Religion in Family Stories

All of a kind family

One of the central themes of Jewish family stories has been Jewish religion. As Jews became integrated into American culture, they used American pedagogical formats, like textbooks (see, for example, the 1918 text First Grade in Hebrew) to instruct children in Hebrew, to teach them stories about the Bible, and about Jewish history.

Adventures of K'tonton

"How K'tonton Took a Ride on a Chopping Knife and Wished He Hadn't" from The Adventures of K'tonton: A Little Jewish Tom Thumb. K'tonton is pictured climbing into the bowl in which his mother is chopping fish for the Sabbath.
Jews also used modern children's literature to teach children about Jewish holidays and beliefs: popular series like those inaugurated by The Adventures of K'tonton (1935) by Sadie Rose Weilerstein and All-of-a-kind Family (1951) by Sydney Taylor used humor, pathos, and relatable fictional families to engross generations of children in the details of Jewish observance.

It was not only children who needed to learn about religion, moreover: as Jews integrated into American culture, cookbooks and advice manuals increasingly presumed that Jewish adults in the United States needed instruction on the details of Judaism, as well. Florence Greenbaum's Jewish Cook Book (1918), one of the most famous traditional Jewish cookbooks in the United States, featured explicit "Rules for Kashering" (kashering is the process by which meat is rendered kosher, and thus fit to eat, according to Jewish dietary rules). Shochet KnifeShochet Knife In the Jewish Holiday Cook Book (1955), Leah Leonard did not simply provide recipes for holiday meals; she offered detailed descriptions of the Jewish holidays' meanings and dates in the Jewish calendar. And The Jewish Catalog (1973), a product of the Jewish counterculture in the 1970s, featured vivid photographic illustrations of how to kasher meat.

Related resources

Children's Books from the Center for Jewish History Digital Collections, combined database from the American Jewish Historical Society, the American Sephardi Federation, the Leo Baeck Institute, Yeshiva University Museum, and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Full-image of the children's books.

Background Reading in Historical Jewish Children's Literature from Linda R. Silver of the Association of Jewish Libraries.

The Telling Family Stories online exhibit grew out of a year-long initiative (2011-2012) by the Jewish Studies Program at Michigan State University. The Telling Family Stories initiative was made possible by the Legacy Heritage Jewish Studies Project, directed by the Association for Jewish Studies (AJS). Support for the Legacy Heritage Jewish Studies Project is generously provided by Legacy Heritage Fund Limited.

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