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Our Vision for AJS Review

Carol Bakhos and Adam Shear

In its 40th year, the now venerable AJS Review is in excellent shape. The immediate past editors, Christine Hayes and Magda Teter, and their predecessors have served the Association and the wider scholarly world well and have produced a journal of the highest quality. We are honored to take the helm this summer for a four-year term, and are committed to building on their work. We are deeply grateful to Chris and Magda; to the managing editor, Aviva Arad; to the current editorial board; to Miriam Bodian, who served as book review editor until last fall; and to the new book review editors, Francesca Bregoli, Jay Geller, and Joel S. Kaminsky, for their hard work (past, present, and future). We can also thank Cambridge University Press and their production, marketing, and distribution teams for turning scholarly work into a usable and attractive product.

Transitions in leadership offer an opportunity to step back and see where we--editors, contributors, reviewers, and readers--are and where we are going. What do we need from the journal of a scholarly organization? What is the role of such a journal in the current academic landscape? What distinguishes AJS Review from other journals that publish scholarly work in Jewish studies? Where are we headed?

In our view, the core mission of the journal remains the same: to publish high-quality scholarship across all fields of Jewish Studies, including original articles and critical reviews of important books in the field. As one of the few specialized journals that defines its focus as "Jewish Studies" as such, we offer an outlet for specialized research. In some sub-fields, the journal is one of the premiere venues for publication and a known address for authors and readers. In other sub-fields and disciplines that comprise the broad tent of Jewish Studies, scholars have other options for publication, perhaps with more local or disciplinary prestige, and make strategic and intellectual choices about where to publish.

Yet, as the Jewish Studies tent gets larger and wider (which we view as a very positive development in the last four decades), how do we balance between specialized articles that speak to only a sub-set of the AJS "crowd" and the identity of the journal as a journal that "publishes scholarly articles and book reviews covering the field?" How many of us sit down and read the journal cover to cover? Most subscribers (we suspect) look primarily at the articles and book reviews related to their own research and teaching interests. Others, both AJS members and non-members, are drawn to a particular article through keyword searches in library catalogues and databases.

If so, do we need a twice-yearly "issue" of the journal, arriving in the mail as printed codex or dialed up on our e-reader at one time? Some in the scholarly and publishing world have imagined alternatives to the traditional once, twice, or four times a year journal "issue": articles and reviews published at various times, as editing processes are completed, doing away not only with the concept of issue and volume in a journal and doing away with tables of contents. We are not quite ready for this brave new disaggregated world. Even as we recognize that this kind of selective searching and reading plays a role in research (and of course we use keyword searching in our own scholarship), we believe that a journal issue continues to play a role—or should continue to play a role—in our scholarly lives. Six or seven articles and 25-30 book reviews packaged together don't just serve up a large number of discrete contributions to knowledge, but also offer a revealing look in broad strokes at scholarly trends. Even quick reading and skimming (we know you won't read every piece with the same level of attention) offers opportunities to see convergences and divergences across fields, and serendipitous discoveries of relevant models or methods from outside one's own usual conversation partners.

For example, let's take a look at the recently published volume 40, number 1 (April 2016): whether or not you are a specialist in the Talmud, take a look at Yaakov Elman's review of Daniel Boyarin's A Travelling Homeland: The Babylonian Talmud as Diaspora. Critical discussion over recent trends in the study of the Persian context of the Babylonian Talmud give way at the end of the review to a provocative comment about the sociology of knowledge and the place of Jewish Studies in the western academy. Debra Kaplan's article on "Entangled Negotiations: Josel of Rosheim and the Peasant's Rebellion of 1525" might look at first glance as aimed only at early modern historians, but Kaplan's reframing of Josel's activity using the lens of "entangled history" offers a new approach to the perennial issue of disentangling what used to be called the horizontal and vertical aspects of Jewish history. Rather than recapitulate all such "wider implications" of the brilliant specialized scholarship in the articles and reviews in this issue, we invite you to read and browse and find such connections as they emerge for you.

That is, in addition to offering a place for specialized conversation within subfields, AJS Review also offers a place for interdisciplinary conversation within the wider field of Jewish Studies. Defining that field and its boundaries remains a messy and contentious business. But for the many of us who see value in continuing to engage with a notion of "Jewish" as a useful category of analysis across place and time, across text and context, AJS Review is an important venue for carrying on that work.

So while we envision a continued role for AJS Review in publishing specialized work and reviewing specialized monographs, we also see a role for the journal in offering a place for explicit conversation across subfields. Wherever we can, we plan to continue the move away from a default chronological ordering of articles toward a flow that links articles conceptually, geographically, methodologically, or thematically. We invite you to send us review essays and other kinds of "think-pieces" that engage with methodological and theoretical issues. We welcome discussion of linked clusters of articles that bring attention to themes or topics that cross time periods or disciplines.

Our goal is to make sure that AJS Review continues to be central to the scholarly and intellectual conversation in Jewish Studies. To that end, we look forward to working with the editorial team, with the contributors and reviewers, and with the readers of the journal to make that happen.

Carol Bakhos and Adam Shear are the new editors of AJS Review. Carol Bakhos is professor of Late Antique Judaism and Jewish Studies in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at UCLA. Adam Shear is associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.