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Who are "The Jews"? Scattered over much of the world throughout most of their three-thousand-year history, are they one people or many? How do they resemble and how do they differ from Jews in other places and times? What have their relationships been to other cultures of their neighbors?
To address these and similar questions, twenty-three of the finest scholars of our day—archaeologists, cultural historians, literary critics, art historians, folklorists, and historians of religion, all affiliated with major academic institutions in the United States, Israel, and France—have contributed their insights to Cultures of the Jews. The premise of their endeavor is that although Jews have always had their own autonomous traditions, Jewish identity cannot be considered immutable, the fixed product of either ancient ethnic or religious origins. Rather, is has shifted and assumed new forms in response to the cultural environment in which the Jews lived.
Building their essays on specific cultural artifacts—a poem, a letter, a traveler's account, a physical object of everyday or ritual use—that were made in the period and locale they study, the contributors describe the cultural interactions among different Jews—from rabbis and scholars to non-elite groups, including women—as well as between the Jews and the surrounding non-Jewish world.
Part One, "Mediterranean Origins," describes the concept of "People" or "Nation" of Israel that emerges in the Hebrew Bible and the culture of the Israelites in relation to that of the Canaanite groups. It goes on to discuss Jewish cultures in the Greco-Roman world, Palestine during the Byzantine period, Babylonia, and Arabia during the formative years of Islam.
Part Two, "Diversities of Diaspora," illuminates Judeo-Arabic culture in the Golden Age of Islam, Sephardic culture as it bloomed first in the Iberian Peninsula and later in Amsterdam, the Jewish-Christian symbiosis in Ashkenazic Europe and in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the culture of the Italian Jews of the Renaissance period, and the many strands of folklore, magic, and material culture that run through diaspora Jewish history.
Part Three, "Modern Encounters," examines communities, ways of life, and both high and folk culture in Western, Central, and Eastern Europe, the Ladino Diaspora, North Africa and the Middle East, Ethiopia, Zionist Palestine and the State of Israel, and finally, the United States.
Cultures of the Jews is a landmark, representing the fruits of the present generation of scholars in Jewish studies and offering a new foundation upon which all future research into Jewish history will be based. Its unprecedented interdisciplinary approach will resonate widely among general readers and the scholarly community, both Jewish and non-Jewish, and it will change the terms of the never-ending debate over what constitutes Jewish identity.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Part I: Mediterranean Origins
Introduction by David Biale
1. Imagining the Birth of Ancient Israel: National Metaphors in the Bible by Ilana Pardes
2. Israel Among the Nations: Biblical Culture in the Ancient Near East by Ronald S. Hendel
3. Hellenistic Judaism by Erich S. Gruen
4. Jewish Culture in Greco-Roman Palestine by Eric M. Meyers
5. Confronting a Christian Empire: Jewish Culture in the World of Byzantium by Oded Irshai
6. Babylonian Rabbinic Culture by Isaiah Gafni
7. Jewish Culture in the Formative Period of Islam by Reuven Firestone
Part II: Diversities of Diaspora
Introduction by David Biale
1. Merchants and Intellectuals, Rabbis and Poets: Judeo-Arabic Culture in the Golden Age of Islam by Raymond P. Scheindlin
2. A Letter to a Wayward Teacher: The Transformations of Sephardic Culture in Christian Iberia by Benjamin R. Gampel
3. A Jewish-Christian Symbiosis: The Culture of Early Ashkenaz by Ivan G. Marcus
4. Innovative Tradition: Jewish Culture in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth by Moshe Rosman
5. Families and Their Fortunes: The Jews of Early Modern Italy by Elliott Horowitz
6. Bom Judesmo: The Western Sephardic Diaspora by Yosef Kaplan
7. Childbirth and Magic: Jewish Folklore and Material Culture by Shalom Sabar
Part III: Modern Encounters
Introduction by David Biale
1. Urban Visibility and Biblical Visions: Jewish Culture in Western and Central Europe in the Modern Age by Richard I. Cohen
2. A Journey Between Worlds: East European Jewish Culture from the Partitions of Poland to the Holocaust by David Biale
3. The Ottoman Diaspora: The Rise and Fall of Ladino Literary Culture by Aron Rodrigue
4. Multicultural Visions: The Cultural Tapestry of the Jews of North Africa by Lucette Valensi
5. Challenges to Tradition: Jewish Cultures in Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Bukhara by Yosef Tobi
6. Religious Interplay on an African Stage: Ethiopian Jews in Christian Ethiopia by Hagar Salamon
7. Locus and Language: Hebrew Culture in Israel, 1890-1990 by Ariel Hirschfeld
8. The “Other” Israel: Folk Cultures in the Modern State of Israel by Eli Yassif
9. Declarations of Independence: American Jewish Culture in the Twentieth Century by Stephen J. Whitfield
Conclusion by David Biale
LIST OF CONTRIBUTORS
David Biale is Emanuel Ringelblum Professor of Jewish Studies and Director of the Program in Jewish Studies at the University of California, Davis.
Richard I. Cohen holds the Paulette and Claude Kelman Chair in French Jewry Studies, Department of Jewish History, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Reuven Firestone is Professor of Medieval Judaism and Islam and director of the Graduate School of Judaic Studies at Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles
Isaiah Gafni is Sol Rosenbloom Professor of Jewish History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Benjamin R. Gampel is Associate Professor of Jewish History at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
Erich S. Gruen is Gladys Rehard Wood Professor of History and Classics at the University of California, Berkeley.
Ronald Hendel is the Norma and Sam Dabby Professor of Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
Arial Hirschfeld is Professor of Hebrew Literature at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Elliott Horowitz is Associate Professor of Jewish History at Bar-Ilan University.
Oded Irshai is Senior Lecturer in Jewish History at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Yosef Kaplan is Professor of Jewish History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Ivan G. Marcus is Frederick P. Rose Professor of Jewish History and Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University.
Eric M. Meyers is Bernice and Morton Lerner Professor of Judaic Studies and Director of the Graduate Program in Religion at Duke University.
Ilana Pardes teaches Comparative Literature at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Aron Rodrigue is Eva Chernov Lokey Professor in Jewish Studies and Professor of History at Stanford University.
Moshe Rosman is Professor of Jewish History at Bar-Ilan University.
Shalom Sabar is Professor of Art History at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Hagar Salamon is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Jewish and Comparative Folklore and Research Fellow at the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Raymond P. Scheindlin is Professor of Medieval Hebrew Literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
Yosef Tobi is Professor of Hebrew Literature at the University of Haifa.
Lucette Valensi is Directrice d'études and Directrice de l'Institut d'études de l'Islam et des Sociétés du Monde Musulman at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris.
Stephen J. Whitfield is the Max Richter Professor of American Civilization at Brandeis University.
Eli Yassif is professor and chair of the Department of Hebrew Literature at Tel Aviv University, where he teaches Jewish folklore and Hebrew literature of the Middle Ages.