Jew­ish Cul­tur­al Studies

Simon J. Bronner

January 12, 2021

Jew­ish Cul­tur­al Stud­ies charts the con­tours and bound­aries of Jew­ish cul­tur­al stud­ies and the issues of Jew­ish cul­ture that make it so intrigu­ing-and nec­es­sary-not only for Jews but also for stu­dents of iden­ti­ty, eth­nic­i­ty, and diver­si­ty gen­er­al­ly. In addi­tion to fram­ing the dis­tin­guish­ing fea­tures of Jew­ish cul­ture and the ways it has been stud­ied, and often mis­rep­re­sent­ed and maligned, Simon J. Bron­ner presents sev­er­al case stud­ies using ethnog­ra­phy, folk­loris­tic inter­pre­ta­tion, and rhetor­i­cal analy­sis. Bron­ner, build­ing on many years of glob­al cul­tur­al explo­ration, locates pat­terns, process­es, frames, and themes of events and actions iden­ti­fied as Jew­ish to dis­cern what makes them appear Jew­ish and why.

Jew­ish Cul­tur­al Stud­ies is divid­ed into three parts. Part 1 deals with the con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion of how Jews in com­plex, het­eroge­nous soci­eties iden­ti­fy them­selves as a cul­tur­al group to non-Jews and vice ver­sa-such as how the Jew­ish home is social­ly and mate­ri­al­ly con­struct­ed. Part 2 delves into rit­u­al­iza­tion as a strate­gic Jew­ish prac­tice for per­pet­u­at­ing peo­ple­hood and the val­ues that it sug­gests-for exam­ple, the ris­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty of nam­ing cer­e­monies for new­born girls, simhat bat or zeved habat, in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry. Part 3 explores nar­ra­tion, includ­ing the glob­al trans­for­ma­tion of Jew­ish jok­ing in online set­tings and the role of Jews in Amer­i­can polit­i­cal culture.

Bron­ner reflects that a rea­son to sep­a­rate Jew­ish cul­tur­al stud­ies from the fields of Jew­ish stud­ies and cul­tur­al stud­ies is the dis­tinc­tive­ness of Jew­ish cul­ture among oth­er eth­nic expe­ri­ences. As a dias­poric group with reli­gious ties and vary­ing local cus­toms, Jews present dif­fi­cul­ties of cat­e­go­riza­tion. He encour­ages a mul­ti­per­spec­ti­val approach that con­sid­ers the Jew­ish dou­ble con­scious­ness as being aware of both insid­er and out­sider per­spec­tives, par­tic­i­pa­tion in ancient tra­di­tion and recent mod­ern­iza­tion, and the great vari­ety and stigma­ti­za­tion of Jew­ish expe­ri­ence and cul­tur­al expres­sion. Stu­dents and schol­ars in Jew­ish stud­ies, cul­tur­al stud­ies, eth­nic-reli­gious stud­ies, folk­lore, soci­ol­o­gy, psy­chol­o­gy, and eth­nol­o­gy are the intend­ed audi­ence for this book.

Discussion Questions

In Jew­ish Cul­tur­al Stud­ies, Simon J. Bron­ner, dean of the Col­lege of Gen­er­al Stud­ies at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin-Mil­wau­kee, explores a max­i­mal­ist def­i­n­i­tion of Jew­ish cul­ture. Using exam­ples from Jew­ish rit­u­al, lit­er­a­ture, sto­ry­telling, pol­i­tics, and media, Jew­ish Cul­tur­al Stud­ies chal­lenges the read­er to rec­og­nize ori­en­ta­tions that iden­ti­fy these expe­ri­ences, for both the Jew­ish and broad­er com­mu­ni­ty, as expres­sions of Judaism and Jew­ish­ness. Aca­d­e­m­ic in its pre­sen­ta­tion, Jew­ish Cul­tur­al Stud­ies is a valu­able read for those who seek a deep dive into the inter­sec­tion between Jew­ish stud­ies, eth­nol­o­gy, anthro­pol­o­gy, and soci­ol­o­gy. At the same time, reflect­ing on the dis­tinc­tive qual­i­ties of Jew­ish cul­ture, which blend a dias­po­ra mind­set, reli­gious prac­tice, and the cus­toms of sur­round­ing non-Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties, Bron­ner argues for Jew­ish cul­tur­al stud­ies to find its right­ful place as an inde­pen­dent field from the larg­er dis­ci­plines of Jew­ish stud­ies and cul­tur­al studies.