Myers, “Jewish History”

In May, Oxford University Press will release Jewish History: A Very Short Introduction by David N. Myers (UCLA). The publisher’s description follows:

Jewish HistoryHow have the Jews survived? For millennia, they have defied odds by overcoming the travails of exile, persecution, and recurring plans for their annihilation. Many have attempted to explain this singular success as a result of divine intervention. In this engaging book, David N. Myers charts the long journey of the Jews through history. At the same time, it points to two unlikely-and decidedly this-worldly–factors to explain the survival of the Jews: antisemitism and assimilation. Usually regarded as grave dangers, these two factors have continually interacted with one other to enable the persistence of the Jews. At every turn in their history, not just in the modern age, Jews have adapted to new environments, cultures, languages, and social norms. These bountiful encounters with host societies have exercised the cultural muscle of the Jews, preventing the atrophy that would have occurred if they had not interacted so extensively with the non-Jewish world. It is through these encounters–indeed, through a process of assimilation–that Jews came to develop distinct local customs, speak many different languages, and cultivate diverse musical, culinary, and intellectual traditions.

Left unchecked, the Jews’ well-honed ability to absorb from surrounding cultures might have led to their disappearance. And yet, the route toward full and unbridled assimilation was checked by the nearly constant presence of hatred toward the Jew. Anti-Jewish expression and actions have regularly accompanied Jews throughout history. Part of the ironic success of antisemitism is its malleability, its talent in assuming new forms and portraying the Jew in diverse and often contradictory images–for example, at once the arch-capitalist and revolutionary Communist. Antisemitism not only served to blunt further assimilation, but, in a paradoxical twist, affirmed the Jew’s sense of difference from the host society. And thus together assimilation and antisemitism (at least up to a certain limit) contribute to the survival of the Jews as a highly adaptable and yet distinct group.

 

“Synagogues in the Islamic World” (Gharipour, ed.)

In May, Edinburgh University Press will release Synagogues in the Islamic World:
Architecture, Design and Identity edited by Mohammad Gharipour (Morgan State University). The publisher’s description follows:

Synagogues in the Islamic WorldThis beautifully illustrated volume looks at the spaces created by and for Jews in areas under the political or religious control of Muslims. Covering regions as diverse as Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Spain, it asks how the architecture of synagogues responded to contextual issues and traditions, and how these contexts influenced the design and evolution of synagogues. As well as revealing how synagogues reflect the culture of the Jewish minority at macro and micro scales, from the city to the interior, the book also considers patterns of the development of synagogues in urban contexts and in connection with urban elements and monuments.

Key Features:

  • Uniquely explores the elements and concepts applied in the design of synagogues in the Islamic world
  • Shows connections between Jewish and Islamic architecture and the collaboration among Muslims and Jews in the design and construction of synagogues
  • Takes an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural approach, providing a new setting for the analysis of Islamic architecture
  • Addresses historical, social, urban, and architectural aspects of synagogues throughout the Muslim world including Iraq, Afghanistan, Morocco, Egypt, Spain, Turkey, Tunisia, Iran, and India

Imhoff, “Masculinity and the Making of American Judaism”

This month, Indiana University Press releases Masculinity and the Making of American Judaism by Sarah Imhoff (Indiana University). The publisher’s description follows:

MasculinityHow did American Jewish men experience manhood, and how did they present their masculinity to others? In this distinctive book, Sarah Imhoff shows that the project of shaping American Jewish manhood was not just one of assimilation or exclusion. Jewish manhood was neither a mirror of normative American manhood nor its negative, effeminate opposite. Imhoff demonstrates how early 20th-century Jews constructed a gentler, less aggressive manhood, drawn partly from the American pioneer spirit and immigration experience, but also from Hollywood and the YMCA, which required intense cultivation of a muscled male physique. She contends that these models helped Jews articulate the value of an acculturated American Judaism. Tapping into a rich historical literature to reveal how Jews looked at masculinity differently than Protestants or other religious groups, Imhoff illuminates the particular experience of American Jewish men.

Cohen, “Maimonides and the Merchants”

In May, the University of Pennsylvania Press will release Maimonides and the Merchants:
Jewish Law and Society in the Medieval Islamic World by Mark R. Cohen (Princeton University). The publisher’s description follows:

maimondiesThe advent of Islam in the seventh century brought profound economic changes to the Jews living in the Middle East, and Talmudic law, compiled in and for an agrarian society, was ill equipped to address an increasingly mercantile world. In response, and over the course of the seventh through eleventh centuries, the heads of the Jewish yeshivot of Iraq sought precedence in custom to adapt Jewish law to the new economic and social reality.

In Maimonides and the Merchants, Mark R. Cohen reveals the extent of even further pragmatic revisions to the halakha, or body of Jewish law, introduced by Moses Maimonides in his Mishneh Torah, the comprehensive legal code he compiled in the late twelfth century. While Maimonides insisted that he was merely restating already established legal practice, Cohen uncovers the extensive reformulations that further inscribed commerce into Jewish law. Maimonides revised Talmudic partnership regulations, created a judicial method to enable Jewish courts to enforce forms of commercial agency unknown in the Talmud, and even modified the halakha to accommodate the new use of paper for writing business contracts. Over and again, Cohen demonstrates, the language of Talmudic rulings was altered to provide Jewish merchants arranging commercial collaborations or litigating disputes with alternatives to Islamic law and the Islamic judicial system.

Thanks to the business letters, legal documents, and accounts found in the manuscript stockpile known as the Cairo Geniza, we are able to reconstruct in fine detail Jewish involvement in the marketplace practices that contemporaries called “the custom of the merchants.” In Maimonides and the Merchants, Cohen has written a stunning reappraisal of how these same customs inflected Jewish law as it had been passed down through the centuries.

“The Cambridge Companion to Judaism and Law” (Hayes, ed.)

This month, the Cambridge University Press will release “The Cambridge Companion to Judaism and Law,” by Christine Hayes (Yale University).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Cambridge Companion to Judaism and Law explores the Jewish conception of law as an essential component of the divine-human relationship from biblical to modern9781107644946.jpgtimes, as well as resistance to this conceptualization. It also traces the political, social, intellectual, and cultural circumstances that spawned competing Jewish approaches to its own ‘divine’ law and the ‘non-divine’ law of others, including that of the modern, secular state of Israel. Part I focuses on the emergence and development of law as an essential element of religious expression in biblical Israel and classical Judaism through the medieval period. Part II considers the ramifications for the law arising from political emancipation and the invention of Judaism as a ‘religion’ in the modern period. Finally, Part III traces the historical and ideological processes leading to the current configuration of religion and state in modern Israel, analysing specific conflicts between religious law and state law.

Horowitz, “The Russian-Jewish Tradition”

This month, Academic Studies Press releases The Russian-Jewish Tradition: Intellectuals, Historians, Revolutionaries by Brian Horowitz (Tulane University). The publisher’s description follows:

the-russian-jewish-traditionThis book argues that Jews were not a people apart but were culturally integrated in Russian society. In their diasporic cultural creations Russia’s Jews employed the general themes of artists under tsars and Soviets, but they modified these themes to fit their own needs. The result was a hybrid, Russian-Jewish culture, unique and dynamic. Few today consider that Jewish Eastern Europe, the “old world”, was in fact a power incubator of modern Jewish consciousness. Brian Horowitz, a well-known scholar of Russian Jewry, presents essays on Jewish education (the heder), historiography, literature and Jewish philosophy that intersect with contemporary interests on the big questions of Jewish life. The book lets us grasp the meaning of secular Judaism and gives models from the past in order to stimulate ideas for the present.

Laor, “The Myths of Liberal Zionism”

This month, Penguin Random House released the paperback edition of The Myths of Liberal Zionism by Yitzhak Laor. The publisher’s description follows:

myths-of-liberal-zionismYitzhak Laor is one of Israel’s most prominent dissidents and poets, a latter-day Spinoza who helps keep alive the critical tradition within Jewish culture. In this work he fearlessly dissects the complex attitudes of Western European liberal Left intellectuals toward Israel, Zionism and the Israeli peace camp. He argues that through a prism of famous writers like Amos Oz, David Grossman and A.B. Yehoshua, the peace camp has now adopted the European vision of “new Zionism” promoting the fierce Israeli desire to be accepted as part of the West and taking advantage of growing Islamophobia across Europe. The backdrop to this uneasy relationship is the ever-present shadow of the Holocaust. Laor is merciless as he strips bare the hypocrisies and unarticulated fantasies that lie beneath the love-affair between liberal Zionists and their European supporters.

Panel Discussion: “Religious Freedom and Anti-Semitism in Contemporary Europe” (Feb. 9)

On Thursday February 9, The King’s College and Princeton University’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions is sponsoring a panel discussion titled “Religious Freedom and Anti-Semitism in Contemporary Europe” at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York. A description of the event follows:

Religious Freedom and Anti-Semitism in Contemporary Europe.pngFollowing the Second World War, the world said “never again” to the hatred that produced the Holocaust, but Anti-Semitism, which was never fully eradicated in Europe, has returned with a vengeance. According to the French Interior Ministry, over 50 percent of France’s bias motivated crimes in 2014 targeted Jews, even though French Jewry makes up less than one percent of the population. The currents driving this tragedy across Europe are several: the scapegoating of Jews for social decline by right-wing nationalists; the radicalization of Muslim immigrants by certain extremist Imams goading them to violence; and the “open-mindedness” of secularized Europe, which refuses to acknowledge Islamist violence and combat it. This toxic environment has led some to ask whether the Jews living in Europe today may soon leave the continent altogether.

Please join us on Thursday evening, February 9th for a panel discussion at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan. Co-sponsored by The King’s College and Princeton University’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, the panel will explore the sources of and possible responses to the revival of Anti-Semitism in Europe.

Panelists
Rabbi Dr. David G. Dalin, Author and Professor Emeritus of History and Politics at Ave Maria University
Professor Mary Ann Glendon
, Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School
Rabbi Dr. Meir Y. Soloveichik, Rabbi at Congregation Shearith Israel

Moderator
Professor Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University

More information on the event can be found here.

 

Holtz, “Rabbi Akiva”

In March, Yale University Press will release Rabbi Akiva: Sage of the Talmud by Barry W. Holtz (Jewish Theological Seminary of America). The publisher’s description follows:

rabbi-akivaA compelling and lucid account of the life and teachings of a founder of rabbinic Judaism and one of the most beloved heroes of Jewish history

Born in the Land of Israel around the year 50 C.E., Rabbi Akiva was the greatest rabbi of his time and one of the most important influences on Judaism as we know it today. Traditional sources tell how he was raised in poverty and unschooled in religious tradition but began to learn the Torah as an adult. In the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 C.E., he helped shape a new direction for Judaism through his brilliance and his character. Mystic, legalist, theologian, and interpreter, he disputed with his colleagues in dramatic fashion yet was admired and beloved by his peers. Executed by Roman authorities for his insistence on teaching Torah in public, he became the exemplar of Jewish martyrdom.

Drawing on the latest historical and literary scholarship, this book goes beyond older biographies, untangling a complex assortment of ancient sources to present a clear and nuanced portrait of Talmudic hero Rabbi Akiva.

Novak, “Jewish Justice”

In March, Baylor University Press will release “Jewish Justice: The Contested Limits of Nature, Law, and Covenant,” by David Novak (University of Toronto).  The publisher’s description follows:

In Jewish Justice David Novak explores the continuing role of Judaism for crafting ethics, politics, and theology. Drawing on sources as diverse as the Bible, the screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-1-00-19-amTalmud, and ancient, medieval, and modern philosophy, Novak asserts Judaism’s integral place in communal discourse of the public square.

According to Novak, biblical revelation has universal implications—that it is ultimately God’s law to humanity because humans made in God’s image are capable of making intelligent moral choices. The universality of this claim, however, stands in tension with the particularities of Jewish monotheism (one God, one people, one law). Novak’s challenge is for Judaism to capitalize on the way God’s law transcends particularity without destroying difference. Thus it is as Jews that Jews are called to join communities across the faithful denominations, as well as secular ones, to engage in debates about the common good.

Jewish Justice follows a logical progression from grounded ethical quandaries to larger philosophical debates. Novak begins by considering the practical issues of capital punishment, mutilation and torture, corporate crime, the landed status of communities and nations, civil marriage, and religious marriage. He next moves to a consideration of theoretical concerns: God’s universal justice, the universal aim of particular Jewish ethics, human rights and the image of God, the relation of post-Enlightenment social contract theory to the recently enfranchised Jewish community, and the voices of Jewish citizens in secular politics and the public sphere. Novak also explores the intersection of universality and particularity by examining the practice of interfaith dialogue among Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

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