MONDAY, 05/20: Omar Kamal on Palestinians and the New Yishuv

Please join us on Monday, May 20th at 5pm in Swift 201, for a presentation by:

Omar Kamal

CMES, University of Chicago

“Late 19th and Early 20th Century Responses and Communication from Palestinian Bedu and Fellahin Regarding the New Yishuv”

During Ottoman Palestine’s finalizing decades, the first Zionist Aliyot (1881-1914) introduced labor-focused and self-sufficient settlements emphasizing land and agricultural ownership. Distinct from the previous Old Yishuv, Zionist migrations comparatively lacked religious motivations and generally rejected economic co-dependencies developed from cohabitation with native populations, conveying Zionist migrations’ economically and politically independent approaches and goals. This analysis strives to provide primary sources presenting subaltern Palestinian responses to the emergence of the New Yishuv and secondary sources surveying these first-hand accounts as well as other material pertaining to this topic. Particularly focusing on sources related to petitions submitted by the Fellahin and Bedu to Istanbul, this paper will showcase the changing relationships between rural Palestinian communities and Zionist settlers of the First and Second Aliyot as well as Jews generally. A part of numerous disputes between the two respective parties, these petitions also offer insights into the interpersonal and communal conflicts that would greatly shift from inter-community resource clashes to rising binational struggles. Providing an approach that situates rural intercommunal conflict and the burgeoning nationalization of Arab and Palestinian identity among Arab elites as codependent events in the formation of Palestinian awareness, fear, and rejection of Zionism. In addition to reexamining scholarly prevalent conclusions that place early Arabist thought among Palestinian largely urban elite and intellectual communities as virtually the earliest clear indications of an anti-Zionist movement despite the preceding early Arab rural encounters against Zionism.

The paper, to be read in advance of the workshop, can be accessed here (password: settlement): kamal-conference draft

MONDAY 5/13: Ben Ratskoff on W.E.B. Du Bois and the Jewish Question

Please join us on Monday, May 13th at 5pm in Swift 201 for a lecture by:

Professor Ben Ratskoff

Assistant Professor of Modern Jewish History and Culture, Hebrew Union College

A Tale of Two Revisions: The Color Line and the Jewish Problem, From Galicia to Dougherty County

In April 16, 1952, Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois delivered a speech at the “Tribute to the Warsaw Ghetto Fighters” event organized by Jewish Life magazine, a monthly published by the Jewish Peoples Fraternal Order (JPFO) since 1946. In this speech, Du Bois argued that his travels through Poland and “discovery of the Jewish question” there forced him to reevaluate and revise his canonical thesis that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” A year later, Du Bois made five minor revisions to the text of The Souls of Black Folk for the 1953 Jubilee Edition, all of which addressed references to avaricious Jewish capitalists in the Black Belt. This paper will interrogate this extraordinary revisionary process in which Du Bois, at such a late stage in his career and amidst the Cold War Red Scare, was compelled to reconsider and refine his understanding of antisemitism and its relationship to the color line — both in new and old writings.

For those interested, the lecture will focus on Du Bois’s essay, “The Negro and the Warsaw Ghetto,” which can be downloaded here: Du Bois_Negro and the Warsaw Ghetto (Jewish Life)

MONDAY, 5/6: Noa Barak on the Israel State Archives

Please join us on Monday, 5/6 at 5pm in Swift 201 for a presentation by:

Noa Barak

PhD Candidate, Zvi Yavetz School of Historical Studies, Tel Aviv University

“Monopoly on Truth: The Israel State Archives and the Narrative Wars of the

1978 marked the beginning of declassification of state records in the Israel State Archives (ISA), lifting the veil of secrecy that had shrouded over them for decades under the “Thirty Years Law”. This mass exposure of state records paved the way for a thorough review of Israel’s turbulent years of state formation and threatened to reshape the national memory of the 1948 Palestine War. Indeed, a decade after these records became available, a group of local scholars, the so- called “New Historians”, began to publish critical, revisionist studies, sparking a fierce historiographical debate. Seemingly technical and straightforward, declassification was a complex, involved process. Like all archival records, the documents that fed into the debate underwent a long and fateful journey before landing on the historian’s desk. They moved between facilities, changed hands, were inspected, categorized, redacted, and, in many cases, reclassified and concealed. Along the way, the archive itself had changed. Focusing on the administration of the archive during that period, and on its personnel, this article examines the reshaping of the ISA during the 1980s. I argue that the opening of official records for public scrutiny and the narrative wars that ensued in its wake, fundamentally changed the ISA’s cultural status and the meanings associated with its repository. Turning it from a backstage administrative mechanism into a central historical archive for the study of the Israeli State, declassification placed the ISA at the heart of heated public debates, which continue to this day. The paper shows how archivists negotiated this rapid politicization: how they navigated between the needs of different interest and pressure groups, while struggling to maintain their professional standards and protect their own organizational needs.

The paper, to be read in advance of the workshop, is available here (password: monopoly): Barak_Monopoly on Truth_draft

THURSDAY 04/18: Professor Lana Povitz on Shulamith Firestone

Please join the Jewish Studies Workshop at 5pm on Thursday, April 18th in Swift 200 for a workshop with Professor Lana Povitz (Assistant Professor of History, Middlebury College). She will be presenting work in progress from her forthcoming biography of Shulamith Firestone, and Maggie Goldberger (PhD Student, Divinity) will be responding.

Gifted with creativity and insight, Shulamith Firestone (1945-2012) was a prime mover in the Women’s Liberation Movement of the late 1960s: a writer, theorist, organizer, and artist. Join Lana Dee Povitz to discuss a chapter-in-progress from her forthcoming biography of Firestone. The chapter uses oral history and private archival material to explore the place of sex, love, and romance in Firestone’s life, set against the evolving landscape of radical feminist thought in New York City circa 1969. Like so many feminists then and since, Firestone struggled to balance her need for autonomy against her desire for love. The Dialectic of Sex, Firestone’s landmark book published in 1970, was inspired in no small part by her lived experience of heterosexual relationships as a site of power and powerlessness.

Lana Dee Povitz is Assistant Professor of History and Jewish Studies at Middlebury College. Her first book, Stirrings: How Activist New Yorkers Ignited a Movement for Food Justice, was published by UNC Press in 2019. Learn more at

The paper, to be read in advance of the workshop, has been circulated via the Jewish Studies email list, which you can subscribe to at If you plan to participate in the workshop, and have not received the paper, please contact Kirsten Collins at

MONDAY: Rachel Katz on Isaac Arama and Medieval Judaism

Please join us at 5pm on Monday, April 15th in Swift 201 for a presentation by:

Rachel Katz

PhD, Divinity School, History of Judaism

Arama As Intervention: Anti-(Intellectual) Elitism and Jews as a Separate Species

Despite professed departures from the Wissenschaft des Judentums movement, most contemporary scholars of medieval Jewish thought continue to deploy their object of study as political shield and remain invested in constructing/imagining medieval Jewish thought as compatible with meritocratic liberalism. They do so even as they know the data suggest otherwise and even as material and political circumstances of both academic Jewish Studies and Jews across the globe have changed drastically. In this article, I attempt to render this political investment apparent in two parts. In the first part, I look at trends in contemporary scholarship in the field: how it talks about its object of study, what sorts of material it tends to focus on, and what material it has not focused on. I argue that contemporary scholarship on medieval Jewish thought aims to depict its object as simultaneously universalist and intellectually elitist. In the second part, I present a (systematically?) neglected yet canonical medieval text, Isaac Arama’s Aqedat Yishaq, as foil to this prevailing scholarly image of medieval Jewish thought. Against the idea(l) of medieval Jewish thought as universalist-cum-intellectualist, Arama couples a critique of intellectual elitism with a comprehensive theory of Jews as separate and superior species.

The paper, to be read in advance of the workshop, is available here (password: arama):Katz_Prooftexts

MONDAY 4/1: Jesse Noily on Rabbinic Eschatology

Please join us at 5pm on Monday, April 1st in Swift 201 for a presentation by:

Jesse Noily

MA, Divinity School

“Your Dew is the Dew of Morning”
Rabbinic Eschatology and the Erotics of Resurrection

Despite the theological and social centrality of the belief in bodily resurrection to Jewish life beginning in late antiquity, the precise mechanism of resurrection as represented in the Hebrew Bible was ambiguous enough to allow for much rabbinic speculation. The present paper takes as its subject a specific tradition which explained resurrection principally through an erotic interpretation of Isaiah 26:19: “For Your dew is like the dew of morning [or: light, herbs], You make the earth cast out the spirits of the dead.” Finding exegetical precedent in late antique documents like the Babylonian Talmud and the Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, this tradition suggests a euphemistic reading of “dew” [טל ] as the semen of God which serves to impregnate the earth and revive the bodies buried therein. Combining agricultural imagery with a heteroerotic metaphysics, the rabbis who endorsed this reading envisioned the resurrection of the dead as an outcome of God’s passionate romance and copulation with the world.

The paper, to be read in advance of the workshop, is available here (password: eschatology): Noily-Your Dew [Draft 2.25]

MONDAY 03/18: Ranana Dine on Vision in Jewish Thought

Please join us at 5pm on Monday, March 18 in Swift 201 for a presentation by:

Ranana Dine

PhD Candidate, Ethics, University of Chicago Divinity School

An Obligated Sight:

Vision in Emmanuel Levinas, Mara Benjamin, and Joseph Soloveitchik

Jewish thought is known for its focus on text and textuality, and in some cases, for an antipathy towards the visual and art. In this paper I turn to three seminal authors in Modern Jewish philosophy – Emmanuel Levinas, Joseph Soloveitchik, and Mara Benjamin – to argue that Jewish notions of obligation, a key concept in Jewish philosophy, require a conception of obligated sight. Although these three authors disagree about the nature of Jewish obligation – where it stems from and how it operates – they all agree that obligation is an embodied phenomenological reality of Jewish life. Therefore, they all have articulations of the way sight operates in a world of obligated bodies, even if they are unaware of or ambivalent to the prevalence of vision in their own accounts. The way one sees and what one sees, how one interacts with visual objects and understands visual experiences, are understood and made sense of through a lens of obligation for these thinkers. Considering Jewish vision as obligated vision gives is a powerful insight for doing Jewish ethics, particularly for doing Jewish ethics with visual objects and artwork.

The paper, to be read in advance of the workshop, is available here (password: sight): RDineObligatedSightStandalone-1

MONDAY 03/04: Andrew Atwell on Moral Imagination and National-Religious Hesed

Please join us at 5pm on Monday, March 4th, in Swift 201, for a presentation by:
Andrew Atwell
PhD Candidate, Divinity and Anthropology, University of Chicago

Resuscitating Torah: “Judaization,” Moral Imagination, and National-Religious hesed in Central Israel
In the wake of an explosion of violence in Lod in May 2021, the city’s “Torah seed” group has come under increasing attention and criticism within and beyond Israel/Palestine. While this national-religious Israeli Jewish activist group has typically been analyzed in terms of political ideology, religious coercion, and gentrification, such frameworks elide the group’s emphasis on social uplift and integration as an ethical project rooted in an expansive hesed (charity, loving-kindness, volunteering, covenantal faithfulness). Drawing on thirteen months of ethnographic fieldwork, in this paper I focus on a central aspect of the group’s hesed: “strengthening Jewish identity.” These efforts have been criticized as attempts at “Judaization” and “religionization.” However, rather than seeing such interventions as will to power masked by claims of ethicality, I take the group’s self-characterization seriously, but argue that such efforts act from a moral imagination that is nonetheless shaped by political inclinations, histories, and relations of power. I suggest that while the central role of national-religious publics in ongoing upheavals in Israel’s theopolitical landscape is often read in terms of political ideology, religious coercion, and histories of racism, adequate explanation of the diverse attachments driving these upheavals also requires sustained attention to the moral imagination.
The paper, to be read in advance of the workshop, is available here (password: hesed): Andrew Katzenstein Atwell – Resuscitating Torah – AJS 2023

MONDAY 02/26: Zachary Taylor on Spinoza and Mendelssohn

Please join us on Monday, February 26th at 5pm via Zoom for a presentation by:

Zachary Taylor

PhD Candidate, Religious Ethics

University of Chicago Divinity School

The Universal and Particular: Spinoza vs. Mendelssohn on the Natural Law and “Ceremonies”

Numerous scholars have commented on how, in his Jerusalem, Moses Mendelssohn reckons with the Spinozist critique of Judaism articulated in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. In the Tractatus, Spinoza calls into question several fundamental aspects of Judaism as interpreted and practiced in his day—for example, the revelatory status of the Hebrew Bible, the nature of God’s covenant with Israel, the point and purpose of ritual practices required by the Mosaic Law (what Spinoza calls caeremoniae, or “ceremonies”), and the traditional authorship of biblical texts. While Jerusalem by no means constitutes a point-by-point response to Spinoza, Mendelssohn clearly has in mind both Spinoza’s fate as an excommunicated Jew and the critique leveled in the Tractatus. In this paper, I will focus on the differences in how Spinoza and Mendelssohn understand the function and relevance of “ceremonies” in Judaism. In particular, I query why, despite both thinkers’ commitment to the metaphysics of natural law, Spinoza’s interpretation of the natural law excludes the possibility of Jewish particularity vis-à-vis “ceremonies,” while Mendelssohn’s interpretation reserves a place within Judaism for what he calls the ceremonial law (Zeremonialgesetz).

I contend that three key points of contrast explain why Spinoza and Mendelssohn hold such different positions on the status of ceremonies despite their shared commitment to natural law metaphysics: (i) their antithetical interpretations of God’s election of Israel; (ii) Mendelssohn’s worry about idolatry compared with Spinoza’s worry about superstition and how ceremonies relate to their respective concerns; and (iii) Mendelssohn’s intersubjective epistemology compared with Spinoza’s individualist one. With these points of contrast in view, we can better understand why Mendelssohn rejects Spinoza’s repudiation of ceremonies and affords them such a central role in Judaism. Concomitantly, this comparative analysis will also accentuate how, despite his commitment to the universality of the natural law, Mendelssohn nevertheless strives to affirm Jewish particularity.

The paper, to be read in advance of the workshop, can be accessed here (password: ceremonies): ZTaylor Jewish Studies Workshop Paper 2024

The Zoom link for the workshop has been sent via email to the Jewish Studies Workshop list.

MONDAY, 2/12: Ido Telem on David Frishman

Please join us on Monday, February 12th at 5pm in Swift 201 for a presentation by:

Ido Telem (PhD Candidate, Comparative Literature):

Tasting Revival: Aesthetic Judgement, Critical Authority and Political Thought in David Frishman’s Literary Criticism

In 1905, Hebrew literary critic David Frishman published a tribute to Friedrich Schiller in the paper, commemorating the centennial of the German poet’s death. More than a eulogy, Frishman’s piece also included a scathing admonition of the Jewish reading public, whom Frishman criticized for their diminished interest in Schiller, interpreting this as indicative of a broader decline in Jewish feeling, thinking, and judging—a lost standard of taste. Drawing from the conceptual history of taste in Enlightenment thought and its more recent critiques, I trace how Frishman employed the notion of taste not merely as an allegedly universal human capacity, which he argued the Jewish readership lacked, but also as a means to articulate a distinct Hebrew sensibility, or Hebrew taste. Frishman’s insistence on taste in both these forms, I argue, is fundamental to his aesthetic and political thought, and provides a fresh perspective on debates surrounding aesthetic autonomy in the Hebrew cultural revival.

The paper, to be read in advance of the workshop, is available here (password: frishman): Telem.FrishmanTaste.JSWorkshop