“This is a pathbreaking volume by a master scholar.”
--Jonathan Sarna, author of American Judaism: A History
“The Art of the Jewish Family is an elegantly written, astonishingly researched, and persuasively argued collective biography of five early American, New York Jewish women. . . . From the moment that the book opens, we know that we are in the hands of a terrific writer. . . . Leibman’s detailed analyses of the messages encoded in the objects is brilliant. . . . Given the power of the material and the grace of the writing, I would hope that this book would reach beyond scholars to the significantly wider audience of those outside the academy who are deeply interested in early American history. . . . I am in awe of Leibman’s accomplishment."
--Pamela Nadell, author of America's Jewish Women: A History from Colonial Times to Today
"The Art of the Jewish Family rewards the reader with a thrilling sense that these women’s lives—despite the parts that have been lost—are universally relevant and urgently needed within our understanding of this nation’s early objects. Leibman achieves that alchemy that the major historians of underrepresented lives (Ulrich, Hartman, Lepore) keep assuring us is possible: fragments become full, compelling histories when there is someone to read them with great care."
--Kate Burnett Budzyn
The Art of the Jewish Family
A History of Women in Early New York in Five Objects
Winner of 3 National Jewish Book Awards (2020)
Finalist Jordan Schnitzer Book (2021)
In The Art of the Jewish Family, Laura Arnold Leibman examines five objects owned by a diverse group of Jewish women who all lived in New York in the years between 1750 and 1850: a letter from impoverished Hannah Louzada seeking assistance; a set of silver cups owned by Reyna Levy Moses; an ivory miniature owned by Sarah Brandon Moses, who was born enslaved and became one of the wealthiest Jewish women in New York; a book created by Sarah Ann Hays Mordecai; and a family silhouette owned by Rebbetzin Jane Symons Isaacs. These objects offer intimate and tangible views into the lives of Jewish American women from a range of statuses, beliefs, and lifestyles—both rich and poor, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, slaves and slaveowners.
Each chapter creates a biography of a single woman through an object, offering a new methodology that looks past texts alone to material culture in order to further understand early Jewish American women’s lives and restore their agency as creators of Jewish identity. While much of the available history was written by men, the objects that Leibman studies were made for and by Jewish women. Speaking to American Jewish life, women’s studies, and American history, The Art of the Jewish Family sheds new light on the lives and values of these women, while also revealing the social and religious structures that led to Jewish women being erased from historical archives.
Available at Amazon.com or University of Chicago Press
Jenna Weissman Joselit's beautiful review in The Jewish Review of Books
Kate Burnett Budzyn's compelling review in Decorative Arts Trust
Interview with Andrew Silow-Carroll, Times of Israel
Interview with Naomi Danis, Lilith Magazine
Video Interview with Judith Rosenbaum, Jewish Women's Archive
Art of the Jewish Family is one of the picks for the 2020-21 JWA Book Club
Free Book Club Discussion Questions