Katz Center News


Genetics and the Meanings of Jewishness // Yulia Egorova // CAJS Blog


A prominent rabbinic judge in Jerusalem has issued a responsum that a genetic test can be used as proof of Jewish descent, eliminating the need for conversion where Jewishness is in dispute...

Read more on the CAJS Blog

Los Judíos de Nuestro Barrio: A Call for Help from a Disaster Zone // Miriam Jerade and Jesús de Prado Plumed // CAJS Blog


After three massive earthquakes and 4,000 aftershocks, southern Mexico and its capital city lie devastated. The old Jewish neighborhoods that surround the colorful Mercado de Medellín, including four historical synagogues, suffered severe damage from the September 19 quake (7.1 on the Richter scale). It was the bloodiest earthquake in two generations...

Read the full report by past fellows Miriam Jerade and Jesús de Prado Plumed, who reach out from a devastated section of a Jewish neighborhood in Mexico City, on the CAJS Blog.


Rethinking Rabbinical Leadership // JQR Blog


Although JQR contributors write primarily for a scholarly audience, the information they uncover and the insights they produce often also speak volumes to a learned layperson, and have the potential to alter the general understanding of Jewish history or texts. In order to share their work more widely, we free up one article in each issue for download without a subscription. 

This issue (Summer 2017), we feature Yaron Ayalon’s “Rethinking Rabbinical Leadership in Ottoman Jewish Communities.” In diagnosing an ongoing scholarly misconception about a particular 17th- and 18th-century context, Ayalon challenges...

Read more on the JQR Blog


Scholarly Lives in Letters // Shaul Magid // JQR Blog


posted September 1, 2017

The proliferation of epistolary activity in the modern West began in earnest in the 18th century with the marked rise in literacy in Europe and the Americas. The Post Office, invented in 1860, and the typewriter, invented in 1860 and marketed in the 1870s, increased the exchange of personal letters among lovers, friends, family, and colleagues. Letter writing increased even more when paper became more affordable and then began to decrease with the ubiquity of the telephone in the 20th century.

Letters, especially among the literati, were more than a conveyance of greeting and news; they were often the vehicle for early stages of ideas and theories that later matured and appeared in published works. One example among many is Walter Benjamin’s celebrated essay “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man,” which began as a letter to his friend Gershom Scholem. Letters like his often served to illustrate the complex nature of intellectual friendships and relationships, mixing the personal with the ideological, the relational with the intellectual.

My essay, included in a forum in the current issue of JQR, explores the complex relationship between teacher and student, Gershom Scholem...

Read more on the JQR Blog

Announcing the 2017-2018 Cohort of Fellows


We are pleased to welcome the new cohort of fellows for the 2017-2018 academic year. They will convene in September for a year of research and discussion on the theme of Nature between Science and Religion: Jewish Culture and the Natural World. These researchers will explore the theories, institutions, and paradigms that have shaped Jewish views of nature, and the cultural and religious consequences of that engagement. 

2017-2018 Fellows [pdf] | Press Release [pdf]

These distinguished scholars will explore the theories, institutions, and paradigms that have shaped Jewish perspectives on nature, and the cultural and religious consequences of those perspectives. Fellows include researchers working on particular thinkers, texts, or theories as well as those framing the subject in relation to classical, Christian, Muslim, or similar approaches. The topic spans the entirety of Jewish history, and encompasses the history of science, the anthropology of science, philosophy,  philology, and environmental studies, among other relevant fields. With this theme, the Katz Center embraces an interdisciplinary and comparative approach, seeking to better understand how Jews have understood, interacted with, or sought to intervene into nature.  Click through for more information

Fellowship Alumni Honored


Congratulations to past fellow Sylvie Anne Goldberg (Prescriptive Traditions and Lived Experience, 2003-2004) and Penn Hillel director (and current LEAP fellow) Mike Uram on their recognition by the Jewish Book Council.  Goldberg was a finalist for the Nahum M. Sarna Memorial Award for best book of scholarship for her Clepsydra: Essay on the Plurality of Time in Judaism (SUP). Uram won for best book on education and Jewish identity for his Next Generation Judaism: How College Students amd Hillel Can Help Reinvent Jewish Organizations.  

Fellowship alumna Eva Mroczek (Beyond Reason, 2015-2016) has won a Manfred Lautenschlaeger Award for Theological Promise, whoch recognizes outstanding doctoral or first post-doctoral works that address the topic "God and Spirituality," broadly understood. Every year, ten scholars are selected for this honor by an international committee of evaluators from 18 countries.

The Cashmere Subvention Grant in Jewish Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies has been awarded to past fellow Natalia Aleksiun (Wissenschaft, 2014-2015) and Elissa Bemporad for their forthcoming volume, Gender and Jewish Women in Central and Eastern Europe.  

Fellowship alumnus Andrew Berns (Wissenschaft 2014-2015) has been awarded the Helen and Howard R. Marraro Prize from the American Catholic Historial Association for his book, The Bible and Natural Philosophy in Renaissance Italy: Jewish and Christian Physicians in Search of Truth

Announcing New Online Portal for Holy Land Collections


Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies
Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies

We are delighted to announce the online presentation of the Penn Libraries’ Holy Land Collections.

Featured here are a wide range of special and general collections related to the Holy Land. Among the most important are the Lenkin Collection of Photography, which consists of over 5,000 early photographs of the Holy Land, dating from 1850 through 1937. This collection, described as the finest in private hands, was purchased in 2009 from the Lazard Family in Paris, thanks to the vision and generosity of Edward J. Lenkin (C'71; PAR'12).

Great thanks to the leadership of Carton Rogers, Vice-Provost and Director of the Penn Libraries and to Oren Weinberg, Director General of the National Library of Israel for supporting the digitization of the Lenkin Collection, and to Dror Wahrman, Dean of the Faculty of the Humanities and Vigevani Professor of European Studies at the Hebrew University, for the invaluable role he played conceiving and advising on this project.  We also are most grateful to Leslie Vallhonrat of the Libraries’ Web Unit, who designed the web page, and to Michael Gibny and the Libraries Technology Systems Department for developing the digital library architecture supporting the operation of this page. 

The Penn Libraries' Holy Land Collections are located on campus at the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, the Museum Library and the Library at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies.

New Library Acquisitions Include Early Modern Manuscripts and 20th-Century Papers


Rabbi Michael Strassfeld Collection

The Penn Libraries and its Judaica collections are honored to accept the landmark donation of Rabbi Michael Strassfeld's personal papers and Jewish sound recording collection. Taken together, the collection comprises forty-five linear feet of primary source materials for studying American Judaism and Jewish culture since the 1960s. Rabbi Strassfeld, now Rabbi Emeritus of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, and formerly rabbi of Congregation Ansche Chesed in New York City, was one of the leaders of the Jewish Counter-Culture movement which over the last half-century has pioneered dynamic new forms of Jewish life beyond the denominational structures of American Judaism. Rabbi Strassfeld was one of the key leaders of the Havurah movement, co-author of the Jewish Catalog - what has been called the “Bible” of Jewish Counter Culture, editor of the original version of the "Passover Haggadah: The Feast of Freedom," and author of several other works, including Shabbat Haggadah for Celebration and Study (1980), The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary (1985), A Night of Questions, a Passover Haggadah with Rabbi Joy Levitt (2000), and a A Book of Life: Embracing Judaism as a Spiritual Practice (2002).


Two Rare Early Modern Hebrew Manuscripts

At the Kestenbaum and Company Auction House, held in New York City on June 25, 2015, the Libraries successfully bid on two rare, early modern Hebrew manuscripts entitled Tavnit ha-mishkan and Hanukat ha-bayit. Both are written in the Italian cursive scribal hand of the author Malkiel Aschkenazi, who lived in Mantua in the early 17th century. The volumes contain numerous drawings about the construction of the mishkan (biblical tabernacle) and the bet ha-mikdash (Solomon’s Temple) and its holy vessels, such as the seven-branched candelabrum. These drawings reflect not only a concern with understanding the physical shape of these sacred buildings but also their kabbalistic interpretations.  The first of the two manuscript volumes, Tavnit ha-mishkan, remains unpublished. The second, Hanukat ha-bayit, was published only in the 1960s and contains variant readings from those found in the printed version.