemporary Jewish life and have engendered much controversy over the past few decades. To a large extent, the multitude of approaches toward Jewish social science research reflects the nature of population studies in general, and that of religions and ethnic groups in particular. Yet the variation in methodology, definitions, and measures of demographic, socioeconomic, and cultural patterns is even more salient in the study of Jews. Different data sets have different definitions for what is "Jewish" or "who is a Jew." In addition, Jews as a group are characterized by high rates of migration, including repeated migration, which makes it difficult to track any given Jewish population. Finally, the question of identification is complicated by the fact that in most places, especially outside of Israel, it is not clear whether "being Jewish" is primarily a religious or an ethnic matter - or both, or neither. 

This volume also features an essay on American Jewry and North African Jewry; review essays on rebuilding after the Holocaust, Nazi war crimes trials, and Jewish historiography; and reviews of new titles in Jewish studies.

2012
Volume 26: Visualizing and Exhibiting Jewish Space and History

Continuing its distinguished tradition of focusing on central political, sociological, and cultural issues of Jewish life in the last century, Volume XXVI of the annual Studies in Contemporary Jewry examines the visual revolution that has overtaken Jewish cultural life in the twentieth century onwards, with special attention given to the evolution of Jewish museums. Bringing together leading curators and scholars, Visualizing and Exhibiting Jewish Space and History treats various forms of Jewish representation in museums in Europe and the United States before the Second World War and inquires into the nature and proliferation of Jewish museums following the Holocaust and the fall of Communism in Western and Eastern Europe. In addition, a pair of essays dedicated to six exhibitions that took place in Israel in 2008 to mark six decades of Israeli art raises significant issues on the relationship between art and gender, and art and politics. An introductory essay highlights the dramatic transformation in the appreciation of the visual in Jewish culture. The scope of the symposium offers one of the first scholarly attempts to treat this theme in several countries. 

Also featured in this volume are a provocative essay on the nature of antisemitism in twentieth-century English society; review essays on Jewish fundamentalism and recent works on the subject of the Holocaust in occupied Soviet territories; and reviews of new titles in Jewish Studies.