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AJS 2010-Update 1

AJS 2010 is going very well. I have gone to some very good sessions, had a chance to (re)meet some great people, and spend time with friends and strangers. Here are a few comments on what I’ve heard so far.

Sunday, Session 1-“CLASSICAL RABBINICS AS A PRISM FOR JEWISH HISTORIOGRAPHY”: The conference started off with a bang, at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday morning a standing room only crowd heard three interesting papers by Barry Wimpfheimer, Talya Fishman, and Eliyahu Stern. Here are some thoughts that I wrote down.

BW:
-What is “Rabbinics”?
-How do we decide the periodization of the subject?
-Talmud was seen as relevant for Jews whenever they lived, and Wissenschaft came to distance Jews from the text.
-More on the need to rethink periodization and the emphasis placed on earlier sources: “The Shach may have been more influential than Ravah.”
-Barry has a new book coming out soon, more on that when it appears.

TF:
-The need to rethink Ta-Shma’s explanation for the formation of custom in Ashkenaz.
-The claim of minhag mevatel halakhah appears only twice in the Yerushalmi and was not actually used to overturn any halakhah.
-She wants to understand the strengthening of minhag in Ashkenaz against the Roman/Germanic legal and cultural background.
-These ideas seem to be based upon a new book that she is publishing from U of P Press.

Eliyahu Stern:
-How have “traditional” Jews and their literature been treated by modern historiography?
-Criticized the “needle in the haystack” approach to the study of traditional sources from the modern period. Finding the few times that the Gr”a refers to science cannot be compared to the massive amount of his writing on other subjects.
-Eastern European Judaism was as much a modern experience as Western Europe.

Jay Harris (respondent):
-“Messy cultural history”
-According to Ta-Shma the founder of the haskalah was the Pnei Yehoshua.

Sunday, Session 2-“THE PURPOSES AND PRACTICES OF TEACHING RABBINIC LITERATURE:

This was a very interesting session with Charlotte Fonrobert (Stanford University), Marjorie S. Lehman (Jewish Theological Seminary), Jonathan Schofer (Harvard Divinity School). This session was recorded, so hopefully it will be posted online at some point. Ethan Tucker asked an interesting question. Should we be treating Talmud as “language acquisition” and not “ideas acquisition?” Language is taught in a more intense fashion with different methods.

Sunday, Session 3-“THE IMPACT OF CONTEMPORARY LEGAL THEORY ON THE STUDY OF HALAKHAH”

Alyssa Gray (HUC-JIR), Jane Kanarek (Hebrew College), Claire Sufrin (Northeastern University), Ethan Tucker (Mechon Hadar), Barry Wimpfheimer (Northwestern University).

Barry was hesitant about the applicability of Anglo-Saxon Legal Theory to Jewish Law. It was developed for a specific legal system with a certain structure and goals. I didn’t write down many other notes, sorry about that.

Monday, Session 5-“MEDIEVAL ASHKENAZ”

Here are the presenters.

Child Martyrs and Jewish Violence in the Middle Ages
Julie Goldstein (New York University)
Judah and the Wolf: The Lycanthropic Theology of the Hasidei Ashkenaz
David Shyovitz (Northwestern University)
New Directions in the Study of Piyyut Composition in Germany during the High Middle Ages
Ephraim Kanarfogel (Yeshiva University)
“Are you not a Jew”? Medieval Ashkenazi Jewish Reactions to Healing in the Shrines of Christian Saints
Ephraim Shoham-Steiner (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)

Julie G. examined the martyrdom chronicles from the perspective of children. A fascinating example of looking at material that has been discussed by countless people from a different perspective. How were children portrayed? How do these descriptions compare with descriptions of children from Blood Libel narratives.

David S. examined the place of werewolves in pietistic literature from the Middle Ages. Werewolves were used to address questions of human transformation. Very interesting according to all accounts.

Ephraim K. showed the Ashkenazi payytanim didn’t only write depressing selichot and kinot. For some of them, the majority of their writings were for joyous occasions, whether they be holidays, weddings, etc.

Ephraim S.-S. addressed the phenomenon of Jews visiting the shrines of Christians Saints in search of healing. This raised numerous issues about cross-cultural influence, etc.

I hope to blog at least one more time from this AJS.

One Response to “AJS 2010-Update 1”

  1. 1
    Yitzhak:

    Shyovitz’s talk certainly does sound fascinating. I actually just posted one famous source on the topic here.

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