Upside-Down Lecture: Taking Reading Personally

For the Public
Thursday, March 19, 2015
7:00 PM - 8:30 PM EDT

The Little Shul
2015 S 4th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19148

Esther (Etty) Lassman

New this year! In an "upside-down lecture," the audience joins in conversation around a common text, guided by experts in the field. This inaugural session will explore the highly individual nature of reading:

We often explore the ideas contained in Jewish books, but how often do we reflect on the act of reading, and the act of reading as Jews or about Jews?

Why do we read what we read? How do we read—literally, physically, where and with what objects, alone or with others, silently or aloud? Where do we read—in private, in school, on the subway, in synagogue? How do our individual tastes and unexamined assumptions color our sense of what is good to read or not? How do we read differently today than we did a hundred years ago, or two thousand years ago? And what is the significance of our reading practices, for understanding our texts or ourselves?

The seminar-style discussion will be inspired by a set of texts in which ancient and modern rabbis speak explicitly about reading for pleasure.


Amos Bitzan

Stanford University

Amos Bitzan is an historian of modern European Jewry, specializing in the cultural and intellectual history of Central and Eastern European Jews from 1700 to the early twentieth century. He received his Ph.D. in history from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2011 with his dissertation, “The Problem of Pleasure: Disciplining the German Jewish Reading Revolution, 1770–1870,” which examined how the discovery of pleasure reading both stimulated and challenged Jewish intellectuals who were attempting to articulate novel ways of interacting with texts outside of the domain of traditional rabbinic scholarly activity. In the fall of 2015, Dr. Bitzan will begin an appointment as the Frances and Laurence Weinstein Assistant Professor of Modern European Jewish History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. While at the Katz Center his work will reevaluate the assumptions of the origins of Wissenschaft des Judentums and its relation to Jewish historical writing, historicism, and secularization.

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Andrew Berns

University of South Carolina

Andrew Berns is assistant professor of history at the University of South Carolina. His research investigates the intellectual and cultural history of Jews in the medieval and early modern Mediterranean. He served as Viterbi Visiting Professor in Mediterranean Jewish Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, and has been a fellow at Villa I Tatti: The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, as well as the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. His first book, The Bible and Natural Philosophy in Renaissance Italy: Jewish and Christian Physicians in Search of Truth, is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press. Professor Berns’s research at the Katz Center will explore the connections between environmental history and the scholarly approaches to the past advocated by Wissenschaft des Judentums.

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