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Book description

This History offers an unparalleled examination of all aspects of Jewish American literature. Jewish writing has played a central role in the formation of the national literature of the United States, from the Hebraic sources of the Puritan imagination to narratives of immigration and acculturation. This body of writing has also enriched global Jewish literature in its engagement with Jewish history and Jewish multilingual culture. Written by a host of leading scholars, The Cambridge History of Jewish American Literature offers an array of approaches that contribute to current debates about ethnic writing, minority discourse, transnational literature, gender studies, and multilingualism. This History takes a fresh look at celebrated authors, introduces new voices, locates Jewish American literature on the map of American ethnicity as well as the spaces of exile and diaspora, and stretches the boundaries of American literature beyond the Americas and the West.


'… a masterly work of synthesis … marks a milestone in [the] institutionalization [of] Jewish-American writing …'

Morris Dickstein Source: The Times Literary Supplement

'From a variety of perspectives, The Cambridge History of Jewish American Literature provides an illuminating analysis of [the] points of intersection, a vibrant cultural landscape that has enriched America and invigorated Jewishness. This collection is a logical starting point for anyone interested in exploring this history.'

Jarrod Tanny Source: The Review of Rabbinic Judaism

'… an unexpectedly coherent mosaic that stands as close to a complete picture of the history of Jewish American literature as we can imagine at this point in the early twenty-first century.'

Joe Kraus Source: MELUS

'In the face of the multifarious creativity so richly documented in this expansive volume, no reasonable person could hold on to his or her skepticism. I use the term multifarious on purpose to underscore what I regard as one of the key choices in the conception of the volume: to go wide and eschew canonicity.'

Alan Mintz Source: Studies in American Jewish Literature

'… we have in hand a Cambridge History of Jewish American Literature that embraces, with exquisite critical attention and traditional scholarly values, such diverse phenomena as the graphic novel, stand-up comedy, film and video, gender-bending performance art, and popular music …'

Esther Schor Source: Studies in American Jewish Literature

'… this is a wonderful collection of essays, which extends our understanding of, and at times redefines, the field of Jewish American literature. The editor, Hana Wirth-Nesher, has done a fabulous job, assembling a stellar list of contributors and ensuring that … they engage afresh with their material, producing genuinely original work, rather than rehearsing previous research or living off former glories.'

David Brauner Source: Journal of Modern Jewish Studies

'The volume is certainly rich and varied and expansive. To be sure, its thirty-one chapters treat familiar subjects like immigrant writing, Jewish American fiction at mid-century, Yiddish literature, New York City as a site for creative expression, overviews of Jewish American poetry, drama, popular culture, and humor. But not only. There are also sections that invite re-thinking of the geographic and linguistic boundaries of the field, thus expanding our idea of what 'Jewish American literature' (each term also under interrogation these days) represents as a subject of academic inquiry. In this respect the Cambridge History begins an important remapping of the field.'

Donald Weber Source: Studies in American Jewish Literature

'… a study like The Cambridge History has the opportunity both to re-shape the canon of Jewish American literature and to offer readers new historiographical lenses through which to read familiar material.'

Heather S. Nathans Source: Studies in American Jewish Literature

'… scholars who … read America with an enthusiastic but skeptical eye for its occasional flashes of Jewish significance have achieved the exact sorts of edifying and lively results that fill the pages of the Cambridge History.'

Michael Hoberman Source: Studies in American Jewish Literature

“… captures both the vital and vitalizing multifariousness of the field and also the editor’s unique vision that gives that multifariousness a conceptual coherence …'

Michael Kramer Source: Studies in American Jewish Literature

'The Cambridge History of Jewish American Literature is indeed a landmark, a superior assortment of field-defining essays, and a testimony to scholarly activity and achievements in the rich transnational, transcultural, polylingual field of Jewish American literature.'

Cheryl Lester Source: Philip Roth Studies

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  • 9 - Yiddish American Poetry
    pp 202-222
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    This chapter tracks the dynamic interaction between Jews and America or, more precisely, with the idea of America as they understood it during the nation's first century of existence. It focuses on three foundational figures: Mordecai Manuel Noah, Isaac Mayer Wise, and Emma Lazarus. Noah portrays Jews as beneficiaries of the American system and also describes them as bearers of an ancient tradition that produced America in the first place. While Noah sees America as a new phase in Jewish national existence, Wise emphasizes America's role in purifying Judaism as a religion. Lazarus devoted herself to celebrating Jewish heroism and galvanizing a sense of collective purpose among American Jews. In the glorious visions of Noah, Wise, and Lazarus, as in those moments in subsequent American Jewish culture when their rhetoric resurfaces, the chapter explores an America that represents an ideal, a promise of Jewish self-determination and fulfillment.
  • 10 - Yiddish Theater in America
    pp 224-241
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    For Jewish authors in America who did not write in English, their encounter with English words has tended to emphasize the untranslatability of certain American concepts into their language and culture. This chapter offers diverse illustrations of language encounters that often intersect. In Call It Sleep, Henry Roth celebrates English as a medium for modernist experimentation as it intersects with Yiddish and Hebrew. The nature of the encounter with English in Jewish American writing depends on which language coexists alongside it, even if that other language is only a trace, an echo, an accent, or, a cipher. The chapter focuses on Hebrew and Yiddish, as they have tended to play a major role in the linguistic awareness of authors and characters. English engagement with other languages enriches Jewish American literature as well. Always more than just a language, English has served as promise, challenge, obstacle, riddle, and inspiration for Jewish American writers.
  • 11 - Jewish American Drama
    pp 242-257
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    This chapter discusses cultural, historical, and literary encounters toward a consideration of disciplinary encounters. It introduces and discusses early modern materials in which Jewish imaginings of indigenous others are framed by Sephardic diasporic histories and identities and by the popularity of ten tribist theories. The chapter argues that Jewish projections, representations, and fantasies of Indianness often assumed distinct expression within it, precisely because of Jews' vexed place within Christian Europe. It concentrates on Jews, who, in the process of imagining their own possessive relationship to the continent, would adopt and adapt myth of the Jewish origins of the New World. Jewish fantasies of indigenization offered further ways to explore the collision between Jewish tribalism and modern, Enlightenment universalism. The chapter suggests that literary Jewish-indigenous encounters tell less about Jewish or Native identities and histories and more about the disruptive and even transformative possibility both might pose to the superintending ideological structures within which they operate.
  • 14 - Ladino in U.S. Literature and Song
    pp 297-319
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    This chapter sketches two ways of narrating Jewish American literary history, namely first-person singular narration and third-person narration. Immigrant narratives represent the process of migration and assimilation and help to give shape to an individual's transformation. Gold's Jews without Money, more an unstructured memoir than a novel, is a first-person-singular narrative of twenty-two chronologically arranged vignettes. The year 1934 witnessed an aesthetic revolution in Jewish American fiction with the publication of Henry Roth's Call It Sleep. Roth's new third-person narration takes small David's point of view with strikingly beautiful images. Though the end point in both narrating ways is alienation, the readers have to decide whether the story of increasing assimilation that begins with Antin and Cahan or an alternative story that, inspired by Daniel Deronda, would start with Nyburg's Jewish idealism and Lewisohn's dissimilation might have more resonance today.
  • 15 - Writing and Remembering Jewish Middle Eastern Pasts
    pp 320-342
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    The years between 1945 and 1970 stand as one of the most overdetermined periods in the history of Jewish American fiction and in which Jewish American writers broke into the mainstream of American literature. These years saw the appearance of popular middlebrow novels that digested historical transformations into easily consumed, frequently sentimental narratives. This chapter discusses the emergence of the hegemonic concept of identity that multiculturalism heralded, and in which American Jews have shared just as much as everybody else. The postwar period saw literature that can be fruitfully analyzed as asking to be read through a multicultural lens, as offering readers anthropological access through which to fix Jewish culture as an object of examination. Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint, which is every American's favorite Jewish literary reference, and Saul Bellow's The Victim which explores anti-Semitism, can be seen to bookend the Jewish American fiction of the period.

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