Recovering Jewishness

Modern Identities Reclaimed

by Frederick S. Roden


What defines "authentic Jewishness" in the 21st century? Like other identities, the Jewish identity continues to evolve.

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February 2016


Pages 277
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Religion/History

Judaism and Jewish life reflect a diversity of identity after the past two centuries of modernization. This work examines how the early reformers of the 19th century and their legacy into the 20th century created a livable, liberal Jewish identity that allowed a reinvention of what it meant to be Jewish—a process that continues today.

Many scholars of the modern Jewish identity focus on the ways in which the past two centuries have resulted in the loss of Jewishness: through "assimilation," intermarriage, conversion to other faiths, genocide (in the Holocaust), and decline in religious observance. In this work, author Frederick S. Roden presents a decidedly different perspective: that the changes in Judaism throughout the 19th and 20th centuries resulted in a malleable, welcoming, and expanded Jewish identity—one that has benefited from intermarriage and converts to Judaism.

The book examines key issues in the modern definition of Jewish identity: who is and is not considered a Jew, and why; issues of Jewish "authenticity"; and the recent history of the debate. Attention is paid to the experiences of individuals who came to Judaism from outside the tradition: through marrying into Jewish families and/or choosing Judaism as a religion. In his consideration of the tragedy of the Holocaust, the author examines how a totalitarian regime's racial policing of Jewish identity served to awaken a connection with and reconfiguration of what that Jewish identity meant for those who retrospectively realized their Jewishness in the postwar era.


  • Documents how modern Judaism and the modern Jewish identity was built on diversity resulting from intermarriage and converts to Judaism over the course of two centuries
  • Describes how individuals with remote connections to Judaism and Jewish identity are reclaiming those connections and reinventing what it means to be "Jew-ish," and are providing new models for those seeking to reconnect with Judaism
  • Uniquely offers insightful critical analysis of the literature by converts to Judaism
Author Info

Frederick S. Roden, PhD, is associate professor of English at the University of Connecticut. He is a board member of the Society for Classical Reform Judaism. Roden is author of Same-Sex Desire in Victorian Religious Culture and Love's Trinity: A Companion to Julian of Norwich as well as editor of Palgrave Advances: Oscar Wilde Studies and Jewish/Christian/Queer: Crossroads and Identities. He is a coeditor of Catholic Figures, Queer Narratives and an edition/translation of Marc-André Raffalovich's 1896 Uranism and Unisexuality.



"Roden writes clearly, explaining the literature and offering erudite commentary that will prompt readers to delve into the primary sources. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All academic levels/libraries."—Choice


"Frederick S. Roden’s Recovering Jewishness: Modern Identities Reclaimed examines the complex ways in which modern Jewishness has been experienced, rethought, and reconfigured, from the elaboration of Reform Judaism in the nineteenth century to the coercive invention of Jewish and 'mixed' racial identities by the Nazis to post-Holocaust embraces of Jewishness, both traditional and experimental. Roden’s account is original especially in its emphasis not on a modern loss or fading of Jewish identity but on the expansion of possibilities for Jewishness that modernity brings, even if those possibilities also often entail losses and violence. Examining an impressively broad body of texts—historical writing, autobiography and memoir, theology, and fiction—Roden makes an extremely valuable, always thoughtful and thought-provoking, contribution to the exploration of that perpetual and thorny question: 'What is a Jew?'"—Steven F. Kruger, Professor, Queens College and The Graduate Center, CUNY

"Jewish identity has always dwelled within extremes of dialectic: religion and ethnicity, tradition and invention, East and West, isolation and assimilation, purity and mixing, more. In this wide-ranging and important study, Frederick S. Roden grapples with the continual shifting of axes within Jewish doctrine and culture, as well as in views of Jews from the outside. Engaging and affecting, Recovering Jewishness is essential reading for scholars and readers concerned with issues of longing, belonging, difference, and self-difference—Jewish and beyond. A necessary book."—S.I. Salamensky, Director, Humanities PhD Program and Professor, Global Humanities, University of Louisville

"As Professor Roden notes, the struggle to define and exemplify a distinctive Jewish identity—whether religious, ethnic, cultural, or even racial—in the midst of a non-Jewish world is hardly a phenomenon of modernity, but rather dates back to Moses himself. Born a Hebrew, given an Egyptian name and raised in the Pharaoh's Court, the 'great Liberator and Lawgiver' who remains at the symbolic center of Jewish history embodied the dilemmas that continue to confront Jews today. In the apparent tension between particularity and universality, separatism and acculturation, Recovering Jewishness makes a compelling case for the universalist impulse in Jewish thought and experience that offers a confident, creative, and fruitful encounter and can lead to a promising future for Jewish hopes, dreams, and destiny."—Rabbi Howard A. Berman, Executive Director, The Society for Classical Reform Judaism

"Frederick Roden sensitively and insightfully maps the complexities and shifting formulations of modern and post-modern Jewish identity. Combining sophisticated scholarly reflection with vivid, empathetic voicings of the lives of a breathtaking range of people who have identified themselves as Jews, Roden's work gives new meaning to the well-worn phrase 'the Jewish people.'"—Joy Ladin, David and Ruth Gottesman Professor of English, Yeshiva University

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