Past Issue Abstracts
Spring 2022, Vol. 46.1
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Introduction to the Theme
Ayala Fader, Orit Avishai
"Family Resemblance" and Its Discontents: Towards the Study of Orthodoxy's Politics of Belonging and Lived Orthodoxies in Israel
This paper expands the "family resemblance" metaphor, frequently used to explain orthodoxies' diversity and Orthodoxy's multivalence, by emphasizing familial politics and interrogating contentious dynamic belongings. It examines how central negotiating the politics of belonging is for Orthodox Jews, and how categorization and differentiation pose fundamental challenges in the production of scholarly knowledge on contemporary Orthodoxy. Focusing on the Israeli case, it highlights current lacunas in the study of dati (modern Orthodox) Jews, and the urgent need for social science–oriented research of "lived orthodoxies" to better understand the sector's myriad dimensions and shifting terrain. Using examples from a qualitative study on dati feminist ʿagunah activists, it calls for exploring orthodoxies as contested "projects of belonging" aimed at producing specific articulations of "the right way" to be Orthodox. This approach shows how orthodoxies' messiness confounds and revitalizes the idea of a shared framework, highlighting tensions between Orthodoxy as a descriptive, discursive, and constitutive notion.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews from the "Margins": Revisiting Book Tradition
Early social science scholarship on Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews told a story about Haredi life wherein the yeshiva rescued Orthodox Jews from extinction. Many social scientists have viewed ultra-Orthodoxy through the lens of the yeshiva, and by extension disembodied men and rabbinic stringencies. This lens presented ultra-Orthodoxy as a society of certainty, with the ultimate authority in text. Based on a survey of the field, I found that although more scholars have conducted research outside the yeshiva, and scholars continue to demonstrate the many ways that Haredim are no longer solely a society of learners, new scholarship still reflects an outdated paradigm of understanding Haredi life. I argue that when we shift the perspective away from this narrative, we come to see that embodiment, competing authorities, and doubt are also integral to Haredi life and part of its definition.
Orthodox Time at a Lower East Side Yeshiva
My article draws on long-term fieldwork and participation at an all-male yeshiva on the Lower East Side. Its literary form is autoethnographic memoir, comprising a set of anecdotes and reflections all closely tied to my own involvement. This affords me grounds for reflecting on what the term "Orthodox" means to me and to those with whom I have been studying for several years now. In my understanding, the regulars at this yeshiva view the institution as neither "Modern Orthodox" nor "Haredi" but as representing a common-sense but threatened middle ground. My article reinforces the notion of that middle ground with respect to temporality inside the yeshiva, as I support the claim that while the yeshiva is very much in the world and in no way "out of time," the valuation of time and its rhythms remains distinctive, perhaps increasingly so in a world where commodification otherwise seems to proceed apace.
Kosher Music, Kosher Space, and the Ethnographic Study of Orthodox Jewish Life
In this article, I demonstrate how discourses regarding propriety and artistic expression draw lines around the shifting boundaries of Jewish Orthodoxy, providing scholars with a window into the construction of social-religious taxonomies. Understanding expressive culture as a social phenomenon, this article examines debates over musical propriety—at times referred to as "kosher music"—in Orthodox Jewish communities in order to examine the ways in which "rightness" is claimed and policed. In doing so, I suggest that expressive culture invites us to consider how contests over these boundaries play out on both the individual and communal level, and shift the lines of Orthodoxy and its subcultures. Furthermore, I argue that the ethnographic study of Orthodox expressive culture enables scholars to locate Orthodoxy in new domains, and therefore expand beyond constraining paradigms that understand Orthodoxy in conceptually and methodologically narrower ways.
Women's Tefillah Groups and the Boundaries of Jewish Orthodoxy
This article looks at women's tefillah (prayer) groups (WTGs) as an anthropological case study to consider how an initially radical movement on the margins quickly moved into, and thereby changed, the center of Jewish Modern Orthodoxy. I take up this example in order to reflect on processes of religious transformation, and to think about Orthodoxy as the product of negotiated boundaries between female lay leaders and male rabbinic authorities. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, the first section gives an account of a WTG service at an American Modern Orthodox synagogue. The following sections document some of the main concerns that motivated and hampered WTG founders and leaders, largely from their perspectives. I examine their establishment of groups in the face of halakhic and institutional opposition, their practical liturgical strategies, and their negotiation of feminist sensibilities and Orthodox piety. The article then offers some concluding thoughts on Orthodoxy as an analytical and theoretical category.
From Les Petites Jérusalems to Jerusalem: North African Postcolonial Racialization and Orthodoxy
Samuel Sami Everett
In this paper I engage with tication to North Africa within the return to religion (teshuvah and Aliyah) for the Banlieusard (Parisian suburb-dweller) turned Breslover, Shmuel Benisrah. Through a close analysis of Shmuel Benisrah's trajectory—from Garges, greater Paris, to Jerusalem and from Arab Jew to Breslover—I seek to add complexity to the category of contemporary French Breslov Orthodoxy by revealing its close relationship to and increasing abstraction from postcolonial Maghribi (North African) identification and an intergenerational feeling of social alienation from French national cultural and secular norms. My observations show the power of religious praxis and its importance to new and politicized forms of Breslover community formation in Jerusalem. These community formations include perceived tensions between French Jewish and Muslim groups of North African descent in France and their manifestation in Jerusalem.
The Invention of the Ban against Writing Oral Torah in the Babylonian Talmud
The ban against writing Oral Torah stands at the heart of rabbinic study culture. Scholars have suggested that the ban was formulated during the third century in Palestine in an attempt to preserve the oral nature of rabbinic study. At the same time, despite the overt orality of rabbinic practice, multiple talmudic anecdotes point to a complex reality that does not align with what seems to be an explicit prohibition. In this article I argue that the key for solving this long-standing crux is to distinguish between the two book cultures among the rabbis in Palestine and in Babylonia. Although the Bavli directly relies on Palestinian clusters of traditions, it transforms their meaning. While Palestinian sources forbid inappropriate writing of scriptural texts, fearing the physical obliteration of scriptural material, the Bavli reinterprets these prohibitions as securing the original division between the oral and the written forms of Torah.
English Abstract of Hebrew Article
The Esoteric in the Guide of the Perplexed: A New Approach
One of the main debates among interpreters of Maimonides concerns the relationship between the esoteric and the exoteric meanings in his texts. In this article I seek a new method of analyzing how Maimonides wrote about esoteric subjects in his various books. First, I analyze the esoteric in Maimonides's legal writing: we will see that Maimonides himself used the methods of teaching esoteric subjects that he attributes to the Bible and the sages of the Talmud. I then analyze esotericism in the Guide of the Perplexed, finding that in this work Maimonides employed the same techniques to impart esoteric meaning that he used in his legal writings, for the same pedagogical reasons, as well as some alternate techniques.
Biblical Studies and Judaism in Antiquity
Royal Illness and Kingship Ideology in the Hebrew Bible by Isabel Cranz (review)
The Story of Sacrifice: Ritual and Narrative in the Priestly Source by Liane M. Feldman (review)
Jason M. H. Gaines
Aseneth of Egypt: The Composition of a Jewish Narrative by Patricia D. Ahearne-Kroll (review)
R. Gillian Glass
Voices from the Ruins: Theodicy and the Fall of Jerusalem in the Hebrew Bible by Dalit Rom-Shiloni (review)
Joel S. Kaminsky
Medieval and Early Modern Era
Kabbalah in Print: The Study and Popularization of Jewish Mysticism in Early Modernity by Andrea Gondos (review)
Brothers from Afar: Rabbinic Approaches to Apostasy and Reversion in Medieval Europe by Ephraim Kanarfogel (review)
Law's Dominion: Jewish Community, Religion, and Family in Early Modern Metz by Jay R. Berkovitz (review)
Ronald B. Schechter
"If We Had Wings We Would Fly to You": A Soviet Jewish Family Faces Destruction, 1941–42 by Kiril Feferman (review)
Russian-Speaking Jews in Germany's Jewish Communities, 1990–2005 by Joseph Cronin (review)
Wild Visionary: Maurice Sendak in Queer Jewish Context by Golan Y. Moskowitz (review)
Yiddish: Biography of a Language by Jeffrey Shandler (review)
The Last Ghetto: An Everyday History of Theresienstadt by Anna Hájková (review)
Jewish Studies as Counterlife: A Report to the Academy by Adam Zachery Newton (review)
Grief: The Biography of a Holocaust Photograph by David Shneer (review)
Jews Out of the Question: A Critique of Anti-Anti-Semitism by Elad Lapidot (review)
Daniel M. Herskowitz
Beyond the Synagogue: Jewish Nostalgia as Religious Practice by Rachel B. Gross (review)
Sheila E. Jelen
Jews and Germans: Promise, Tragedy, and the Search for Normalcy by Guenter Lewy (review)
Another Modernity: Elia Benamozegh's Jewish Universalism by Clémence Boulouque (review)
Yiddish Writers in Weimar Berlin: A Fugitive Modernism by Marc Caplan (review)
Rabbi Leo Baeck: Living a Religious Imperative in Troubled Times by Michael A. Meyer (review)
Unsettling: Jews, Whiteness, and Incest in American Popular Culture by Eli Bromberg (review)
Yeshiva Days: Learning on the Lower East Side by Jonathan Boyarin (review)
Schneur Zalman Newfield
Songs in Dark Times: Yiddish Poetry of Struggle from Scottsboro to Palestine by Amelia M. Glaser (review)
Conceiving Agency: Reproductive Authority among Haredi Women by Michal S. Raucher (review)
Holocaust Memory in Ultraorthodox Society in Israel by Michal Shaul (review)
Avraham (Alan) Rosen
The Rise and Fall of Jewish American Literature: Ethnic Studies and the Challenge of Identity by Benjamin Schreier (review)
Vladimir Jabotinsky's Russian Years, 1900–1925 by Brian Horowitz (review)
Antisemitism in Galicia: Agitation, Politics, and Violence against Jews in the Late Habsburg Monarchy by Tim Buchen (review)
Jewish Forced Labor in Romania, 1940–1944 by Dallas Michelbacher (review)
Paul A. Shapiro
Germany and Israel: Whitewashing and Statebuilding by Daniel Marwecki (review)
With Us More than Ever: Making the Absent Rebbe Present in Messianic Chabad by Yoram Bilu (review)
האזוטרי במורה נבוכים: גישה חדשה