Revised views of a scattered people

Jewish Culture and History
August 11, 2000

Anything that relieves the general torpor and philistinism of Anglo-Jewry is occasion for celebration. This factor alone justifies a loud cheer for the new journal Jewish Culture and History . The cheer will be even louder because here is unimpeachably a journal of Anglo-Jewish provenance supported by a distinguished international editorial board.

However, it is fair to point out that the journal has yet to find its feet. For example, early issues show an unhealthy preoccupation with the view that non-Jews have taken of features of Jewish life. This is manifest in the articles on the way in which circumcision, the East End of London and Jewish asylum patients have been regarded by doctors, social workers and novelists.

There is also the problem of balance, leading to the suspicion of editorial schizophrenia. The first number is devoted entirely to subjects of Anglo-Jewish import, whereas the second virtually excludes Anglo-Jewry. The editor, Nadia Valman of the University of Southampton, has a nice line in cliches and platitudes: "innovative researchI new interpretive modelsI dynamic challenge to the old teleologiesI" And her transatlantic glance at the wealth of American-Jewish historical scholarship is confined to two works whose "theorisation of Jewish difference (has been) helpfully informed by recent work on gender and the history of sexuality".

It would be a pity if this verbiage were to distract attention from the journal's eminently serious and worthwhile agenda. This has been explicitly formulated amid the collapse of two hitherto dominant models of Anglo-Jewish historiography. First comes the Whiggish apologetic model, the keynote of which is the success story of the immigrants (Sephardi and then Ashkenazi) adapting themselves to English ways and securing a relatively untroubled position in major spheres of English life. Second comes the antipodal Zionist model that, in stressing the dangers of successful integration, foresees the threat of disintegration. A fruit of this dual collapse is the burgeoning extension of historical inquiry to such formerly unsavoury and taboo subjects as prostitution and criminality.

Jewish Culture and History deserves to create for itself a distinct readership committed to a refreshing revision of many of the accepted views of Anglo-Jewish history combined with an eclectic approach to the history of world Jewry.

Lionel Kochan is a senior research associate, Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies.

Jewish Culture and History: (Two times a year)

Editor - Nadia Valman
ISBN - 1462 169X
Publisher - Cass
Price - £28.00 (indivs); £65.00 (instits)

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