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Cover for Jew (Key Words in Jewish Studies)

Jew (Key Words in Jewish Studies)

Cynthia M. Baker


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Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (1/13/2017)


Jew.  The word possesses an uncanny power to provoke and unsettle. For millennia, Jew has signified the consummate Other, a persistent fly in the ointment of Western civilization’s grand narratives and cultural projects. Only very recently, however, has Jew been reclaimed as a term of self-identification and pride.   With these insights as a point of departure, this book offers a wide-ranging exploration of the key word Jew—a term that lies not only at the heart of Jewish experience, but indeed at the core of Western civilization. Examining scholarly debates about the origins and early meanings of Jew, Cynthia M. Baker interrogates categories like “ethnicity,” “race,” and “religion” that inevitably feature in attempts to define the word. Tracing the term’s evolution, she also illuminates its many contradictions, revealing how Jew has served as a marker of materialism and intellectualism, socialism and capitalism, worldly cosmopolitanism and clannish parochialism, chosen status, and accursed stigma. Baker proceeds to explore the complex challenges that attend the modern appropriation of Jew as a term of self-identification, with forays into Yiddish language and culture, as well as meditations on Jew-as-identity by contemporary public intellectuals. Finally, by tracing the phrase new Jews through a range of contexts—including the early Zionist movement, current debates about Muslim immigration to Europe, and recent sociological studies in the United States—the book provides a glimpse of what the word Jew is coming to mean in an era of Internet cultures, genetic sequencing, precarious nationalisms, and proliferating identities. 

Praise For Jew (Key Words in Jewish Studies)

"Readers will find a new and fascinating idea on every page of this highly sophisticated and provocative analysis of 'Jew.' This is a book that opens new and avant-garde intellectual vistas."
— Susannah Heschel

"A rewarding and important book… Highly recommended."
— Choice

"Baker here undertakes the task of trying to navigate as well as interrogate the trajectory of the term 'Jew' from antiquity to the present. Yet Baker’s book is much more than macro-history: it is a subtle intervention that seeks to question and challenge conventional theories about ethnicity, religion, and the very making of the West."
— Marginalia Review of Books

"Baker richly explores [new technologies of identity]."
— AJS Review

Rutgers University Press, 9780813563039, 208pp.

Publication Date: January 13, 2017

About the Author

CYNTHIA M. BAKER is a professor and the chair of religious studies at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. She is the author of Rebuilding the House of Israel: Architectures of Gender in Jewish Antiquity