Boundaries of Jewish Identity

Edited by Susan A. Glenn and Naomi B. Sokoloff

  • Published: 2011
  • Subject Listing: Jewish Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 240 pp., 1 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Samuel and Althea Stroum Books
  • Contents

The subject of Jewish identity is one of the most vexed and contested issues of modern religious and ethnic group history. This interdisciplinary collection draws on work in law, anthropology, history, sociology, literature, and popular culture to consider contemporary and historical responses to the question "Who and what is Jewish?"

These essays are focused especially on the issues of who creates the definitions, and how, and in what social and political contexts. The ten leading authorities writing here also look at the forces, ranging from new genetic and reproductive technologies to increasingly multicultural societies, that push against established boundaries. The authors examine how Jews have imagined themselves and how definitions of Jewishness have been established, enforced, challenged, and transformed. Does being a Jew require religious belief, practice, and formal institutional affiliation? Is there a biological or physical aspect of Jewish identity? What is the status of the convert to another religion? How do definitions play out in different geographic and historical settings? What makes Boundaries of Jewish Identity distinctive is its attention to the various Jewish "epistemologies" or ways of knowing who counts as a Jew. These essays reveal that possible answers reflect the different social, intellectual, and political locations of those who are asking.

This book speaks to readers concerned with Jewish life and culture and to audiences interested in religious, cultural, and ethnic studies. It provides an excellent opportunity to examine how Jews fit into an increasingly diverse America and an increasingly complicated global society.
Susan A. Glenn is Howard and Frances Keller Endowed Professor of History and a member of the Jewish Studies Program at the University of Washington. Naomi B. Sokoloff is professor of Near Eastern languages and civilizations and professor of comparative literature at the University of Washington, where she has also served as the Samuel and Althea Stroum Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies. Other contributors are Gad Barzilai, Lila Corwin Berman, Laada Bilaniuk, Jonathan Freedman, Calvin Goldscheider, Susan Martha Kahn, Erica Lehrer, and Shulamit S. Magnus.

"Jewish identity presents a particular challenge for students of culture because the Jews are at once a profoundly variable group-both religious and secular, national and cosmopolitan, ethnically diverse-and also highly unified by historical and textual associations. Boundaries of Jewish Identity is a provocative and stimulating book on a much talked about but surprisingly under-analyzed subject."
-David Biale, University of California, Davis

"A wonderfully coherent, superbly edited volume about the incoherence of contemporary Jewish identity. Its lucid, intriguing essays provide a fresh, at times, unsettling perspective on what it means to be Jewish."
-Steven J. Zipperstein, Stanford University


"An outstanding collection of essays . . . both scholarly and highly readable . . . It is a quintessential work of Jewish scholarship - the questions are hard and the answers complex, open-ended, and mid-wives of future questions."
-Riv-Ellen Prell, Lilith, July 2011

"This highly readable co-edited volume . . . . is highly compatible with a critical approach to the study of identity and identity making, a perspective that is increasingly finding its way into the study of identity and identity making scholarship."
-Debra Kaufman, H-Judaic, July 2011