An international group of scholars has convened at the Katz Center this fall to study the place of Jews and Jewish culture in the early modern period, an era spanning roughly from the late fifteenth through the late eighteenth centuries. The weekly Ruth Meltzer Seminars began with a stimulating roundtable discussion led by director David Ruderman, and featured Elisheva Carlebach (Columbia University), Anthony Grafton (Princeton University), and Adam Teller (Brown University). Each of the four panelists presented what in his or her view defines the major features of the period and commented on some of the ongoing methodological challenges that inspired the dedication of the fellowship year to the topic. Being David Ruderman’s final year as director, it is fitting that this period, the focus of his life’s research, should be at the center of our work. The weekly seminars have brought case studies of the shifting borders and changing political, social, intellectual, and religious boundaries that so mark this era. Topics have traced the movement of books and their content across space, time, and languages, altering religious landscapes as they went; the meeting of Christians and Jews in new printing houses; and the blurring of religious boundaries in the secret societies of eastern Europe. The fellows will mark the end of the first part of the program with a daylong workshop on the place of women in this time of dynamic change—A Part or Apart? Women in Early Modern Jewish Culture.
Our tradition of learning together with our Board of Overseers continued in a fall retreat with a program called, Transformations of Jewish Culture in Early Modern Europe. Katz Center fellows Anne Oravetz Albert (Bryn Mawr College) and Francesca Bregoli (Queens College, CUNY) addressed aspects of Jewish adjustment to the challenges of an encroaching modernity in sessions that touched on secular education, political freedom, and communal self-definition in Amsterdam, Berlin, and Livorno. David Ruderman concluded the day, aptly, with a historical exploration of the spiritual meaning of the academic and secular study of Judaism.
Recap of the 2013 Summer School for Graduate Students in Judaic Studies
Twenty-five doctoral candidates from Israel, North America, and Europe attended our summer program on the theme of Jewish education (July 16‒25, 2013) in both Philadelphia and New York City. The faculty—David Ruderman and Israel Yuval (codirectors), Orit Bashkin, Talya Fishman, David Myers, and Elchanan Reiner—led seminar discussions on a number of topics ranging from ancient and medieval modes of orality and textuality in Jewish culture to early modern science to Iraqi Jewish women in the twentieth century. We also explored historic Philadelphia, including its libraries. During the second part of the program the group moved to New York where the focus shifted to contemporary Jewish life in America. The students met with leaders in Jewish education and toured the city, with in-depth visits to, among other places, the Lower East Side, Jewish Williamsburg and its Ultra-Orthodox Satmer community, and the Museum of Jewish Heritage - A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. In addition to its manifest intellectual content, one of the purposes of the program is to bring together a new generation of Jewish studies scholars and cultivate relationships between them that will benefit individual research, communications, and institutions for many years to come.
Of her experience, Hadar Feldman Samet of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem wrote: “I was amazed to see that the professors cared about our future as academics and our personal development, in the general forum [a panel discussion devoted to the state of the profession] but mainly in personal conversations. This was a wonderful surprise that I did not expect. In my view, that kind of teacher-student interaction contributed a lot to my experience and added a dimension to the meaning of the topic ‘Jewish education’ and the concept of education in general.”
Maja Gildin Zuckerman, from Syddansk Universitet in Denmark, found the intensive engagement between students and faculty central to her experience, saying: “[One of the cornerstones for the successful group dynamics that developed was] the open, friendly, inspiring as well as engaged relationship between faculty members and students. First of all, it was significant to experience the passion with which the faculty members were conducting their research and academic work. As a graduate student with an uncertain and most likely difficult career ahead, it is profoundly inspiring to communicate with people who are still driven by scholarly passion after years in academia. It gives me hope and inspires me. Equally important were the many informal conversations involving both faculty members and students on various individual and disciplinary concerns. Either passively or actively participating in such conversations opened up many unarticulated thoughts about personal and professional issues. Especially one-to-one talks with the professors gave me profoundly new perspectives on the field of Jewish studies as well as my position within it.”
The Summer School for Graduate Students in Judaic Studies was coorganized and cosponsored by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Katz Center. The Center is grateful for the generosity of longstanding supporters of the summer school initiative, Julie Beren Platt and Marc E. Platt.
Although Iraqi Jews saw themselves as Iraqi patriots, their community—which had existed in Iraq for more than 2,500 years—was displaced following the establishment of the state of Israel. New Babylonians chronicles the lives of these Jews, their urban Arab culture, and their hopes for a democratic nation-state. It studies their ideas about Judaism, Islam, secularism, modernity, and reform, focusing on Iraqi Jews who internalized narratives of Arab and Iraqi nationalism and on those who turned to communism in the 1940s. As the book reveals, the ultimate displacement of this community was not the result of a perpetual persecution on the part of their Iraqi compatriots, but rather the outcome of misguided state policies during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Sadly, from a dominant mood of coexistence, friendship, and partnership, the impossibility of Arab-Jewish coexistence became the prevailing narrative in the region—and the dominant narrative we have come to know today.
This book offers a stunning look into a previously unexamined dimension of Jewish life and culture: the calendar. In the late sixteenth century, Pope Gregory XIII (1502–1585) instituted a momentous reform of Western timekeeping, and with it came a period of great instability. Jews, like all minority cultures in Europe, had to realign their time keeping to accord with the new Christian calendar. Carlebach shows that the calendar is a complex and living system, constantly modified as new preoccupations emerge and old priorities fade. Through this seemingly mundane and all-but-overlooked document, we can reimagine the quotidian world of early modern Jewry, of market days and sacred days, of times to avoid Christian gatherings and times to secure communal treasures. In calendars, we see one of the central paradoxes of Jewish existence: the need to encompass the culture of the other while retaining one’s own. Carlebach reveals that Jews have always lived in multiple time scales, and demonstrates how their accounting for time has shaped Jewish life. After exploring calendars and time keeping in Judaica collections around the world, Carlebach brings to light these textually rich and beautifully designed repositories of Jewish life. Amplified by color illustrations throughout, this book is an evocative study of the ways early modern Jewish men and women marked the rhythms and realities of time and filled it with anxieties and achievements.
Elisheva Carlebach is the Salo Wittmayer Baron Professor of Jewish History, Culture, and Society at Columbia University and the President of the American Academy for Jewish Research. This fall, Professor Carlebach is the Dalck and Rose Feith Family Fellow at the Katz Center.
Jews and the Military is the first comprehensive and comparative look at Jews’ involvement in the military and their attitudes toward war from the 1600s until the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Derek Penslar shows that although Jews have often been described as people who shun the army, in fact they have frequently been willing, even eager, to serve in the military, and only a minuscule minority have been pacifists. According to Penslar, Israel’s military ethos did not emerge from a vacuum and that long before the state’s establishment, Jews had a vested interest in military affairs. Spanning Europe, North America, and the Middle East, the writer discusses the myths and realities of Jewish draft dodging, how Jews reacted to facing their coreligionists in battle, the financial aspect of Jewish involvement in modern warfare, the careers of Jewish officers and their reception in the Jewish community, the effects of World War I on Jewish veterans, and Jewish participation in the Spanish Civil War and World War II. The book culminates with a study of Israel’s War of Independence as a Jewish world war, which drew on the military expertise and financial support of a mobilized, global Jewish community. Penslar considers how military service was a central issue in debates about Jewish emancipation and a primary indicator of the position of Jews in any given society.
Derek J. Penslar is the Samuel Zacks Professor of Jewish History at the University of Toronto and the Stanley Lewis Professor of Israel Studies at the University of Oxford. He worked on this project during the fellowship program: Jews, Commerce, and Culture (2008–2009) and delivered the Twelfth Annual Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Lecture, The Military as a Jewish Career in Modern Europe.
Pioneering biblical critic, theorist of democracy, and legendary conflater of God and nature, Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632‒1677) was excommunicated by the Sephardic Jews of Amsterdam in 1656 for his “horrible heresies” and “monstrous deeds.” Yet, over the past three centuries, Spinoza’s rupture with traditional Jewish beliefs and practices has elevated him to a prominent place in genealogies of Jewish modernity. The First Modern Jew provides a riveting look at how Spinoza went from being one of Judaism’s most notorious outcasts to one of its most celebrated, if controversial, cultural icons, and a powerful and protean symbol of the first modern secular Jew. Ranging from Amsterdam to Palestine and back again to Europe, the book chronicles Spinoza’s posthumous odyssey from marginalized heretic to hero, the exemplar of a whole host of Jewish identities, including cosmopolitan, nationalist, reformist, and rejectionist. Daniel Schwartz shows that in fashioning Spinoza into “the first modern Jew,” generations of Jewish intellectuals—German liberals, East European maskilim, secular Zionists, and Yiddishists—have projected their own dilemmas of identity onto him, reshaping the Amsterdam thinker in their own image. The many afterlives of Spinoza are a kind of looking glass into the struggles of Jewish writers over where to draw the boundaries of Jewishness and whether a secular Jewish identity is indeed possible. Cumulatively, these afterlives offer a kaleidoscopic view of modern Jewish culture and a vivid history of an obsession with Spinoza that continues to this day.
Daniel B. Schwartz is Assistant Professor of History at George Washington University. He worked on this project during the fellowship program: Secularism and Its Discontents (2009‒2010). His book (along with Miriam Zadoff’s, Next Year in Marienbad) received the Salo Baron Prize for the best first book in Jewish studies published in 2012.
From the last decades of the nineteenth century through the late 1930s, the West Bohemian spa towns of Carlsbad, Franzensbad, and Marienbad were fashionable destinations for visitors wishing to “take a cure”—to drink the waters, bathe in the mud, be treated by the latest X-ray, light, or gas therapies, or simply enjoy the respite afforded by elegant parks and comfortable lodgings. These were sociable and urbane places, settings for celebrity sightings, matchmaking, and stylish promenading. Originally the haunt of aristocrats, the spa towns came to be the favored summer resorts for the emerging bourgeoisie. Among the many who traveled there, a very high proportion were Jewish. In Next Year in Marienbad, Mirjam Zadoff writes the social and cultural history of Carlsbad, Franzensbad, and Marienbad as Jewish spaces. Secular and religious Jews from diverse national, cultural, and social backgrounds mingled in idyllic and often apolitical-seeming surroundings. During the season, shops sold Yiddish and Hebrew newspapers, kosher kitchens were opened, and theatrical presentations, concerts, and public readings catered to the Jewish clientele. Yet these same resorts were situated in a region of growing hostile nationalisms, and they were towns that might turn virulently anti-Semitic in the off season.
Mirjam Zadoff teaches Jewish history and culture at the Ludwig-Maxmilians-Universität (in Munich). She presented a paper during the Eighteenth Annual Gruss Colloquium: Jews and Journeys (2012). Her book (along with Daniel Schwartz’, The First Modern Jew) received the Salo Baron Prize for the best first book in Jewish studies published in 2012.
The journal is beginning its second decade under the editorship of Elliott Horowitz, David N. Myers, and Natalie B. Dohrmann, and continues both to give voice to strong, intensively peer-reviewed scholarship, and to make space for innovative forums and essays on a range of subjects. Among the recent and imminent forum topics—which gather the reflections of leading minds in several disciplines—are: Geoffrey Hartman’s scholarly legacy; food; Jorges Luis Borges; and Aharon Appelfeld. The table of contents of the two most current issues can be found here: JQR 103.3 (summer 2013) and JQR 103.4 (fall 2013).
From the Library
$8.5 Million Gift of the Arnold and Deanne Kaplan Collection of Early American Judaica to the Penn Libraries
The Arnold and Deanne Kaplan Collection of early American Judaica, encompassing more than 11,000 items and valued at over $8.5 million, was donated by the Kaplans to the Penn Libraries. Housed now at the Library at the Katz Center, the Kaplan Collection documents the social and economic development of early Jewish life in the Western Hemisphere before the twentieth century. The earliest items in the Collection date from the sixteenth century, including a codex of the proceedings of the Mexican Inquisition against a New Christian accused of Judaizing. Engraved maps dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are among the first to document Jewish permanent settlement in the New World. A major component of the Collection focuses on the development of Jewish mercantile, social, and religious activity in the Americas of the nineteenth century. In addition to the physical collection, the Kaplans have also ensured—through substantial financial support—that every item in the Kaplan Collection will be cataloged, digitally reproduced, and made available online to scholars and students. The Penn Libraries will hold an exhibition in January 2014 in its new Special Collections Center with highlights from the Kaplan Collection. The publication of an exhibition catalog, also funded by the Kaplans, featuring essays by leading scholars in the field, will accompany the exhibition. An academic symposium about the significance of the collection for the study of Atlantic Jewish history will be held on Tuesday, February 18, 2014.
Last year’s fellowship program Institutionalization, Innovation, and Conflict in Thirteenth-Century Judaism (2012‒2013) brought together scholars of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic social and intellectual history to develop a more fully integrated account of Europe and the Mediterranean basin in the thirteenth century. Diverse phenomena such as the creation of new philosophic and scientific cultures, the emergence of medieval halakhah (Jewish legal praxis), the diffusion of Kabbalah, the establishment of new mendicant orders, the institutionalization of Sufi brotherhoods, the rise of universities, and the role of inquisitors were studied, not only as isolated phenomena, but in their mutual interrelations. In this online exhibition the Penn Libraries highlight a number of original sources that were drawn upon by fellows in the course of their research: Hebrew, Latin, and Arabic manuscripts and early printed texts which illustrate a range of topics such as medieval liturgical poetry, law, rhetoric, philosophy, science, magic, social history, gender relations, inter-communal contact, conflict, and other forms of entanglement, both positive and negative.
In Memoriam: Dr. Alfred Moldovan (1921‒2013)
Penn’s Judaica Collections mourn the passing of Dr. Alfred Moldovan, who died on Monday evening, November 4, 2013 at the age of 92. Al was born on the East side of New York in 1921 to immigrant, Yiddish-speaking parents. During World War II, he served in Italy as a Radar Officer in the 455th Bomb Group of the 15th Air Force. On returning to the U.S., he attended medical school on the GI Bill, joined the Communist Party and received permission to fulfill his mobilization service as a family doctor in East Harlem, which kept him busy for over fifty years. Moldovan’s intense commitment to economic and social justice led him to become one of the founding members of the Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR). At the height of the Civil Rights movement, in March of 1965, Dr. Moldovan and the MCHR provided a medical presence during the historic march from Selma, across the Pettus bridge, to Montgomery, Alabama. By 1970, Dr. Moldovan and his beloved wife Jean Sorkin Moldovan, had become serious collectors. Al’s background and experience as a political organizer subsequently found new social and cultural outlets when he founded the Harry Friedman Society for Judaica Collectors and served on the Acquisitions Committee of the Jewish Museum in New York City. In 2010, his son Joseph Moldovan, C'76 and daughter-in-law Susan Alkalai Moldovan, C'76 established the Moldovan Family Rare Judaica collection at the Penn Libraries in honor of Al and his wife Jean Sorkin Moldovan. That same year, Benjamin Zucker donated the Zucker Holy Land Travel Manuscript to the Penn Libraries in honor of his dear friend. While Al was still able, he attended the Manfred R. Lehmann Memorial Workshop on the History of the Jewish Book. Al was an extraordinary figure of indomitable spirit. He will not be forgotten.
Echoing the fellowship theme of borderlands in the early modern period, our fall lecture series looked at the book and the fertile intellectual meeting grounds in the landscape of early modern Judaism. “Books and Borderlands: Jews and Christians in Medieval and Early Modern Europe” was a three-lecture series featuring boundary crossing of various provocative sorts: between Jewish scribes and Christian illuminators of manuscripts (Piet van Boxel, Oxford University); between Jewish texts and Christian Hebraists (Joanna Weinberg, Oxford University); and between Jewish heretics, converts and Christian authorities (Pawel Maciejko, Hebrew University of Jerusalem). We are grateful to our partners Rabbi David Ackerman (Beth Am Israel), Dr. Philip A. Cunningham (Saint Joseph’s University), and Rabbi David Straus (Main Line Reform Temple), for their generous hospitality.
Looking ahead to the spring, our 2014 Penn Lectures in Judaic Studies, Moving into Modernity: The Shaping of Jewish Culture in Early Modern Europe, will touch on a broad array of topics ranging from sixteenth century Venetian Jewish scholars to communal politics in seventeenth-century Amsterdam to “real” and “imagined” Jews in the eighteenth century. The series will open with a synoptic overview of the period by David Ruderman at the National Museum of American Jewish History on Wednesday, January 22, at 7 pm.
The Penn Lectures are made possible through a generous endowment from the Harry Stern Family Foundation and the Klatt Family. If you would like to receive emails about upcoming public lectures and events in the area, please send a note with your email address to Etty Lassman: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Memoriam: Philip B. Lindy (1930‒2013)
Phil Lindy, a local philanthropist, community activist, and a dedicated and beloved member of the Katz Center’s Board of Overseers, died on June 29, 2013. Phil adored the Katz Center and rarely missed any events. His love for learning, incredible generosity, and his affectionate smile and kindness are sorely missed. In what follows, David Ruderman shares some thoughts about Phil.
I first met Phil Lindy in 1996 or 1997. I had been at Penn for only a couple of years. Our campaign to raise money for the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies was floundering. I had already been told by the dean of the School of Arts and Sciences that if we failed to build an endowment the Center might be folded into the Jewish Studies Program, our building would be sold, and we would cease to exist in our present form.
In desperation, I called Howard Charish, then the executive director of the Jewish Federation, and told him of our possible fate and begged him to help me. I argued, quite emotionally, that the Jewish community could not let this wonderful institution disappear. He had only one suggestion for me: talk to Phil Lindy. We soon met; he listened and smiled in his signature way, and he said he was ready to help. At the moment, I needed friends and Phil and his wife Rusty were with me. Phil and Rusty became essential members, along with Herb Katz, Ione Strauss, Al Wood, and a few others of the young Center’s small but determined cohort of supporters. They reassured me we would not fail, and they were right.
It was Phil’s optimism and enthusiasm about life, about learning, about meeting new fellows every year, about sitting in our Wednesday seminars (more than any other board member!) that made him so precious. He was constantly present in body and spirit, just as he was for innumerable other institutions that he and Rusty supported. He came to our fellows’ parties; he opened his beautiful home for Center events; and most remarkably he and Rusty participated in all three European trips that Phyllis and I led on behalf of the Center. I especially remember sitting with him in a Munich beer hall on our last trip to Germany, asking me once again how he can serve the Center he loved, and walking with me through the huge Jewish cemetery in Berlin, listening to my account of numerous graves. What a man! What a privilege to be his friend and to know him and his wonderful and stimulating life companion. They were a match made in heaven and their appearance in my life and in the life of the Katz Center at that moment in the mid-1990s was an enormous blessing. When the history of the Katz Center is written, Phil and Rusty will be remembered as indispensable actors in the creation of this wonderful institution for Jewish learning.
When I brought Phil and Rusty to see Limmud in Munich where I was teaching during our excursion to Germany, they were taken by the experience of 300 Jews gathering in a city with a Nazi past to study Torah. They returned home to Philadelphia and did what came naturally to them: they built Limmud Philly. Their commitment to Torah knew no bounds—the path from the Katz Center to the wider Jewish community was unswerving. Yehi zikhram barukh. May the memory of Phil and Rusty Lindy be for us a blessing.