Date of Degree
Children's and Young Adult Literature | Jewish Studies
Literacy, Ideology, Orthodox Judaism, Jewish Literature, Religion, Childhood Studies
Children’s literature is an important force in building not only linguistic literacy but a literacy of the world, showing the child reader how to make sense of themselves in relation to the many people, objects, experiences, and concepts around them. Haredi children’s texts foster a mode of understanding the world around them as comprehensible through the texts, people, and events of the past. In Reading the World, I demonstrate that Haredi children’s textual culture between 1980 and 2000 fostered a literacy of language, text, time, space, morals, and general knowledge as inextricably intertwined, and that this literacy propelled further development of American Haredi ideology. In the last two decades of the twentieth century, the ongoing negotiation between the identities of “American” and “Jew” is represented in Haredi children’s texts as a zero-sum negotiation, with the “outside” American world an antithesis to Haredi Jewish life.
I examine one genre of children’s books in each chapter, and I argue that each genre contributes to a Haredi literacy of text, language, space, and time. Middle grade short story collections invoking the Talmud suggest that every aspect of the world can be explained by referring to the texts and rabbinic figures of the Talmud, as well as the scholars and commentaries who studied the Talmud in the centuries after its completion. By treating all textual arguments and rabbinic figures from multiple time periods as equally valid in interpreting the contemporary world, these texts collapse time and textual tradition into a single entity without clear temporal boundaries. Alphabet books develop a linguistic literacy which integrate the two identities of its child reader as American and Jewish in a variety of ways, sometimes emphasizing the tension between the two language’s alphabets and sometimes synthesizing them into a seamless new whole. Picture books teach character by drawing on Torah and Talmud as well as social awareness, ascribing wisdom and authority about social law to Jewish texts. Picture books also build a literacy of home as moral center against an outside world filled with fear and danger. Both non-fiction and fiction holiday texts foster a literacy of time which sets Jewish people apart synchronically through a calendar which differs from the dominant American culture, and diachronically through an ahistorical and paradigmatic approach to the past. All these literacies—of text, language, space, and time—build a cohesive literacy of the world which affects the ways in which American Haredism continues to develop and find its place in American society.
Bernstein, Dainy, "Reading the World: American Haredi Children's Literature, 1980–2000" (2021). CUNY Academic Works.
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