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Secret Identity Politics: Jewish Texts, Jewish Lives, and Super Jews

Mon, December 17, 5:00 to 6:30pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Amphitheater

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


Superheroes are an important part of American comic book culture, and popular culture more broadly. This session explores one element of the superhero legend, the secret identity, as a lens through which to explore interdisciplinary questions of Jewish identity and the Jewish self. In conversation with contemporary scholarly work on comic superheroes and secret identities, this session examines the ways that theories of secret identities and the self can shed light on modern American literature, medieval conversion, and rabbinic narratives. Jennifer Caplan explores comic book authors’ resistance to naming Ben Grimm/The Thing’s Jewishness, layering secret identities upon each other in a complex act of self-protection, in order to highlight the multivalent ways that Jewish identity is imagined in the 21st century. Sarah Ifft Decker investigates the experiences of Jewish converts and reverts in medieval Iberia to illuminate tensions between real and constructed identities in a time of conflict and rapid change. Sara Ronis examines Talmudic narratives in which rabbis disguise themselves as non-Jews to shed light on rabbinic strategies for mediating a foreign world in light of rabbinic claims of exceptionality. Together, these three papers argue that a product of modern American popular culture – the superhero’s secret identity – can shed light on issues relating to Jewish identity and the self across a range of time periods and places. Laurence Roth serves as chair and respondent, reflecting on the opportunities and challenges of applying theories about superheroes to work across disciplines.

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