Facing the dizzying array of changes commonly referred to as
modernity, Jews in 19th-century Eastern Europe and early
20th-century America reflected the crises and opportunities of the
modern world most eloquently in their speech, culture, and
literature. Relying on those spoken and written words as
eyewitnesses, Eli Lederhendler illustrates how the self-
perceptions of Jews evolved, both in the Old World and among
immigrants to America. He focuses on a wide range of subjects to
provide an overview of this clash between old and new and to reveal
ways in which cultural conflicts were reconciled.
How, for instance, was messianic language adapted to serve
nationalistic goals? What did America signify to Jewish thinkers at
the turn of the century? What do Jewish user's guides to the New
World tell us about Jewish secular culture and its perspective on
sex, love, marriage, etiquette, and health? More generally, what do
Jewish letters and literature tell us about how communities adapt
to radically new environments?
"Jewish Responses to Modernity" highlights the manner in which
codes and symbols are passed from one generation to the next,
reinforcing a group's sense of self and helping to define its
relations with other. The book clearly demonstrates the importance
of language as a vehicle for minority-group self-expression in the
past and in the present.
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