New Book: A Cultural History of Jewish Dress

October 16, 2013

A Cultural History of Jewish Dress by Eric SilvermanWhy was clothing so important to immigrant Jews in America? When did yarmulkes become bar mitzvah souvenirs? Wheelock College Associate Professor of Anthropology in the American Studies and Human Development departments Eric Silverman answers these questions and more in his new book A Cultural History of Jewish Dress.  Silverman's account is the first comprehensive look at how Jews have been distinguished by their appearance from Ancient Israel to today.

For centuries Jews have dressed in distinctive ways to communicate their devotion to God, their religious identity, and the proper earthly roles of men and women. However, there has been little published that comprehensively examines how Jews have been distinguished by their appearance from Ancient Israel to today until now.

A Cultural History of Jewish Dress explores the rich history of Jewish dress, examining how Jews and non-Jews alike debated and legislated Jewish attire throughout history, as well as outlining the big debates on dress within the Jewish community today. Focusing on tensions over gender, ethnic identity and assimilation, each chapter discusses the meaning and symbolism of a specific era or type of Jewish dress.

Topics range from the historical "What did an Ancient Israelite Look Like?" to the contemporary "Dora the Explorer, Eco-friendly Vegan Recycled Kippot, and the Obama-kah." It offers the first analysis of how young Jewish adults today announce on caps, shirts, and even undergarments their striving to transform Jewishness from a religious and historical heritage into an ethnic identity that is hip, racy, and irreverent. Fascinating and accessibly written, A Cultural History of Jewish Dress will appeal to anybody interested in the central role of clothing in defining Jewish identity.

At Wheelock College, Silverman teaches courses on cultural anthropology, the family and childhood cross-culturally, men and boys in America, psychological anthropology, religion in America, and introduction to American Studies. He also has a research affiliation with the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis University and serves on the Framingham elected School Committee.

Silverman has published many articles and essays, delivered scores of conference presentations, and written three books. He has a longstanding interest in the Iatmul people of Papua New Guinea, whom he has studied since the late 1980s (fieldwork in 1988-1990, 1994, and February 2008, summer 2010). He is also interested in masculinity, gender, fatherhood, consumerism, childhood, art, clothing, ethnicity, food, tourism, ritual and religion, immigrants, death and funerary rites, myth and folklore, pop culture, and the material culture of everyday life.

A Cultural History of Jewish Dress is available for purchase on To read more about his publications, conference papers, courses, and other scholarly activities, visit Silverman's site at

inspire a world of good

200 Riverway, Boston, Massachusetts 02215
Contact Us | 617-879-2000

© 2016 Wheelock College is a registered trademark.