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date: 29 October 2020

(p. xiii) Preface

(p. xiii) Preface

Deciding on the best categories to use in describing Jewish studies has been a complex but instructive task. When Oxford University Press first approached us to produce this Handbook, we devised between us a draft contents list for the Press to send out to its advisers. Our draft list reflected roughly the way that Jewish studies is normally divided up in conferences around the world. The Press's many advisers responded with much enthusiasm for the idea of the Handbook as a whole, but with a multiplicity of strongly expressed and cogent suggestions about how the various areas of Jewish studies should be categorized and where the emphases of the Handbook should lie. Our problem was that many of these suggestions were mutually exclusive. The issues raised by this conflicting advice, which go to the heart of current disputes about what Jewish studies is (or are), were discussed in July 2002 by a panel and audience at the congress of the European Association for Jewish Studies in Amsterdam. It became all too apparent in the course of the session that universal agreement on the best and fairest way to describe the current state of scholarship in Jewish studies is bound to be elusive. We do not expect to have settled such issues. On the contrary, we hope that this Handbook will stimulate further fruitful debate.

For the Handbook to be produced at all we had to make some pragmatic decisions, and it may be useful to clarify here the principles underlying the final shape the Handbook has taken. The Handbook is intended to provide a snapshot of the current state of research in Jewish studies. It does not prescribe for the future, although individual contributors have been encouraged to make suggestions about possible future directions. We have therefore allocated space to subjects on the basis of the extent and interest of current scholarly debate in that area rather than as a reflection of any judgement about the intrinsic importance of any one subject for understanding Jewish culture.

One effect of this policy is that we have been able to allow only scant discussion of some areas which could, and perhaps one day should, receive more attention than the minimal scholarship they currently attract. Similarly, authors of chapters on ‘central’ areas of Jewish studies which have evoked much writing but little controversy as to how the subject should be approached have not been encouraged to expand their contributions beyond the extent required to clarify the current state of debates. Our desire to reflect only the present state of scholarship has also precluded redefinition in the Handbook of areas within Jewish studies in ways that may well in (p. xiv) time become more common. For example, one day ‘Jewish Women's studies’ may be more widely considered as ‘Jewish Gender studies’, or the study of anti-Semitism may be better described as the study of Jewish–Gentile relations, but we do not believe that this as yet reflects the state of the literature in these fields.

The letter we sent to those invited to contribute chapters to this Handbook described their work as a mitzvah, a service to the future of Jewish studies. We are very grateful to the many colleagues who have been involved in the production of this volume for entering into their tasks in this spirit. In particular, we thank those contributors (especially Philip Alexander and Cecile Kuznitz) who undertook to write chapters at short notice when the original contributors had to withdraw.

Our categorization of Jewish studies into discrete chapters has inevitably resulted in the dispersal into different chapters of some important topics, such as work on manuscripts and archives, or bibliographic studies, which might in principle have been allocated chapters of their own. Readers of the Handbook are directed to the subject index, which we have made as full as possible to facilitate cross-referencing between chapters. We are grateful to Rosemary Dear for its compilation.

A Handbook of this kind is most useful when it is up to date, and much effort has been expended by the editorial and production teams of Oxford University Press to ensure that the material submitted be processed and published at exceptional speed. We are very grateful to Helenann Francis for an immense amount of work in preparing the typescript for copy-editing, and to the Oxford University Teaching and Research Unit for Hebrew and Jewish Studies and the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies for generous grants for this purpose. We are particularly indebted to Jeff New for his expert and rapid copy-editing of such a large work. Readers should note the policy we have followed for the transliteration of Hebrew. Since, for good reason, scholars in different areas of Jewish studies use different transliteration systems, we have not imposed stylistic uniformity, but we have taken pains to ensure that, whichever system is used, the text is fully comprehensible.

It remains to thank Oxford University Press, and especially Hilary O'Shea, the commissioning editor, for their initiative in proposing the Handbook and bringing it to fruition.

Martin Goodman

Jeremy Cohen

David Sorkin


August 2002