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Race and American Judaism  

Samira K. Mehta

Jews in America have had a complex relationship to race. At times, they have been described as a racial minority, whereas at other times, they have been able to assimilate into the white majority. Jewish status has largely depended on whether white Americans felt, in any given moment, socially secure. Jews have therefore fared better during times of economic prosperity. This social instability has strongly affected their relationship to African Americans. Jews, who have a strong sense of themselves as outsiders, have often identified with African American struggles but feared that overt solidarity would endanger their own status as white. Nevertheless, American Jews were disproportionately represented in the civil rights movements. Lastly, while American Jewish are predominantly Ashkenazi, which is to say of Central and Eastern European heritage, contemporary American Jewry is increasingly racially diverse, in part because of Jewish immigration from other parts of the world but also because of interfaith marriage, conversion, and adoption. This increased racial diversity has caused problems in the contemporary American Jewish community, but it is also changing the face of it.


The History of Jewish Women in the United States  

Joyce Antler

The story of Jewish women in the United States is one of impressive achievement. Despite their numerically small representation in the American population, they made major contributions to politics and culture, and their organizations were among the nation’s most influential women’s groups. Yet both as women and as Jews, they often confronted troubling inequities in religious and secular life and struggled to balance their multiple identities. Jewish women played vital roles in colonial and revolutionary America, managing their household economies and family life. Highly literate and with extensive social networks, they often engaged in commerce in the interconnected Atlantic world. Jewish women were the mainstays of religious observance, promoting religious worship and the construction of synagogues and schools. Intermarriage was infrequent, with Jewish men marrying out more frequently than women. In the early 19th century, some Jewish women attended the new female academies, becoming teachers, social reformers, and writers. They also founded and managed educational and philanthropic institutions, including the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society, the coeducational Hebrew Sunday School, orphan associations, and mutual aid groups, including the Independent Order of True Sisters, the first national Jewish women’s organization. Jewish women constituted roughly half of the Jewish immigrants who came to the United States from German-speaking European nations in the first half of the 19th century. They also constituted about half of the two and a half million Eastern European immigrants who arrived between 1880 and 1920. Upper- and middle-class Jewish women established sisterhoods, settlement houses, clubs, and schools to aid the new arrivals, inaugurating the first Jewish women’s movement. In 1909, laboring under exploitative conditions, Jewish women garment workers launched an eleven-week strike that transformed the labor movement. Highly represented in movements like socialism, anarchism, and communism, Jewish women also participated in campaigns for birth control and international peace. By the mid-20th century, a new generation assumed leadership at the National Council of Jewish Women, Hadassah, and other Jewish women’s groups. Involved in campaigns against immigration restriction, rescuing refugees from Nazism, and efforts to create a Jewish national homeland, they strengthened Jewish communities throughout the world. In the postwar decades, Jews migrated in significant numbers to the suburbs, where they were the mainstay of synagogue life and helped popularize new rituals like the bat mitzvah. Major leaders in the campaigns for civil rights, nuclear disarmament, and peace, in the 1960s and 1970s they helped launch second-wave feminism. Jewish women were prominent in both liberal and radical branches of the women’s liberation movement. As Jewish feminists, they challenged sexism within Jewish religious and community life and pressed for more egalitarian practices across the denominations. By the early 1970s, Jewish women began to serve as rabbis in the Reform and Reconstruction movements; the first Conservative woman rabbi was ordained in 1985. In the 21st century, Jewish women reflect a more culturally, religiously, and racially diverse population than before. Jewish women and men are increasingly likely to marry or partner with non-Jews, but to raise their children Jewishly. They are more than twice as likely as prior generations to identify with a race or ethnicity other than white. Asian American, Syrian American, and African American women rabbis have been among the most influential voices in their communities. The gay and lesbian synagogue movement, which began in the early 1970s, provided a locus for lesbians to explore their own religious identities. Jewish Women of Color, an expanding group, places itself at the intersection of racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism as it pursues an intersectional vision of social justice.


Jewish Communal Services  

Sheldon R. Gelman, Saul Andron, and David J. Schnall

The form and character of communal services provided under Jewish auspices have been shaped by religious teachings, traditions, and shifting demographics. Righteousness is achieved by fulfilling obligations to those less fortunate or in need. Acts of tzedakah, translated as justice, are the hallmark of Jewish philanthropy. The evolution, role, functions, and organizational structure of services are reflective of these obligations. While changing funding patterns and managed care have blurred the sectarian nature of many communal agencies, these agencies remain as key elements in the voluntary social services network of this country.


Bar Kokhba  

Werner Eck

Shim‘on Bar Kokhba lead the rebellion of a part of the Jewish people, who organized an independent Jewish state for the short period from 132 to 136, during the reign of Hadrian. The rebellion which was finally crushed by the Roman army with heavy effects for the Jewish heartland in the province Judea.

Bar Kokhba (“son of a star”) is a sobriquet given to Shim'on, the leader of the Jewish revolt from 132–136. In his own letters, his real name is—in Aramaic/Hebrew language—Shim'on bar/ben Kosiba (P. Yadin 50; XḤev/Se 30, et al.); in Greek sources he is called Βαρχωχεβας (Justin, Apol. 1.31.6; Euseb. Hist. eccl. 4.6.2; 4.8.4), or Χοχεβᾶς (Sync. 660) or in Latin Cochebas (Hieron. De vir ill. 21); for all forms of names see PIR2 B 53; S 746.

The name Bar Kokhba (“son of a star”) carries a positive messianic association; it should go back to Rabbi Akiba, with reference to Balaam’s statement in Numbers 24.17: A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of tumult. Akiba is said to have awarded him the title Messiah: “This is the king: messiah.” However, this assignment to Rabbi Akiba is probably unhistorical; it is an ascription made by later rabbis.


Jews and Jewish Communal Identity in Early America  

Holly Snyder

Jewish communities in the Americas followed in the wake of European contact with the western hemisphere at the end of the 15th century, and were a byproduct of the process of European colonization. Early Jewish settlements relied on a combination of economic investment, political negotiation, social networking, and subterfuge to establish the means of communal survival. While the Jewish experience in the Americas continued to operate within the sphere of European attitudes and modalities of behavior brought over to the western hemisphere by the colonizers, the remoteness of these New World communities and the friction caused by competing inter-imperial goals eventually allowed Jews to take advantage of new economic opportunities and expand their social and political range beyond what was feasible for Jewish communities in Europe in the same period. New World colonization shifted the ways that Jews were seen within European cultures, as contact with Indigenous peoples of the Americas and the importation of Africans as slaves allowed Europeans to see Jews as comparatively less alien than they had previously been defined. While Jews, as individuals and as communities, continued to face discriminatory treatment (such as extraordinary taxation, prohibitions on voting and officeholding, scapegoating, and social exclusion), they were able to exercise many of the status privileges accorded to those with European Christian identities. These privileges included the capacity to freely pursue economic activities in trade and agriculture and to exploit enslaved peoples for their labor and for other purposes. With this elevated status came tension within the Jewish community over assimilation to European Christian norms, and an ongoing struggle to preserve Jewish identity and communal distinctiveness.



Eyal Regev

Sadducees (צדוקים, Σαδδоυκαῖоς, Saddoukaioi), a religious and political group within Judaism attested in Judaea from the 2nd century bce to the 1st century ce. The Sadducees are described by Josephus and are mentioned in the New Testament and in rabbinic texts that pertain to the Second Temple period, usually as opponents of the Pharisees in matters concerning law or theology. They held legal views stricter than those of the Pharisees. Many of the high priests from Herod’s reign to 70 ce were Sadducees.The name of the Sadducees probably derives from the name of the high-priestly house of Zadok. Presumably, the Sadducees identified themselves as the successors of these ancient high priests. It is uncertain, however, whether any of the Sadducean high priests were of Zadokite descent. In any event, the name of the Sadducees also implies a sense of righteousness (zedek).Josephus mentions the Sadducees as one of the three Jewish “philosophies” (.


Frankel, Lee Kaufer  

Maryann Syers

Lee Kaufer Frankel (1867–1931) was a chemist and developer of family casework practice. He is known for his contributions to health insurance, family services, and Jewish welfare. He was an instructor at the New York School of Philanthropy and was instrumental in establishing the Training School for Jewish Social Work.


Lurie, Harry Lawrence  

Larraine M. Edwards

Harry Lawrence Lurie (1892–1973) was a leader in the establishment and proliferation of Jewish charitable organizations, including the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds. He was also the first editor of the Encyclopedia of Social Work.


The Eruv as Contested Jewish Space in North America  

Myer Siemiatycki

The eruv is perhaps the most creative, confounding, and contested spatial construct in Judaism. Territorially, it demarcates the urban space within which prohibitions otherwise attached to Sabbath observance for Orthodox Jews become permitted. While virtually imperceptible to the human eye, eruvin (pl.) sanctify what would otherwise be sacrilegious. An eruv thus creates permissive religious space for Jews on Sabbath. Hundreds of cities worldwide, including urban areas across North America, are home to an eruv. Notwithstanding their prevalence and undetectable physical imprint on urban landscapes, the establishment of eruvin has unleashed intense hostility and resistance in some locales. Opposition has typically been mounted by a surprisingly mixed array of critics including non-Jews, non-Orthodox Jews, and dissenting Orthodox Jews. The eruv highlights, in compelling fashion, the spatial challenges of navigating faith, ritual, secularism, and pluralism in contemporary American cities. Seemingly ethereal religious beliefs can occasion radically different perceptions of public space.



Eyal Regev

The Pharisees (פרושים, Gk. Φαρισαῖοî) were one of the Jewish sects or philosophies in the late Hellenistic and early Roman periods, along with the Sadducees and the Essenes. Explicit references to Pharisees are found in Josephus, in the New Testament gospels and Acts of the Apostles, and in Rabbinic literature.Their name, which may derive from the Semitic root prš (“separate”), was adopted by a large group, of whom some (in rabbinic terminology, ḥaberim, “fellows”) were particularly zealous about purity and tithing, while others were less so. The name may also derive from another meaning of the same root—“to interpret”—since the Pharisees were known for their interpretations of scriptural laws. The Pharisees’ interpretations were challenged by other groups but popularly accepted.Josephus describes the Pharisees as a religious and political party that existed since the days of Jonathan the Hasmonean (AJ 13.17–173). They taught that there is life after death and that man controls his own destiny, though fate also plays a role in human fortunes. In an effort to provide his Greek and Roman readers with a point of reference, Josephus compares them to the Stoics (.



Lea Schäfer

The Yiddish language is directly linked to the culture and destiny of the Jewish population of Central and Eastern Europe. It originated as the everyday language of the Jewish population in the German-speaking lands around the Middle Ages and underwent a series of developments until the Shoah, which took a particularly large toll on the Yiddish-speaking Eastern European Jewish population. Today, Yiddish is spoken as a mother tongue almost exclusively in ultra-Orthodox communities, where it is now exposed to entirely new influences and is, thus, far from being a dead language. After an introductory sketch, information on the geographical distribution and number of speakers as well as key historical developments are briefly summarized. Particularly important are the descriptions of the various sociolinguistic situations and the source situation. This is followed by a description of various (failed) attempts at standardization, as well as the geographical distribution and surveys of the dialects. The following section describes the status of Yiddish in the early 21st century, which overlaps with the sociolinguistic situation of Orthodox Yiddish. Finally, the linguistic features of modern Eastern Yiddish (dialects, standard, and Orthodox) are presented. In this context, linguistic levels and structures in which Yiddish differs from other (standard) Germanic languages are also discussed. Since Yiddish, as a language derived from Middle High German, is particularly close to German varieties, the differences and similarities between the two languages are particularly emphasized.


Rubinow, Isaac Max  

Larraine M. Edwards

Isaac Max Rubinow (1875–1936) was a consultant to the President's Committee on Economic Security and director of the Jewish Welfare Society of Philadelphia. He led the American social insurance movement and contributed to Jewish American welfare programs.


conversion, Jewish  

Matthew Thiessen

There is little evidence of conversion to Israelite religion or Judaism in Jewish scriptures. For instance, while later rabbis understood the book of Ruth to portray the conversion of Ruth to Judaism, the book itself repeatedly refers to her as a Moabite, even after she declares to her mother-in-law Naomi that “your people will be my people, and your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16). Similarly, the Hebrew text of Esther 8:17 portrays numerous Gentiles Judaizing: “Many peoples of the land Judaized because fear of the Jews fell upon them.” The Septuagint translation (LXX) adds that this “Judaization” included circumcision. While some scholars believe that this verse refers to conversion, the author claims that this action was taken only out of fear of the Jews. These Gentiles did not Judaize out of religious conviction; rather, they merely pretended to be Jews to avoid Jewish retaliation for the violent machinations of Haman.


Sibylline Oracles  

Erich S. Gruen

The Sibylline Oracles had a long life. The Sibyl was in origin a single Greek prophetess, renowned for the accuracy of her forecasts, divinely inspired, but portrayed as mad or raving, and regularly spewing forth dire forebodings. Additional Sibyls gradually sprang up in a variety of locations in the Mediterranean world, including the renowned Cumaean Sibyl whom Aeneas reputedly consulted. Sibylline prophecies were eventually collected in written form in Rome and used by Roman authorities to provide interpretation of unusual prodigies or natural disasters or to offer advice on significant matters of foreign entanglements and wars. Although that collection (insofar as it is historical) has long since disappeared, the voice of the Sibyl was reproduced in literary form. The extant Sibylline verses, composed in Homeric Greek hexameters, constitute twelve books of oracles, fashioned over a period of several centuries by numerous different and no longer identifiable hands. They constitute a motley assemblage of grim forecasts, historical references, apocalyptic visions, and denunciations of various peoples, especially Romans, for their abandonment of piety and indulgence in evil. The genre was appropriated by anonymous Jewish authors, speaking through the voice of the Sibyl, and employed to convey condemnation of cities and nations for the sins of idolatry, licentiousness, and a range of vices. Vivid portrayals of the end time and eschatological conflagration feature many of the texts. Subsequent Christian writers interpolated verses, added exaltations of Christ, and appropriated Sibylline pronouncements for their own ends. Others manipulated the oracles to record historical personages and events in the framework of prophetic pronouncements. The result was a complex and unsystematic compilation of reconstructed or fabricated prophecies ascribed to Sibyls but largely representing the ingenuity of Jewish and Christian compilers.


Heracleopolis, Jewish politeuma  

Patrick Sänger

There existed, under the Ptolemaic kings of Egypt, an institution, or association, called a politeuma (“polity”). Usually the word politeuma is related to Greek city states or poleis. In this context politeuma can mean “government,” “citizenry,” “polity,” or “state,” or, as a technical term, it can refer to the body of citizens who had political rights.1 The Ptolemies seem to have adopted the word politeuma and transferred it to a specific form of association which was apparently destined for organized groups of persons living within an urban area and named after an ethnic designation. Indeed, this particular word usage occurs only on the (former) territory of the Ptolemaic kingdom: in Hellenistic Egypt, politeumata of Cilicians, Cretans (both in the Arsinoite nome?), Boeotians (in Xois), and Idumaeans (in Memphis) are attested. We come across all these politeumata in the 2nd or 1st century bce. In Sidon, politeumata have been discovered of immigrants from the cities of Kaunos (in Caria), Termessos Minor near Oinoanda, and Pinara (both in Lycia) dating to the end of the 3rd century bce (when Sidon was still controlled by the Ptolemies).


Neumann, Alfred M.  

Sadye L. M. Logan

Alfred M. Neumann (1910–2002) dedicated his life to uplifting humanity. He was recognized for pioneering the concept of sheltered workshops for the rehabilitation of social and emotionally mentally handicapped individuals.


Philo Epicus  

Thomas Kuhn-Treichel

Philo Epicus was a Jewish-Hellenistic poet. He composed a hexametric poem on Jerusalem that featured both descriptions of the city and references to biblical events relating to the patriarchs. It is not clear whether he is to be identified with a Philo mentioned by Josephus (Ap. 1.218, with the attribute “the Elder”), Clement of Alexandria (Str. 1.141.3), and Eusebius of Caesarea (Hist. eccl. 6.13.7); while Nikolaus Walter argued for a distinction between the poet and a homonymous, otherwise unknown historian, some recent scholars seek to justify the identification.1 As to the date of his work, scholars have adduced literary, historical, and archaeological arguments to support various periods between the end of the 3rd and the first half of the 1st centuries bce.2 The only undisputable terminus ante quem for his work is the death of Alexander (11) Polyhistor (not long after 40bce), who quoted the poem in his treatise Περὶ Ἰουδαίων.


Jewish Art in the Modern Era  

Larry Silver and Samantha Baskind

Before the 19th century, most artistic productions by Jewish makers were aligned with religious observance (“Judaica”) or consisted of printing Jewish texts after the development of the printing press and publishing houses. Over the course of the 19th century, coinciding with increasing Jewish political and intellectual emancipation, painters, sculptors, and graphic artists began to make contributions to visual culture, sometimes with markedly Jewish content, such as biblical subjects or imagery of Jewish life, but also with original contributions to favored artistic movements, such as Impressionism or 20th-century abstract art. Zionism generated a range of energetic contributions to an emerging culture, and Holocaust traumas produced powerful artistic responses. At the turn of the 20th century, leading centers of Jewish art centered on America and Israel but included the wider Diaspora.


Wandering Jew  

Lisa Lampert-Weissig

The legend of the Wandering Jew tells of a man who refused Jesus rest as Jesus struggled to Calvary. In response, Jesus bestowed a curse: the man would henceforth be unable to die, doomed to wait until Judgment Day. According to the Christian tradition of the legend, this experience converted the man to Christianity. Immortal, the cursed man now roams the earth, telling all he encounters of the events of the Passion and other historical events that he has experienced firsthand since that time. The legend circulated orally for centuries and artists, writers, and thinkers from around the world have also engaged with the legend through works of literary, visual, musical, and plastic art, as well as polemic, journalism, and philosophy. The Wandering Jew’s curse has often been understood as a metaphor for the Jewish diaspora, interpreted as punishment for alleged Jewish crimes against Christ. This Christian version of the legend has dominated these adaptations, but there is also an important strand of Jewish responses to the legend that center Jewish experience and provide a Jewish perspective on Jewish–Christian relations in the diaspora. From the textual origins of the medieval period through to 21st-century examples, both Jewish and Christian interpretive strands of the legend reveal the contours of “contact zones” between Jews and Christians. They also reflect on the history of these contacts and anticipate this history’s end, frequently by imagining the apocalyptic end of history itself.


Gurin, Arnold  

Philip Bernstein

Arnold Gurin (1917–1991) was a leader in advancing community organization, social work policies and practices, planning and research, education, and administration in voluntary, government, and Jewish services in the United States, Canada, Israel, and France.