Call for Papers: Orthodox Childhoods (original)

Mussar Avicha, Toras Imecha:
Texts, Songs, and Cultural Artifacts of Orthodox Childhoods

edited by Dainy Bernstein
forthcoming from Ben Yehuda Press

(Please note that this original call for submissions has been superseded by this updated one.

Childhood and adolescent experiences are shaped in no small part by the artifacts available to children and adolescents: the books they read, the toys they play with, the songs they sing, etc., all affect and shape specific cultural childhoods. The cultural artifacts of Orthodox Jewish childhood and adolescence – including Modern Orthodox and Haredi artifacts – are a rich and virtually unmined resource for understanding Orthodox Jewish communities, ideologies, and practices. Through readings of these texts from both personal and academic perspectives, this volume aims to provide insight into the experience of Orthodox childhoods for both academic and lay audiences.

  • Essays should be at least 500 words and no more than 5,000 words.
  • Multiple submissions accepted.
  • Pitches okay, complete essays preferred.
  • Submission deadline: February 1, 2021.
  • Jews of color, queer Jews, disabled Jews, frum Jews, secular Jews, and formerly Orthodox Jews are all encouraged to submit.

What we’re looking for:

  • Critical essays: Focusing on a single cultural artifact or set of artifacts, these essays will provide critical analysis. Essays can be situated in the fields of literature, cultural studies, sociology, anthropology, history, psychology, etc.
    • An essay about connections between a text and Orthodox schools might perform a literary analysis by looking within the text and studying the ways in which the text portrays school environment.
    • Another essay about connections between a text and Orthodox schools may take a historical approach, using the text as a touchstone for a historical overview of development of and practices in Orthodox schools.
    • Still another essay might take a sociological approach and examine how the text was and/or is used in Orthodox school libraries and classrooms.
    • We welcome critical essays from both academics and non-academics. You do not need a degree in order to write an essay in this category! Editors will work with you, if necessary, to incorporate scholarship and references.
  • Personal essays: These essays will draw from personal experience with Orthodox artifacts to narrate and/or reflect on the experience of Orthodox childhood.
    • If you have things to say but are not a skilled writer, please submit anyway! An editor will work with you to revise your essay while retaining your personal voice. We want to feature as many voices and experiences as possible.

Possible cultural artifacts include but are not limited to:

  • books from Orthodox publishers: picture books, short story collections, chapter books, teen novels, magazines for children
  • Orthodox music tapes and story tapes (and videos) for children: the Shmuel Kunda series, the Marvelous Middos Machine series, Country Yossi, 613 Torah Avenue, Uncle Moishy, Kivi and Tuki, Rabbi Juravel, Pirchei, JEP
  • material artifacts from Orthodox childhoods: Torah Cards, Gedolim Cards, board games
  • Orthodox educational material: textbooks from Orthodox publishers, school publications (newsletters, yearbooks, etc), handouts, worksheets, curricula
  • songs from summer camps, youth groups, school plays
  • skipping or handclapping songs, games that leave no physical trace

Possible themes for both critical and personal essays include:

  • the roles played by a text or cultural artifact in promoting adherence to Orthodox beliefs and practices
  • connections between Orthodoxy’s childhood cultural artifacts and mainstream American childhood’s cultural artifacts
  • the ways a text or cultural artifact contributed or may contribute to alienation from Orthodoxy
  • how a text or cultural artifact reinforces or models gender roles in Orthodoxy
  • the models of literacy available to Orthodox children
  • connections between a text or cultural artifact and Orthodox schools or homes
  • when and how certain artifacts were used (ie, reading The Little Midrash Says on Shabbos, listening to The Marvelous Middos Machine in preschool classrooms)
  • the portrayal of relationships (between family members, community members, non-Orthodox Jews, non-Jews) in Orthodoxy’s childhood cultural artifacts


Contributors will get a free copy of the book. If enough copies sell to generate royalties, they will be divided among contributors.

About the editor:

Dainy Bernstein is a PhD student at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. They are working on their dissertation, which focuses on Haredi children’s literature between the years 1980 and 2000, the years of their own childhood and adolescence in Boro Park, Brooklyn. They also teach courses on medieval literature, children’s literature, and Young Adult literature at Lehman College.

About the publisher:

Ben Yehuda Press’s mission is to provide a home for books which exist outside the prescribed parameters for a “Jewish book.” Their titles typically don’t fall into any of the niches claimed by existing Jewish publishing companies – but aren’t of wide enough interest – that is to say, sufficiently pareve – to interest a general publisher.

Orthodox Childhoods

Please send submissions and pitches to editor Dainy Bernstein for the forthcoming Orthodox Childhoods anthology via this form.

  • Briefly: What is the book about? Why do you think there's an audience for it?
  • Accepted file types: doc, docx, rtf, Max. file size: 25 MB.
    Please attach the full or partial manuscript in Word format.
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