Jews, God, and Videotape

Religion and Media in America

352 pages

25 illustrations

April, 2009

ISBN: 9780814740682

$26

Paper

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Author

Jeffrey Shandler is Professor of Jewish Studies at Rutgers University. His books include While America Watches: Televising the Holocaust, Adventures in Yiddishland: Postvernacular Language and Culture, and (with J. Hoberman) Entertaining America: Jews, Movies and Broadcasting. He lives in New York City.

All books by Jeffrey Shandler

Engaging media has been an ongoing issue for American Jews, as it has been for other religious communities in the United States, for several generations. Jews, God, and Videotape is a pioneering examination of the impact of new communications technologies and media practices on the religious life of American Jewry over the past century. Shandler’s examples range from early recordings of cantorial music to Hasidic outreach on the Internet. In between he explores mid-twentieth-century ecumenical radio and television broadcasting, video documentation of life cycle rituals, museum displays and tourist practices as means for engaging the Holocaust as a moral touchstone, and the role of mass-produced material culture in Jews’ responses to the American celebration of Christmas.

Shandler argues that the impact of these and other media on American Judaism is varied and extensive: they have challenged the role of clergy and transformed the nature of ritual; facilitated innovations in religious practice and scholarship, as well as efforts to maintain traditional observance and teachings; created venues for outreach, both to enhance relationships with non-Jewish neighbors and to promote greater religiosity among Jews; even redefined the notion of what might constitute a Jewish religious community or spiritual experience. As Jews, God, and Videotape demonstrates, American Jews’ experiences are emblematic of how religious communities’ engagements with new media have become central to defining religiosity in the modern age.

Reviews

  • "Shandler's mastery of the relevant scholarly literature, his penetrating eye, and his sharp ear for a telling anecdote make this volume fascinating and illuminating. It is a valuable balance to the many institutional histories on American Jewry or analyses of American Jewish thought. It is equally important as a model of how new methodologies can offer valuable insights into phenomena that are well known but rarely understood."

    —Scott Ury, Religious Studies Review

  • "The message that this richly theorized, well-researched, and crisply written book delivers to historians is that communication, no less than politics and economy, society and culture, can and should become a major venue of historical research."

    —Menahem Blondheim, The Journal of American History

  • “In Jews, God, and Videotape, Shandler provides a fresh and fascinating account of the impact of technology on the religious life of American Jews during the last one hundred years.”

    Philadelphia Inquirer

  • “[An] insightful analysis of the impact of modern media on religious beliefs and practices.”

    Library Journal

  • “In this richly detailed study, Shandler examines the complex and multivalent relations between Judaism and media in the US . . . Highly recommended.”

    Choice

  • “Serving as the definitive road map through the history of American Jews’ encounters with modern media. Jews, God and Videotape demonstrates that although we tend to think of media and religion as opposed to one another, media practices can enhance religious identities even as they also shape and ultimately change them.”

    —Lynn Schofield Clark, author of From Angels to Aliens

  • “Insightful and engaging. . . . Jews, God, and Videotape details the remarkable success that Judaism has found beyond the pages of the book. There is a life for Torah and durability of its message, he shows us, outside the scroll.”

    —Samuel Heilman, Harold M. Proshansky Chair of Jewish Studies, City University of New York

  • “The new book Jews, God and Videotape reveals the many ways in which text-oriented Judaism, at least on an unofficial basis, has adapted to the digital media age.”

    Religion Watch