Publications, Lectures and Awards

September 23, 2021

Abstract:

The Queen of Sheba, best known for visiting Solomon at the height of his rule, is commonly understood to be one of the most famous Black queens of the Bible. However, biblical texts record nothing of her family or people, any physical characteristics, nor where, precisely, Sheba is located. How did this association between the Queen of Sheba and Blackness become naturalized? This article answers this question by mapping three first millennium textual moments that racialize the Queen of Sheba through attention to geography, skin color, and lineage in the writings of Origen of Alexandria, Flavius Josephus, and Abu Ja’afar al-Tabari. These themes are transformed in the Ethiopic text the Kebra Nagast, which positively claims the Queen of Sheba as an African monarch in contrast to the Othering that is prominent in earlier texts. The Kebra Nagast has a complex afterlife, one which acts as the ground for the also-complex modern reception of the character of the Queen of Sheba.

TRADITION published a tribute to their founding editor, the late Rabbi Norman Lamm, which included an article by Jonathan Sarna. Jonathan says that, "My contribution considers R. Lamm's first article in TRADITION, a spirited defense of separate seating in the synagogue, based on social scientific evidence.  Lamm draws in part upon the famous sexologist, Alfred Kinsey, and in passing disagrees with his teacher, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, concerning mixed seating's origins.  The Brandeis University Archives' Marvin Fox Papers provided me with crucial evidence concerning Lamm's objectives."

September 12, 2021

Abstract:

"This article analyzes depictions of Jewish lay people who advocate for their interests before rabbinic judges in adjudication narratives, a genre of brief case stories in the Babylonian Talmud (c. 200-550 CE). Adjudication narratives are distinguished by their portrayal of a specific judge’s hearing and ruling on the case, which grants the opportunity to portray dramatic interactions between litigants and judge. The extensive editing process of the Talmudic corpus, as well as the possibility that some of these narratives may have been composed as riffs on the same case, means it is difficult to ascertain how accurately they depict historical reality. However, narratives illustrating forum shopping, actions that change the facts of the case, interruption and finally, argumentation, each offer an opportunity to assess when and why tactics are effective for the petitioner. The stories suggest that tactics of lay advocacy are likely to be treated favorably by the Talmud’s authors when the petitioners’ actions support the authority of the judge and the traditions of rabbinic culture. Their inclusion in the Talmud also instructs future judges about the potential opportunities and challenges offered by lay people who advocate for their needs in court. Most important, perhaps, is that these adjudication narratives incorporate lay people’s concerns, and in some cases, their “backlash,” into Jewish legal reasoning, training, and tradition."

Alexander Kaye's The Invention of Jewish Theocracy: The Struggle for Legal Authority in Modern Israel is this year's winner of the Leon Charney Israel Studies Book Award of the Yeshiva University Center for Israel Studies!

September 9, 2021

Full announcement:

"This year’s award goes to Alexander Kaye’s The Invention of Jewish Theocracy: The Struggle for Legal Authority in Modern Israel. With methodological sophistication and historical empathy, Kaye traces the rise of the belief that Jewish law should be the law of the new State of Israel. Rabbi Isaac Herzog, first chief rabbi of the State of Israel and a leader of Religious Zionism, occupies a central role in this study. Due both to its deep historical engagement with rabbinic texts, its sophistication, and the continued significance of Rabbi Herzog’s legacy within the living memory of contemporary Jewry, including Yeshiva University, we believe that Kaye’s book is most deserving of the Leon Charney Book Prize. We congratulate Alexander Kaye on this achievement and look forward to officially awarding him the prize at a Zoom event in December.

The finalist for this year’s award was Anat Helman, for her recent book, Deganyah Pinat Holivud: Tarbut Tserikhah U’Pnai B’reshit Ha-Medinah [Consumer Culture and Leisure in the Young State of Israel). Advancing the subtle argument that nostalgia for the collectivism of the Yishuv grew in the early State of Israel as its culture grew more consumerist, Helman’s book effortlessly flows between theory and fact and is built on a diverse array of primary sources. We congratulate Anat Helman and look forward to hosting her on our podcast series, YU Voices, later this fall.

Finally, congratulations to all of you on your major contributions to the field of Israel Studies."

August 24, 2021

"Coming to Terms with America examines how Jews have long 'straddled two civilizations,' endeavoring to be both Jewish and American at once, from the American Revolution to today," (Project MUSE).

August 3, 2021

Deborah E. Lipstadt, MA’72, PhD’76, H’19 will serve as a special envoy to monitor and combat anti-semitism.

July 16, 2021

"By identifying biblical intertexts and parallel phrases, we can better understand the flow, the imagery, and even the core message of Eichah, Lamentations."

July 1, 2021

Szobel's Flesh of My Flesh: Sexual Violence in Hebrew Literature and Israeli Culture explores the literary history of sexual assault in Hebrew literature.

July 1, 2021

Abstract:

"This article argues that medieval Arabic-speaking Jews, unlike the rabbis of Late Antiquity, adopted a comparative framework for analyzing their beliefs, practices, laws, exegetical methods, and so on as analogous to those possessed by other groups. The paradigm shift is reflected in Judeo-Arabic writings that adopt al-yahūdiyya as the name of an independent entity that is a species of a broader genus. While it might be anachronistic to call this species “Judaism” and its genus “Religion,” the Jewish adoption of an entity that enfolds many of the elements scholars identify with the category Religion marks a milestone in Jewish thought. In the context of Islamic and Christian writing in Arabic, this article focuses on Judeo-Arabic sources composed between the tenth and twelfth centuries that present al-yahūdiyya as an emic term and then turns to Hebrew sources through the fifteenth century that also reflect a comparative framework."

Within the same journal (The Journal of Religion, Vol. 101, Number 3) is a transcription of a lecture on faith and reason that was delivered by Alexander Altmann at the University of Chicago in 1961 titled, "The Encounter of Faith and Reason in the Western Tradition and Its Significance Today."

June 30, 2021

Lilith Magazine published "'Flesh of My Flesh' – An Examination of Sexual Violence in Hebrew Literature" which is a review of Ilana Szobel's recent book.

June 1, 2021

Eitan Fishbane received his PhD in 2003 from NEJS.  His dissertation entitled, "Contemplative Mysticism and Cultural Transmission in the Writings of Isaac Ben Samuel of Acre," was written under the supervision of Reuven Kimelman, Arthur Green, and Meir Sendor.

Eitan's book, Embers of Pilgrimage (Panui Publications), was published on June 1st, 2021.

"The poems in Eitan Fishbane’s Embers of Pilgrimage reflect a religious sensibility at the same time very modern and very ancient, very traditional and very personal, very Jewish but also very ecumenical, very deep but also very accessible. They are completely original; nobody else in the world could have written them, but everybody will recognize in them something true, something they might have been on the verge of thinking but would never have reached otherwise. With exquisite sensitivity they capture suggestions and half-thoughts, those things you can't see when you look directly at them but can see obliquely (the way you can only see certain stars in your peripheral vision)."

-John Burt, Ph.D.
Chair, Department of English
Paul E. Prosswimmer Professor of American Literature,
Brandeis University