Space and Place in Jewish Studies

Space and Place in Jewish Studies

Space and Place in Jewish Studies

Space and Place in Jewish Studies

Synopsis

Scholars in the humanities have become increasingly interested in questions of how space is produced and perceived--and they have found that this consideration of human geography greatly enriches our understanding of cultural history. This "spatial turn" equally has the potential to revolutionize Jewish Studies, complicating familiar notions of Jews as "people of the Book," displaced persons with only a common religious tradition and history to unite them.

Space and Place in Jewish Studies embraces these exciting critical developments by investigating what "space" has meant within Jewish culture and tradition--and how notions of "Jewish space," diaspora, and home continue to resonate within contemporary discourse, bringing space to the foreground as a practical and analytical category. Barbara Mann takes us on a journey from medieval Levantine trade routes to the Eastern European shtetl to the streets of contemporary New York, introducing readers to the variety of ways in which Jews have historically formed communities and created a sense of place for themselves. Combining cutting-edge theory with rabbinics, anthropology, and literary analysis, Mann offers a fresh take on the Jewish experience.

Excerpt

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 keys lie in a particular understanding of prior usage. Terms of the past may bolster claims to continuity in the present while newly minted language sometimes disguises deep connections reaching back into history. Attention must be paid as well to the transmigration of key words among Jewish languages—especially Hebrew, Yiddish, and Ladino—and among languages used by Jews, knitting connections even while highlighting distinctions.

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