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Gender and Assimilation in Modern Jewish History: The Roles and Representation of Women

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Paula Hyman broadens and revises earlier analyses of Jewish assimilation, which depicted "the Jews" as though they were all men, by focusing on women and the domestic as well as the public realms. Surveying Jewish accommodations to new conditions in Europe and the United States in the years between 1850 and 1950, she retrieves the experience of women as reflected in their Paula Hyman broadens and revises earlier analyses of Jewish assimilation, which depicted "the Jews" as though they were all men, by focusing on women and the domestic as well as the public realms. Surveying Jewish accommodations to new conditions in Europe and the United States in the years between 1850 and 1950, she retrieves the experience of women as reflected in their writings--memoirs, newspaper and journal articles, and texts of speeches--and finds that Jewish women's patterns of assimilation differed from men's and that an examination of those differences exposes the tensions inherent in the project of Jewish assimilation. Patterns of assimilation varied not only between men and women but also according to geographical locale and social class. Germany, France, England, and the United States offered some degree of civic equality to their Jewish populations, and by the last third of the nineteenth century, their relatively small Jewish communities were generally defined by their middle-class characteristics. In contrast, the eastern European nations contained relatively large and overwhelmingly non-middle-class Jewish population. Hyman considers how these differences between East and West influenced gender norms, which in turn shaped Jewish women's responses to the changing conditions of the modern world, and how they merged in the large communities of eastern European Jewish immigrants in the United States. The book concludes with an exploration of the sexual politics of Jewish identity. Hyman argues that the frustration of Jewish men at their "feminization" in societies in which they had achieved political equality and economic success was manifested in their criticism of, and distancing from, Jewish women. The book integrates a wide range of primary and secondary sources to incorporate Jewish women's history into one of the salient themes in modern Jewish history, that of assimilation. The book is addressed to a wide audience: those with an interest in modern Jewish history, in women's history, and in ethnic studies and all who are concerned with the experience and identity of Jews in the modern world.


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Paula Hyman broadens and revises earlier analyses of Jewish assimilation, which depicted "the Jews" as though they were all men, by focusing on women and the domestic as well as the public realms. Surveying Jewish accommodations to new conditions in Europe and the United States in the years between 1850 and 1950, she retrieves the experience of women as reflected in their Paula Hyman broadens and revises earlier analyses of Jewish assimilation, which depicted "the Jews" as though they were all men, by focusing on women and the domestic as well as the public realms. Surveying Jewish accommodations to new conditions in Europe and the United States in the years between 1850 and 1950, she retrieves the experience of women as reflected in their writings--memoirs, newspaper and journal articles, and texts of speeches--and finds that Jewish women's patterns of assimilation differed from men's and that an examination of those differences exposes the tensions inherent in the project of Jewish assimilation. Patterns of assimilation varied not only between men and women but also according to geographical locale and social class. Germany, France, England, and the United States offered some degree of civic equality to their Jewish populations, and by the last third of the nineteenth century, their relatively small Jewish communities were generally defined by their middle-class characteristics. In contrast, the eastern European nations contained relatively large and overwhelmingly non-middle-class Jewish population. Hyman considers how these differences between East and West influenced gender norms, which in turn shaped Jewish women's responses to the changing conditions of the modern world, and how they merged in the large communities of eastern European Jewish immigrants in the United States. The book concludes with an exploration of the sexual politics of Jewish identity. Hyman argues that the frustration of Jewish men at their "feminization" in societies in which they had achieved political equality and economic success was manifested in their criticism of, and distancing from, Jewish women. The book integrates a wide range of primary and secondary sources to incorporate Jewish women's history into one of the salient themes in modern Jewish history, that of assimilation. The book is addressed to a wide audience: those with an interest in modern Jewish history, in women's history, and in ethnic studies and all who are concerned with the experience and identity of Jews in the modern world.

30 review for Gender and Assimilation in Modern Jewish History: The Roles and Representation of Women

  1. 5 out of 5

    Dan Gorman

    Sometimes when I read about "the patriarchy," I wonder how much of it is universally applicable, and how much varies by society. This book points toward the universalist possibility, reminding the reader that many patriarchal societies share common elements, particularly high expectations placed upon women and intrinsic bias against them. Paula Hyman explains how Jewish women in Eastern Europe and the United States struggled under the weight of "assimilation" during the age of Jewish emancipatio Sometimes when I read about "the patriarchy," I wonder how much of it is universally applicable, and how much varies by society. This book points toward the universalist possibility, reminding the reader that many patriarchal societies share common elements, particularly high expectations placed upon women and intrinsic bias against them. Paula Hyman explains how Jewish women in Eastern Europe and the United States struggled under the weight of "assimilation" during the age of Jewish emancipation and emigration. As Jews moved from the Russian Empire into Central Europe and crossed the Atlantic, they were pressed to modernize along Western Protestant lines. Jews pursued different forms of assimilation — secularization, Reform Judaism, an emphasis on Jewish religion but not ethnicity, adherence to a Russian Jewish identity, adherence to Orthodox practices, etc. — but Jewish men enjoyed greater professional opportunities than women in the West. It became common for middle-class Jewish men in Germany and Central Europe to assimilate into bourgeois society, while their wives maintained Jewish traditions, often clashing with their secularized husbands. Yet when Jewish women did secularize, or avail themselves of Western-style education and employment, their secularized husbands and male relatives disdained their behavior. When Jewish immigrant women in the U.S. struggled to provide for their families, critics (male and female, it's important to note) accused them of not being religious enough. Later in the 1900s, as Jewish men struggled against Anglo-American anti-Semitism, they criticized Jewish mothers. The message from this history is that, no matter how Jewish women defined themselves, whether in American/Western or traditional ways, they dissatisfied some group of Jewish men, for one reason or another. This reluctance to let women express themselves and define their culture is what strikes me as a universal element of patriarchy.

  2. 5 out of 5

    aisha

    i'm fifty pages in and it's absolutely fantastic. she delves into very interesting topics with great support, but most importantly, it is very well written and engaging. can't wait to finish. also, i haven't taken a history class since i was at BU, and i had somehow forgotten how much i enjoyed them. i think i actually enjoy them more now than ever. (no major change, i swear. i'm pretty sure i'm way passed my quota for that). i'm fifty pages in and it's absolutely fantastic. she delves into very interesting topics with great support, but most importantly, it is very well written and engaging. can't wait to finish. also, i haven't taken a history class since i was at BU, and i had somehow forgotten how much i enjoyed them. i think i actually enjoy them more now than ever. (no major change, i swear. i'm pretty sure i'm way passed my quota for that).

  3. 5 out of 5

    Korri

    re-read July 12-16 2012

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    Marshall

  30. 4 out of 5

    Andy

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