Jewish Studies at the Crossroads of Anthropology and History: Authority, Diaspora, Tradition

Publication Year



A collection of essays written by scholars invited to the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania in 2003–2004.

Over the past several decades, the field of Jewish studies has expanded to encompass an unprecedented range of research topics, historical periods, geographic regions, and analytical approaches. Yet there have been few systematic efforts to trace these developments, to consider their implications, and to generate new concepts appropriate to a more inclusive view of Jewish culture and society. Jewish Studies at the Crossroads of Anthropology and History brings together scholars in anthropology, history, religious studies, comparative literature, and other fields to chart new directions in Jewish studies across the disciplines.

This groundbreaking volume explores forms of Jewish experience that span the period from antiquity to the present and encompass a wide range of textual, ritual, spatial, and visual materials. The essays give full consideration to non-written expressions of ritual performance, artistic production, spoken narrative, and social experience through which Jewish life emerges. More than simply contributing to an appreciation of Jewish diversity, the contributors devote their attention to three key concepts—authority, diaspora, and tradition—that have long been central to the study of Jews and Judaism. Moving beyond inherited approaches and conventional academic boundaries, the volume reconsiders these core concepts, reorienting our understanding of the dynamic relationships between text and practice, and continuity and change in Jewish contexts. More broadly, this volume furthers conversation across the disciplines by using Judaic studies to provoke inquiry into theoretical problems in a range of other areas.


Anthropology, history, and the remaking of Jewish studies / Ra'anan S. Boustan, Oren Kosansky, and Marina Rustow -- "How do you know that I am a Jew?": authority, cultural identity, and the shaping of postwar American Judaism / Riv-Ellen Prell -- Rabbis and their (in)famous magic: classical foundations, medieval and early modern reverberations / J. H. Chajes -- Dreamers in paradise: the rise and fall of a new holy site in Beit She'an, Israel / Yoram Bilu -- Words, images, and magic: the protection of the bride and bridegroom in Jewish marriage contracts / Shalom Sabar -- The dislocation of the temple vessels: mobile sanctity and rabbinic rhetorics of space / Ra'anan S. Boustan -- Sacred space, local history, and diasporic identity: the graves of the righteous in medieval and early modern Ashkenaz / Lucia Raspe -- Detours in a "hidden land": Samuel Romanelli's Masa' ba'rav / Andrea Schatz -- The rhetoric of rescue: "salvage immigration" narratives in Israeli culture / Tamar Katriel -- Judaism and tradition: continuity, change, and innovation / Albert I. Baumgarten and Marina Rustow -- In the path of our fathers: on tradition and time from Jerusalem to Babylonia and beyond / Sylvie Anne Goldberg -- Prayer, literacy, and literary memory in the Jewish communities of medieval Europe / Ephraim Kanarfogel -- A temple in your kitchen: hafrashat @hallah-the rebirth of a forgotten ritual as a public ceremony / Tamar El-Or -- Judaism and the idea of ancient ritual theory / Michael D. Swartz -- Toward an integrative approach in Jewish studies: a view from anthropology / Harvey E. Goldberg.


“This is a fascinating collection of essays. Everyone who is interested in how anthropology can fertilize the academic study of religious traditions should read this richly detailed book.”—Talal Asad, City University of New York

“While closely focused on specific cases and offering close and careful readings of sources, this collection engages with core issues of tradition and authority in novel ways. Anyone interested in the question of tradition will find very rich food for thought.”—Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, New York University

Series Title
Jewish Culture and Contexts
University of Pennsylvania Press