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Technically American: How American Jewry Received and Responded to Technology, 1880-1965 Open Access

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“Technically American: How American Jewry Received and Responded to Technology, 1880-1965,” explores the entanglement of American technological culture, Jewish ethnic identity, and religious practice in the twentieth century. Through a series of case studies, it tracks the impact of the telephone, acoustic technologies, kitchen appliances and food sciences, as well as the automobile, on the American Jewish experience over the course of several generations. A chapter on the telephone zeroes in on the vexing issue of foreign accent, while another on acoustics and the microphone looks at the transformation of the sounds of the synagogue and the nature of religious worship. A third chapter on mechanized food production closely considers the kitchen as a contested site of cultural authenticity while a fourth, focusing on transportation, pinpoints the conflict between Jewish ritual and the momentum of modern life. These case studies showcase the ways in which American Jewry consciously and actively grappled with the tools of American modernity. The American Jewish community welcomed these technologies into their daily lives but was also quick to address their costs to community, tradition, and religious observance. For American Jewry, technology was more than a product of scientific advancement; it was integral to the reshaping of modern Jewish life and its major institutions– the home, the synagogue, and notions of community. “Technically American” employs the categories of efficiency, speed, and sound to make sense of American Jewry’s response to technology. By studying the ways in which American Jews adopted the devices that made efficiency, speed, and the transmission of sound possible, as well as the cultural ideals they embodied, this project probes the social implications of technology. It harnesses a range of sources, including the Yiddish press and immigrant memoirs, advertisements, vaudeville skits, cookbooks, synagogue records and architectural acoustic plans, as well as rabbinical debates and decrees about the uses of technology in modern religious observance. Taken together, these materials bring to bear the fundamental role of technology in defining Jewish culture in twentieth century America.

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