Library of Jewish Ideas

The Library of Jewish Ideas is a book series sponsored by the Tikvah Fund in collaboration with Princeton University Press. The purpose of this multi-volume series is to present concise, engaging, and authoritative treatments of core Jewish concepts in a form that will be at once useful to students, of interest to professionals, and appealing to general readers who are curious about what Judaism has to say in key areas of human thought and experience.

The following volumes available now!

No Joke: Making Jewish Humor - June 2013

"Seriously funny, humorously serious, scholarly, witty and wise."Kirkus Reviews.

"It’s a treat. The jokes are abundant, well chosen, and funny; and Ruth Wisse brings Harvard scholarship to our wonderful Yiddish treasury of humor. A salute and congratulations."Herman Wouk

“The funniest thing since we let the goyim into show business.”―David Mamet.

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In her delightful, erudite new book No Joke: Making Jewish Humor, Harvard professor of Yiddish Literature Ruth Wisse evokes and applauds the genius of Jewish joking—as well as the brilliance of writers like Heinrich Heine, Sholem Aleichem, Isaac Babel, S. Y. Agnon, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Philip Roth. At the same time, Wisse draws attention to the precarious conditions that call Jewish humor into being—and the price it may exact from its practitioners and audience.

Wisse broadly traces modern Jewish humor around the world, teasing out its implications as she explores memorable and telling examples from German, Yiddish, English, Russian, and Hebrew. No Joke looks at how Jewish humor channels Jewish learning and wordmanship into new avenues of creativity, has brought relief to non-Jews in repressive societies, and has enriched popular culture in the United States.

Even as it invites readers to consider the pleasures and profits of Jewish humor, the book asks difficult but fascinating questions: Can the excess and extreme self-ridicule of Jewish humor go too far and backfire in the process? And is “leave ‘em laughing” the wisest motto for a people that others have intended to sweep off the stage of history?

Ruth R. Wisse is the Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and professor of comparative literature at Harvard University. She is the author of The Modern Jewish Canon: A Journey through Language and Culture, which won a National Jewish Book Award. 

Available now from Princeton University Press!

Inheriting Abraham - November 2012

"A brilliant, well argued, and much-needed work…"—Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. 

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Jews, Christians, and Muslims supposedly share a common religious heritage in the patriarch Abraham, and the idea that he should serve only as a source of unity among the three traditions has become widespread in both scholarly and popular circles. Inheriting Abraham: The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam boldly challenges this view, demonstrating Abraham’s distinctive role in each tradition, while delineating the points of connection as well.

In this sweeping and provocative book, named "best Jewish book this past year" by Jewish Ideas Daily, Jon Levenson subjects the powerful story in Genesis of Abraham’s calling, his experience in Canaan and Egypt, and his near-sacrifce of his beloved son Isaac to a careful literary and theological analysis. But Levenson also explores how Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have given unique interpretations to these narratives, often reimagining Abraham and his life in mutually exclusive ways. Historically, the three traditions have differed sharply over what Abraham’s life foreshadows, how the Abrahamic community is constituted and sustained, and what practices the patriarch’s example authorizes. In these disputes, Levenson finds illuminating signs of profound and enduring theological divergences alongside the commonalities.

Jon D. Levenson is the Albert A. List Professor of Jewish Studies at Harvard University. 

Available now from Princeton University Press!