Imagining Jewish Authenticity

Imagining Jewish Authenticity

Vision and Text in American Jewish Thought
Ken Koltun-Fromm
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 01/28/2015
Format: Hardback 44 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-01570-9
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Exploring how visual media presents claims to Jewish authenticity, Imagining Jewish Authenticity argues that Jews imagine themselves and their place within America by appealing to a graphic sensibility. Ken Koltun-Fromm traces how American Jewish thinkers capture Jewish authenticity, and lingering fears of inauthenticity, in and through visual discourse and opens up the subtle connections between visual expectations, cultural knowledge, racial belonging, embodied identity, and the ways images and texts work together.

Author Bio

Ken Koltun-Fromm is Professor of Religion at Haverford College. He is author of several books including Material Culture and Jewish Thought in America (IUP, 2010).


“Sure to strike an immediate nerve and to be a springboard for lively scholarly and public discussions, especially as it tackles highly timely issues such as gender, conversion, and race.”
 — Asher Biemann, University of Virginia

“By turning his attention to how American Jewish thinkers appealed to visual metaphors to affirm Jewish authenticity, Ken Koltun-Fromm sheds new light on an important topic. This is, as far as I know, the first attempt to take the matter of visual discourse in the context of American Judaism seriously. ”
 — Elliot Wolfson, New York University

“This volume will have great appeal for anyone interested in classic Jewish literary sources and popular culture that have contributed to the American Jewish psyche. Not only does Koltun-Fromm’s deep investment in the fallible constructions of authenticity bring new and provocative insights into media we thought we knew, it is itself a demonstration of the sort of psychological and intellectual challenges with which American scholars of contemporary “Jewish studies” continue to struggle.”
 — Studies in Contemporary Jewry

“[T]his volume is not about traditionalist philosophical and theological underpinnings of the rabbinic covenant of learning Jewish authenticity but instead about creative Talmud Torah that speaks of two minds: emotional and experiential.  A compelling read. Recommended.”
 — Choice

“Koltun-Fromm has written an important book, one that serves as a reminder not only of the value of boundaries and distinctions—particularly for minority groups—but also of the need for 'new relations of justice'.”
 — Modern Judaism

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Visual Authenticity in the American Jewish Imaginary

Section I. The Anxiety of Authenticity in Image and Text
1. Seeing Israel in Bernard Rosenblatt’s Social Zionism
2. Seeing Things in Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Sabbath
3. Seeing Food in The Jewish Home Beautiful and Kosher by Design

Section II. The Embodied Language of Visual Authenticity
4. The Language of Jewish Bodies in Michael Wyschogrod’s The Body of Faith
5. The Language of Gendered Bodies in Adler's Engendering Judaism
6. The Language of Racial Bodies in Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz’s The Colors of Jews

Conclusion: Imagining Jewish Authenticity in Every Generation