Jewish Studies

Key titles to add to your Littman Library collection

Founded by Louis Littman in memory of his father to explore, explain, and perpetuate the Jewish heritage, the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization published its first book in 1965. It has gone on to publish many highly regarded titles and has established a reputation as one of the world’s leading publishers in the field.

To celebrate #LUP120, we’ve been focusing on Jewish studies and our work with the Littman Library. Below are some key books from our partner to add to your collection!

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Must A Jew Believe Anything? by Menachem Kellner

The crucial question for today’s Jewish world, Kellner argues, is not whether Jews will have Jewish grandchildren, but how many different sorts of mutually exclusive Judaisms those grandchildren will face. This accessible book examines how the split that threatens the Jewish future can be avoided. For this second edition, the author has added a substantial Afterword, reviewing his thinking on the subject and addressing the reactions to the original edition.


Changing the Immutable: How Orthodox Judaism Rewrites Its History by Marc B. Shapiro

A consideration of how segments of Orthodox society rewrite the past by eliminating that which does not fit in with their world-view. This wide-ranging and original review of how this policy is applied in practice adds a new perspective to Jewish intellectual history and to the understanding of the contemporary Jewish world.


Hadassah: American Women Zionists and the Rebirth of Israel by Mira Katzburg-Yungman

Hadassah is the largest Zionist organization in the Diaspora, the largest and most active women’s organization in Jewish history, and the largest women’s organization in the United States. The history of Hadassah is inseparable from the history of American Jewry and of the State of Israel; this is an extensive, diverse, and balanced contribution to both those areas as well as to the history of Jewish women.

Jewish Cultural Studies series

Under the general editorship of Simon Bronner, 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. The first in the series Jewishness: Expression, Identity and Representation examines the idea of Jewishness with provocative interpretations of Jewish experience, and fresh approaches to the understanding of Jewish cultural expressions. Most recently published was
Connected Jews: Expressions of Community in Analogue and Digital Culture, edited by Simon J. Bronner and Caspar Battegay. These essays consider how different media shape actions and project anxieties, conflicts, and emotions, and how Jews and Jewish institutions harness, tolerate, or resist media to create their ethnic and religious social belonging.


Rediscovering Traces of Memory by Jonathan Webber, and photographed by Chris Schwarz and Jason Francisco

This much-updated second edition of a ground-breaking book expands the broad coverage of its stimulating approach. With forty-five new photographs and accompanying essays, it convincingly demonstrates the complexity of the Jewish past in Polish Galicia and the attempts to memorialize its heritage, as well as the unexpected revival of Jewish life.

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Hasidic Studies: Essays in History and Gender by Ada Rapoport-Albert, with an introduction by Moshe Rosman

Ada Rapoport-Albert has been a key partner in the profound transformation of the history of hasidism that has taken shape over the past few decades. The essays in this volume show the erudition and creativity of her contribution. Written over a period of forty years, they have been updated with regard to significant detail and to take account of important works of scholarship written after they were originally published.


The Jews in Poland and Russia: A Short History by Antony Polonsky

This first volume of a three-volume series begins with an overview of Jewish life in Poland and Lithuania down to the mid-eighteenth century, including social, economic, and religious history. The period from 1764 to 1881 is covered in more detail, with attention focused on developments in each country in turn.

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Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry series

Established in 1986 by the Institute for Polish—Jewish Studies, Polin has acquired a well-deserved reputation for publishing authoritative material on all aspects of Polish Jewry. Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry Volume 32 will be publishing later this year and will consider cantorial and religious music; Jews in popular culture; Jews in the classical music scene; the Holocaust reflected in Jewish music; and klezmer in Poland today.


Jewish Theology and World Religions by Alon Goshen Gottstein and Eugene Korn 

The contributors to this volume represent a range of disciplines and denominations within Judaism and share the conviction that articulating contemporary Jewish views of other world religions is an urgent objective for Judaism. Their essays show why a Jewish theology of world religions is a priority for Jewish thinkers and educators concerned with reinvigorating Judaism’s contribution to the contemporary world and maintaining Jewish identity and continuity.


Ideology and Experience: Antisemitism in France at the Time of the Dreyfus Affair by Stephen Wilson

This analysis of racism in late 19th-century France views the subject not in isolation, but in its social context, as an indicator and symptom of social change. It also provides general analysis of anti-Semitic ideology in France, and of the Jewish response to this challenge.

For more information about any of the above books, please visit the Liverpool University Press website.


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Jewish Studies

Recovering a Voice – In Conversation with David Weinberg

David Weinberg’s multi-national study, focusing on France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, offers a wide lens through which to view post-war efforts to help Jewish communal life recover its voice and its raison d’être. By underscoring the similarities in the situation facing Jews across borders, he demonstrates how the three communities with the aid of international Jewish organizations utilized unprecedented means to meet unprecedented challenges. We caught up with David Weinberg to discuss more about the book.


Firstly, could you tell us a bit about Recovering a Voice and what compelled you to focus your research in this area?

In the course of my writing and research on modern Jewish history over the past half century, I became increasingly aware of the absence of serious discussion of post-war European Jewry.   What little I could find echoed the familiar trope that continental Jews were vanishing or had already vanished.  I also gradually realized that these attitudes were mirrored in the attitudes of the general Jewish population in both America and Israel.  Trips to Europe, which focused on death camps and bypassed contemporary Jewish institutions, reinforced the image of a “world that is no more.”  So too did displays in synagogues and museums that portrayed ritual items of European communities as historical artifacts or objets d’art.

I was determined to “right the wrong” by publishing a general survey of European Jewry since World War Two that would demonstrate its continuing vibrancy and strength.  I soon realized, however, that the topic was unmanageable.  Nor was I prepared to make any bold predictions about the future of European Jewish life, especially in light of the wave of anti-Semitic incidents in the past two and a half decades.  In the end, I decided to produce a more limited study that would concentrate on three Jewish communities that struggled and largely succeeded in recovering their place in European and world Jewish affairs in the first decade and a half after the devastation of the Holocaust.

You discuss how the efforts made by French, Belgian, and Dutch Jews to reconstruct their lives after the Second World War have largely been ignored. Why do you think this area has been overlooked in previous scholarship?

There are several reasons.  First and foremost is the fact that research on twentieth-century European Jewry has focused almost entirely on eastern Europe and especially Poland, communities that were decimated during the Holocaust.  The result is that the immediate post–war era has become almost exclusively associated with the fate of DP’s (Displaced Persons), who were uprooted and who were unlikely to return to their homelands.  Second, continental countries fearing that they would be accused of anti-Semitism have incorporated their Jewish citizens into their narrative of national postwar recovery.  The result is that few general works about Europe after 1945 even bother to mention Jews – except as victims of Nazism.  Finally, scholars of modern Jewish history are mostly American or Israeli in origin and view their communities as having replaced European Jewry as centers of contemporary Jewish life.

What kind of sources did you use in the research of this work? Are there any sources that particularly stand out to you which you could share details of with us?

The two major sources were the archives of major international Jewish relief and political organizations active in post-war reconstruction and of the newly created Jewish communal bodies in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Great Britain.  I also made good use of community-wide newspapers and journals, which sprang up almost immediately after the resumption of communal life.  Several of these sources have been digitally reproduced and are available on-line; others remain largely untouched and difficult to access.

Amongst the thousands of documents that I waded through, several have stuck in my memory.  The correspondence between leaders of American agencies and emerging leaders of west European Jewry are filled with stereotypical comments about the other that belie the public image of postwar mutual good will and amity.  In my examination of the Cold War, I was surprised to find how crucial anti-communist fears played in American Jewish attitudes towards European Jewish reconstruction.  (Typical was a letter by Joseph McCarthy’s ally Roy Cohn warning the Joint Distribution Committee about the infiltration of “communist” elements into French Jewish communal organizations.)   Then there are the veiled and not so veiled anti-Semitic comments contained in several of the speeches of General Charles De Gaulle and other Resistance figures on the eve of Liberation.  Finally, I uncovered fascinating details about the struggle between Yad Vashem and local European Jewish institutions for control of both the documentation and the memory of the Holocaust.

What I most regret is that I was unable to interview participants in the events.  Though I am grateful to those who shared their recollections, I wish that their memories of the past had been as keen as my interest in the subject.

How does Recovering a Voice pave the way for future research in this area?

Though my investigation of primary sources was exhaustive, sending me to archives in the United States, Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Israel, there were many sources I was unable or did not have the time to investigate.  In recent years, several young Dutch and French historians have begun to fill in these gaps by mining local documents with excellent results.  I would also encourage researchers to examine developments in local communities outside of the major centers of Jewish life.  Finally, I look forward to seeing studies on other aspects of communal life that I did not closely investigate, including most notably cultural and literary trends that illustrate the obstacles facing survivors who chose to remain in their native or adopted homelands.

What are you working on next?

I have been thinking about preparing a series of essays on the challenges and opportunities facing world Jewry in the years immediately after the Holocaust.  The study would focus on the complex interrelationship amongst American, Israeli, and European Jewry. How did American Jews emerge as a major force in world Jewry after the war and how was their new role viewed by European and Israeli Jews?  What assumptions did Israeli leaders after 1948 make about the fate of European Jewish survivors who remained in their homelands and of American Jews?  What efforts did European Jewish leaders make to maintain a sense of a distinctive Jewish heritage in the wake of the Holocaust?

For more information on Recovering a Voice, please visit our website.


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Jewish Studies

The Carved Wooden Torah Arks of Eastern Europe – 5 Minutes with Bracha Yaniv

Bracha Yaniv was recently named a finalist in the Jewish Book Awards for her book The Carved Wooden Torah Arks of Eastern Europe. We caught up with her this Jewish Book Week to discuss the sources of inspiration for Jewish motifs and the influence of Torah arks on the design of the synagogue.

Congratulations on being named a finalist in the Jewish Book Awards. What made you focus on the Torah arks of Eastern Europe?

There was a student of mine who wanted to write a seminar paper on the Torah arks of Eastern Europe, but she could not find enough images of arks from Eastern Europe. So I decided to help her in this search. Indeed, at that time no book was available on this subject, or any monographic work on Torah arks of any diaspora.

As most of the Torah arks of Eastern Europe were destroyed during the first half of the twentieth century, any research is dependent on pre-WWII photographs. So this was the first step of my research – the search of what ended up in about 120 images, upon which the research is based.

What can we learn from the arks discussed in The Carved Wooden Torah Arks of Eastern Europe?

The Torah arks of Eastern Europe are unique in their iconographic richness. Unlike Torah arks in most masonry synagogues, which were designed by non-Jewish architects, the wooden arks were designed and carved by Jewish artisans. This accounts for the fact that the arks display Jewish motifs, inspired by Jewish literary sources and the reason why they are the focus of the book.

 Your book throws new light on long-forgotten traditions of Jewish craftsmanship and religious understanding. What were your findings when conducting your research? Did you discover anything that you found particularly surprising?

Discussions concerning Jewish art often start with the Second Commandment which accordingly limits the artistic figurative expressions. But the carved Torah arks discussed in this book prove that when Jewish content is expressed limitations are minimised and creative solutions are found. Perhaps the most surprising motif I found was the metaphor of God presented in the form of an eagle, in this case, inspired by biblical literary sources.

 How do you think The Carved Wooden Torah Arks of Eastern Europe paves the way for further research into Jewish traditions, art and culture?

The Carved Wooden Torah Arks of Eastern Europe assembles a collection of motifs, part of which were known – others, revealed and deciphered for the first time. So, for the reader who is interested in the meaning of Jewish motifs, the book will be most useful. The contribution of the book to the research of other fields of Jewish art is based on the fact that the Torah ark is the focus of the design of the synagogue as well as the focus of worship in the synagogue. As such, the design of the Torah arks influenced the design of other kinds of artistic media, for example, wall paintings and paper cuts. Now that we understand the motifs carved on the Torah arks, other fields of Jewish art can be better understood.


Bracha Yaniv is Professor of Jewish Art History at Bar-Ilan University, Israel, and founding editor of Ars Judaica: The Bar-Ilan Journal of Jewish Art. She has published two pioneering books in Hebrew on the history, design, and iconography of ceremonial synagogue objects.


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Jewish Studies, Uncategorized

Jewish Education in Eastern Europe – 5 minutes with Eliyana Adler

Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry Volume 30, Jewish Education in Eastern Europe edited by Eliyana R. Adler and Antony Polonsky is the most recent addition to the esteemed Polin series. As part of Jewish Book Week, Eliyana Adler discusses the importance of the study of education and what we can expect from this groundbreaking new volume.  

Over the years, Polin has provided a forum for exploring a host of aspects of East European Jewish history. I am gratified to be able to add education to that list. It never ceases to surprise me that there is not more curiosity about education in the past and present. It is, after all, so fundamental to our lives and our society. This collection of essays helps us to think about the diversity of educational options available to Jewish children, as well as what that education meant to them and to the societies in which they lived.

The volume is organized chronologically and geographically, with contributions about Jews in schools in the Russian empire, in Hungary, and in Poland. By far the greatest concentration focuses on interwar Poland. The scholars in this section examine Yiddish schools, Orthodox schools, youth groups, and the experiences of Jews in Polish schools. Most of them make use of the remarkable collection of autobiographies young Polish Jews submitted to a series of contests sponsored by the YIVO in the 1930s.

Until the recent publication of selected anthologies of these autobiographies in Polish, Hebrew, and English, this was a relatively unknown source. Authors in the volume, making use of the anthologies as well as the complete archived collection, demonstrate the results of creative and sustained engagement with the youthful writings.

Although their topics and sources are related, this does not lead to overlap or repetition. On the contrary, the authors’ varied research approaches yield complimentary results that inspire further questions. For example, Ido Bassok notes the ways in which political youth groups took the place of religious affiliations while Naomi Seidman suggests that Orthodox youth groups incorporated many organizational techniques from their political counterparts. Sean Martin’s study of the development of Jewish religion classes in Polish schools provides a fascinating counterpart to Kamil Kijel’s exploration of the effects of exclusive and nationalist rhetoric on Jewish children in Polish schools.

The questions of pedagogy, school choice, educational ambitions, identity proliferation, financial constraints, and integration that animate these autobiographies, as well as the essays about them, should sound familiar to contemporary readers. Although interwar Poland was very different from the world in which we live, the intensity of aspirations makes it compelling and accessible.

In addition to the more obvious ties of period and place, a number of themes crisscross the volume as a whole. Several of the authors, for example, explore textbooks as historical sources. Daniel Viragh’s essay about modern Hungarian children’s books covers very different material from Vassili Schedrin’s study of Jewish history texts in Russia, but both showcase the benefits of probing this unique source base.

Others look at the way that wars impact upon educational institutions. While some of the essays look at political influences on Jewish education, others pay attention to religious trends. Two of the essays also contain rare photographs from late imperial Russia.

Some readers will pick up this volume out of a general interest in the history of Jewish education. Others may open it initially in order to read one particular essay related to their own research interests. We hope that they will all find themselves drawn to leaf through other essays on topics they had not even considered previously. It is also our hope that the volume will inspire further research and writing about aspects of Jewish education in the past.


Eliyana R. Adler is an associate professor in history and Jewish studies at Pennsylvania State University. She is the author of In Her Hands: The Education of Jewish Girls in Tsarist Russia (2011) and articles on the history of Jewish education. Her co-editor, Antony Polonsky, is professor emeritus of Holocaust studies at Brandeis University


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Jewish Studies

Social Change and Halakhic Evolution in American Orthodoxy – In conversation with Chaim I. Waxman

How can we explore the relationship between sociology and religion? In celebration of Jewish Book Week, author Chaim I. Waxman discusses the modernisation and Americanisation of Orthodox practices and communities. 

Social Change and Halakhic Evolution in American Orthodoxy contributes to the study of contemporary orthodoxy. According to your research, how does socio-economic change affect American Orthodox communities?

Socio-economic change affects American Orthodox communities in a variety of ways. One the one hand, as a group they have very high incomes.Their median family income is several times higher than that of most Americans. The ultra-Orthodox have a significant proportion of families with low incomes, but they also have many with high incomes. Economic advances have had a wide-ranging impact; for example, they enabled Orthodox Jews to create new, more affluent communities and institutions. Their buying power has resulted in the availability of many products which fit their religious needs and desires. Their ability to travel widely has sparked the availability of a wide range of tours and cruises around the world with first-class amenities. Various economic advances have also enabled increasing numbers of Orthodox young men and women to engage in higher Jewish learning with their parents’ financial assistance. The growth of the kollel system, wherein young married men spend years in full-time Torah study was, was to a great extent, made possible by the ability of parents to contribute to that endeavor. These are just a few examples, one could write a book on this issue.

I must also point out that there is a flip side to that economic success, namely, the high cost of modern Orthodox Jewish living which leaves many struggling economically. When I speak of the high cost of Jewish living, a notion I learned from my colleague, economist Carmel Chiswick, I am referring to the high cost of such essentials for the modern Orthodox as quality day schools for their children which cost more than $20,000 per year per child—and these are out-of-pocket, non-tax deductible dollars; high costs for summer camps; high fees for synagogue membership; costs for a variety of annual institutional dinners which one is expected to attend; and, of course costs of maintaining a kosher kitchen, the costs associated with observing the Jewish holidays even without going to a luxurious hotel for Passover and Sukkot. In many ways, modern Orthodoxy is an elite for the economically well-to-do. One consequence is that some who feel they cannot afford that lifestyle leave and either affiliate with ultra-Orthodoxy or leave Orthodoxy altogether. In addition, for a while, the high cost of Orthodox Jewish living also served as an incentive to “making aliya”, moving to Israel, where much of that costs is much lower but, where it turned out, the overall costs are frequently much higher.

In the book, you discuss various manifestations of Americanisation in Orthodox Jewish communities. Could you please discuss the ways in which this is evidenced?

A combination of cultural and structural factors which are part of the Americanisation, combined with the socio-economic changes mentioned earlier, sparked the growth and development of a massive kosher food industry. For example, American cultural and economic patterns made it increasingly acceptable and desirable if not necessary for both spouses in a family to work outside the home.  This, in turn, precipitated an increasing need for ready-made foods and, for observant Jews, these had to be kosher. This then sparked technological developments in the food-processing industry that dramatically increased the range and availability of kosher foods, and this, in turn, removed the stigma attached to them.  In fact, most of those who buy kosher foods today are not Orthodox or even Jewish. The annual trade show, Kosherfest, was recently attended by more than 6,000 international trade buyers, including top buyers for supermarket chains, restaurants, caterers, hotels, hospitals, and universities, as well as authors and others who sought to learn the latest developments from all over the world.

An even stronger manifestation of the impact of the Americanisation of Orthodoxy is in language patterns. During the period of peak Jewish immigration to the United States from Eastern Europe, many Orthodox rabbis urged the immigrants to retain Yiddish as their lingua franca and especially as their language of religious discourse.  Today, English is not only the lingua franca of American Orthodox Jews, it is also the primary language in oral religious discourse and plays a major role in the published texts as well. In addition to English translations of the Siddur, prayer book, and Tanakh, the Bible, which have long been deemed acceptable but primarily for the uneducated, there are now available and widely used translations of the Talmud and a host of classic biblical commentaries and Halakhic codes.

Other manifestations of the Americanisation of Orthodoxy can be seen in recreational and leisure-time activities, the very notions of which were once alien to Orthodoxy. Sports, in particular, were anathema, as they were viewed as the ideals of the heathen Greek culture. It is now it is commonplace to find American ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students intimately involved as ardent fans and even participating in betting pools as well as engaging in athletics, although not yet professionally. Similarly with respect to physical fitness, the focus on which was once considered “not Jewish”. Today there is an increasing focus and increasing numbers of gyms designed for and widely used by ultra-Orthodox as well as modern Orthodox men and women, separately of course.

In the area of music, there is today what might be called a parallel structure to the American pop culture music industry, with a broad new genre of American ultra-Orthodox music being created, much of which closely resembles popular music more generally but with a Jewish twist. This is most pronounced in the hasidic branch of American ultra-Orthodoxy, from which a variety of new types of Orthodox music have developed, initially with Shlomo Carlebach’s hasidic hippie to ‘neo-hasidic’, ‘hasidic pop’ and others.

In the area of literature, ultra-Orthodox Jews have developed a genre of literature which had been alien to conservative traditional Orthodoxy, namely, fiction. They have also adopted modern methods of inspirational self-help.  Conventions and ultra-Orthodox publications are replete with ‘cutting-edge’ psychological, educational, and medical topics. The producers and the consumers of these materials are not isolated and do not retreat from the larger society and culture; they are very much engaged in them. They have learned to operate within the culture and to use it for their own ends.

I think I’ve indicated enough manifestations to make my point but, just to top it off, let men refer you to the cover-page colour image of the American flag on the US edition of the ultra-Orthodox newspaper Hamodia, published on Independence Day 2012, with the heading in bold large letters, taken from the US national anthem, ‘o’er the land of the free’.

Do the halakhic developments and women’s greater participation in ritual practices and other areas of communal life reflect changing cultural attitudes and the modernisation of Orthodoxy?

That’s an interesting question. My own response is in the affirmative, but I think that many of the ultra-Orthodox would reply that their attitudes have not changed. They remain opposed to change unless it has clear benefits of orthodoxy and poses no halakhic problems. So, for example, ultra-Orthodox women receive much broader Jewish learning than was permitted in the past – this was legitimized as being necessary under contemporary conditions – but they still are not permitted to engage in Talmud study. Many modern Orthodox women, by contrast, receive higher Jewish learning on a par with and sometimes exceeding that of their male counterparts.

Likewise, the secular educational status of modern Orthodox women is much higher than that of women in the larger society and essentially on par with that of their male Jewish counterparts. They also have high occupational status and occupy increasing leadership roles with society at large and within the Jewish community.  With respect to their participation in the ritual services, there are major differences between the modern Orthodox and the ultra-Orthodox as well as among different sectors of modern Orthodoxy.

Within ultra-Orthodoxy, at the same times that women are much more active in the public arena, there have been increasing efforts to keep the lines between men and women separate. For example, many of their publications will not show pictures of women.  Also, there are increasing attempts to prevent social contact between men and women, for example by instituting gender-separate seating at all ultra-Orthodox gatherings, even if no religious ritual service is involved

Bottom line, cultural changes are taking place but they are definitely limited.  Attitudes toward the modernisation are changing even more slowly because most Orthodox do not define the changes as part of a broad process of modernisation and they certainly do not subscribe to the norms and values that are attributed to modernisation in the larger society. This is not surprising as Orthodoxy is inherently conservative.

How do you think that Social Change and Halakhic Evolution in American Orthodoxy will pave the way for further research into the sociology of religion?

There are probably many ways in which the book may spark further research.  My personal hopes are that it will spark much more research into the area of religion and modernity, and especially religion and post-modernity. At first glance, it would appear that Orthodoxy and post-modernism are totally incompatible. However, in the conclusion to Social Change and Halakhic Evolution in American Orthodoxy, I point to research showing the inroads that post-modernism has made into Orthodoxy and that there are those who continue to identify as Orthodox while not pigeon-holing themselves into a particular version of Orthodoxy. Among the questions, I would hope to be explored is that of what happens over time and especially inter-generationally, not only in Jewish Orthodoxy but in others as well.

In my book, I analyse changes in what is deemed to be proper religious thought, beliefs. I look forward to more study of this within Orthodox Judaism and within other religions. A major question for me is how do orthodoxies reconcile traditional beliefs which appear to have been dispelled by scientific advances.  Another interesting question, at least for me, is whether religious doubt necessarily leads to defection from Orthodoxy in terms of norms, values, and identification. I would also like to see comparative studies of Orthodoxy in various countries.  I am presently working on a paper dealing with differences between American and Israeli ultra-Orthodoxy – in Israel the term used in haredi—and the question of whether those differences will decline and even disappear over time.

As I said, there are many issues raised or suggested in the book which call for further research, and I hope that the book will, in fact, spark some of that research.

Chaim I. Waxman is chair of the Behavior Sciences Department of Hadassah Academic College in Jerusalem and Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Jewish Studies, Rutgers University.

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