Jonathan Boyarin is a distinguished Judaic Studies scholar who combines his expertise in anthropology, Yiddish culture and ethnography in a focus on Jewish identity, the diaspora, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, among other topics.
In the current work, Boyarin explores the evolution and transformations of the Jewish family.
In Boyarin’s analysis, throughout history the Jewish family has been anything but uniform. Jewish family configurations come in multiple varieties and, Boyarin maintains, cannot be held up to an artificial normative standard such as a nuclear Jewish family celebrating a Seder with grandparents in Florida. Such families no doubt exist but intermarriage, assimilation, gay marriage, single parenthood, and a shift to the right among Orthodox Jews have combined to radically alter the traditional Jewish family landscape.
Boyarin’s beloved Stanton Street Shul on New York’s Lower East Side (the subject of his prior work, Mornings at the Stanton Street Shul) is emblematic of his conception of Jewish families. An Orthodox synagogue the congregation is staunchly inclusive and attracts a broad range of worshippers and a wide variety of families. Boyarin celebrates their diversity, putting him squarely at odds with traditional Orthodox Judaism and close to heresy in the eyes of the Haredi community.
Jewish Families is an academic book suited for specialists in the sociology of the Jewish family, Jewish cultural studies, and Jewish ethnography. Lay readers with a strong interest in the dynamics of Jewish family life may also gain valuable insights from this work.
Readers should be forewarned: Jonathan Boyarin’s brilliance and wide-ranging erudition sometimes come at the expense of clarity and cohesion. The innumerable digressions and Talmudic-like analyses of the book’s central themes might lead a reader to think that this fascinating work is meant to be studied, ideally, in a course taught by Professor Boyarin. Bibliography, index, notes.