Janice Fernheimer

Rhetoric, Technology, Jewish Studies

Book Abstract

New Directions for Rhetorical History and Theory
Arguing Black Jewish Identity: Hatzaad Harishon and Interruptive Invention considers the question, “Who Is A Jew,” as an important rhetorical topos and inventional prompt that often has grave material consequences for Jews and non-Jews alike. Building on earlier work in Rhetoric and Jewish Studies and reflecting the influence of cultural, post-colonial, whiteness, and interdisciplinary studies, Rhetoric, Race, Religion promises to advance rhetorical studies in two ways. First, it expands the breadth of rhetorical history by interpreting the archival materials of Hatzaad Harishon (H.H.), a New York based, multi-racial Jewish non-profit organization that worked to increase recognition and legitimacy for Black Jews. The materials preserve interactions among diverse Jewish communities including Black Jews, self-proclaimed Black Jews, Hebrew Israelites, and recognized Jewish communities. Second, it advances rhetorical theory by arguing Hatzaad Harishon’s attempts to answer the age-old question of “who is a Jew” provide the basis for a new theory of cross-audience communication and rhetorical success, a process I term “interruptive invention.” Extending and further developing familiar concepts such as Burke’s identification and Perelman and Olbrhechts-Tyteca’s universal audience, dissociation, and communion, interruptive invention offers a way for individuals or groups who do not already share the same values or definitions to begin to engage one another. It provides both a descriptive term and an analytic heuristic for explaining the important work rhetors do when they begin to engage with and shake up a dominant discourse, even if those in power do not immediately recognize or accept the changes wrought by the interrupters. In cases where the community of minds is fragile and language becomes divisive rather than unifying such as in conflicts over definition or identity, interruptive invention provides a means for including a wider variety of rhetors, prolonging the conversation without using violence, and thus delaying judgment and decisions until a time when more just solutions might be more likely. In the contemporary political, social, and increasingly global scene within which localized identity narratives are both constructed and circulated, this work provides a model for intervening productively, albeit incrementally, in dominant discourse to allow for individuals and groups who may lack institutional power and authority to begin to claim it.


Janice W. Fernheimer is Assistant Professor of Writing, Rhetoric, and Digital Media at The University of Kentucky where she teaches courses in rhetoric, technology, and pedagogy; digital writing; and Jewish rhetorical studies. Her research focuses on questions of identity, invention, and cross-audience communication.

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