2018-2019 Podcasts


The Holocaust and North Africa

Aomar Boum (UCLA) and Sarah Abrevaya Stein (UCLA)

November 27, 2018

This event celebrated the release of The Holocaust and North Africa, edited by Leve Center faculty Professors Aomar Boum and Sarah Abrevaya Stein. The Holocaust is usually understood as a European story. Yet, this pivotal episode unfolded across North Africa and reverberated through politics, literature, memoir, and memory—Muslim as well as Jewish—in the post-war years. The Holocaust and North Africa offers the first English-language study of the unfolding events in North Africa, pushing at the boundaries of Holocaust Studies and North African Studies, and suggesting, powerfully, that neither is complete without the other. The essays in this volume reconstruct the implementation of race laws and forced labor across the Maghrib during World War II and consider the Holocaust as a North African local affair, which took diverse form from town to town and city to city. They explore how the Holocaust ruptured Muslim–Jewish relations, setting the stage for an entirely new post-war reality.


‘The Foundation of the World’: The Ecological Ideas of Post-Expulsion Spanish Jews in Italy and the Ottoman Empire

Andrew Berns (University of South Carolina)

November 15, 2018

In the wake of their banishment from Spain in 1492, after nearly 1500 years on Iberian soil, how did Spanish Jews think about land and the natural world? My talk explores how Sephardic Jews developed their ideas about the proper use (and improper abuse) of land. From safe havens in Italy and the Ottoman Empire, scholars such as Isaac Abravanel, Abraham Saba and others wrote copiously about agricultural practices and land management in their commentaries on biblical and rabbinic texts. The late Middle Ages witnessed drastic changes in land use on the Iberian Peninsula, in Italy, and throughout the Mediterranean: I show how Spanish-Jewish ideas about the land (the biblical Land of Israel as well as lands of the diaspora) responded to ecological realities as well as intellectual trends.


A Place in the Sun: Italian Jews and the Colonization of Africa

Shira Klein (Chapman University)

November 14, 2018

For four decades (1890s-1930s), Italian Jews strongly approved of their country’s colonizing enterprise. Throughout Italy’s expansion to Somalia, Eritrea, Libya, and Ethiopia, Italian Jews lent their support. But the act of colonizing challenged their comfortable dual identity, namely, their ability to be both Italian and Jewish. The empire pitted Italian colonizers and colonized African Jews against each other, and Italian Jews found themselves caught in the middle.

2017-2018 Podcasts


Primo Levi for the Public

May 6, 2018

This half-day symposium brought together an array of international scholars and writers engaged with the history, literature, and impact of Primo Levi, a chemist, writer, and humanist who survived Auschwitz and, through his writing, provided generations of students and scholars with the philosophical language to understand the Shoah—and the modern condition. The symposium celebrated the publication, in 2015, of Levi’s complete works in English (by translator Ann Goldstein, published by W. W. Norton) and probes the literary, philosophical, and historical legacy of Levi.


Atina Grossmann – Trauma, Privilege, and Adventure in Transit: German Jewish Refugees in Iran and India

Atina Grossmann (The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art)

May 17, 2018

This lecture examines the intensely ambivalent and paradoxical experiences of bourgeois Jews who found refuge in the “Orient” of India and Iran after 1933. On the margins of their collapsing and devastated Jewish European world, they lived as hybrids, themselves on the margins, expat, emigré, enemy alien, and refugee, caught uneasily, more or less comfortably, between colonizer and colonized, expelled from the “West” but never really leaving it behind. Drawing on an extensive collection of family correspondence and memorabilia from both Iran and India (1935-1947), as well as other sources, Grossmann probes refugees’ understanding of their own unstable position, the changing geopolitical situation, and their efforts to come to terms with emerging revelations about the destruction of European Jewry.


Galit Hasan-Rokem: Is the Wandering Jew in Contemporary Israeli Literature a Paradox?

Galit Hasan-Rokem (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

May 10, 2018

Various ideologies of the early 20th century foresaw an end for the journey of the Wandering Jew in the near future: Communists suggested that he would disappear with the dissolution of nations, Zionists believed that he would return home and no longer be a wanderer. The Wandering Jew has not disappeared from contemporary literature, among Jews and others. The most surprising may be the presence of this figure in a number of Israeli novels from the seventies to the recent years. This lecture will address those cases in their socio-cultural contexts.


Sarah Abrevaya Stein and Lia Brozgal: Colonial Tunisia from the Gutter Up: Ninette of Sin Street. Jews, Translation, and Franco-Tunisian Literature

Sarah Abrevaya Stein (UCLA) & Lia Brozgal (UCLA)


Alma Heckman (UC Santa Cruz)

May 1, 2018

Book launch of the first English-language translation of Vitalis Danon’s Ninette of Sin Street. Originally published in Tunis in 1938, this novella is Danon’s best-known work, and one of the first Tunisian fictions written in French. Ninette is an unlikely protagonist, compelled by poverty to work as a prostitute, she dreams of a better life and an education for her son. Plucky and street-wise, she enrolls her son in the local school. In Danon’s story, Ninette narrates her hard scrabble life to the headmaster of her son’s school, a monologue that is by turns funny, poignant, and subtly critical of the status quo. The book’s editors will participate in a lively conversation about this historic work, its place within global and North African literature, and the history of Tunisian Jewry.


Maimonides and the Merchants

Mark R. Cohen (Princeton)

April 24, 2018

The advent of Islam in the seventh century brought profound economic changes to the Middle East and to the Jews living there. The Talmud, written in and for an agrarian society, was in many ways ill-equipped for the new economy. In the early Islamic period, the Babylonian Geonim made accommodations through their responsa, through occasional taqqanot, and especially by applying the concept that custom can be a source of law. Not previously noticed, however, in the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides made his own efforts to update the halakha through codification, in order to make it conform with Jewish merchant practice as illustrated in the business documents of the Cairo Geniza.

Robert Mullins, a associate professor of biblical studies hold a couple of ancient artifacts at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, Calif., on Friday, May 4, 2012. Professor Mullins has been granted permission to excavate the last unexplored biblical-era site in Israel.
 (SGVN/Staff Photo by Keith Birmingham)

Abel Beth Maacah: Uncovering the Secrets of a Biblical City

Robert Mullins (Azusa Pacific University)

April 17, 2018

Abel Beth Ma’acah is a city of major biblical and historical importance on the northern border of present-day Israel. It is mentioned several times in the Hebrew Bible, most notably in the time of King David when a “wise woman” surrendered the severed head of Sheba ben Bichri to Joab who had been sent from Jerusalem to capture him (2 Sam 20:14-22). Though called “a city and a mother in Israel,” other verses suggest that the population was Aramean or perhaps another ethnic group (2 Sam 10:6-8; 1 Chron 19:6; Josh 13:11). Who were the people of Abel and how might we determine their ethnicity in the material record? The primary aim of this lecture will be to explore the intriguing yet elusive relationship between historical memory as recorded in the Bible and finds on the ground.


Culture and Resistance in Wartime Ghettos: Case Studies from Lodz, Vilna, and Warsaw

Samuel Kassow (Trinity College)

April 16, 2018

The Warsaw, Lodz and Vilna ghettos saw an extraordinary degree of cultural activity: reportage, poetry, theater, documentation and street songs. What was the impact of this cultural resistance? How should it be studied? This seminar will also consider the complex interplay of cultural and armed resistance in the Vilna and Warsaw ghettos.

Ringelblum Online Course

History and Resistance: Emanuel Ringelblum in the Warsaw Ghetto

Samuel Kassow (Trinity College)

April 12, 2018

During World War II, Jews resisted not only with guns but also with pen and paper. Even in the face of death, they left “time capsules” full of documents that they buried under the rubble of ghettos and death camps. They were determined that posterity would remember them on the basis of Jewish and not German sources. Thousands of documents were buried in the Ringelblum Archive in the Warsaw Ghetto. Of the 60 people that the Polish Jewish historian Emanuel Ringelblum recruited to work on this national mission, all but three perished in the Holocaust. The lecture will explore their story.


What happened to Sisera in Judges 5, 25-27?

Thomas Schneider (University of British Columbia)

March 13, 2018

The two versions of the story of Sisera’s defeat at the hands of Yael in Judges 4 and 5 are among the most iconic episodes of the Hebrew Bible, with a long and colourful history of interpretation and reception. This lecture will present a new understanding of Sisera’s fate in the poetic version of Judges 5,25-27. On the basis of a reassessment of the meaning of Biblical Hebrew raqqā (“cheek”, not “temple”) and the verbs describing Yael’s attack on Sisera in v. 26, it is suggested that the focus of this episode is not on the killing of Sisera but his stigmatization. Scars of holes inflicted in the face were a visible trace of the Assyrian practice of leading foreign rulers on facial hooks into captivity that is also well documented in texts of the Hebrew Bible. The proposed military submission and humiliation of Sisera sets the poetic version of the encounter of Yael and Sisera apart from the prose version in Judges 4 as an account that is factually and literarily independent.


East West Street: A Personal History of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity

Philippe Sands (University College London)

February 22, 2018

Lecture explores how personal lives and history are interwoven. Drawing from his Baillie Gifford (Samuel Johnson) prize-winning book East West Street (Alfred Knopf/Vintage, 2016)—part historical detective story, part family history, part legal thriller—Sands connects his work on ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘genocide,’ the events that overwhelmed his family during World War II, and an untold story at the heart of the Nuremberg Trial that pits lawyers Rafael Lemkin and Hersch Lauterpacht against Hans Frank, defendant number 7 and Adolf Hitler’s former lawyer.


Bad Rabbi and other Strange But True Stories from the Yiddish Press

Edward Portnoy (Rutgers)

February 22, 2018

Bad Rabbi (Stanford UP, 2017) is an underground history of downwardly mobile Jews from the seamy underbelly of New York and Warsaw, the two major centers of Yiddish culture before WWII. With true stories plucked from the pages of the Yiddish papers, Portnoy introduces drunks, thieves, murderers, wrestlers, poets, and beauty queens whose misadventures were immortalized in print.


Did Adam Fall, Stumble, or Stub His Toe in the Garden of Eden? A New Look at an Ancient Story

Ziony Zevit (American Jewish University)

February 20, 2018

This seminar examined a few salient features of the Garden of Eden story after reconsidering its vocabulary and grammar. The examination yielded new insights into the story’s plot that have broad implications for correcting contemporary notions about what it meant and its significance in the context of ancient Israel’s civilization.


Why Study Jewish History?

David N. Myers (UCLA)

February 13, 2018

This event focused on two recently published books: the first, Jewish History: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2017), offers a concise account of the entire course of Jewish history in 100 pages; the second, The Stakes of History: On the Use and Abuse of Jewish History (Yale, 2018), is an argument for the study of history, and especially Jewish history, as an anchor of memory and indispensable ingredient for informed civic engagement. The dialogue will focus on the intersecting themes of the two books, which together reveal the pleasures and payoff for studying Jewish history.


What Does the Word Lesbian Mean in Palestine in 1923?

Ofer Nur (Tel Aviv University)

February 6, 2018

This seminar is based on an unpublished MS of a novel, written in 1923 by Sara Rappeport (1890-1980) member of kibbutz Beit Alpha, entitled: “The Wives of Sheikh Husseini.” This exceptional novel describes a love affair between a kibbutz member and an Arab Sheikh that ends in marriage, a baby boy named Ishamel, and membership in the Haifa branch of the Palestine communist party. The word Lesbian appears in the novel and Nur explores its meaning and context. The use of the word “Lesbian” in Hebrew in Israel begins in the late 1950s. Going back to an isolated use of the word in 1923 can teach us something new about same-sex relations in the imagination of those who lived in mandate Palestine and in Israel.

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New Media Jews: “Transparent,” Podcasting, and the Place of Jews in 21st-Century American Culture

Josh Lambert (Yiddish Book Center / University of Massachusetts, Amherst)

November 30, 2017

How can we explain the prominence of Jews and Jewishness in 21st-century American media? At a moment when companies like Amazon and Netflix were making billion-dollar gambits to reach massive audiences with their own original content, it turned out to be Jill Soloway’s Transparent that proved that a website could beat out the cable and broadcast television networks at the Golden Globes and Emmys. As much as these recent successes might seem to echo the influential roles played by Jews in American media and popular culture throughout the 20th century, they also reflect dramatic changes in demography, commerce, and technology. This lecture proposes that we consider the current wave of Jewish culture as resulting from two key developments: the increasing institutionalization of Jewish culture in America since the late 20th century, and the affinity between streaming media technology and demographic minorities.

David Ilan

How Ancient Israel Began: A New Archaeological Perspective

David Ilan (Hebrew Union College, Jerusalem)

November 14, 2017

Over the last hundred years or so, a number of theories have been proposed to explain the origins of ancient Israel. All these have been informed to some degree by the biblical text and all have considered the role of New Kingdom Egypt and the collapse of empires throughout the Near East circa 1200-1100 BCE. The lecture will present a radical new proposal: that Egypt itself instigated “Israelite” settlement.


The Unspoken Holocaust

Yossi Sucary (Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature)

November 2, 2017

The lecture discusses the situation of Jews in North Africa during WWII: the Nazi occupation of Libya, the concentration camps in the Sahara desert, and the deportation of Jews from the heat of the desert to the frozen concentration camps in Europe. It will also explore the relationship between Arabs and Jews in Libya under the Nazi occupation.


‘I’m Right, You Don’t Agree, So You Must be Wrong’: Grounds for Pluralism in the Jewish and American Communities

Rabbi Elliot Dorff (American Jewish University)

October 24, 2017

The Leve Center honors Rabbi Elliot Dorff as the first recipient of the biennial Leve Award that recognizes and celebrates the contribution made by a person whose ideas, values, and accomplishments have had a positive impact on the world, our community, and our humanity.  Rabbi Dorff was selected as the inaugural recipient of this new award, in honor of the work he has done to build bridges between and beyond the Jewish community.  Rabbi Elliot Dorff, Ph.D. is Rector and Sol & Anne Dorff Distinguished Service Professor in Philosophy at American Jewish University, as well as a Visiting Professor of Law at UCLA School of Law.


2016-2017 Podcasts

Image (Morris)

Racial Photography as Scientific Evidence

Amos Morris-Reich (University of Haifa)

May 25, 2017

Foregoing the political lens through which we usually look back at racial photography, this talk returns racial photography into the history of science and addresses it as a form of scientific evidence. Morris-Reich reconstructs individual cases, conceptual genealogies, and patterns of practice of the use of photography and photographic techniques for the study of “race” from the nineteenth century to the Nazi period.


The Making of Austro-Modernism

Marjorie Perloff (Stanford & USC)

May 16, 2017

This talk is an introduction to Perloff’s new book Edge of Irony: Modernism in the Shadow of the Habsburg Empire (2016) and makes the case for a distinctive Austro-Modernism in the period between the two World Wars—a modernism that has its own particular ethos, different from that of the Weimar Republic in Germany as well as that of France or Britain.

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Imaginative Engagement: Women of the Hebrew Bible in After Abel and Other Stories

Michal Lemberger (Author)

May 9, 2017

Vividly reimagined with startling contemporary clarity, this debut collection of short stories gives voice to silent, often-marginalized biblical women: their ambitions, their love for their children, their values, their tremendous struggles, and their challenges.


The Yiddish Historians of the Holocaust and the Prewar Tradition of Yiddish Historical Scholarship

Mark L. Smith (UCLA)

April 25, 2017

The first Jewish historians of the Holocaust pioneered the study of the Holocaust from the perspective of Jewish experience. They also redefined the concept of Jewish resistance. Overlooked, argues Smith, is that the works of these historians are united by a shared commitment to writing in Yiddish and to a research agenda arising from the prewar traditions of Yiddish historical scholarship.

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Divine Law and Community Boundaries in Jewish Antiquity

Christine Hayes (Yale)

April 4, 2017

In late antiquity, two radically distinct conceptions of divine law—Greek natural law grounded in reason and biblical law grounded in revelation—confronted one another with a force that reverberates to the present. This talk explores these responses and highlights their role in creating and maintaining distinct communities in the world of late antique Judaism.


Memory and Continuity of the Southern Italian Jewish Legacy

Fabrizio Lelli (University of Salento, Lecce)

March 16, 2017

Lecture looks at the history of Apulian Jewish culture and its major intellectual achievements in the late Middle Ages and also concentrates on written and oral testimonies of former Jewish refugees, who at the very end of WWII resided in the United Nations transit camps that were established in the region of Apulia. In this talk, Lelli will focus on this extraordinary spiritual rebirth of contemporary Judaism, by comparing it with other intellectually significant phases of Apulian Judaism in the past.


Jewish Salonica: Between the Ottoman Empire and Modern Greece

Devin Naar (University of Washington)

March 14, 2017

How did the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of modern Greece impact the largest Sephardic Jewish community in the world? Drawing on newly discovered archival materials in Ladino, Greek, Hebrew, and French to demonstrate how the Jews of Salonica (Thessaloniki), sought to transform themselves from Ottoman Jews into Hellenic Jews during the early 20th century. Through the case of Salonica, Naar recovers the experiences of a once dynamic and now lost Jewish community at the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East.


Anti-Prophecy in the Poetry of H.N. Bialik

Robert Alter (UC Berkeley)

March 9, 2017

Though H.N. Bialik knew the biblical Prophets in the Hebrew virtually by heart and could compose poetry in letter-perfect biblical Hebrew that would have been entirely intelligible to the Prophets themselves, his notion of the poet as prophet actually came to him from an iconic Russian poem by Pushkin, “The Prophet,” based on Isaiah 6. The lecture focuses on a close reading of his poem Davar (“Word”).


The Joshua Generation: How David Ben-Gurion and his Political Successors Read the Biblical Book of Conquest

Rachel Havrelock (University of Illinois at Chicago)

February 28, 2017

In the name of enshrining the Bible as the central text in Israeli life, Israeli Prime Minister Ben-Gurion convened a study group at his residence dedicated to interpreting the book of Joshua. The study group participants asserted that the true meaning of the Bible could only be unlocked by Jews living in their ancient homeland. However, a web of conflicted interpretations emerged from the group and Ben-Gurion’s concluding address set off a fierce debate regarding the basis of citizen rights that has yet to be resolved.


Joseph and the Genesis of Ancient Israel

Lauren Monroe (Cornell)

February 21, 2017

Joseph stands out as distinct among his brothers, first, for the sheer space allotted to him in the book of Genesis. This alone suggests something different about the figure of Joseph from a literary historical standpoint, and raises the question of the socio-historical circumstances that underlie his representation.


Drumming Away Demons

Susan Ackerman (Dartmouth)

February 7, 2017

The inhabitants of the ancient biblical world, including many ancient Israelites, viewed their cosmos as the home of many unseen forces. Ackerman’s talk explores the possibility that beating upon drums may have been one means by which the ancients warded off these demonic agents.


Jewish Identity in Question: The Legacy of Irène Némirovsky

Susan Suleiman (Harvard)

January 26, 2017

This lecture discussed Jewish identity in the life and work of Irène Némirovsky (1903-1942), a Russian Jewish immigrant to France who achieved a brilliant career as a novelist during the 1930s but was deported as a “foreign Jew” in 1942 and died in Auschwitz. Némirovsky’s portrayals of Jewish characters in her fiction are controversial, often considered anti-semitic. Suleiman argues instead that her Jewish characters exemplify the dilemmas and contradictions of Jewish existence in the 20th century, in Europe and beyond.

Joachim Prinz Kurt Weill Symposium

Championing Civil Rights and Resisting Injustice: Rabbi Joachim Prinz and Kurt Weill

January 22, 2017

Rabbi Joachim Prinz (1902-1988) and Composer Kurt Weill (1900-1950) were both German Jewish émigrés who fled Nazi Germany and came to America to reestablish their lives and careers. Their experiences in Europe informed their professional work and galvanized them to fight injustice and champion civil rights. This symposium will put the lives and works of the two men in conversation with one another by examining a shared historical foundation for social justice and delving into their specific contributions on the world stage.

Daniel Stein Kokin

Rome in the Jewish Imagination

Daniel Stein Kokin (UCLA and Universität Greifswald)

December 7, 2016

As capital of a mighty empire and missionizing church, Rome for Jews has often appeared a source of unyielding oppression and persecution. Yet Jews have lived continuously in Rome for more than two thousand years, longer than in virtually any other city in the world. Stein Kokin will explore the more than two millennia of vexed ties binding the “eternal city” and “immortal people” (as Mark Twain described the Jews).


The Rabbinic Sacrificial Vision and the Roman Imperial Cult

Mira Balberg (Northwestern)

December 6, 2016

Sacrifice in the Roman Empire was a heavily politicized matter and an arena through which relations of power were formed, loyalty was displayed, and alliances were worked out. Seminar will explore the ways in which Jews in the Roman Empire were entangled in Imperial sacrificial networks, and how Jews and Romans used sacrifice, both as a cultic form and as an expression of fidelity, to assess and define the relations between the Jews and the Empire.


‘Lock and Key’: The History of Ancient Israel between the Hebrew Bible and Archaeology

Stefan Beyerle (Universität Greifswald)

November 29, 2016

The so-called “Lock and Key” model represents a method to establish the relationship between data from Ancient Near Eastern archaeology and the literary history of texts from the Hebrew Bible. In its first part the talk will explain current alternative models concerning the relationship of archaeological and historical examinations by focusing on the “Lock and Key” model. In addition, the presentation will discuss archaeological and literary evidence with a view to the Book of Amos.


Wounds of History: The Polish Underground and the Jews during World War II

Joshua Zimmerman (Yeshiva University)

November 17, 2016

Discussing one of the central problems in the history of Polish-Jewish relations: the attitude and behavior of the Polish Underground toward the Jews during World War II. Presenting archival documents, testimonies, and memoirs, Zimmerman recasts the entire debate by concluding that the reaction of the Polish Underground to the catastrophe that befell European Jewry was immensely varied—sometimes killing and other times helping the Jews who also participated in the anti-Nazi struggle.


Across Legal Lines: Jews and Muslims in Modern Morocco

Jessica Marglin (USC)

November 15, 2016

Through the experiences of a single Jewish family, Marglin charts how the law helped Jews to integrate into Muslim society—until colonial reforms abruptly curtailed their legal mobility.


2015-2016 Podcasts


The First Decade of Israeli Literature: The case of Aharon Appelfeld

Arnold Band (UCLA)

May 12, 2016

The first decade Israeli sovereignty has been a source of fascination for all sorts of historians who find in this “return to history” many intriguing phenomena. The same is true, of course, for Israeli literature. Usually the emphasis is on what is new in Israeli writing after 1948 or how the individual writers emerged from the collective ethos of the kibbutz. Critics cite such writers and Shamir, Megid, or Yizhar in prose or Amichai and Zach in poetry. A consensus has arisen regarding the nature of Israeli writing in its first decade. If however we shift the emphasis from these writers to the late Agnon, the leading writer of the period, or to the early Appelfeld, who developed a brilliant career afterwards we get a strikingly different picture. The further we advance from the first decade, the more we realize that its literature as more varied and richer than early historians have described it.

Photo- Balkan War (Ginio)

The Balkan Wars (1912-13) and the Jewish Communities of the Ottoman Empire: Between Participation and Exclusion

Eyal Ginio (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

April 19, 2016

The Balkan Wars (1912-13) presented a major watershed in the life of the Jewish communities of the Ottoman Empire. By using the Ladino and Ottoman press, memoire literature and various archival documents, Ginio’s presentation discusses the dilemmas faced by Ottoman Jews during these troubled times and their changing perceptions of citizenship and their role in the public life on the eve of the Ottoman Empire’s demise.


Absence and Presence: Readings and Conversation

Dalia Sofer (Author)

April 14, 2016

Dalia Sofer reads from the novels The Septembers of Shiraz—which chronicles the unraveling and eventual departure of a man wrongly imprisoned in Tehran in the aftermath of the 1979 revolution—and The Soundman of Tehran, a work-in-progress, about a man contending with a fraught past: his early years in Tehran’s dilapidated Jewish quarter, his misguided youth in France, and his eventual return with his young son to the city of his birth. The protagonists of these two novels have contrasting trajectories: one chooses to leave, the other chooses to return.

Image_Framed (Katz)

Two Models of Jewish Continuity from India

Nathan Katz (Florida International University)

April 12, 2016

As American Jewish institutions struggle to find way to ensure Jewish “continuity,” it would be wise to look outside of the usual contexts to learn how other Jewish communities have successfully done so. In India we find two models: the learned Jewish community at Kochi (Cochin), and the pious group known as the Bene Israel. These two tiny communities each lived in India for centuries if not millennia, interacting harmoniously with their Hindu, Muslim and Christian neighbors, contributing to their host societies as well as to Jewish literature and customs, all the while maintaining their identities as Jews.


Rethinking Liberation

Dan Stone (Royal Holloway, University of London)

March 31, 2016

Seventy years after the end of the war, the liberation of the camps is still relatively understudied by historians. In this lecture, Dan Stone will give an overview of the different sorts of liberation experienced by the victims of Nazism and explain the importance of the liberation and what followed for understanding the history of the Holocaust.


From Maimonides to Microsoft: The Jewish Law of Copyright Since the Birth of Print

Neil W. Netanel (UCLA)

March 1, 2016

In 1998 Microsoft petitioned a rabbinic court in Bnei Brak for a ruling that commercial piracy of software violates Jewish law. The court’s curt one-paragraph ruling proclaims that rabbis have ruled on similar questions since the dawn of print. Prof. Netanel’s new book traces the emergence and historical development of this Jewish law of copyright. He places Jewish copyright law in the context of the Jewish book trade; the precariousness of Jewish communal autonomy; and the influence of modern copyright law and of secular and papal book privileges on key rabbinic rulings.


Songs that Speak: Reflections on Research Among the Ethiopian Jews

Kay Kaufman Shelemay (Harvard)

February 11, 2016

Shelemay’s presentation provided an overview of the Ethiopian Jewish tradition based on the only musical study of their liturgy and its musical content before their departure from Ethiopia. Here song revealed unexpected insights into both the Ethiopian Jewish past and the processes through which Ethiopian Jews became part of the broader Jewish world.


The Money Launderer’s Daughter: A Sephardic Woman and a Slave Rumor in the Early Modern Mediterranean

Gillian Weiss (Case Western Reserve University)

February 9, 2016

This is a talk about a pregnant, Arabic-speaking girl from Tunis forcibly converted to Catholicism at Marseille’s main cathedral. Her travels and travails – which feature three years in Algerian captivity provide a map for discovering otherwise hidden communication patterns, social connections and religious-political concerns, notably the conquest of Jewish and Muslim, as well as Protestant, souls for France’s “Most Christian King.”

Book Cover (Smoak)

From Ritual Space to Ritual Text: New Light on the Background of the Priestly Blessing in Ancient Judah

Jeremy Smoak (UCLA)

January 26, 2016

Several recently discovered inscriptions from Israel and surrounding regions offer new light on the early history and function of the priestly blessing of Numbers 6:24–26. These inscriptions demonstrate that the blessing held a diverse set of functions related to both temple rituals and private religious practice during its earliest history in the biblical period. By extension, these inscriptions provide new insight into the background and meaning of the instructions for the priestly blessing found in Numbers 6:22–27.

May 9, 2014; Atalia Omer - Sociology. Photo by Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame

Refiguring American Jewish Identity: the Palestine Chapter

Atalia Omer (University of Notre Dame)

January 21, 2016

Based on in-depth interviews with Jewish-American Palestine solidarity activists and systematic study of Jewish solidarity movements in social media, the talk explores new configurations of American Jewish identity.


The Book of Daniel in Jewish Neo-Aramaic Translation

Yona Sabar (UCLA)

November 24, 2015

Shortly after the Babylonian Exile, Jews found Hebrew Scriptures (Torah) more and more difficult to understand. There was a growing need for oral and written translations-explanations, such as the classical Aramaic Targums, which began with Ezra, and continued until modern times. All traditional Jewish education includes teaching a traditional translation in the local language, be it Aramaic, Yiddish, Judeo-Spanish, Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Persian, or English. The book of Daniel is unique, since most of it is already in Aramaic. So, how does a traditional Neo- Aramaic speaker (of ca. 1960s CE) cope with a Biblical Aramaic text (of ca.160 BCE)? Sabar, himself a native speaker of Aramaic, will discuss the general nature of the translation and offer samples of the types of translations, and mistranslations he encountered.


Academic Research on Moroccan Judaism: Historiography, Sources and Archives

Jamaâ Baïda (Mohammed V University, Rabat, Morocco)

November 12, 2015

Moroccan historians tended to neglect topics revolving around Moroccan Judaism until the mid-seventies when the Jewish element became essential in economic and social history. Baïda will discuss the progress and difficulties in the appropriation of Judaism as a component in the country’s history.

The Betrayers

The Betrayers

David Bezmozgis (Author) & Naya Lekht (UCLA)

November 5, 2015
Writer and filmmaker, David Bezmozgis, in conversation with Dr. Naya Lekht, discusses his award-winning new novel, The Betrayers (2014), in context with his previous books, Natasha and Other Stories (2004) and The Free World (2011). Unfolding over the course of one day, The Betrayers, is the story of a disgraced Israeli politician who flees with his young mistress to Crimea, only to encounter the man who denounced him to the KGB forty years earlier. The novel explores the themes of personal and political morality set against contemporary Israel and the former Soviet Union.


2014-2015 Podcasts


Ladino’s Controversial History

Olga Borovaya (Stanford)

October 14, 2014
For more than a century, everything related to the history and use of Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) has been a matter of disagreement among scholars. In this talk on the Ibero-Romance language used by Sephardi Jews in the Balkans and the eastern Mediterranean in the 16th through mid-20th centuries, Borovaya will offer a history of the Sephardi vernacular and elucidate some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding the language.


How to Accept German Reparations

Susan Slyomovics (UCLA)

October 23, 2014
In a landmark process after the Holocaust, Germany created the largest sustained redress program in history, amounting to more than $60 billion. When human rights violations are presented primarily in material terms, acknowledging an indemnity claim becomes one way for a victim to be recognized. At the same time, indemnifications provoke difficult questions about how suffering and loss can be measured. Slyomovics, daughter of a survivor, maintains that we can use the legacies of German reparations to reconsider approaches to reparations in the future.


A Bintel Brief: Love and Longing in Old New York

Liana Finck (Author)

November 13, 2014
The original “A Bintel Brief” (“A Bundle of Letters”) was an advice column for Jews fresh off the boat in The Jewish Daily Forward, a.k.a. The Forverts, a feature regarded by many as the prototype for “Dear Abby.” This seminar will discuss Liana Finck’s new, widely acclaimed graphic novel, A Bintel Brief: Love and Longing in Old New York (Ecco, 2014), which brings a selection of these letters to life and includes an imaginative conversation with the paper’s editor, Abraham Cahan.


Jews and Sovereign Political Power in the Middle Ages: New Evidence from the Cairo Geniza

Marina Rustow (Johns Hopkins University)

December 10, 2014
The vast majority of Jews in the Middle Ages lived in the Islamic world. While the salience of that fact has long been recognized for the survival of Judaism after antiquity, we still know remarkably little about how medieval Jews navigated one of the fundamental conditions of their existence: the states under whose rule they lived. Hitherto unknown documents from the Cairo Geniza, a cache of manuscripts discovered in a medieval Egyptian synagogue, suggest that Jews maintained surprisingly close and extensive contacts with the courts of caliphs and sultans, their bureaucracies and provincial officials. This lecture will present some of that evidence and discuss its implications for the Jewish communities of the eastern Mediterranean in the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries, as well as for the history of premodern Islamic statecraft.


The Book of Genesis in the Western Imagination

Ronald Hendel (UC Berkeley)

January 26, 2015
The book of Genesis has had a surprising and momentous life in Western culture, from its birth in the ancient Middle East to current controversies about sex and science. The ways that people read Genesis and the ways that they understand the world have long been intertwined. Hendel will explore some of these byways, including Genesis as apocalypse, allegory, mysticism, and literature.


Jewish Refugees in Apulia

Fabrizio Lelli (U. of Salento, Italy)

January 28, 2015
At the end of WWII, more than 250,000 Jewish refugees lived in DP camps in Germany, Austria and Italy which were set up under the aegis of the UN and the Allied Forces, with the support of international Jewish organizations. Since 2000, Fabrizio Lelli has been collecting documents and personal testimonies from former refugees in the Apulia region of southern Italy. Traumatized, unable or unwilling to return to their former homes, many were stuck in a Mediterranean limbo, trying to recover from the war but without knowing where they would—or could—go next. Through his Jewish Refugees in Apulia project, Lelli has published the moving stories of 36 refugees on his website. His work also played a role in convincing an Italian municipality to preserve three murals painted by a Jewish refugee in a building slated for demolition.

C. Meyers

Was Ancient Israel a Patriarchal Society?

Carol Meyers (Duke)

February 10, 2015
The answer to this question, surprisingly, is not an automatic “yes.” This presentation will examine the origins of this designation, which assumes a hierarchical male-dominated structure for Israelite society. Recent research using archaeological and ethnographic data in addition to biblical texts challenges the patriarchal-hierarchical model and proposes another one that may be more appropriate for the complexities of Israelite society.


The Late Agnon and the Re-Imagining of Galician Jewry

Alan Mintz (JTS)

February 12, 2015
During the fifteen years before his death in 1970, S. Y. Agnon wrote an epic cycle of stories about Buczacz, the Galician town in which he grew up. This project represents a unique response to the Holocaust and an unprecedented effort to re-imagine the inner life of Polish Jewry during its golden age.


David’s Divided Heart

David Wolpe (Sinai Temple)

February 17, 2015
Of all the figures in the Bible, David arguably stands out as the most perplexing and enigmatic. He was many things: a warrior who subdued Goliath and the Philistines; a king who united a nation; a poet who created beautiful, sensitive verse; a loyal servant of God who proposed the great Temple and founded the Messianic line; a schemer, deceiver, and adulterer who freely indulged his very human appetites. Rabbi Wolpe takes a fresh look at David in an attempt to find coherence in his seemingly contradictory actions and impulses.

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Interpreting the Family of Abraham: Political Uses and Abuses

Carol Bakhos (UCLA)

February 19, 2015
This panel discussion will explore the broader implications of Prof. Carol Bakhos’ recent book, The Family of Abraham: Jewish, Christian, Muslim Interpretations (Harvard University Press, 2014). The term “Abrahamic religions” has gained considerable currency in both scholarly and ecumenical circles as a way of referring to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Bakhos steps back from this convention to ask a frequently overlooked question: What, in fact, is Abrahamic about these three faiths? Exploring diverse stories and interpretations relating to the portrayal of Abraham, she reveals how he is venerated in these different scriptural traditions and how scriptural narratives have been pressed into service for nonreligious purposes.


People of the Book or People of the (Foot) Ball? Ethnicizing European and Latin American Soccer

Raanan Rein (Tel Aviv University)

February 23, 2015
While most historians would agree as to the centrality of sports in general and of soccer in particular in Latin American societies, very little has been written on ethnicity and sports in such immigrant societies as Argentina and Brazil. As far as the historiography of the Jewish experience in Latin America is concerned, hardly any scholarly works exist that are devoted to popular culture, particularly that of unaffiliated Jews.
Raanan Rein examines Argentine football as a space of both prejudice and dialogue. Rein argues that for the first immigrant generation, belonging to this club was a way of becoming Argentines. For the next generation, it was a way of maintaining ethnic Jewish identity, while for the third it has become a family tradition.

Photo (Kosansky)

When Jews Speak Arabic: Jewish Languages in Colonial Morocco

Oren Kosansky (Lewis & Clark College)

February 24, 2015
As in much of the greater Sephardic world, the Jews of Morocco have long used multiple languages within North Africa and broader Mediterranean networks. Hebrew, Judeo-Spanish, Berber, and Arabic were among the idioms in common usage, distributed across various ritual contexts, social environments, and geographic regions. Yet, the early twentieth century marked a significant language shift that captured the interest of French colonial forces that occupied Morocco from 1912 – 1956. Reducing a much more dynamic linguistic environment to a single channel of transformation, colonial linguists focused predominantly on Arabic as the language of a receding Moroccan Jewish past and French as the language of more promising future.

Edwin Seroussi

Folksongs of Modernity: A Judeo-Spanish Perspective

Edwin Seroussi (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

February 25, 2015
Folksongs of modernity: is it an oxymoron? If tradition is all that preceded modernity and folksongs a characteristic feature of traditional societies, then how are folksongs still among us and why? Seroussi suggests that modern touristic excursions, pilgrimages and edifying fieldtrips to ruins’ sites are experiences analogous to the performance and modern consumption of folksongs. The sonic excursion, substitutes the spatial-visual experience of the tour for the museum or ruins’ park. “Modern” folksongs from the Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) repertoire will buttress these theoretical postulates.

Photo (Sommer)

Deuteronomy as Scripture and Deuteronomy as Tradition

Benjamin Sommer (Jewish Theology Seminary)

March 2, 2015
There are several respects in which Deuteronomy straddles the line between what scholars of religion call “scripture” and what they term “tradition.” These include Deuteronomy’s pronounced interpretive character and its emphasis on its own orality. Sommer will discuss surprising similar views of modern biblical critics and of some traditional Jewish interpreters (especially in the Jewish mystical tradition) regarding these characteristics of Deuteronomy. He shows that Deuteronomy not only embodies a central Jewish concept of scripture but helps to construct it.

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Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields

Wendy Lower (Claremont)

March 12, 2015
Wendy Lower’s stunning account of the role of German women on the World War II Nazi eastern front powerfully revises history, proving that we have ignored the reality of women’s participation in the Holocaust, including as brutal killers. Drawing on twenty years of research that included access to post-Soviet documents and interviews with German witnesses, Lower makes an incisive case for the massive complicity, and worse, of the 500,000 young German women she places, for the first time, directly in the killing fields of the expanding Reich.


The Wherewithal: A Novel in Verse

Philip Schultz (DePaul University)

April 23, 2015
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Philip Schultz will speak about The Wherewithal: A Novel in Verse (Harcourt, 2014). This is the astonishing story of Henryk Wyrzykowski, a drifting, haunted young man hiding from the Vietnam War in the basement of a San Francisco welfare building and translating his mother’s diaries. The diaries concern the Jedwabne massacre, an event that took place in German-occupied Poland in 1941. Wildly inventive, dark, beautiful, and unrelenting, The Wherewithal is a meditation on the nature of evil and the destruction of war.


Capital, Culture, and the City: German Jews and the Other Weimar Republic

Emily J. Levine (University of North Carolina, Greensboro)

April 30, 2015
Berlin may have been the capital of Weimar, Germany, but Hamburg, the port city 200 miles northwest, emerged in interwar Germany as a unique setting for intellectual life. Through the interconnected lives of three German-Jewish scholars Aby Warburg, Ernst Cassirer, and Erwin Panofsky, Emily J. Levine tells the forgotten story of this commercial city’s transformation into a cultural center and the significant role that the city played for the German Jewish experience.


Music and Identity: The Musical Lives of Shlomo Carlebach and Mickey Katz

Mark Kligman (UCLA)

May 7, 2015
Jewish music has always responded to its environment. Jews often negotiate utilizing music of the Jewish tradition and developing new sounds influenced by the music of their surroundings. This presentation of the music of legendary Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and comedic entertainer Mickey Katz will highlight both their European Jewish rooted traditions and recent developments in America.


Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: A Conference in Honor of Abraham Joshua Heschel

May 3 & 4, 2015
A theologian of extraordinary eloquence and poetic vision, Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) was also a key figure in social justice movements in the United States in the 1960s and early 70s, including the civil rights movement, the movement against the war in Vietnam, and the transformations of the Catholic Church known as Vatican II.
Heschel’s books have had immeasurable impact on both Jewish and non-Jewish thinkers. Hence, this conference will feature talks by key figures in contemporary Jewish thought and practice, as well as Christian scholars and public figures. Panels will discuss Heschel and social justice, Heschel’s poetry and spiritual practices, and the continuing urgency of his life and ideas today.

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The Faith of Fallen Jews: Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi and the Writing of Jewish History

David N. Myers (UCLA)

Alexander Kaye (Ohio State University)

May 19, 2015
From his first book, From Spanish Court to Italian Ghetto, to his well-known volume on Jewish memory, Zakhor, to his treatment of Sigmund Freud in Freud’s Moses, Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi (1932-2009) earned recognition as perhaps the greatest Jewish historian of his day. The collected essays represent the range of Yerushalmi’s writing, from his research on early modern Spanish Jewry and the experience of crypto-Jews, to varied reflections on Jewish history and memory, and his enduring interest in the political history of the Jews. Also included are little-known autobiographical recollections and his only published work of fiction.