Jewish Studies

‘Do Not Forsake the Instruction of Your Mother’ – International Women’s Day with Marjorie Lehman

This International Women’s Day, Marjorie Lehman, co-editor of Mothers in the Jewish Cultural Imagination, discusses how she is working to disentangle motherhood from idealised notions of the Jewish family and the stereotypes of the Jewish mother.

Mothers in the Jewish Cultural Imagination (eds.) Marjorie Lehman, Jane L. Kanarek and Simon J. Bronner is published by the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization.

Rooted in Jewish tradition is the notion, conveyed in Mishnah Kiddushin 1:7 and the Talmudic passage that accompanies it BT (Kiddushin 29a), that fathers are commanded to provide for their sons whereas mothers are exempt from this obligation. While the commandment to honour one’s parents obligates sons and daughters, mothers are not legally responsible for the preparation of their sons regarding Torah learning, the performance of mitzvot and/or learning a trade.  Mara Benjamin argues convincingly in her article, “On Teachers, Rabbinic and Maternal,” that we need to rethink the rabbinic model of parenting, modelled as it is on the rabbi/disciple relationship, and consider those involved in child-rearing as metaphorical sages. In making this argument she rethinks motherhood, centring it within a seminal Jewish cultural project—the Talmud–from which it was overlooked in favour of the rabbi-teacher//father-son relationship. As Rabbi Stephanie Ruskay, Associate Dean of the rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary where I am a professor has noted as part of a recent women and power initiative she is spearheading at JTS: “We want to create and model a healthy culture in which gender is made visible and everyone’s leadership and participation is honored.” For me, that includes how we bring mothers and the act of mothering (even metaphorical mothering) into our classroom discussions. It is important to think, like Benjamin did, of the ways we can not only build, or rebuild, cultures where all feel comfortable, but also recognize the role of mothering as tantamount to the role of the sage. [1]

In collecting the essays that make up Mothers in the Jewish Cultural Imagination (Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2017), of which Benjamin’s is one, we began a shared project to enhance the visibility of mothers and call attention to them as an analytic category essential for narrating Jewishness of the past, the present and the future. This was solely an academic endeavour constructed and fashioned by the theories and methods governing the fields of Jewish Studies and Jewish Gender Studies. Working to disentangle motherhood from idealized notions of the Jewish family and stereotypes of the Jewish mother, this collection of essays was designed to show how Jews use motherhood across time and place as a way to construct and comprehend their culture. Our goal was not to offer a perspective on Jewish mothering or a definition of the Jewish mother but to use “mother” as a site of academic study. Part of the motivation emerged from the fact that we recognized a gap in scholarly work in Jewish Studies regarding focused studies on the “mother.” Viewed often as outside the structures of power, relegated to the inside—to the home—we sought authors who brought complexity and nuance to our understanding of “mother.” As Joyce Antler argues in, You Never Call, You Never Write, if there was ever a successful cultural template working to disempower women, it is that of the mother (Antler 58). As academics and feminist scholars we were propelled forward by a desire to give the category of “mother,” and more specifically, the “Jewish mother” its own voice. In the process, we realized that there was much to be said about the ways in which mothers shape Jewish culture and are shaped by it. Writers, activists, rabbis, artists, book printers and poets have projected, created, engaged, and contested Jewish culture by relying on the trope of “the Jewish mother,” often breaking from biological conceptions of motherhood. The time had arrived, we believed, to intervene in the study of Jewish culture with a focus on “mother,” and spur the field to notice what the study of mothers can contribute.

However, inasmuch as publishing a book on mothers became for us an important scholarly undertaking, we wanted this book to incite greater discourse about mothers and motherhood in general, even beyond the academy. For example, Mary Beard, in her book Women and Power: A Manifesto stresses the degree to which women have been silenced and asks us to think about how to “resuscitate women on the inside of power (Beard 79).” Unfortunately, we have no template for what a powerful woman looks like (Beard 54). And so that leads me now to pose the question: What if we turn to the mother? Is there a way to get to the core of what mothering is so that we can think with it to redefine power? Can thinking about mothering offer us new ways of living in the world, not as mothers necessarily, but as people? In fact, it is just these questions that have led me to begin writing my next book, focused on Talmudic mothers, in order to rethink the role of “mother” in the Jewish culture we imagine for our students, our children and for ourselves today.

More to the point, Sarah Ruddick argues in Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace, that motherhood offers us an alternative power model, one that is nurturing and that emerges from a commitment to protecting and preserving another (Ruddick 61-123). Indeed, in mothering we find a usable model that teaches us, even requires us, to give voice to the less powerful, the child, while giving the one in power, the one mothering, a voice as well. Mothering is an act of power, but also one of recognized powerlessness, for mothering requires the protection and preservation of a child for the purposes of enabling that child to achieve independence. And so an acknowledged powerlessness takes over where power once was. This understanding of an ideal type of mothering, taken on by all—mothers and non-mothers—is an idea that has helped me to imagine a world where we can cultivate people who never think about power without thinking about powerlessness, who do not disempower to empower themselves or dismiss anyone out of fear that what might emerge is someone better than who they are. For Ruddick, to adopt mothering as a model is to imagine a world of maternal thinkers, and in so doing, to also imagine a world of people at peace with one another.

So it is up to us, I propose, to think as Sara Ruddick does, and to take on the mission posed by Mary Beard—to contemplate a new power model for our world that is grounded in what comes naturally to so many of us, mothering and the thinking associated with it. Mothers in the Jewish Cultural Imagination is the first step in this process for me. I hope that it guides others in thinking about what mothering can be in the interest of change.

[1]. Note that since the publication of this essay Benjamin has written a monograph on this subject. See The Obligated Self: Maternal Subjectivity and Jewish Thought. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2018.

 

Bibliography:

Antler, Joyce. You Never Call! You Never Write! A History of the Jewish Mother. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Beard, Mary. Women and Power: A Manifesto. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2017.

Benjamin, Mara H. “On Teachers, Rabbinic and Maternal. In Mothers in the Jewish Cultural Imagination. Eds. Marjorie Lehman, Jane L. Kanarek, and Simon J. Bronner. Liverpool: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization in association with Liverpool University Press, 2017.

Ruddick, Sara. Maternal Thinking. Toward a Politics of Peace. Boston: Beacon Press, 1989.

Marjorie Lehman is Associate Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

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Jewish Studies

Celebrating 10 years of Jewish Cultural Studies with Simon J. Bronner

2018 marks the tenth anniversary of the Jewish Cultural Studies book series in the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization. Ten years ago, the inaugural volume, Jewishness: Expression, Identity, and Representationedited by Simon J. Bronner, drew wide attention with its announcement of an emerging interdisciplinary field of Jewish cultural studies and a provocative cover photograph of Chai jewellery in the centre of a rock ‘n’ roll outfit. With chutzpah (the theme of the introduction), it set the tone for later volumes with rousing interpretive essays on Jewishness—expressions of Jewish culture, lore, and life–in the modern world.

Jewishness: Expression, Identity and Representation edited by Simon J. Bronner marked the first book in the Jewish Cultural Studies series.

In that first volume, for example, was an investigation of the “red string” bracelet in Jewish folk and popular culture. The ubiquitous Jewish delicatessen and its overstuffed meat sandwiches symbolizing persistence through immigrant struggles received original analysis as an icon of secular Jewishness. The Jewish roots of comedian Jack Benny were thoughtfully explored along with a separate chapter on the presentation of Jewish issues in Soviet cinema. On the folk cultural side, and as further evidence of the international scope of the series, the reception for Jewish folk music in Germany, and issues of memory it raised, offered a fresh perspective on the construction, and deconstruction, of Jewish heritage.

The series created a buzz in classrooms and conferences in Europe, North America, Australia, and Israel. Coinciding with the release of the first volume, the Department of Jewish Studies at the University of Wrocław, Poland, and the Littman Library hosted an international conference titled “Modern Jewish Culture: Diversities and Unities” that became the basis of the fourth volume in the series, Framing Jewish Culture: Boundaries and Representations, edited by Simon J. Bronner. A year later, a standing-room-only crowd greeted editorial board members of the series a year after its inception at the Association for Jewish Studies convention in Los Angeles on the significance, and challenge, of Jewish cultural studies to scholarship. To enable the series to reach even further, editorial board members, and contributors to volumes, were added from South America. The impact of the series has been noticeable in many citations of it and books building on its themes, college course adoptions, and recognition of Jewish cultural studies as a scholarly field.

The series had its roots in the work of the Jewish Folklore and Ethnology Section of the American Folklore Society. From 1987 to 2000, it had produced annual volumes on varied topics such as Yiddish culture, folk dance, and pilgrimage. The section entered into dialogue with the Committee on the Anthropology of Jews and Judaism in the American Anthropological Association about publications reaching a more global audience. Simon Bronner, professor and director of the Center for Holocaust and Jewish Studies at the Pennsylvania State University, as head of the section, led the discussion and viewed the organization of Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry published by Littman, to be a model for crystallizing a field of interdisciplinary study. The Littman Library had already earned a reputation in publishing on Jewish history and theology, and Jewish Cultural Studies brought an innovative cultural component to its lists. Led by series editor Bronner, the goal stated at the series launch has held through six critically acclaimed volumes: “The Jewish Cultural Studies series offers a contemporary view of Jewish culture as it has been constructed, symbolized, produced, communicated, and consumed around the globe. More than a series on Jewish ideas, it uncovers ideas of being Jewish.”

Mothers in the Jewish Cultural Imagination was named a finalist in the 2017 National Jewish Book Awards.

In documenting and interpreting the diverse ways in which Jews express themselves as Jews – in custom, festival, narrative, art, architecture, music, dance, dress, performance, language, and food – the series contributes to a greater understanding of the dimensions of Jewish identity as perceived by Jews and non-Jews. It comments on the societies in which Jews live, and the tapestry of life formed from cultural exchange, conflict, and integration. It explores the cultural dimensions of homeland and diaspora, assimilation and separation, in Jewish experience and belief. As an inquiry into cultural identities and expressions with wide ramifications for other fields, it also considers the range of institutions that represent and respond to Jewishness, including museums, the media, agencies, synagogues, and schools.

Coming soon to the Jewish Cultural Studies series: Connected Jews: Expressions of Community in Analogue and Digital Culture by Simon J. Bronner and Caspar Battegay.

In this anniversary year, the latest volume to be published, and hopefully create a stir, will be Connected Jews: Expression of Community in Analogue and Digital Culture, edited by Simon J. Bronner and Caspar Battegay (due December 2018). The sixth volume in the series, it follows on the heels of Mothers in the Jewish Cultural Imagination (volume 5, 2017), edited by Marjorie Lehman, Jane L. Kanarek, and Simon J. Bronner, which was a finalist in the National Jewish Book Awards. The recognition was the second time that a volume in the series received this accolade; in 2010, Jews at Home: The Domestication of Identity, edited by Simon J. Bronner and featuring essays on the concept of a Jewish home materially and emotionally, collected the honour. Connected Jews encapsulates in many ways themes of the previous five volumes by interpreting how media technology—from the printing press to the smartphone—has both fostered and divided community. Contributors working in England, Germany, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Madagascar, Israel, Hungary, and the United States examine the effects of mediated cultural expression, including television and radio shows, Internet blogs, and cyber-shtetls and other online virtual worlds. The title Connected Jews also speaks for a series that has made a connection among readers worldwide who are interested in the meaning of culture in Jewish, and non-Jewish, lives.

Piece by Simon J. Bronner.

Simon J. Bronner is Distinguished Professor of American Studies and Folklore and Founding Director of the Center for Holocaust and Jewish Studies at the Pennsylvania State University, Harrisburg. He is also the convener of the Jewish Folklore and Ethnology Section of the American Folklore Society.

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Jewish Studies, News

Littman Library of Jewish Civilization now available

Welcome

LUP is now the proud partner of the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization.

Founded in 1965 by Louis Littman, the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization has grown to become a leader in the publication of Jewish studies. We are also delighted to welcome the arrival of the Library’s  prominent series: PolinArs Judaica and Jewish Cultural Studies which are now available on our website.

Polin– established in 1986 by the Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies, has acquired a well-deserved reputation for publishing authoritative material on all aspects of Polish Jewry. Contributions are drawn from many disciplines- history, politics, religious studies, literature, linguistics, sociology, art, and architecture-and from a wide variety of viewpoints.

Ars Judaica  an annual publication of the Department of Jewish Art at Bar-Ilan University. It showcases the Jewish contribution to the visual arts and architecture from antiquity to the present from a variety of perspectives, including history, iconography, semiotics, psychology, sociology, and folklore.

Jewish Cultural Studies – contributes to a greater understanding of the dimensions of Jewish identity as perceived by Jews and non-Jews. It explores the cultural dimensions of homeland and diaspora, assimilation and separation, in Jewish experience and belief along with considering the range of institutions that represent and respond to Jewishness, including museums, the media, agencies, synagogues, and schools.

Littman E-Library of Jewish Civilization 

The new E-Library (LEJC), commences with the online availability of 90 titles as the first step towards digitizing the entire series. The LEJC will include works from leading scholars such as Anthony Polonsky, Rachel Elior, Menachem Kellner, and Ada Rapoport-Albert.

Providing a comprehensive overview of a variety of subject areas including: history, cultural studies, literature, the Holocaust, biography, religious studies, philosophy and women’s studies, LEJC includes international perspectives on Jewish civilization from the USA, Israel, Germany, Poland and the UK, amongst others.
Read our interview with Connie Webber, Managing Editor for Littman here. 

For further information and updates on the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, sign up to our mailing list, follow our twitter, or drop us an email.

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Jewish Studies, News

What’s Next for The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization and LUP?

Liverpool University Press is delighted to announce an exciting new partnership with The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization. We asked Connie Webber, Managing Editor at the Library, to tell us more about the Library and its plans for the future.

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization was founded in 1965 by Louis Littman, in memory of his father, how has the press grown and developed since its establishment?

Louis Littman founded the Library as a charitable endeavour and a true act of love. He had no knowledge of publishing but was strongly committed to the task he set himself, and he worked tirelessly to achieve his aim. For some twenty-two years, until his untimely death in 1987, he personally approached authors to write for him on the subjects he considered important, and took an interest in how the research and writing progressed. He was very much a gentleman publisher, and in many ways he was a pioneer-before he established his Library there was very little publishing of academic books in Jewish studies; indeed there was very little academic Jewish studies! It was partly due to him that the field grew as it did. In the thirty years since Louis Littman’s death, the Library has developed beyond his wildest dreams: now publishing up to ten books a year for a readership spread around the world, it has come to be recognized as a leader in the publication of academic books in Jewish studies, even though the field itself has grown very considerably in the meantime.  Its prestige is due not only to the reputation of its authors but also to the professionalism of its editorial, design, and production team, who are unstinting in their efforts to produce first-class books. Through a charitable foundation, the Littman family continues to make it possible to invest significant resources into all stages of the publishing process, including the translation of important works of scholarship from other languages. Littman’s success has been due to a combination of vision and a dedication to quality, coupled with the availability of funding to make it all possible.

What do you look for in a new book project?

Following the guidelines laid down by Louis Littman, we aim to publish works that will stand the test of time and be considered definitive in their area. We seek solidly based research that offers new insights while being accessible to the educated non-specialist as well as to scholars, and to non-Jews as well as to Jews. All proposals are carefully peer-reviewed to ensure that each book makes a real contribution to the field. Positive reviews, awards, and professional accolades all attest to the success of the endeavour.

 Do you have any particular favourites from the Littman series? Are there any books on the list that you would recommend to someone encountering the series for the first time?

It’s very difficult for me to choose favourites from the list. It’s a list that has built up over fifty years, covering a very wide range of subjects. Similarly it’s not easy to recommend where one should start. The Littman Library is a veritable treasure trove: it’s a question of what one is interested in. There are books on liturgy, history, philosophy, mysticism, and theology; on women’s studies, cultural studies, and art history; on the Sephardi world and the Ashkenazi world (including the annual Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, with 29 volumes published to date); there are biographies and works of literature, including translations of classic works.

Finally, The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization was founded with the mission to explore, explain, and perpetuate the Jewish heritage, how can the partnership with Liverpool University Press help to further the success of this mission?

Our decision to partner with Liverpool University Press stemmed from the conviction that this partnership would give us access to a much wider market, thanks to their experienced sales and marketing team, and particularly to the various electronic marketing platforms on offer for print editions. Another major factor is sure to be the new Littman E-Library, making our books available for the first time in digital form. That was a long-cherished hope of ours, but something that was beyond our ability to achieve on our own. We were impressed by LUP’s dedicated, experienced, and enthusiastic team, and by the accolades they have received from the industry. We feel confident that we will work well together towards a long, fruitful, and mutually beneficial partnership.

To welcome the arrival of Littman at Liverpool University Press, we are offering 40% off all available titles from 6th-10th March. Use code WELCOMELITTMAN on our website.

 

For further information and updates on the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, sign up to our mailing list, follow our twitter, or drop us an email.
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