Friday, November 18, 2011

UCSC Prof. Nathaniel Deutsch on Vox Tablet

Survey Says

S. An-sky created a survey—never completed—on shtetl life in the 1910s. Its 2,087 questions offer a fascinating window on the Pale of Settlement.

Is there a custom to place a cat, pieces of cake, or something else in the crib before one lays the child in it? Is biting off the protuberance at the end of an etrog considered a protection for a pregnant woman? If two zaddikim quarreled in this world, do they make peace in the next world?

These are questions from the Jewish Ethnographic Program, a vast questionnaire developed by ethnographer S. An-sky between 1912 and 1914 for dissemination throughout the Pale of Settlement, the part of Eastern Europe that was then home to 40 percent of the world’s Jews. An-sky, best known as the playwright of The Dybbuk, hoped the questionnaire would record waning folk beliefs and practices that he believed were at the core of Jewish life. But World War I interfered, and his ethnographic expedition was called off. An-sky died in 1920, and Jewish life in the Pale of Settlement would soon disappear forever.

Now the entire questionnaire, originally written in Yiddish, has been made available in English, in The Jewish Dark Continent: Life and Death in the Russian Pale of Settlement. Nathaniel Deutsch, a professor of literature and history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, consulted with Yiddishists, former shtetl inhabitants, and Brooklyn-based Hasidim to produce this translation. Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry spoke to Deutsch, who argues that the questionnaire, while clearly a failed endeavor, nevertheless reveals many details about shtetl life that would otherwise be lost.

Listen here ... [Running time: 27:42.]

Monday, November 14, 2011

Recent Titles

The Association of Jewish Libraries' new AJL Reviews is out and I thought I'd use this as an opportunity to highlight some of the reviewed titles we've added to the collection recently.

Jelen, Sheila E., Michael P. Kramer and L. Scott Lerner, editors. Modern Jewish Literatures: Intersections and Boundaries. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press (Jewish Culture and Contexts), 2011. 368 pp. $59.95 (9780812242720).

This excellent collection of essays is the product of yearlong project which took place at Penn University’s Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. The key question of what is Jewish literature and who is a Jewish writer are difficult to tackle or define as, unlike other national literatures, this one does not share a common language, nor is it defined by one geographical location. Therefore the collection of essays at hand is not simply eclectic, but is an encompassing and highlighting representation of the great rich scope that is Jewish literature.

And what a rich collection it is! From the Berlin Salons to the Russian poetry chapter; visiting social identity through French and Ladino; Yiddish literature and folk is observed through I.L. Peretz’s work, Sholem Aleikhem’s Kasrielivke Kleine Mentshelekh, the American chapter of Yiddish female poets, Celia Dropkin, Fradl Shtok and Berta Kling, and the crossroads between Hebrew and Yiddish as reflected in the equally-powerful bilingual writing of Y.H. Brenner. Israeli literature is touched on in rereading Nathan Alterman’s “Seventh Column” poetry, while American literature is looked at through the writing of Eisig Silberschlag and Laurence Roth’s memoir, Unpacking My Father’s Bookstore. Anita Norich unfolds the paradigms of modern Jewish literary history, while Michael Kramer discusses the art of assimilation among several other literary studies and observations.

The introduction and essays of this wonderful collection not only take us on a journey through the many faces, lives and times of Jewish literature, but the list of amazing scholars promises it to be a journey of superb academic quality. I heartily recommend this book to both academic libraries holding considerable Judaica collections, as well as congregational libraries where member might seek further knowledge about the literatures of their people.

Noa Wahrman, Jewish Studies Collection Manager, Wells Library, Indiana University Bloomington, IN

Kahn, Yoel. The Three Blessings: Boundaries, Censorship, and Identity in Jewish Liturgy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. 224 pp. $45.95 (9780195373295).

“ ... Who made me an Israelite; ... Who did not make me a woman; ... Who did not make me a boor...” These words are in our liturgy, but their journey there was not a smooth one and their place there has not been secure. In this book, Rabbi Kahn traces these formulations back to Hellenistic times where several variations had been popular aphorisms. Versions that appeared in early Rabbinic literature changed in both wording and usage over time and in different places. Originally the three blessings were to be said as one woke up in the morning. Later they were attached to the 100 blessings and placed in the formal prayer services. Censors and changing sensibilities also affected the exact wording of the blessings so that numerous variations appear in print and manuscript prayer books.

Scholars will appreciate the copious notes and bibliography; while lay-people may enjoy this mix of history,liturgy, Jewish-Christian relations, censorship, with a sprinkling of gender and class studies. Highly recommended.

Sheryl Stahl, Librarian, Frances-Henry Library, HUC-JIR, Los Angeles

Kaplan, Debra. Beyond Expulsion: Jews, Christians, and Reformation Strasbourg. Stanford CA: Stanford University Press (Stanford Studies in Jewish History and Culture), 2011. 254 pp. $60. (9780804774420).

The Jewish community of Strasbourg was expelled in 1390, and Jews were not permitted to live in the city until the French Revolution. Instead of residing in the city, Jews scattered throughout the countryside, living in tiny enclaves of Jewish families in villages throughout Alsace. Debra Kaplan explores the lives they lived in rural Alsace, the complicated but persistent ways in which Jews continued to be present in Strasbourg itself, and the place they occupied in a city that was navigating the complicated religious waters of the Reformation. Deploying local archival documents and Hebrew manuscripts with equal skill, Kaplan paints a detailed picture of how Jews and Christians lived in early modern Strasbourg and of the intertwined intellectual and religious lives they led. Kaplan’s writing is concise and accessible, making this a model study of Jewish-Christian relations in medieval and early modern Europe.

Pinchas Roth, graduate student in the Talmud Department at Hebrew University, Jerusalem

Schweid, Eliezer. A History of Modern Jewish Religious Philosophy, Volume 1: The Period of the Enlightenment. Translated by Leonard Levin. Leiden: Brill, 2011. 361 pp. $176. (9789004207332).

One of the most prolific and highly regarded scholars in the world of modern Jewish thought is Eliezer Schweid, emeritus professor of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. This book is the first of a projected multi-volume series on modern Jewish thought, a sub-set of Jewish studies which was largely pioneered by scholars who were instrumental in developing a new mindset and vocabulary through which the writings of the Jewish past might be critically re-examined and freshly understood. Hebrew was viewed as sacred and pristine. It was hardly capable of entering and analyzing fields which might be shared by non-Jews. Schweid provides the reader with a broad picture of the pre-modern background of modern Jewish thought.

It should be noted that the pioneers of modern Jewish thought were thoroughly reinterpreting a past which was solidly grounded in the vocabulary and modality of Jewish law. The initial steps from the intellectual cosmos nurtured by the ghetto were precarious ones and often threatened ostracism in some form or other. Schweid connects the way in which early nineteenth century idealistic philosophers (such as Friedrich W. Schelling) would blend their thought with both kabbalistic notions and biblical myths. It was through carefully reading medieval Jewish thinkers such as Moses Maimonides and pioneering freethinking Jews (such as Spinoza) that Hebrew literature developed a secular vocabulary and a capacity for engaging the challenges of modernity.
Schweid introduces the reader to many writers and thinkers who pioneered a new approach toward Jewish law and lore: Mordecai Gumpel Halevi Schnaber (1741-1797), Saul Ascher (1767-1822) and others. This is a work which should be in every university and seminary library. It has an extensive bibliography and thorough index.

Morton J. Merowitz, Librarian and independent scholar, Buffalo, NY

Ben-Amos, Dan, editor. Folktales of the Jews, Volume 3: Tales from Arab Lands. Translated by Jacqueline Teitelbaum. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2011. 844 pp. $75. (9780827608719).

This is the third volume in a fascinating assemblage of Jewish folktales, this one featuring tales from Jews of Arab lands. The 60 stories included are derived from the massive collection of more than 20,000 tales held by the Israel Folktales Archives at the University of Haifa. Dan Ben-Amos has brought together some 47 narrators, who immigrated to Israel from Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. In his introduction, Ben-Amos notes that these storytellers were keenly aware of their second class dhimmi status, and that a number of the stories reflect the tension between the Jews and their Arab neighbors. Indeed, to combat the tension, three mechanisms were employed: delving into Jewish tradition, drawing on Islamic traditions, and presenting explicitly confrontational narratives, in which the Jews and Arabs confront each other, and the Jewish hero emerges triumphant. The tales range in character from serious tales with blood libel scenarios to more humorous tales. Each and every tale is accompanied by elaborate commentary which describes its cultural, historical and literary background including the motifs behind the stories. In addition to extensive notes, the work includes a large bibliography of nearly 150 pages and illustrations. This book is one that will appeal to both the academician and to the casual reader.
Randall C. Belinfante, Librarian/Archivist, American Sephardi Federation, New York

Monday, November 7, 2011

Gershom Gorenberg: Distinguished Alumni Lecture

November 14, 2011 7:00 - 9:00 pm
Stevenson Event Center
UC Santa Cruz

UCSC alumnus Gershom Gorenberg is the author of the forthcoming book, The Unmaking of Israel, on the crisis of Israeli democracy and how to solve it. The book will be published in November by HarperCollins and is now available for pre-order at all the usual places.

Gershom’s previous book is The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977 (Times Books). Based on previously unpublished documents and extensive interviews, The Accidental Empire presents a strikingly new picture of Israel’s post-1967 history, of major Israeli leaders, and of Israel-U.S. relations.

He is also the author of The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount, which portrays the role of religious radicalism in the Mideast conflict. He co-authored The Jerusalem Report’s 1996 biography of Yitzhak Rabin, Shalom Friend, winner of the National Jewish Book Award, and edited Seventy Facets: A Commentary on the Torah from the Pages from the Jerusalem Report.

As a commentator on Middle East affairs and the interface of religion and politics, Gershom has appeared on Sixty Minutes, Nightline, Dateline, Fresh Air and on CNN and BBC. For many years an associate editor of The Jerusalem Report, he is now a senior correspondent for The American Prospect. He has written for The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, Mother Jones and in Hebrew for Ha’aretz.

Gershom has been a visiting professor at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, and has lectured at the Council on Foreign Relations, the Carnegie Council, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the Middle East Institute, the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, and for universities, congregations and other organizations seeking a nuanced view of politics, Mideast affairs and religion.

Gershom was born in St. Louis and grew up in California. After graduating from the University of California at Santa Cruz, he came to Israel in 1977 and earned an MA in education at the Hebrew University. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife, journalist Myra Noveck, and their three children, Yehonatan, Yasmin and Shir-Raz. He is an active member of Kehillat Yedidya, the pioneering progressive Orthodox congregation in South Jerusalem.

A Public Dialogue with Jean Baumgarten and Nathaniel Deutsch

November 16, 2011 1:300 - 2:30 pm (note new time)
202 Humanities 1
UC Santa Cruz

Generous support provided by the David B. Gold Foundation.

One of the most important—and least appreciated—categories that Jews have employed to experience the world Jewishly is minhag, a Hebrew word typically translated into English as “custom.” Historically, minhag enabled Jews to transform practically every event and action into something with Jewish meaning; it also enabled Jews to differentiate themselves from non-Jews, as well as from Jews from other places or backgrounds (e.g., Ashkenazi vs. Sephardi). Significantly, some Jewish sources went so far as to define minhag as a form of Torah and stressed the importance of maintaining minhagim (the plural form of minhag), while other sources cautioned against the dangers of blindly following minhagim. For centuries, Jews learned minhagim mimetically, that is, by imitating other members of their community or family and through oral transmission. In the early modern period, however, Jews also began to publish printed collections of minhagim, eventually creating a literary genre that exists to this day among Ultra-Orthodox Jews. In the twentieth century, the collection and study of minhagim became one of the central interests of the first ethnographers of Jewish life in Eastern Europe.

In this public dialogue, Professor Jean Baumgarten, a world-renowned expert on Yiddish minhag literature and Professor Nathaniel Deutsch, whose recently published book The Jewish Dark Continent: Life and Death in the Russian Pale of Settlement (Harvard University Press) explores the groundbreaking ethnographic work of S. An-sky, will discuss the history and significance of minhag in its many facets.

Jean Baumgarten, is Professor and Directeur de Recherche (CNRS), Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Centre des Hautes Etudes Juives, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, in France.