Research seminars 2006/7


Thurs 28 Sept at 3.00 p.m., Room A115 (note non-standard time and place)
Professor Tony Kushner, University of Southampton
“Bill Williams and Jewish Historiography: Past, Present and Future"

Followed by the opening of the Bill Williams Library in Jewish Studies, and a reception in Bill’s honour, to which all are cordially invited


Thurs 12 Oct 2006 at 4.00-5.30 p.m., Room A114
Dr Susie Jacobs, Dept of Sociology. Manchester Metropolitan University
“Pedagogies of teaching 'race' and ethnicity in higher education: antisemitism and other forms of racism”

This paper analyses manifestations of antisemitism and other Aracisms within the context of university teaching of 'race' and ethnicity within social science. It draws on C-SAP funded research led by the author; this interviewed approximately one-third of university Sociology teachers of 'race' on the UK mainland; set up a database of courses in this subject area and held student focus groups. Even within this highly specialised sample, antisemitism was a prominent theme. However, this should be understood in context of expressions of a number forms of racism and in particular, Islamophobia. The paper also discusses conflicts within seminar settings and analyses some underlying factors.

Thurs 26 Oct 2006 at 3.15-4.45 p.m., Room A101
Professor Catherine Hezser, SOAS
“Jewish Slavery in the Graeco-Roman Context”

In the past scholars have argued that the Jewish practice of and discourse on slavery in antiquity were radically different from slavery in the non-Jewish surrounding societies. It was assumed that the enslavement of Jews by other Jews ended with the Babylonian exile and that Jewish slave masters acted in a particularly humane way towards their non-Jewish slaves. This traditional theory shall be questioned with regard to Jewish slavery in Graeco-Roman society as evidenced by Philo, Josephus, and Palestinian rabbinic literature. How and to what extent did the Jewish discourse on slavery differ from the Graeco-Roman discourse? What are the similarities and differences between rabbinic and Roman law as far as slaves are concerned? How did rabbis manage to adhere to biblical notions of slavery while at the same time adapting to the changed circumstances of life in a Graeco-Roman cultural context?

Thurs 9 Nov 2006 at 4.00-5.30 p.m., Room A114
Dr. Eli Cohen
“Jews for Jesus and Holocaust Testimony”

'In a dramatic tactical shift, the Christian missionary group Jews for Jesus has masked its proselytising efforts behind the one event considered out-of-bounds by even the most aggressive of evangelists: the Holocaust.’ (Official statement from the Anti-Defamation League, July 2001) The year 2000 marked the beginning of the Jews for Jesus Ministry's worldwide evangelical campaign 'Operation Behold your God'. One of the main materials used for the purposes of prosletysing was a video called 'Survivor Stories: Finding Hope from an Unlikely Source', which used the testimonies of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. This paper will explore some of the central ethical and theological issues that arise from such a choice of evangelical appeal. It will also consider important reflexive issues of a practicing Jew researching a Messianic group.

Thurs 23 Nov 2006 at 4.00-5.30 p.m., Room A114
Dr. George Wilkes, St Edmund's College, Cambridge 
“War in Franz Rosenzweig's Star of Redemption”

'When is war unavoidable, and when is war in need of justification? Is it pagan? Can it be Christian or Jewish - and can it be faced ethically?
Franz Rosenzweig's understanding of war has thus far drawn no sustained academic attention, though some commentators suggest the Star of Redemption was of fundamental influence on seminal texts on the topic by Walter Benjamin and Emmanuel Levinas. This seminar explores Rosenzweig's thought with one eye on the ongoing debate about 'religious' wars which appear to exceed the moderating influence of ethical, legal or political constraints, another on the interest held out by Rosenzweig's iconoclastic work on division between Jews, Christians and others in time of peace.'

Thurs 7 Dec 2006 at 4.00-5.30 p.m., Room A114
Professor Jeffrey Peck, Georgetown University
“Being Jewish in the New Germany”

The Jewish community in Germany has increased dramatically since 1989-90. On the verge of extinction when the Wall fell, the new community of over 100,000, made up primarily of Jews from the former Soviet Union, has both saved Jewish life in Germany and presented the official community with a myriad of problems. Like Germany which struggles to integrate its "foreigners" largely Turkish and Muslim, so too does the Jewish community confront issues of religious, cultural, and ethnic difference in its new and diverse population. I will address the future of evolving Jewish identity in Germany in an institutional and cultural context, focusing in particular on issues of diversity and difference as Germany and its Jewish community become increasingly like other Diaspora communities in the United States, Canada, and elsewhere. In fact, I ask, can German Jewish life become a model for other Jewish identities in multicultural societies?

Thurs 14 Dec 2006 at 4.00-5.30 p.m., Room A114
Dr Matthew Morgenstern
"New Developments in the Study of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic"

Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, the Aramaic of the Babylonian Talmud is a puzzling but understudied dialect of Aramaic. Matthew Morgenstern is one of the most important researchers currently working in this field.

Thurs 21 Dec 2006 at 4.00-5.30 p.m., Room A114
Dr. Ya’akov Wise
“Anglo-Jewry at 350, Good for the British, Bad for the Jews”

The Jewish communities in Britain have spent the past few months celebrating the 350th anniversary of the resettlement under Oliver Cromwell. The original small Angevin community was expelled by Edward I in 1290. Everyone from the Prime Minister to Chief Rabbi has been indulging in an orgy of self-congratulation, praising the ability of the Jews to integrate with the indigenous ethnic population whilst ‘retaining their distinctive identity.’ But is this really accurate? Do these platitudes, aimed at the Muslim communities and the current debate about integration and multi-culturalism really stand up? I shall argue that the truth is precisely the opposite. That the vast majority of the Jews gave up some, most or all of their religious and cultural identity in a largely successful attempt to integrate and ultimately to assimilate into general white, middle class English society. That being Jewish in 21st century Britain is no more ‘distinctive’ than being Methodist or Baptist. That the rapid decline in the Jewish population over the last 100 years is largely a result of this integration and that the demographic trend is now being reversed only by the strictly orthodox – separatist communities that generally reject British culture and who are returning to a pre-modern, ghetto existence more comparable to the dreams of Muslim fundamentalists. In other words the Jews are the last people whom any ethnic group should emulate if they want to retain a distinctive cultural identity. Whilst Britain has enormously benefited from the Jews, everything from M & S knickers to the Royal Opera House, the Jews as Jews have been major losers.



All seminars will be in the Dover Street Building BS3 (Basement), unless otherwise stated (Building 70 on campus map at

Thurs 8 Feb 2007 at 4.00-5.30 p.m.
Professor Ithamar Gruenwald, Tel-Aviv University
“What can the New Testament tell of the Judaism of its Time?”

It is often assumed that in order to understand the New Testament, as depicting historical events in diversified literary documentations, Jewish sources of various kinds are essential as background materials. However, people often forget that that the Jewish sources used come from a time that is at least a century and a half later than the New Testament. The final editing of Mishnah, the earliest document in this respect, is dated at the beginning of the third century CE.

In other words, the Jewish documents which are really relevant to the understanding of the New Testament are those composed in the first Century CE or earlier. Here the Qumran materials play an obviously major role. So do the writings of Philo of Alexandria and Flavius Josephus.

However, an often forgotten – methodological -- aspect of the whole discussion is that the various documents contained in the New Testament cast a bright light on Jewish life in the Galilee and Jerusalem of the time. Furthermore, the writings of Saul of Tarsus (Paul) and his followers render a dramatic picture of the complexity of Jewish life in the Diaspora.

The New Testament shows an internally diversified, if not split, type of Judaism. In light of this rather complex picture, the activity of the rabbis of the second century can be shown as an attempt to create a main stream type of Judaism, the climax of which was the creation of a new canonical document, the Mishnah. Among other things, the lecture will show that, leaving aside polemical tones and utterances, the seeds of a rabbinic type of Judaism, open to inner debating and rather conflicting views, are already found in the New Testament (and the Qumran writings, so called).

The planned lecture will deal with these issues, their methodological implications, and the diverse kinds of religious activities that the New Testament reflects. Among them we find “magical” healing, exorcism, unique functions of synagogue activity, and special attitudes to religious practice.


Thurs 22 Feb 2007 at 4.00-5.30 p.m.
Professor Philip Alexander, University of Manchester
“Lamentations Rabba in the Context of `Mourning for Zion' in Late Antique Judaism”

The classic Rabbinic Bible Commentaries, the Midrashim, are among the most important creations of Rabbinic Judaism, but they are very hard to analyze and to contextualize from an academic point of view. Questions of their date, provenance, structure, inter-relation and message have advanced little in the past twenty years, and indeed in some cases we today are little further forward than the great Science of Judaism scholars of the 19th century, such as Leopold Zunz. I shall outline an approach to the study of the Midrashim as documents based on a discussion of the great Midrash on the Book of Lamentations known as Eikhah Rabbah, by common consent one of theologically richest and intriguing of the early Midrashim. I shall attempt to date and locate this Midrash, and trace its reception history, setting its origin in the context of early Jewish mourning for the Fall of Jerusalem, the loss of the Temple and of political independence, and longing for coming of the Messiah.

Thurs 8 Mar 2007 at 4.00-5.30 p.m.
Dr Daniel Rynhold, King's College London
“Nietzsche and Jewish Tradition: Between Conflict and Congruence”

This paper examines one of the ways in which Nietzsche's critique of religion - and more specifically, his criticisms of priestly Judaism - square with the thought of Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the leading figure of Modern Orthodoxy. In particular it is argued that Soloveitchik's conception of repentance reflects certain contemporary readings of Nietzsche's 'doctrine' of eternal return. Moreover, this conception is one that Soloveitchik consciously chooses over alternative life-denying conceptions of repentance prevalent in rabbinic literature. This leads us to consider whether Soloveitchik's stated philosophical methodology, according to which Jewish philosophy must be derived from halakhic sources, is brought into question by some of his philosophical positions.

Thurs 15 Mar 2007
Special Dead Sea Scrolls event: Click here for details

Thurs 22 Mar 2007 at 4.00-5.30 p.m.
Dr Shuruq Naguib, University of Lancaster
"Horizons and Limitations of Muslim Feminist Hermeneutics: Reflections on the Law of Purity" (response by Professor Bernard Jackson)

The aim of this paper is to 'converse' with recent feminist readings of the Qur'an in the light of traditional Qur'an exegesis. In the course of the paper, I will first reflect on the horizons opened up by these new readings of the Qur'an. Then, against the backcloth of an aspect of the law of purity as outlined in traditional exegesis, I will go on to examine the limitations which arise from constructing Qur'anic hermeneutics on the basis of binary oppositions in which interpretations of gender in the Qur'an are either modern/feminist/egalitarian, on the one hand, or traditional/male/misogynistic on the other.

Thurs 19 April 2007 at 2.00-3.30 p.m.
Sherman Lectures feedback session., Room: Humanities Lime Grove, Room A101

Thurs 26 April 2007 at 4.00-5.30 p.m., Room: Humanities Lime Grove, Room S3.1 (South Wing). 
Dr Renate Smithuis, John Rylands University Library
“Kabbalistic readings in Maimonides: Abulafia, Mithridates and Pico della Mirandola”

Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia (1240-after 1291), one of the main representatives of medieval Kabbalah, was also a great admirer of Maimonides. Among his many works, he wrote a few commentaries on Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed. This lecture will focus on Abulafia's life and thought and thereby try to address the apparently paradoxical nature of the Kabbalistic reception of Maimonides. In Renaissance Italy, the converted Jew Mithridates translated for Pico della Mirandola some of Abulafia's works into Latin, including the commentaries on the Guide. Mithridates strongly influenced Pico's understanding of both Abulafia and Maimonides. Because of the complexity of Kabbalistic texts, he felt the need to include in his versions information that is new to Abulafia's original texts. That his interpolations were sometimes christological in nature is a striking characteristic of his translations.

10 May 2007 at 4.00-5.30 p.m., Room: Humanities Lime Grove, Room S3.1 (South Wing). 
Dr Talia Ratner, University College London
“Representations of women in the military in Israeli women's writing”

Israel is the only state in which women are regularly recruited to the military in the national draft following the Defense Law of 1949. This exceptional legislation aimed at ensuring equality, expressing commitment to the national cause and full participation in civil life. The link between the military and civil life has far reaching implications in a society in which the army has a formative role as the site for gender, social and political identity constitution and reconfiguration of identities and affiliations. However, as current research has shown, the military service of women has a rather detrimental effect on women’s status in Israel. The on going process of revisions of the Israeli discourse and the rise of feminist awareness empowered women to question their role in the military, to expose their marginality in the army and its subsequent impact on their civil life. This process allowed women writers to break the silence surrounding their military service. Recent literary works address the issue of sexual harassment in the army as the consequences of male dominance inherent in the military. These literary works will be looked at throughout this paper.