The New Jew in Film: Exploring Jewishness and Judaism in Contemporary Cinema

The New Jew in Film: Exploring Jewishness and Judaism in Contemporary Cinema

The New Jew in Film: Exploring Jewishness and Judaism in Contemporary Cinema

The New Jew in Film: Exploring Jewishness and Judaism in Contemporary Cinema


Jewish film characters have existed almost as long as the medium itself. But around 1990, films about Jews and their representation in cinema multiplied and took on new forms, marking a significant departure from the past. With a fresh generation of Jewish filmmakers, writers, and actors at work, contemporary cinemas have been depicting a multiplicity of new variants, including tough Jews; brutish Jews; gay and lesbian Jews; Jewish cowboys, skinheads, and superheroes; and even Jews in space.

The New Jew in Film is grounded in the study of over three hundred films from Hollywood and beyond. Nathan Abrams explores these new and changing depictions of Jews, Jewishness, and Judaism, providing a wider, more representative picture of this transformation. In this compelling, surprising, and provocative book, chapters explore masculinity, femininity, passivity, agency, and religion in addition to a departure into new territory--including bathrooms and food. Abrams's concern is to reveal how the representation of the Jew is used to convey confidence or anxieties about Jewish identity and history as well as questions of racial, sexual, and gender politics. In doing so, he provides a welcome overview of important Jewish films produced globally over the past twenty years.


[T]he stereotype is a complex, ambivalent, contradictory mode of
representation, as anxious as it is assertive, and demands not only that
we extend our critical and political objectives but that we change the
object of analysis itself.

Homi Bhabha (1994: 100)

Jews have big noses, eat bagels and love money.

The Hebrew Hammer (dir. Jonathan Kesselman, 2003)

This is a book in search of Jewish stereotypes and self-images in contemporary cinema, that is mainstream fiction film since 1990. It is not about how ‘Jewish’ a film is, if such a definition is even possible. But it does engage in discussions about the nature of the Jewishness and Judaism that such stereotypes and images exhibit. In this way, it seeks to map the metamorphosis of the modern and New Jew/ess in film.

A stereotype is a regularly repeated, simplistic, easily understood and inaccurate categorisation of a social group (Abrams et al. 2010: 365). Much has been written about the function of stereotypes in general, and Jewish ones in particular, especially how they perform cultural work in demonising minority groups from the outside, and perpetuating group solidarity and continuity from the inside. As Homi Bhabha suggests, the stereotype offers ‘a secure point of identification’ (1994: 99), that is reassurance. Daniel Boyarin calls this form of reassurance ‘Jewissance’ (1997: xxiii). Itself a play on the French term ‘jouissance’ (literally ‘orgasm’, but also meaning physical or intellectual pleasure, delight or ecstasy), Boyarin defines Jewissance as ‘a pleasure’ that ‘brings to many men and women an extraordinary richness of experience and a powerful sense of . . .

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