New book: Messianism, Secrecy and Mysticism: A New Interpretation of Early American Jewish Life

Laura Arnold Leibman, Messianism, Secrecy and Mysticism: A New Interpretation of Early American Jewish Life (Valentine Mitchell Press, 2012)

Messianism, Secrecy and Mysticism tells the history of Early American Jews, focusing on the objects of everyday life used and created by Jews, such as ritual baths, food, gravestones, portraits, furniture, as well as the synagogue. By uncovering these objects and exposing the common culture of the Jewish Atlantic world, the book provides a fresh understanding of a crucial era in Jewish and American history.

A companion website contains thousands of photographs of material culture from throughout the Jewish Atlantic world, as well as study guides for using the images; http://cdm.reed.edu/cdm4/jewishatlanticworld/.

The book offers new insights about the origins of Jewish American messianism, helping readers better understand messianism in contemporary American society. It charts the shared culture of these Jews who lived in the port towns in the Caribbean and on both sides of the Atlantic, and author Laura Arnold Leibman argues that thinking about Judaism as an embodied religion is key to understanding their culture. Messianism, Secrecy and Mysticism makes early Jewish American history entertaining, accessible, and interesting to general readers, as well as to academic audiences.

Advance praise: “The most innovative, ambitious and important study of Early American Jewry to appear in the last forty years.” – Jonathan D. Sarna, Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History, Brandeis University and author of American Judaism: A History.

Regarding the companion website, Leibman says: “By sharing the images used to create this book, I hope to enable students, scholars, and family historians to trace the paths that early American Jews (and their objects) took, as well as to gain a richer sense of their everyday lives.  In the collection, you will find images from many of the key ports where Jews settled in North America and the Caribbean, as well as several crucial ports from which they immigrated (Amsterdam, London, Hamburg). While the majority of these images relate to Sephardim, you will also find comparison images for non-Jewish artifacts to help people understand both what made Jewish life distinctive and how Jews adapted to meet local tastes and trends.”

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