THE NOVEL, STORIES, POEMS, ESSAYS, plays, letters, memoirs, and diaries that American Jewish women produced during the nineteenth century form a unique literary tradition.1 My goal in describing this tradition is to provide a more accurate and fully developed context within which to read a particular group of texts. These works, all of which fit into previously established categories, including American literature, Jewish literature, Jewish-American literature, and women's literature, deserve to be read in relation to other works by American Jewish women writers who were raising similar questions about their roles and identities. To read these texts in relation to one another refines and enriches our understanding not only of the specific body of writing, but also of what we label American literature.
In identifying this hitherto unacknowledged tradition, I proceed not by constructing a meritocracy of texts, but by adopting a principle of inclusivity. Such inclusivity is necessary to insure that readers understand Jewish women as whole and legitimate subjects rather than as inconsequential, or strange, objects/outsiders/others (and therefore not worthy of a place in the "real" canon).2 In adopting this critical principle of inclusivity, I must ask the question, What criteria define the tradition? As I use the term, a tradition does not depend on an "intraliterary dimension"-- "writings receiv[ing] and exploit[ing] the presence of earlier writings," as Richard Brodhead explains.3 Instead, I suggest that a group of texts produced by writers who share a distinctive sociohistorical position coalesce into a tradition.
American Jewish women writers have often been undervalued or ig-