Secrets and Lies: Truth, Evidence, and Deception in Jewish History and Culture

July 23, 2019
Elisheva Baumgarten

Twenty-five graduate students from around the world recently convened in Jerusalem for the fifth Summer School for Graduate Students in Jewish Studies. This year’s week-long program focused on the theme of “Secrets and Lies: Truth, Evidence, and Deception in Jewish History and Culture.”

The first unit focused on conflicting versions of truth and provided a theoretical framework for the week. Kathryn Lofton (Yale University) led the group in a discussion of Irving Goffman’s ideas and was followed by Miriam Goldstein (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) and Vered Noam (Tel Aviv University) who introduced us to different forms of competing versions of truth.

Our second unit dealt with secrets and pretending, and was taught by Jonathan Ben Dov (Haifa University) who talked about the Dead Sea Scrolls. I presented on pious pretenders, and Guy Miron (Open University) spoke about ego documents written by Jews in Nazi Germany.


The final unit focused on investigating truth, and featured Daniel Langton (Manchester University) who discussed Jewish approaches to evolutionary theory, and Steven Weitzman (Katz Center) who presented on the FBI and Jews and Muslims. Renana Keydar (HUJI) introduced the group to digital humanities methods and their use when looking at evidence from mass atrocity trials, and Anna Shternshis (University of Toronto) discussed testimonies found in KGB files and their veracity.

Also included in the Summer School’s full schedule were a number of professional development sessions led by faculty members as well as opportunities for the students to present their own research projects and receive feedback from faculty and peers.

One of the highlights of this summer’s program was the visit to the Supreme Court of Israel, where students joined Justice Neil Hendel in a discussion of the challenges to the Israeli justice system. The group also visited the National Library of Israel, where a large number of databases were presented to the students and a stunning exhibit of artifacts related to our theme was organized for us. We also participated in an archaeological dig at Tel Beit Shemesh, where we discussed archaeological methods of investigating truth and found shards from the Late Bronze Period.


Finally, the Summer School students enjoyed a concert by Grammy-nominated collaborators Anna Shternshis and Psoy Korelenko. Their performance, “Yiddish Glory,” features Yiddish songs written by Soviet Jews during World War II and music the two reconstructed and composed to set them to music. The concert was a moving experience, and a fascinating discussion with Shternshis and Korolenko allowed for a better understanding of the issues involved in reconstructing the songs.

The 2019 Summer School was a tremendous success, and we are looking forward to the sixth year of the program, to take place next June at the University of Pennsylvania!


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Elisheva Baumgarten

Elisheva Baumgarten

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