Bookbeat: June 2008

The Healthy Jew: The Symbiosis of Judaism and Modern MedicineThe Healthy Jew: The Symbiosis of Judaism and Modern Medicine

by Mitchell Hart, Department of History
(University of Cambridge University Press, 2007)
Available through Amazon

The Healthy Jew traces the culturally revealing story of how Moses, the rabbis, and other Jewish thinkers came to be understood as medical authorities in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Such a radically different interpretation, by scholars and popular writers alike, resulted in new, widespread views on the salubrious effects of, for example, circumcision, Jewish sexual purity laws, and kosher foods. The Healthy Jew explores this interpretative tradition in the light of a number of broader debates over 'civilization' and 'culture,' Orientalism, religion and science (in the wake of Darwin), anti-Semitism and Jewish apologetics, and the scientific and medical discoveries and debates that revolutionized the fields of bacteriology, preventive medicine, and genetics/eugenics.

- Publisher

'This is a unique work, an essential and path-breaking book of exquisite detail and quality. Written in a highly accessible and effective narrative prose, The Healthy Jew ask that we rethink the place and value of Jews and Judaism in the Western medical, scientific and, ultimately, political imagination. It does so through the patient and meticulous accumulation of discursive elements, each of which is endowed with implacable force. This is, to my mind, a highly original and singularly illuminating book.'

- Gil Anidjar, Columbia University

'Mitchell Hart's The Healthy Jew is an excellent and well-researched book, brimming with information and insight. While historically rigorous, it is also an entertaining look at a very unusual development in modern Jewish cultural history. It is written with great flair - and with occasional flashes of wit. Yet the topic is a serious one, and Hart has the historical sophistication to register its broader, more theoretical ramifications.'

- Peter Eli Gordon, Harvard University

'The past decade or so has seen a tremendous amount of scholarship on the Jewish body, almost all of it focusing on disease and degeneration. Mitchell Hart does not challenge the importance or the validity of this scholarship. Instead, he argues that it presents an incomplete picture. Hart's book challenges what has become a very dominant paradigm in Jewish cultural studies. This book introduces an element of complexity and ambivalence that has heretofore been missing from scholarship about representations of the Jews.'

- Alan Steinweis, University of Nebraska

Nahmanides in Medieval CataloniaNahmanides in Medieval Catalonia

by Nina Caputo, Department of History
(University of Notre Dame Press, 2008)
Available through Amazon

In this detailed study, Nina Caputo examines conceptions of history and messianic redemption in the writings of the Catalonian rabbi and brilliant Talmudic scholar Nahmanides (1195-1270). An early exponent of kabbalah, Nahmanides was also a shrewd intermediary between the Jewish communities and the royal administration of Aragon. Most intellectual histories focus on Nahmanides in the fairly insular context of Jewish community dynamics, but this volume explores the largely unexamined history of encounters between Jewish and Christian interpretations of history and redemption, as well as the significant role played by Jews in the expansion of the Crown of Aragon during the thirteenth century. Caputo explains Nahmanides' distinctive understanding of the shape and meaning of historical time and change and reveals how his discourse frequently confronted Christian views of history and scripture, sometimes embracing Christians forms, but at other times directly refuting them.

Nina Caputo's book is the first to situate Nahmanides in the full intellectual and religious context of thirteenth-century Catalonia. It makes an important contribution to the fields of Jewish studies as well as medieval and early modern history.

- Publisher

"Nahmanides in Medieval Catalonia is a compelling illustration of meticulous scholarly attention, of subtle historical consciousness, rigorous rhetorical and literary sensibility, and true, wide-ranging synthetic ability--it uniquely draws from the entire corpus of Nahmanides' work in order to reframe conflicts and disputes, once again, as fertile and positive exchanges."

-Gil Anidjar, Columbia University

"Caputo has written a brilliant monograph on one of the most fascinating minds of the High Middle Ages. By aligning the intellectual and communal activities of Nahmanides within the context of both Jewish and medieval Spanish vernacular texts she brings academic rigor and interdisciplinary scholarship to throw new light on both communities at a critical moment in their development. Each chapter reveals the subtle ways that Nahmanides constructed intellectual and social frameworks for Jews to preserve their unique identity while sharing cultural and aesthetic norms of the Christian society that surrounded them."

-Michael A. Signer, Abrams Professor of Jewish
Thought and Culture, University of Notre Dame

"This book offers a meticulous and thoughtful reading of the themes of history, prophecy, and progress in Nahmanides' exegetical, theological, and polemical works. It joins a growing body of scholarship that emphasizes the extent to which even tense and hostile Jewish-Christian confrontations were predicated upon shared cultural and intellectual approaches. It is sure to interest and engage scholars in the fields of Judaic studies, Iberian history, and biblical studies."

-Sara Lipton, Stony Brook University

Men on a Mission: Valuing Youth Work in Our CommunitiesMen on a Mission: Valuing Youth Work in Our Communities

by William Marsiglio, Department of Sociology
(Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008)
Available through Amazon

Men on a Mission provides the first comprehensive study of men who work and volunteer with kids in a variety of public settings. This engaging book brings to life diverse histories and experiences of men who have worked as coaches, teachers, youth ministers, probation officers, Big Brothers, Boys & Girls Club staff, 4-H agents, and the like.

Drawing on in-depth interviews with men between the ages of 19 and 65, ethnographic observations, and more than twenty years of research on fathers, William Marsiglio explores the many aspects of male mentorship of youth, including the motivating factors, the effectiveness of differing interpersonal strategies, how the work is perceived, the influences that youth work and fathering exert on each other, the ways in which such volunteerism affects men's personal development, and the impact of social policy and programmatic initiatives. He also highlights timely public debates about the feminization of work with kids, the culture of fear arising from the exploitation of children, public discussions about fatherhood, and community initiatives to help at-risk youth.

Situating men's youth work in historical perspective and discussing the status of youth today, this original and groundbreaking analysis offers a forward-looking vision for getting men more involved, and involved more productively, in helping kids thrive.

- Publisher

"Bill Marsiglio has single-handedly redefined the study of fatherhood, expanding it by increments so that it now includes mentoring. In so doing, Marsiglio gives the lie once and for all [to the notion] that men are only violent, aggressive and predatory. Everywhere Marsiglio looks, he sees men as compassionate, caring, and giving of themselves. A well-researched, eloquent, intellectually astute, and emotionally generous book." - Michael Kimmel, SUNY at Stony Brook

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