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Sample Abstracts

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Individual Paper Proposals

Below are conference abstracts submitted by AJS members for past AJS Conferences.

Title: Nationalizing Orthodoxy: Religio-Politics and the Growing Crisis of Orthodox Theology
Submitter: Joshua Shanes

Abstract: Recent scholarship by people like Samuel Heilman and Adam Ferziger has argued that traditional Orthodox divisions are collapsing, as Modern Orthodoxy “slides to the Right” and ultra-Orthodoxy more confidently engages with broader society. Both Heilman and Ferziger, in different ways, explain this movement largely in regards to religious orientations and the relationship between Orthodox practice and late modernity.

I focus instead on how these camps, with very different sensibilities, are coalescing around new values altogether. They increasingly define themselves via an ethno-nationalist identity that views the political Right and its ultra-nationalist worldview – both in America and in Israel – as a religious foundation united against the threat of the cultural Left, and have increasingly absorbed these nationalist values (American and Israeli) into the center of their religio-political identity.

In short, a new political cultishness has emerged throughout contemporary Orthodoxy, which increasingly assumes or even expects fidelity to a specific political community as part of its own communal boundaries, and that celebrates the ethnic aspects of Jewish tradition over the prophetic and rabbinic traditions of humanism and social equality. This then translates to reactionary American conservatism in its battle against the perceived anti-religious orientation of the Left.

Based on a range of printed and on-line publications, statistical surveys and electoral results, I explore why this is happening and some of the implications of this re-orientation of religion and secular values in American Orthodoxy and its place in the broader Jewish and American contexts.

Title: Too Jewish for the State: Ethiopian Israeli Girls Racing Against Race
Submitter: Marva S. Marom

Abstract: Race has become an increasingly important category to distinguish between social groups in Israel. From Mizrahi and Ethiopian Jews, through Sudanese and Eritrean refugees to the Palestinian People, various groups adopt the terminology of Blackness to denote their otherness to the Jewish State (Lamont, 2016). For Ethiopian Israelis, especially second and third generation immigrants, Blackness is perpetuated by the growing presence of police brutality, informal school segregation and ongoing separation of families. These youths as Black Jews seem to be forever foreign to Israeli society (Ben Eliezer, 2014). This study follows the formation of race as an organizing category of Israeli society from the perspective of Ethiopian Israeli girls: How do they see race operating in Israel, and why did it become a vital category for Israeli society? Using community-based research methods and a narrative approach to qualitative inquiry, this study follows four Ethiopian girls, who come together to help organize the BLM demonstrations in Israel summer 2019, following the murder of Solomon Takka. Analyzing their online posts, songs and youth poetry together with them (Jocson, 2008), shows how they walk a thin rope between school policy, police brutality, and state bureaucracy biases.

Building on Black feminist epistemology to better identify the activism of these young women, I argue that while they are part of the Jewish hegemony as Jews, and forever foreign to it as Blacks, they bring the two together as women: leading their generation’s struggle for equity and dignity in Israel, while conducting a gender revolution in their community. While the Jewish origins of Ethiopian Israelis and their racialization as Blacks are often discussed separately, these girls situate their experience on that very intersection. Hence, I use multifaceted models of the relationship between race, religion and nation-building (Weisenfeld, 2017; Wilde, 2019) to make sense of their experience, and mirror the formation of race stemming from the redefinition of Jewishness as a state principle.

Title: Falling off the Roof and into the Opera House: Jews, Opera, and Anxiety in Twentieth Century America
Submitter: Samantha Cooper

Abstract: When the Marx Brothers interrupt the prelude of Verdi’s IL TROVATORE with “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935), they are following a comic script about Jews and opera that can be traced at least as far back as B. Kovner’s 1914 “YENTE IN METROPOLITAN OPERA-HOYS” (“Yente at the Metropolitan Opera House”). This short story features Yente Telebende, who goes to the Metropolitan Opera to see Donizetti’s LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR, but gets unceremoniously thrown out when she falls asleep, and has such a terrible nightmare about her son falling off the roof that she wakes up screaming. Findings from the Florida Atlantic University, Dartmouth, and University of California Santa Barbara sound archives reveal that sending a Jewish immigrant on a disastrous visit to the opera became a popular comic device for American Jewish humorists. By the time this plot reached the Marx Brothers, it had already enjoyed two decades of development in Jewish dialect records and talkie films.

The following study traces the evolution of this plot and explores the reasons it resonated with Jewish creators and audiences. Intertwining comedy, Jews, and opera, it is premised upon the reality of a complex American Jewish relationship with opera in the early twentieth century, one that musicologists have not yet explored. My paper assesses the plot’s precedents, and follows its transformation across the lines of media, language, and gender from 1914 through 1935. Throughout, I draw on studies of American Jewish humor, opera popularization, and technological advancement to argue that the expansion and perpetuation of this plot emerged from deeply-rooted Jewish anxieties about gaining acceptance in America during a period of heightened xenophobia. I further suggest that, in the process of employing the opera as a subject in Jewish popular culture products, the genre became a stand-in for the institutions where many middle- and lower-class acculturating Jews felt like imposters. By embracing rather than refusing the role of disruptive outsiders in the imagined opera house, American Jews at once acknowledged and laid bare their own cultural difference for the pleasure of their community.

Title: Unorthodox Alliances: The emerging "Haredi MeToo" Movement and the Endeavor to Reconfigure Relations between the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Sector and the Israeli State
Submitter: Michal Kravel-Tovi

Abstract: This article explores the unorthodox and surprising alliances forged between ultra-Orthodox (HAREDI) communities and the Israeli state, concerning the issue of sexual violence within these communities. I illuminate the nature of these alliances, the challenges they face, and the stakes invested in them by the differently positioned actors and institutions on both sides. In particular, I refer to the labor of activists, survivors, professionals, educators, and rabbis on the Haredi side, most of whom are associated with mainstream and modern branches of ultra-Orthodox society, and to social servants, professionals and police officers, at both the municipal and national levels of the Israeli administration. The unfolding story of these emerging alliances is both complicated and surprising given historical tensions between Jewish and Israeli civil law, and the mutual suspicion that generally defines relations between the state and these minority communities.

Based on ethnographic fieldwork (conducted since 2017) in the institutional and public sites where these unprecedented alliances are taking shape, I will show how the anti-sexual violence campaign provides a compelling arena for the Israeli state and the Haredi sector to establish—or at least experiment with—arrangements that may ultimately reconfigure relations between the two. The presentation will offer a novel perspective on an animated yet under-explored domain in contemporary Haredi life in Israel, thus compensating for a gap in the otherwise rich literature on the social changes that reshape this sector.This discussion will also contributes to the literature on the handling of social ills, sexual violence included, among secluded religious and other minority groups. While studies generally emphasize the intensification of communal defensive and silencing mechanisms vis-à-vis the state, this study demonstrates emerging collaborations and conversations between state and community. Moreover, as the disparate parties converge around this battle, negotiating notions of safety, legality and justice, and a common strategy to secure these goals, they attempt not only to battle sexual violence but also to engage state and community in a potentially productive relationship more broadly.