Sycamore Hall 223
Both my research and teaching reflect my interest in the ways that texts and representation create possibilities for constructing Jewishness in historical context. How, for instance, have categories like religion, race, and gender worked to determine who is Jewish or what constitutes the essence of Jewishness? How have particular hermeneutical strategies defined Jews or Judaism? My interests range from the ways that Midrash and Talmud use a unique interpretive style to craft Judaism to the ways contemporary American norms can create (or foreclose) possibilities of Jewish identity. My dissertation, Making Jewish Gender: Religion, Race, Sexuality, and American Jews, 1910-1924, argued that the discourses of race, sexuality, and criminality determined in part what kinds of gendered identities were available to American Jews in the early twentieth century. It used theories about the discursive production of identity and the performativity of gender to demonstrate how both Jews and non-Jews constructed Jewish manhood and womanhood as different from the wider white, American gender norms.
My current project considers the relationship of gender, the body, Zionism, and national identity in American Jewish life from the turn of the century until 1967. It takes up the question of American Zionism and its gendered differences from its European counterparts: much of European Zionism valorized the manly pioneer of Palestine and imagined the Diaspora Jew as weak and effeminate, but the negative idea of Diaspora life as emasculating held little allure for American Jews because most had no intention of immigrating to Palestine. But even though the Zionist movement did not initially capture the majority of American Jews, some of the gendered aspects of its ideology, such as the embrace of physical culture and the romanticization of certain kinds of physical labor, resonated with broader American cultural trends toward the “strenuous life.” The project seeks to understand how the language of closeness to the land, masculinity, health through physical labor, and self-sufficiency marked the contours of the project of becoming both American and Jewish for both Zionists and anti-Zionists.