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Current Issue Article Abstracts

Winter 2018, Vol. 108.1

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"The Daughters of Israel": An Analysis of the Term in Late Ancient Jewish Sources

Mika Ahuvia, Sarit Kattan Gribetz

This article recovers the history of the term "the daughters of Israel" (b'not yisrael) from its earliest usage in biblical passages and second temple sources to its appearance in late antique Jewish texts, focusing specifically on the term's connotations in rabbinic sources and ritual texts. Rather than taking the term at face-value as denoting women's subordinate status, we argue that this term may have a buried history, and that uncovering the history of the term "daughters of Israel" offers a fascinating entry-point into the role of women in establishing and transforming—rather than merely observing—Jewish law and ritual. Extending Mieke Bal's notion of feminist philology to the investigation of rabbinic and other late antique Jewish sources, we make the case that in rabbinic literature from late antiquity, the Hebrew term "daughters of Israel" appears in sites of contestation, sometimes deployed in discussions about women's innovation in ritual practice in ways that evoke women's ritual agency from narrative biblical sources. In late antique incantations bowls, the Aramaic term for "daughters of Israel" (b'not yisrael) evokes the legal language of second temple marriage contracts that explicitly includes women and may have served to highlight their particular agency as well. Thus in both sets of sources, the term often signals moments when women act as subjects (rather than objects) of ritual and legal discourse.


Meditations on a Monkey-Face:
Monsters, Transgressed Boundaries, and Contested Hierarchies in a Yiddish Eulenspiegel

Iris Idelson-Shein

This paper discusses an early-eighteenth-century Yiddish translation of the famous early modern Schwankroman (jest-novel), Eulenspiegel. The uniqueness of the translation lies in its incorporation of five distinct tales, which do not appear in any other extant Jewish or non-Jewish edition. Four of these original tales feature monstrous creatures, such as cynocephali (dog-headed men), strong, venomous women, and monkey-faced men. The article offers a close reading of these monstrous creatures, revealing how they serve to unpack concerns surrounding problems of transgressed borders and confused hierarchies, which were shared by many of the unnamed Yiddish translator's Jewish and non-Jewish contemporaries. I offer a review of these anxieties, locating them against their wider cultural background, and tracing their unique manifestations within the Jewish—and particularly Yiddish—literary realm. I argue that there was something special about writing monstrosity in Yiddish, and particularly in a Yiddish translation of a German work. A hybrid genre, formed by the unnatural coupling of separate tongues, literature, cultures, classes, and genders—Yiddish literature was a monstrous creation in its own right; an almost natural breeding ground for monsters.


The Mortara Case and the Literary Imagination:
Jewish Melodrama and the Pleasures of Victimhood

Jonathan M. Hess

The 1858 kidnapping of six-year-old Edgardo Mortara by officials of the Papal States in Bologna unleashed a media frenzy across Europe and North America, giving voice to widespread expressions of outrage over the overreach of the Catholic church and the anachronism of Papal rule. Jews in the German-speaking world did not just follow the sensationalized reporting on the fate of this Italian Jewish boy baptized by his Catholic nurse. They also produced a body of melodramatic fiction and drama that took the Mortara case as its inspiration. This literature, written by rabbis and those with close ties to rabbinical leadership, responded to the Mortara affair by creating narratives with happy endings where Jewish children taken into custody by the church inevitably return to their parents and embrace Jewish tradition. Discussing literary texts by Salomon Formstecher, Leopold Stein, Abraham Treu, and Sara Hirsch Guggenheim, this article explores how German-Jewish writers self-consciously transformed the Mortara affair into melodramatic literature designed for the purposes of entertainment. Melodrama hardly marked a withdrawal from the arena of political protest, however. Studying how these texts functioned to entertain their readers, this article explores how this body of literature drew its energy from an interplay of fantasies of Jewish power and vicarious experiences of Jewish victimhood. In doing so, the analysis reflects on the social function of melodrama in nineteenth-century Jewish life, bringing to light the mechanisms that Mortara fiction used to produce pleasurable feelings of self-righteousness in its Jewish readers.



People of the Epistle: Letters in Jewish Intellectual Life, Part II
Editor's Introduction

Natalie B. Dohrmann

This two-part forum was compiled and edited by our colleague Elliott Horowitz, z"l. The first cluster of essays appeared in last summer's issue of JQR (volume 107, number 3), where Elliott's lengthy introduction can be found (pp. 379–96). Though remaining in the penumbra of Germanophone Jewish culture, this second installment of essays extends the scope beyond the case studies of Gershom Scholem and his fraught epistolary networks to feature three essays exploring a range of encounters between academics and the world around them. Letters once again surprise us by bringing to the forefront the human emotion and historical urgency that animate such tame pursuits as historical philology and linguistics. In Daniel Schwartz's essay, Philipp Jaffé, a brilliant medievalist whose isolation and scholarly obsession seem to have led him finally to take his own life in 1870, reveals himself to be a man connected to and deeply loved by a warm family. In the other two pieces in this forum we see letters as a microcosm of Jewish history as it faces the fallout from the two world wars. Mirjam Thulin shows the Wissenschaft des Judentums scholar Markus Brann (1849–1920) reaching out from the economic and cultural collapse of post–World War I Breslau to the hale and wealthy American diaspora. 


Philipp Jaffé and His Stepmother, 1855: Three Letters
Daniel R. Schwartz

Resuming Contact after World War I: Epistolary Networks of the Wissenschaft des Judentums
Mirjam Thulin

"One of Hitler's Professors": Max Weinreich and Solomon Birnbaum confront Franz Beranek
Kalman Weiser


Review Essay

Recovering Judaism from Religion and Modernity
Jeffrey A. Bernstein