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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2019

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Department

History

First Advisor

John J. Bukowczyk

Abstract

This dissertation follows the progress of American Jewish men in the difficult and often backsliding process of acculturation into American life. Jewish men have historically been held to a different standard of masculinity, one which both Jews and non-Jews throughout American history have ascribed in both positive and negative ways, often depicting Jewish men as bookish, gentle, weak, and even effeminate. Those Jews who strove to attain American manhood engaged in masculine American endeavors to the extent of their access and ingenuity. Their struggle to enter institutions of American masculinity reveals a great deal about Jewish acceptance in the United States, as it demonstrates a form of antisemitism reserved nearly entirely for Jewish men. The social and educational institutions Jewish men created to cultivate and demonstrate their masculinity makes clear the extent to which they believed masculine development would cure their unfortunate and unmanly condition (whether real or perceived). It is a unique element of Jewish American life and acculturation, and one which helps to explain much of the Jewish American journey. By examining this element of Jewish acceptance, denial, and attempted belonging through perceived manhood, we gain a deeper understanding of the Jewish experience in America, and can more thoroughly explain Jewish life in the United States throughout the twentieth century.

For the most part the Jewish trajectory has trended upward towards full acceptance, but with periodic relapses of fluctuating severity. Setbacks in the Jewish experience of Americanization demonstrate the tension between the religious and the secular, the old and the young, and the native-born and recent immigrants. Each of these elements of tension in Jewish life, though differently motivated, contain a gendered element that focuses on the male as the model of a successful immigrant, making American hegemonic masculinity the highest goal of Americanization. Antisemitism in American history has been similarly gendered, using the success (or lack thereof) of Jewish men to become American as motivation for discrimination. The persistent depiction of Jewish men as somehow outside of the masculine hegemon has been, until now, a largely unrecognized phenomenon in the history of Jewish American life. This study attempts to bring the issue of Jewish masculinity and the struggles surrounding it into the field of Jewish history, where it can help scholars better understand the history and journey of Jewish American life.

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