The Katz Center Turns 30!

The academic year 2023–24 marked the 30th birthday of the Katz Center as a part of Penn.

Since our focus this year was on Jewish music, we thought it fitting to celebrate it with a concert featuring the music of former Katz Center fellow Anna Shternshis and current fellow Galeet Dardashti. 

Messianism, Manuscripts, and Music

Current fellow Hadar Feldman Samet has been working for years on a trove of particularly intriguing but difficult manuscripts. She is decoding the dense, multilingual songs of the sect of Sabbatians that maintained secretive religious beliefs and practices for centuries. Based on indicators in the handwritten texts of hundreds of hymns, full of kabbalistic and messianic symbols and abbreviations, she has managed to reconstruct the tunes that some were sung to.

Jews and the University: Antisemitism, Admissions, Academic Freedom

The integration of Jews into the university is one of the great success stories of modern American culture and Jewish life. Penn was at the forefront of this success story, with the first Jewish Students’ Association formed here in 1924. But recent events at Penn and at other campuses have led to accusations that the university has been too tolerant of antisemitism and become less welcoming to Jews.

Turn Up the Music

There is just something about music. Everyone seems to understand its language, as rhythm and voice affect mind, body, and spirit at once. Music brings out a depth of human feeling that, let’s face it, is often tempered in academic contexts. But with the coming year at the Katz Center devoted to global musical cultures, we—and our audiences in and outside of the academy—will have the opportunity to enjoy Jewish musical expression to the fullest, with a robust lineup of online and in-person performances, interviews, and talks. 

Public Programs Spotlight: Archaeology and Ancient Jewish Life

This semester the Katz Center was pleased to launch a new partnership with the Penn Museum to develop vibrant public programs. The series Archaeology and Ancient Jewish Life featured three online lectures in which exciting scholars at the forefront of their fields taught about ancient Jewish life through specific objects and sites—contextualizing them and asking what they can tell us about the Jewish cultures that produced them.

Q&A: Gender and Jewish Philosophy with Sarah Zager

Current fellow Sarah Zager is an award-winning teacher known for clarity and accessibility in taking up complex and thorny issues, a recent PhD from Yale, and at work on a book exploring how Jewish philosophy can contribute to today’s debates about virtue ethics.

As she is gearing up to teach an online course on gender and Jewish philosophy for us, we asked her a few questions about the subject and her approach to it.

Online Teaching Resources

In curating and presenting lectures in Jewish studies to audiences beyond academia, the Katz Center fulfills several aims. One crucial one is to showcase the vibrancy of current research and the inherent interest of the areas of culture and history in which Jewish studies scholars are expert. In an era of diminishing support for humanities scholarship, the warm reception our talks—accessible but not simplified—have received speaks to a real appetite outside of the university for knowledge and ideas at a high level.

The Israeli Declaration of Independence: Your Questions Answered

Earlier this year we had the pleasure of hosting Menahem Ben-Sasson, a Katz Center fellow and Chancellor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in our public lecture series. He spoke about Israel’s Declaration of Independence, its relationship to the founding and current laws of the State of Israel, and efforts to create a constitution, to which Ben-Sasson himself has contributed. Audience members submitted so many excellent questions that there wasn’t enough time to answer them all on air. Prof. Ben-Sasson was kind enough to respond in writing.

Rabbis and Scholars in Conversation

Last week saw the final meeting of a yearlong program that brought fellows together with rabbis from across the United States, to extend the reach of Jewish studies scholarship and use it to think about issues facing the American Jewish communities today. This was the sixth year of the program, called LEAP, which the Katz Center has offered through a partnership with Clal, engaging a new cohort of rabbis and scholars annually, with this year taking place remotely for the first time.