Jewish Families

Jewish Families

Jewish Families

Jewish Families


From stories of biblical patriarchs and matriarchs and their children, through the Gospel's Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and to modern Jewish families in fiction, film, and everyday life, the family has been considered key to transmitting Jewish identity. Current discussions about the Jewish family's supposed traditional character and its alleged contemporary crisis tend to assume that the dynamics of Jewish family life have remained constant from the days of Abraham and Sarah to those of Tevye and Golde in Fiddler on the Roof and on to Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint.

Jonathan Boyarin explores a wide range of scholarship in Jewish studies to argue instead that Jewish family forms and ideologies have varied greatly throughout the times and places where Jewish families have found themselves. He considers a range of family configurations from biblical times to the twenty-first century, including strictly Orthodox communities and new forms of family, including same-sex parents. The book shows the vast canvas of history and culture as well as the social pressures and strategies that have helped shape Jewish families, and suggests productive ways to think about possible futures for Jewish family forms.


The Rutgers book series Key Words in Jewish Studies seeks to introduce students and scholars alike to vigorous developments in the field by exploring its terms. These words and phrases reference important concepts, issues, practices, events, and circumstances. But terms also refer to standards, even to preconditions; they patrol the boundaries of the field of Jewish studies. This series aims to transform outsiders into insiders and let insiders gain new perspectives on usages, some of which shift even as we apply them.

Key words mutate through repetition, suppression, amplification, and competitive sharing. Jewish studies finds itself attending to such processes in the context of an academic milieu where terms are frequently repurposed. Diaspora offers an example of an ancient word, one with a specific Jewish resonance, which has traveled into new regions and usage. Such terms migrate from the religious milieu of Jewish learning to the secular environment of universities, from Jewish community discussion to arenas of academic discourse, from political debates to intellectual arguments and back again. As these key words travel, they acquire additional meanings even as they occasionally shed long-established connotations. On occasion, key words can become so politicized that they serve as accusations. The sociopolitical concept of assimilation, for example, when turned into a term—assimilationist—describing an advocate of the process among Jews, became an epithet hurled by political opponents struggling for the mantle of authority in Jewish communities.

When approached dispassionately, key words provide analytical leverage to expand debate in Jewish studies. Some key words will be familiar from long use, and yet they may have gained new valences, attracting or repelling other terms in contemporary discussion. But there are prominent terms in Jewish culture whose key lies in a particular understanding . . .

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