Recipient of three 2020 National Jewish Book Awards!
* Gerrard and Ella Berman Memorial Award for History
* American Jewish Studies Celebrate 350 Award
* Women Studies Barbara Dobkin Award

In The Art of the Jewish Family, Laura Arnold Leibman examines five objects owned by a diverse group of Jewish women who all lived in New York in the years between 1750 and 1850: a letter from impoverished Hannah Louzada seeking assistance; a set of silver cups owned by Reyna Levy Moses; an ivory miniature owned by Sarah Brandon Moses, who was born enslaved and became one of the wealthiest Jewish women in New York; a book created by Sarah Ann Hays Mordecai; and a family silhouette owned by Rebbetzin Jane Symons Isaacs. These objects offer intimate and tangible views into the lives of Jewish American women from a range of statuses, beliefs, and lifestyles—both rich and poor, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, slaves and slaveowners.

Each chapter creates a biography of a single woman through an object, offering a new methodology that looks past texts alone to material culture in order to further understand early Jewish American women’s lives and restore their agency as creators of Jewish identity. While much of the available history was written by men, the objects that Leibman studies were made for and by Jewish women. Speaking to American Jewish life, women’s studies, and American history, The Art of the Jewish Family sheds new light on the lives and values of these women, while also revealing the social and religious structures that led to Jewish women being erased from historical archives.

Table of Contents

Series Editor’s Preface




1. Paper Fragments

2. Pieces of Silver

3. Portraits in Ivory

4. Commonplace Things

5. Family Silhouettes


Table 1: Hannah Louzada Family Tree
Table 2: Reyna Levy Moses Family Tree Table
Table 3: Sarah Brandon Moses Family Tree
Table 4: Sara Ann Hays Mordecai Family Tree
Table 5: Jane Symons Isaacs Family Tree
Table 6: Table of Judaica Types by Gender, 1750–1840




“Complementing and enlivening the narrative, not just accompanying it, the volume’s 96 images encompass painting, portraiture, and maps—a bonanza of visual information. Just when we’ve come to believe we know all there is to know about the early experiences of colonial and federal-era American Jews, Leibman reminds us how much more could be known if only we would deploy a different set of sources and ask a different set of questions. Through five sharply focused case studies, she takes her readers beyond the usual places—New York and Charleston, say—and sets them down in Barbados and Suriname of the 18th and early 19th centuries, whose robust Jewish life rendered that of the American colonies a poor cousin… . A harvest of ideas, The Art of the Jewish Family yields a rich ensemble profile of Jewish women of the 18th and 19th centuries, an invigorating consideration of history as a process, and a compelling argument for integrating material culture as a matter of course into any and all historical projects.”Jewish Review of Books

“This is a pathbreaking volume by a master scholar.”Jonathan Sarna, author of American Judaism: A History

The Art of the Jewish Family is an elegantly written, astonishingly researched, and persuasively argued collective biography of five early American, New York Jewish women… . From the moment that the book opens, we know that we are in the hands of a terrific writer… . Leibman’s detailed analyses of the messages encoded in the objects is brilliant… . Given the power of the material and the grace of the writing, I would hope that this book would reach beyond scholars to the significantly wider audience of those outside the academy who are deeply interested in early American history… . I am in awe of Leibman’s accomplishment.”Pamela Nadell, author of America’s Jewish Women: A History from Colonial Times to Today