Mapping Jewish Identities

378 pages

5 illustrations

July, 2000

ISBN: 9780814797693



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Laurence J. Silberstein is Philip and Muriel Berman Professor of Jewish Studies at Lehigh University, where he directs the Philip and Muriel Berman Center for Jewish Studies.

All books by Laurence J. Silberstein

Is Jewish identity flourishing or in decline? Community leaders and scholarly researchers continually seek to determine the attitudes, beliefs, and activities that best measure Jewish identity. At issue, according to these studies, is the very survival of the Jewish community itself. But such studies rarely ask what actually is being examined when we attempt to assess "Jewish identity" or any identity. Most tend to assume that identity is a preexisting, relatively fixed frame of reference reflecting shared cultural and historical experiences.

Drawing on recent work in such fields as cultural studies, poststructuralist theory, postmodern philosophy, and feminist theory, Mapping Jewish Identities challenges this premise. Contesting conventional approaches to Jewish identity, contributors argue that Jewish identity should be conceptualized as an ongoing dynamic process of "becoming" in response to changing cultural and social conditions rather than as a stable defining body of traits.

Contributors, including Daniel Boyarin, Laura Levitt, Adi Ophir, and Gordon Bearn, examine such topics as American Jews' desires to connect with a lost immigrant past through photography, the complicated function of the Holocaust in the identity formation of contemporary Jews, the impact of the struggle with the Palestinians on Israeli group identity construction, and the ways in which repressed voices such as those of women, Mizrahim, and Israeli Arabs have changed our ways of thinking about Jewish and Israeli identity.


  • ”This exciting book is based on the premise that we do not already know what Jewish identities are. Mapping Jewish Identities offers pathways away from essentialized notions of Jewishness and provides the intellectual tool for ‘alternative modes of Jewish becoming.' A treat to read."

    —Miriam Peskowitz, author of Spinning Fantasies: Rabbis, Gender, and History and coeditor with Laura Levitt of Judaism since Gender

  • "The pleasures and rewards of this volume are ample. Mapping Jewish Identities opens up—and reinvigorates—questions of Jewish identity and difference. En route to revealing the multiple possibilities of modern Jewish identity, it also succeeds in charting vital new routes for Jewish Cultural Studies today."

    —Ann Pellegrini, author of Performance Anxieties: Staging Psychoanalysis, Staging Race