Writing Jewish Culture

Writing Jewish Culture

Paradoxes in Ethnography
Edited by Andreas Kilcher and Gabriella Safran
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 04/04/2016
ISBN: 978-0-253-01964-6
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Focusing on Eastern and Central Europe before WWII, this collection explores various genres of "ethnoliterature" across temporal, geographical, and ideological borders as sites of Jewish identity formation and dissemination. Challenging the assumption of cultural uniformity among Ashkenazi Jews, the contributors consider how ethnographic literature defines Jews and Jewishness, the political context of Jewish ethnography, and the question of audience, readers, and listeners. With contributions from leading scholars and an appendix of translated historical ethnographies, this volume presents vivid case studies across linguistic and disciplinary divides, revealing a rich textual history that throws the complexity and diversity of a people into sharp relief.

Author Bio

Andreas Kilcher is a professor at ETH Zurich and author of The Linguistic Theory of Kabbalah as an Aesthetical Paradigm and Dictionary of German-Jewish Literature.

Gabriella Safran is the Eva Chernov Lokey Professor in Jewish Studies at Stanford University and author of Wandering Soul: The Dybbuk’s Creator, S. An-sky.


“With its diverse chorus of academic voices, this anthology of new work on the cultural and literary history of Jewish ethnography is an extraordinarily rich, thoughtful, and engrossing text.”
 — James Loeffler, author of The Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire

Writing Jewish Culture is a significant work in the field of Jewish Studies as well as German-Jewish and Yiddish literature and will be of great interest to scholars in these fields.”
 — Slavic Review

“Writing Jewish Culture looks at the ethnographic issues while defining Jewishness in a very fresh, sophisticated way. The contributors in this volume are accomplished and unmatched scholars. It is a very timely and important addition to the literature on Jewish ethnography. ”
 — Washington Book Review

“This book significantly contributes to our knowledge of Jewish ethnography, history, literature, and culture and should be very interesting for scholars as well as a wider audience.”
 — The Russian Review

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Table of Contents

Note on Transliteration and Names
Introduction / Andreas Kilcher and Gabriella Safran
Part 1: Reinventing the "Jews" in Ethnographic Writing
1. The Voice of a Native Informer: Salomon Maimon Describes Life in Polish Lithuania / Liliane Weissberg
2. Legends of Authenticity: Das Buch von den polnischen Juden (1916) by S. J. Agnon and Ahron Eliasberg / Sylvia Jaworski
3. The Cold Order and the Eros of Storytelling: Joseph Roth’s "Exotic Jews" / Andreas Kilcher
4. Yiddish Ethnographic Poetics and Moyshe Kulbak’s "Vilne" / Jordan Finkin
Part 2: Seeing, Hearing, and Reading Jews
5. Listening in the Dark: The Yiddish Folklorists’ Claim of a Russian Genealogy / Gabriella Safran
6. Ethnoliterary Modernity: Jewish Ethnography and Literature in the Russian Empire and Poland (1890-1930) / Annette Werberger
7. Imagining the Wandering Jew in Modernity: Exegesis and Ethnography in Feuchtwanger’s Jud Süss / Galit Hasan-Rokem
8. Exclusion and Inclusion: Ethnography of War in Kriegsgefangene (1916) and Das Ostjüdische Antlitz (1920) / Eva Edelmann-Ohler
9. Avant-Garde Authenticity: Ethnography and Identity in Moï Ver’s Photobook Ein Ghetto im Osten / Samuel Spinner
Part 3: Spaces of Jewish Ethnography between Diaspora and Nation
10. Zionism’s Ethnographic Knowledge: Leo Motzkin’s and Heinrich York-Steiner’s Narratives of Palestine (1898-1904) / Alexander Alon
11. Eastern Europe in Argentina: Yiddish Travelogues and the Exploration of Jewish Diaspora / Tamar Lewinsky
Part 4: Politics and the Addressee of Ethnography
12. From Custom Book to Folk Culture: Minhag and the Roots of Jewish Ethnography / Nathaniel Deutsch
13. In Search of the Exotic: "Jewish Houses" and Synagogues in Russian Travel Notes / Alla Sokolova
14. Ballads of Strangers: Constructing "Ethnographic Moments" in Jewish Folklore / Dani Schrire
Note to Readers
A. What Is Jewish Ethnography? (Handbook for Fieldworkers) / Naftoli Vaynig and Kha