Katz Center News


Response to Charlottesville // CAJS Blog

posted August 16, 2017

In response to the violence in Charlottesville this last weekend, Dr. Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania, issued the following statement:

The racism, anti-Semitism, and other bigotry expressed by the neo-Nazi, KKK and other white supremacist groups that demonstrated in Charlottesville are deeply abhorrent and call for universal condemnation. The hatred espoused is inimical to any decent society and anathema to the most fundamental ideals of our University.

President Gutmann’s statement speaks for itself. I would only add a bit of commentary from my perspective as director of the Katz Center: that the hatred displayed during the Unite the Right rally last weekend is anathema to the most fundamental ideals of the university.

The ostensive trigger for the rally was the city’s decision to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a local park, but it isn’t a coincidence that the organizers chose a university campus as their staging ground. For many of those on the far right, the university is a threat, the instrument of their arch enemy—the Jews.

Jason Kessler, the former University of Virginia student who organized the Unite the Right rally, is an example. He builds on an anti-Semitic conspiracy known as “Cultural Marxism” that posits a covert assault on American values initiated by a supposed cabal of Jewish philosophers based at Columbia University. A distortion of the Frankfurt school of social theory, this group of thinkers are said to have used their position to undermine white ethnic pride and promote sexual promiscuity.

Kessler’s tweeting suggests that he sees universities today as hotbeds for Cultural Marxism and that the rally he organized was in part payback against “militantly anti-white academics.”

For other far right thinkers like David Duke, the enemy is another academic, Franz Boas (1858-1942), the anthropologist they blame for introducing multiculturalism into American life. They take elements from Boas’s biography and thinking—the fact that he was a Jewish émigré and that he argued against race as a meaningful biological category—and weave it into yet another conspiracy theory that has been circulating for some 60 years since it was articulated by the neo-Nazi George Lincoln Rockwell.

For such thinkers, the Jews have taken over the university in an effort to undercut the supremacy of the white race by dismantling the idea of race, by imposing political correctness, and by championing cultural relativism.

Ironically, for all their hostility to academia, such leaders also seek its recognition. As documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, for example, Duke casts himself as an academic. He refers to himself as a “Dr.” based on a doctorate he received at an anti-Semitic Ukrainian institution known as a diploma mill, and he professes to adhere to high academic standards despite evidence that a good portion of his self-published book was plagiarized.

The far right’s hostility to academia isn’t simply anti-intellectual; one also detects within it a desire for academic acceptance. The far right understanding of the university is of course a caricature—and it is now clear that it is an extremely dangerous one. But it is true that universities like Penn are places where minorities can find a place and where people can learn about different cultures—these are values to which the Katz Center itself is deeply committed as a center devoted to a richer understanding of the Jews in relation to other cultures. The Unite the Right rally targeted Jews, Blacks, women, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and other vulnerable groups, but it was also a lashing out against academic values—and against Jews as a part of academia— and that too needs to be defended as we struggle to preserve the United States as a decent and inclusive society.  

Steven Weitzman

Ella Darivoff Director of the Katz Center

Abraham M. Ellis Professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages and Literatures

Transition on the Board of Overseers

The Katz Center is pleased to announce that Ivan Ross (W ‘83) will become chairman of our Board of Overseers starting July 1, 2017. Ivan takes the helm after serving the Katz Center as an active member of the board for nearly a decade. For him and his wife Nina, supporting the Katz Center reflects a philanthropic commitment to learning as a central pillar of cultural strength and individual development in Jewish culture and beyond. “Ivan has been extraordinarily supportive and engaged throughout my time as director,” says Steven Weitzman, “bringing energy, a genuine sense of curiosity, savvy advice, and enthusiasm about the Center's future. We are extremely fortunate that we will be benefitting from his leadership.”

In his decades-long career, Ivan has worked at Skadden Arps, Goldman Sachs, and Mason Capital. Ivan and a partner recently started a boutique investment banking firm, Ardea Partners. The Rosses are the proud parents of three sons, Ethan (C’ 15); and Tyler (W’ 14) and Josh (C’19), and they are devoted philanthropists. In addition to their commitment to Jewish learning, they invest in education for disadvantaged children. Nina is a longstanding board member of Westchester Jewish Community Services, where she also has driven the successful growth of an after-school tutoring program in Mount Vernon, New York. Nina is also a generous donor to UJA where she has been a member of a nedivot group focused on Jewish continuity. Ivan is also a member of the Board of Overseers at the Jacobson Leadership Program in Law and Business at NYU School of Law.

The outgoing chairman, Thomas O. Katz (W '79), will remain a member of the Board of Overseers. Tom is the son of the late Herbert D. Katz (W ‘51), for whom the Center is named and who was a crucial partner in developing the Center as an institution. Between them, father and son shepherded the board as chairmen for eleven of the Center’s twenty-four years. We extend our deepest appreciation for the continued support of Tom, his wife Elissa, and the entire Katz family, without which the Center would not exist as an unparalleled world center of Judaic scholarship—able to attract and support, foster, and share the very finest scholarship from around the globe. We are deeply grateful for their dedication, warmth, and intellectual energy, and we know they will remain involved for years to come.

On the occasion of an affair in honor of Tom Katz’s service as chairman, President Amy Gutmann sent a letter of appreciation:

April 23, 2017

Dear Tom,

While I regret I cannot be with you for tonight’s festivities, I send my greetings and extend my sincere thanks to you, Tom, on this very special occasion.

What’s in a name? For the Katz family, there is certainly much to praise: a love of the Jewish people, a commitment to the preservation of their history, and an unwavering devotion to our University. The strong foundation established by Tom’s father, Herb Katz, paved the way for Tom to follow in his footsteps as a passionate advocate of Jewish studies.

Tom’s connection to the Center dates back to when it was simply known as Penn’s Center for Judaic Studies. His tireless fundraising efforts and deep admiration for his father culminated in the Center’s rebirth as the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. With the Katz name now etched into our University’s history, Tom continues to selflessly give back.

Tom joined the Center’s Board of Overseers in 2000, and became chair five years ago. His efforts have been vital to propelling this cultural and academic hub to incredible heights. The Center hosts 20 fellows from across the globe annually to conduct post-doctoral research on an array of topics. Tom’s genuine interest in their work is reflected in the personal relationships he has forged with this new generation of experts, his capacious curiosity about their research, and the mentorship he has offered.

His tenure has secured a bright future for Jewish studies, not just at Penn, but on an international level. The Katz Center is among the world’s most preeminent research institutions in Judaic studies. To have such a renowned institute associated with the University of Pennsylvania is truly an honor.

Although we will miss Tom’s leadership, I know that he will not be a stranger. His influence will continue to reverberate at the Katz Center for generations to come. He leaves the Board, and the Center on an upward trajectory, poised to carry out his father’s vision. To you, Tom, I say “toda raba” for everything you have done for our University. We could not be more grateful or more proud.

Warm regards,

Amy Gutmann

Katz CAJS 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

Jewish Culture and Contexts: Entangled Histories


Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies

Announcing the publication of Entangled Histories: Knowledge, Authority, and Jewish Culture in the Thirteenth Century, edited by Elisheva Baumgarten, Ruth Mazo Karras, and Katelyn Mesler, published by Penn Press in association with the Katz Center (Jewish Cultures and Contexts Series), 2016


This volume is the result of the scholarship carried out here under the 2012-2013 fellowship theme Institutionalization, Innovation, and Conflict in 13th-Century Judaism: A Comparative View.

From halakhic innovation to blood libels, from the establishment of new mendicant orders to the institutionalization of Islamicate bureaucracy, and from the development of the inquisitorial process to the rise of yeshivas, universities, and madrasas, the long thirteenth century saw a profusion of political, cultural, and intellectual changes in Europe and the Mediterranean basin. These were informed by, and in turn informed, the religious communities from which they arose. In city streets and government buildings, Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived, worked, and disputed with one another, sharing and shaping their respective cultures in the process. The interaction born of these relationships between minority and majority cultures, from love and friendship to hostility and violence, can be described as a complex and irreducible "entanglement." The contributors to Entangled Histories: Knowledge, Authority, and Jewish Culture in the Thirteenth Century argue that this admixture of persecution and cooperation was at the foundation of Jewish experience in the Middle Ages... continue reading

Contributors: Elisheva Baumgarten, Piero Capelli, Mordechai Z. Cohen, Judah Galinsky, Elisabeth Hollender, Kati Ihnat, Ephraim Kanarfogel, Katelyn Mesler, Ruth Mazo Karras, Sarah J. Pearce, Rami Reiner, Yossef Schwartz, Uri Shachar, Rebecca Winer, Luke Yarbrough

The Katz Center congratulates the editors and contributors, with shared appreciation for all of the fellows who participated in this fellowship year.

Announcing the 2017 Advanced Summer School for Graduate Students in Jewish Studies


Personal/Interpersonal: I, We, and You in Jewish Culture and History

This ongoing Katz Center partnership with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem alternates between Philadelphia and Jerusalem each year. It brings together faculty and graduate students from diverse fields and institutions for a week of intensive teaching and learning. This year's theme will explore the place of individuals and the relationships between individuals in Jewish societies, past and present.

Fore more detail: http://en.mandelschool.huji.ac.il/summerschool.

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

Fellowship Alumni Receive Prestigious Book Awards


Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies
  • Julia Phillips Cohen, whom we highlighted in the Spring 2015 Newsletter for her receipt of a 2014 National Jewish Book Award, has also won a 2015 AJS Jordan Schnitzer Book Award in the Category of Modern Jewish History—Americas, Africa, Asia, and Oceania, as well as an honorable mention in the 2014 Salo Baron Book Prize, for Becoming Ottomans: Sephardi Jews and Imperial Citizenship in the Modern Era (Oxford University Press).


The Katz Center wishes a hearty congratulations to one and all.

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.