Synopses & Reviews
How Jews think about and work with objects is the subject of this fascinating study of the interplay between material culture and Jewish thought. Ken Koltun-Fromm draws from philosophy, cultural studies, literature, psychology, film, and photography to portray the vibrancy and richness of Jewish practice in America. His analyses of Mordecai Kaplan's obsession with journal writing, Joseph Soloveitchik's urban religion, Abraham Joshua Heschel's fascination with objects in The Sabbath, and material identity in the works of Anzia Yezierska, Cynthia Ozick, Bernard Malamud, and Philip Roth, as well as Jewish images on the covers of Lilith magazine and in the Jazz Singer films, offer a groundbreaking approach to an understanding of modern Jewish thought and its relation to American culture.
In this tightly argued and sophisticated monograph, Koltun-Fromm (Haverford College) seeks to locate and explore the experiences of American Jews with physical objects and things as diverse as journals and urban streets. In his view, thought, particularly reflection on identity, can be profitably examined and experienced within the context of the objects and other material phenomena individuals encounter. The individuals Koltun-Fromm selects generally are well known; among them are Edward Bernays, Eric Fromm, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Mordecai Kaplan, Bernard Malamud, Cynthia Ozick, and Joseph Soloveitchik. Their varied personal experiences and professional accomplishments (the volume's six chapters are titled 'The Material Self,' 'The Material Past,' 'Material Place,' 'Material Presence,' 'The Material Narrative,' and 'The Material Gaze') document the richness and multidimensional character of what the author terms material Jewish identity. A perceptive concluding section, titled 'American or Jewish Material Identity?' considers the degree to which this material Jewish identity can be identified as specifically Jewish or American... All libraries supporting such patrons should seriously consider its purchase. Summing Up: Recommended. Graduate students and researchers/faculty. --ChoiceL. J. Greenspoon, Creighton University, December 2010
"In this tightly argued and sophisticated monograph, Koltun-Fromm seeks to locate and explore the experiences of American Jews with physical objects and things as diverse as journals and urban streets.... All libraries supporting such patrons should seriously consider its purchase.... Recommended." --Choice Indiana University Press Indiana University Press
"Material Culture and Jewish Thought in America invites us to re-examine a range of religious-philosophical sources, for which we should be grateful." --Jewish Book World
"Koltun-Fromm brings a synthetic approach, and thus, fresh air, to what has too long remained a narrowly focused set of questions. Scholars in a variety of fields will find relevant and rewarding discussions in these pages." --Religious Studies Review, Volume 37, Number 4, Dec. 2011
"[This book] offers a bracing insight into the current, vibrant state of American Jewish studies." --Josh Lambert, Forward, 7/16/10 Indiana University Press
"The most profound and uniquely conceived study of modern Jewish thought to appear in a long, long time.... The reader learns that Judaism cannot be thought apart from space and the things that both constitute and mark it." --Zachary Braiterman, author of The Shape of Revelation: Aesthetics and Modern Jewish Thought
"Ken Koltun-Fromm's fascinating account of American Jewish thinkers' engagement with material culture explores a subject largely commanded by social historians... [His] chapters engage fascinating topics in clear-headed and searching discussions." --Shofar
About the Author
Ken Koltun-Fromm is Professor of Religion at Haverford College and author of Moses Hess and Modern Jewish Identity (IUP, 2001), winner of the Koret Jewish Book Award for Philosophy and Thought, and Abraham Geiger's Liberal Judaism (IUP, 2006).
Table of Contents
Introduction: Material Culture and Jewish Identity in America
1. The Material Self: Mordecai Kaplan and the Art of Writing
2. The Material Past: Edward Bernays, Joshua Liebman, and Erich Fromm
3. Material Place: Joseph Soloveitchik and the Urban Holy
4. Material Presence: Abraham Joshua Heschel and The Sabbath
5. The Material Narrative: Yezierska, Roth, Ozick, Malamud
6. The Material Gaze: American Jewish Identity and Heritage Production
Conclusion: American or Jewish Material Identity?