This paper examines the Palestinian Amoraic response to the popular theatrical entertainments of the Later Roman Empire A new theme in Amoraic homiletics situated the moral difference between spectators and Torah scholars in spatial terms, stressing the essential incompatibility between theaters and circuses on the one hand, and synagogues and study-houses on the other. In this paper, I examine rabbinic efforts to distinguish the synagogue from the theater as a result of the same ambiguities and tensions that spawned similar rhetoric among the Fathers of the Church. Though much of their success in influencing the laity's beliefs about their religious obligations was rooted in performance and stagecraft, Christian orators demonized a whole range of values and practices by associating them with the theater. Though they saw the church as an analogous institution to the theater, the Church fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries vigorously tried to distinguish between the two. In this paper, I suggest that Rabbinic rhetoric comparing the theater and the synagogue worked in a similar fashion to neutralize the problematic performative aspects of synagogue worship. Rabbinic criticism of the theater functioned not as a form cultural antagonism towards a specific practice, but as part of a program of moral invective, in which the theater came to represent anything opposed to Torah study and therefore inherently wicked.
This paper is an attempt to gauge the predominant Jewish attitude towards the Polish Uprising of 1830-1 against the Tsarist regime, a military fiasco which nevertheless served as a catalyst for Polish romantic nationalism. This topic has been treated by several Polish historians, including some of the pioneering historians of the early twentieth century. But the context of perceived Polish anti-Semitism has caused many such scholars to use the issue in for apologetic purposes, frequently by highlighting and sometimes exaggerating the participation by a small group of Polish Jewish assimilationists in the Uprising (often framed anachronistically as "patriotism") and thereby ignoring the more ambivalent attitudes of the vast majority of Polish Jews. This study considers the stances of Jews across the entire cultural spectrum, from acculturated Jews and Maskilim, to more tradition-oriented Mitnaggdim and Hasidism. The case of the latter group, Hasidim, is particularly compelling: among "zaddikim" there is actually evidence of a some support for insurgents and the Polish cause in general. An attempt will be made to place the active support of acculturated Jews in perspective, while treating the traditionalist majority's stance in greater depth.
Leviticus 18:3 does not specify the scope of its prohibition against following the practices of Egypt and Canaan: "Like the practice of the land of Egypt which you dwelled in, you should not practice, and like the practice of the land of Canaan to which I am bringing you, you should not practice, and in their laws you should not go." The local passage, verses 1-5, suggests that the scope is broad, but the chapter context of Leviticus 18 limits the prohibition to the list of sexual taboos that follow. The early rabbinic commentary within the Sifra exploits this ambiguity to generate a reading of the verse that simultaneously restricts the prohibition specifically to religious practices but also expands the prohibition beyond Leviticus 18's taboos. This paper examines this exegesis and considers what is ideologically at stake. Drawing on Daniel Boyarin's arguments in Border Lines, the paper argues that the Sifra's proscription of laws transmitted from gentile father to gentile father mirrors the rabbinic prescription of laws transmitted from rabbinic father to rabbinic father. The Sifra creates a gentile "diadoche" to reflect the Rabbis' own. Moreover, the paper explores how bodies, male and female, Jewish and gentile, are used to help construct this utopian rabbinic tradition. The gentile tradition, according to the Sifra, consists of gay marriage (and other marriage combinations). The paper asks why the Sifra imagines gentile tradition in this way, and suggests that its concern is to heighten the claims of rabbinic authority and, relatedly, to dramatize the problem of Jewish difference. The consequence of the Sifra's reading, concludes the paper, is that Jewish men can maximize their dominance as men and minimize their marginality as Jews.
My paper explores the representation of public joy in the tannaitic accounts of “the rejoicing of the place of water drawing” (henceforth, the Rejoicing), a carnivalesque celebration that reportedly took place during Sukkot in pre-70 Jerusalem (m. Sukkah 5; t. Sukkah 4). I demonstrate, first, that in contrast to what scholars have suggested, the joy of the Rejoicing, according to the Tannaʾim, is not a manifestation of the biblical commandment to rejoice during Sukkot. I suggest, furthermore, that the Rejoicing texts mimic features of Roman festivals and spectacles, which were quite prevalent in High Imperial Palestine. The early rabbis, then, thematize joy by describing behaviors which they mark, in other contexts, as perilous to their identity. To examine this paradox, I draw upon recent works on ‘history of emotion.’ I conclude by offering new thinking on the role of norms of joy in the formation of rabbinic identity.
My paper takes the postwar Yiddish theater scene in Poland as an opportunity to analyze the governmental attempts to build a model of Jewish Identity on stage. The Polish Communist government took it upon itself to support the remnants of the once-sizable Jewish minority. The state support model was built around creating and protecting an image of a non-assimilated, easily recognizable, “cute” Jew in traditional Jewish garb. Neither assimilated Jews, nor Israelis did not fit this image and therefore did not comprise typical “Jewish” culture under Communism. In order to survive Communism, the Yiddish Theater of Warsaw had to negotiate with the state how to promote the identity of the Jewish homo Sovieticus. Yiddish theater in Poland was highly avant-garde and experimental before World War II. By the 1950s—a time of cultural revolution and drastic changes—Yiddish theater had become notably old-fashioned. Furthermore, the Holocaust became a taboo topic in the Yiddish theater community. Almost no theatrical rituals were created in response to the painful themes of the war and no new Yiddish repertoire was written. The cultural exchange between Yiddish and non-Yiddish theater that had been so common in pre-war times suddenly ceased to occur. That-isolation has resulted in Yiddish theater acquiring hermetic characteristics that are retained to this day.
In my paper, I will demonstrate how management techniques undertaken by artistic directors of the Theater shaped the postwar image of Polish Jews.
This paper examines the comparison of understanding autonomy in concepts of Russian- Jewish historian Simon Dubnow and contemporary Israeli philosopher Yael Tamir. In this paper, I investigate the influence of German philosophy particularly concepts of Hegel and Kant on Dubnow’s theory of autonomism and compare it with the concept of liberal nationalism that was developed by Yael Tamir. Both authors argued that individuals are rational agents and their individual autonomy should be respected while the autonomy of a cultural group should be protected by a state. Thus, Dubnow’s concept can be considered as a predecessor of modern political discourse about equality and justice.
Katharine Gillian Trostel (Ursuline College) and Avigail S. Oren (Carnegie Mellon University)
The Venice Ghetto Collaboration is an interdisciplinary and mutually supportive working group of humanities scholars that, individually and as a group, develops projects that examine both the specificity of the Venice Ghetto and the symbolic power of ghettos more generally. Our scholarship investigates the history, conditions, physical space, and lived experience of the Venice Ghetto, as well as broader questions about the legacy of the ghetto, how and why the ghetto became a paradigm, and how comparisons have been drawn between compulsory, segregated, and enclosed spaces in discourse, literature, and academic research.
During the 2016-17 academic year, we focused on the creation of a curriculum for undergraduate students that embraces the idea of the “local-in-the-global.” At last year’s AJS Conference, we presented a newly created website (www.veniceghettocollaboration.com) featuring the projects developed for our 2016 workshop in the Venice Ghetto. We also debuted an ever-evolving modular syllabus, “Approaches to Teaching the Ghetto in a Global Context.”
This academic year, we will work to localize the global metaphor of the ghetto. The history and literature of Rust Belt cities have emerged as a new frontier in both the disciplines of urban history and American literature. Scholars have examined how segregation, racial discrimination, and interracial relations played out both in archival and fictional sources. Our Collaboration proposes to further this work by examining the Jewish legacy in the histories and literatures of Cleveland and Pittsburgh. By asking how Jews’ understanding of ghettos and discrimination affected the lived reality and discursive knowledge of ghettos during the twentieth century, we trace the transmission of the term, concept, and symbol of the ghetto from Jewish to Black usage. We will further develop this project using the StoryMaps platform to map historical and fictional sites and events in Cleveland and Pittsburgh where Jews and African Americans engaged in meaning-making around “ghettos.”
The opportunity to continue to present this work at AJS as it evolves over time helps us to gain new partnerships, solicit feedback, and continue the important work of developing classroom tools to teach this important historical moment and the implications of this space.
Stephen Jacobs (Rochester Institute of Technology)
In 1898, Mordecai Jacobovitch, a twenty-one year old Polish bookbinder, was conscripted into the 9th Rifleman’s Brigade of the Czar’s army.
In June of 1900 the Boxers laid siege to Peking’s (now Beijing’s) diplomatic quarter with the support of the Empress Tzu Hsi. This "Boxer Rebellion" resulted in one of the first multi-national military efforts. It also provided Russia with an opening to invade Manchuria, a territory they had long-desired.
On June 26th, 1900, Mordecai and his comrades were informed that they were to begin a march to Manchuria that would eventually bring them home again by land and sea in a 10- month campaign.
Mordecai and his fellow Jewish soldiers from Poland and Russia were both celebrated and cheated by their fellow Jews in various villages along the way. They were forced to fight on Yom Kippur and they recognized fellow Jews in Singapore by the matzah crumbs on their faces during Pesach. They survived several bouts of scurvy and other illnesses and had many other adventures thoughout the campaign.
In 1986, a handwritten record of Mordecai’s experience was found. It was written in Russian script and composed in a mélange of Polish, Yiddish and Russian, including some little known dialects. It took the family decades to find someone who could do the translation.
In 2015 digital copies of the diary’s pages and the full translation were shared with YIVO. YIVO’s assessment was that the memoir’s content covered portions of Jewish and Yiddish history and language that they, and most other academic institutions, had little information on.
Mordecai Marches to Manchuria is a website, (currently in development) that will display each section of the translated text with a map of the journey and contemporary and historical images of the places Mordecai visited on the campaign. A complete set of scans of the original pages will also be available on the site.
“The House of Love and Prayer” is the inaugural exhibition of Mapping Jewish San Francisco, a new digital humanities project of the Swig Program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice of the University of San Francisco. Mapping Jewish San Francisco takes a collaborative approach to examining the complex history and unique religious, cultural, and political identity of Jews who played important roles in shaping the San Francisco bay Area. Top scholars and experts—including university faculty, graduate students, and community leaders—will contribute exhibitions to tell stories of those individuals and institutions that shaped the Jewish San Francisco Bay Area over the last few centuries. Mapping Jewish San Francisco uses Scalar, an innovative digital technology that enables the user to travel numerous pathways to uncover and explore the history of Jews in this region. This project hopes to inspire original research, educational projects, and community initiatives throughout San Francisco and beyond. It is based on and developed in partnership with Mapping Jewish LA, a project of the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies.
“The House of Love and Prayer” exhibition documents the radical experiment of a synagogue and religious commune founded by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach during the counter-cultural revolution in 1960s San Francisco. An historical ethnography of The House of Love and Prayer, this digital humanities project inquires into the new Jewish identities and rituals that emerged from the intersection of traditional Hasidic Judaism and the “free spirit” of the Hippie subculture. Based on archival research and interviews with those who lived in and frequented The House of Love and Prayer, this project tells a seldom-told story about a unique moment in Jewish history, revealing the complexities of Jewish identities and Jewish experiences in post-Holocaust American Judaism. The exhibit is deeply interactive, with visitors able to see photos and posters, listen to music, watch video interviews, and read newsletters printed by residents of the House of Love and Prayer.
This panel examines varying perspectives of Jewish leadership, especially that of Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, in the Lodz ghetto during and after WWII. The four papers address different ways of understanding the complexities of this leadership. Though Rumkowski's behavior as head of the Jewish council in Lodz has received much attention in the postwar period, this panel offers several new insights by examining previously unused historical sources, asking new questions about perception, listening to formerly unheard voices, and combining historical with literary approaches.
The papers presented by Robert Moses Shapiro and Amy Simon both look at Jewish leadership through the lens of Jewish diarists writing in the ghetto. Shapiro uses the Polish language diary of Jakub Poznanski to examine a Polish Jewish industrialist's perception of the controversial Jewish leader with whom he had a tempestuous relationship. This paper gives insight into the relationships possible between Rumkowski and the factory workers in whom he ultimately placed the fate of the ghetto. In contrast, Simon's paper looks at a variety of ghetto diaries to determine how their authors' views of Rumkowski compared with their views of German perpetrators. In this way, she reexamines perceptions of persecution and perpetration in the Lodz ghetto. Elizabeth Strauss's paper uses a variety of sources to look at Rumkowski from a previously underrepresented viewpoint—that of the elderly in the Lodz ghetto. Strauss's paper explores the variety of experiences open to the elderly in the Lodz ghetto as well as their real and perceived interactions with Rumkowski and his associates. Finally, Eric Sundquist's paper offers a completely different perspective on the understanding of Chaim Rumkowski. His analysis of Leslie Epstein's novel, King of the Jews, explores what new depths a fictive and tragi-comic account of Rumkowski's leadership can bring to our historical reading of his behavior and moral quandary. Moving the panel past disciplinary boundaries, Sundquist's paper also moves us beyond historical restrictions to consider not only wartime perceptions of Rumkowski and his role in the ghetto, but also the ways in which postwar thinkers have considered and represented his record.
The three presentations in this session examine curatorial practices—the collecting and assessing of archival and museum artifacts, the construction of narratives from diverse fragments (textual and otherwise), the creation of cultural works using the rubric of inventory--as part of modern Jewish life. These practices are examined both as cultural phenomena of interest in their own right and as points of entry into theorizing modern Jewish culture more broadly. Each scholar is interested in how analyzing curatorial practices challenges established understandings of how modern Jewish culture works, whether by problematizing notions of what constitutes evidence of the truth; how works of modern Jewish culture are authored and how they engage their audiences; how modern Jewish cultural works are to understood as authoritative and, at the same time, how they accommodate cultural play.
Curatorial practices, exemplified by museums but by no means limited to them, are key to understanding new ways that Jewish culture is made, disseminated, and discussed. The curatorial process of gathering, scrutinizing, selecting, and arranging informs many modern Jewish cultural practices, though this is seldom recognized as such. Attention to this process enables scholars of modern Jewish culture to consider new possibilities for understanding how it is constituted and moreover, how it is conceptualized, especially as notions of what is "Jewish" and who determines this have been challenged by historical events, new technologies, and a diversifying range of practitioners of and audiences for a broadening array of what is claimed as Jewish culture. These examinations strive to enhance our understanding of modernity as a term defining Jewish culture of the present and recent past, distinguishing it from what has come before (even as what is thought of as "premodern" Jewish culture continues), and relating them to general notions of the modern (and, at least implicitly, the postmodern).
Daniel Roth (Bar-Ilan University), Session Organizer
In recent years, universities throughout North America have launched academic programs focusing on the relationship between religion and conflict resolution. These new programs, associated with either departments of conflict resolution or religion, involve the study of conflict resolution models as found in the world's major religions and often—though not always—include the study of Jewish models. The session aims to define this new field of research as pertains to Jewish models and to explore ways in which the field can be further explored. Questions for discussion include: What are Jewish models of conflict resolution? How should such models be studied? How can further research of these models contribute to the academic study of conflict resolution and to Judaic studies? To what extent can these Jewish models have an impact on the transformation, resolution, or management of conflicts involving Jewish societies today? Panelists are American and Israeli scholars in both Judaic studies and conflict resolution who are engaged in the study of Jewish models of conflict resolution. Marc Gopin, professor of religion, diplomacy, and conflict resolution at George Mason University's Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, has published numerous works on Judaism and conflict resolution that serve as the cornerstone of any academic discussion on the topic. Similarly, Reuven Firestone, professor of medieval Judaism and Islam at Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, has published crucial articles currently studied in the framework of religion and peacebuilding courses. Robert Eisen, professor of religion and Judaic studies at George Washington University, recently published a groundbreaking book on peace and violence in Judaism. Peter Ochs, professor of modern Judaic studies at the University of Virginia and one of the founders of Scriptural Reasoning, has taught courses on religion conflict and resolution among the Abrahamic religions. Michael Berger, associate professor of religion at Emory University, has taught courses on rabbinic literature and violence as part of Emory University's Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding Initiative. Daniel Roth, director of the Peace and Conflict track at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and a doctoral student at Bar-Ilan University's Program on Conflict Management and Negotiation, is currently completing his dissertation on rabbinic models of reconciliation and pursuing peace. The expertise of all participants will enable the panel to fully explore the emerging field of Judaism and conflict resolution.
Jonathan Karp (American Jewish Historical Society), Session Organizer
Sponsored by the Pedagogy Working Group, this proposal addresses the challenges of teaching about contemporary Jewish political controversies, including fundamentalism, the ideologies of far right and left, and conflicts surrounding Zionism. The overarching question is how to open up the classroom to divergent viewpoints on current issues in the Jewish world while fostering an atmosphere of civility and respect. The roundtable focuses on three core questions, all addressed with reference to specific courses taught. First, given their potentially divisive and disruptive effects in the classroom, what is the substantive value of teaching about current political controversies? Second, what mechanisms can instructors employ to balance openness to divergent viewpoints with respect for individuals and groups? Third, how do campus and wider university politics impinge upon the Jewish Studies classroom and what is the appropriate response? To make the roundtable effective it must be comprised of scholars representing different approaches. The panel includes two historians of modern Jews (Nancy Sinkoff and Jonathan Karp), a scholar of modern European politics (Malachi Hacohen), a sociologist of religion (Samuel Heilman); and a literary scholar (Ruth Wisse), and is moderated an ethnic and women's studies scholar (Shelly Tenenbaum). Heilman will organize his responses around his course on "Comparative Fundamentalism," which employs the comparative model to prompt critical inquiry into the exclusive claims of any single faith. Sinkoff's course on "Jewish Power and Politics" situates current controversies within the broad history of Jewish politics, including premodern eras. In reference to his courses on modern Jewish politics, Hacohen will ask how definitions and accusations of antisemitism are often used as rhetorical weapons to discredit ideological opponents. Wisse will likewise address the phenomenon of antisemitism as it pertains to her experiences in the classroom and on various campuses. Karp offers his course on "Zionism and its Jewish Critics" as a model for how historical understanding can enable students to engage sympathetically with contradictory political positions while provisionally withholding final support from any. Moderator Tenenbaum, given her research on Jewish self-definition, will aim to focus the discussion on how the above issues impact specifically on the world of Jewish Studies pedagogy.