In Unheroic Conduct (1997), Daniel Boyarin starts from the premise that Jewish men are routinely viewed in terms of effeminacy. For Boyarin this is not just an historic perception. ‘The dominant strain within European culture’, he argues, ‘continues to this day to interpret activity, domination, and aggressiveness as “manly” and gentleness and passivity as emasculate or effeminate’ (2). Rather than attempting to dispel this stereotype, Boyarin turns instead to the premodern rabbinical tradition as a way of ‘revalorizing and reeroticizing’ the Jewish male ‘sissy’ (19). This argument is suggestive, and forms part of a current interest in rethinking the ways in which Jewish masculinities have been constructed both in the past and in the present. Stereotypes of Jewish masculinity, ranging from the ‘Jew-devil’ of early modern literature, to the pathologized Jew of modernity, the ‘muscle Jew’ of Zionist ideology, and the anxious Jew of American comedy, have all been the focus of critical interrogation in recent years. This chapter draws from such work to look more specifically at some of the ways in which Jewish masculinity has been constructed within contemporary British-Jewish writing.
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