The work of determining lines of Jewish kinship is primarily understood as oriented toward the past, as a recovery of memory or “heritage,” often in the service of present identity. In fact, the recitation of what we commonly call “blood ties” has always been oriented toward the future as well – often, but not only, in the process of contracting marriages and thus perpetuating kinship itself. And the converse is true as well: kinship and marriage become less important at historical moments when one’s identity is seen as less dependent on one’s genealogy. Yet this future orientation may be more dominant than ever in our practices of kin-making today.
Drawing on documents ranging from a late story by Grace Paley, to recent ethnography of Yiddish philanthropy as fictive kinship, to artistic re-imaginings of a lost family album, Professor Boyarin will begin to articulate the hopes and anxieties underlying the tenuous image of the future in which our records of the past take shape.
Jonathan Boyarin is Mann Professor of Modern Jewish Studies and Professor of Anthropology at Cornell University. His work centers on Jewish communities and on the dynamics of Jewish culture, memory and identity.
This lecture is one of a series being held alongside the Blood exhibition at the Jewish Museum London (5 November 2015 – 28 February 2016), which was conceived in collaboration with the Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism.