At the tail end of 2020, the globe has retreated inside, yet the ruthless wave of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has taken over a million lives and counting. Throughout the twentieth century this journal managed to duck the waves of current events no matter how turbulent, but, as the short essays in this issue’s anniversary forum make clear, JQR’s penchant for the now-calm waters of the past has never dimmed the vim or relevance of its scholarship.
One of the core questions of the humanities is how can we know what we know. In the field of Jewish studies, one of the sharpest formulations of this fundamental epistemological question arises in the study of the Holocaust. Is it the case, as Elie Wiesel famously declared, that only survivors can really know what took place in concentration and death camps? Some scholars have flipped this question and asked whether survivor testimony can be deemed sufficiently reliable for historical reconstruction, especially on its own.
JQR is pleased to present our third forum in a series offering scholarly meditations drawn from a range of disciplinary perspectives. In the first forum, five historians reflected on the existence and meaning of plagues in Jewish history; the second invited philosophers and theologians to share insights on the pandemic and its meaning.
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, JQR organized a blog forum that brought together four historians to reflect on past outbreaks of disease in Jewish history and their echoes today.
In our own attempt to make sense of the radically altered world we now inhabit and to provide intellectual stimulation to our readers, the editors of JQR asked four prominent scholars to reflect on what historical and literary resonances the COVID-19 pandemic prompted in them. The forum below offers concise responses that move in time from the Black Death in the fourteenth century to Israel in the twentieth.