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2007-2008 Jews & the City

Jews have lived in cities for millennia and scholars have consistently studied Jewish urban life. Much scholarship on Jewish religion still assumes that Jews are not particularly oriented to spatial forms and representations, preferring temporality or textuality to spatiality. One form of Jewish social organization associated with cities, namely, “the ghetto,” entered urban studies as an analytical concept to diagnose the attributes and socio-pathology associated with enforced residential segregation. The phenomenon is most familiar with regard to the mandatory residence within specifically Jewish precincts in medieval and early modern times, whether as ghetto in Christendom, or mellah in Muslim lands. A focus on Jews and the city asks how the physical geography of built environments -- bridges, walls, and invisible boundary markers -- structures and reflects inter-group relations.
Concepts of sacred space, examined effectively within such cities as Jerusalem, can be applied to diasporic cities. The sacred city of Jerusalem served as a touchstone of Jewish religious imagination regarding the organization and meaning of sacred space. Jews living far from the land of Israel invoked the name of “Jerusalem” to apply to their cities to indicate how much at home they were and to claim that Jewish piety and learning flourished there. Both types of “Jerusalem” involve mentalities of spatial orientation and symbolic meaning. The Institute theme asks how these metaphors and representations reflect or distort or influence actual practices. It further invites exploration of the literature and arts that have emerged within or about cities.
Scholars of religion have argued that there are distinctive forms of urban religion that inscribe elements of the sacred on cities. Religious figures have shaped cities into sacred spaces while commerce and entertainment, politics and street performances have produced religious change. Cultural studies critics have examined key urban types, such as the flaneur, as well as invisible cities, sites of memory, representations of the city in varied media, ruins and slums. Urban studies has paid attention to the impact of the built environment on a wide range of cultural behaviors from intimate family formations and individual self-fashioning to institutional structures and public performances of ethnic identities. Urban and cultural geographers have mapped the transformations of space into place.
The theme of Jews and the city invites scholars from many disciplines to collaborate. It raises questions about the relation of text to space, of representation to practice, of prayer to built environment, of difference to holiness, of creative constructions to physical ones. It invites examination of fruitful intersections of gender and sexuality, commerce and entertainment, politics and public culture, labor and domesticity, class and religion, as mediated through urban spaces, as well as inter-ethnic relations, cultural-brokering, identity-formation and ethnicity. The commonality is urban space and Jews as one group among many who reside in cities.

The 2007-08 Institute Annual is available online, and features essays by all of the fellows highlighting their research on "Jews and the City".


Murray Baumgarten
University of California, Santa Cruz
"Wrestling with the Angel: Civic Virtue and Modern Jewish Writing"

Sara Blair
University of Michigan
"The View from Below: Photography and Urban Vision on the Lower East Side"

Lila Corwin Berman
Pennsylvania State University
"Sprawling Judaism: Authenticity in the American Suburb"

Deborah Dash Moore
University of Michigan
"Jewish Photographers and American Cities"

Gil Klein
Getty Research Institute
"Consecrating the City: Rabbinic Ritual Topography in the Late Antique Galilean Towns"

Scott Lerner
Franklin and Marshall College
"From Ghetto to Monumental Synagogue: Narrative and Jewish Identity in the Capitals of Risorgimento, Italy"

Julian Levinson
University of Michigan
"Metal. Granite. Uproar: Jewish Modernism in the Cauldron of New York City"

Barbara Mann
Jewish Theological Seminary,
"The Meaning of Space: Between the Academy and Jewish Studies"

Alona Nitzan-Shiftan
Israel Institute Of Technology
"Designing Politics: Architecture, Nationalism and Judaism in Post-'67 Jerusalem"

Shachar Pinsker
University of Michigan
"Spatializing the Margins: The European Cities of Hebrew Modernism 1900-1930"

Catherine Rottenberg
Ben Gurion University 
"Jews and Blacks in New York City"

Yael Shenker
University of Jerusalem 
"Representations of West Bank Settlements in the Fiction and Cinema of Israeli Religious Authors"

Veerle Vanden Daelen
University of Antwerp (Belgium)
"Experiences of Jewishness and Clustering in a City as Perceived by Jews and non-Jews: The City of Antwerp since WWII in Comparative Perspective."

Deborah Yalen
University of California, Berkeley
"Eradicating the Distinctions between City and Countryside: Jews, Urbanization and the Shtetl in Fin-de-Siecle Russia and the Soviet Union"