NC Jewish Studies Seminar


A collaborative project of the Center for Jewish Studies at Duke, NCSU, UNC-Chapel Hill, and Office of the Provost Wake Forest, with support from Carolina Seminars and Religions and Public Life at the Kenan Institute for Ethics.

The NC Jewish Studies Seminar offers a stimulating and exciting forum for academic engagement on Jewish history, culture, and religion.  Since its inception in 2001 under the name Duke-UNC Jewish Studies Seminar, the seminar has brought together faculty, graduate students, and internationally renowned scholars to discuss cutting edge work in Jewish Studies.  Meetings are held monthly, and papers are distributed in advance for all to read. The Seminar is a collaborative partnership of Duke, NC State, UNC-Chapel Hill, and Wake Forest, with participants coming from universities and colleges across North Carolina.  Closely coordinated with the NCSU and UNC-Chapel Hill public lecture series in Jewish Studies, the seminar enriches the scholarly climate in the area and strengthens the Jewish Studies programs in the local universities. To read an example of a past seminar, see this blog post from scholar and novelist David Halperin, which also includes video of panelists.

Fall 2017- Spring 2017 Seminar Dates and Speakers:
(Unless otherwise noted, all seminars will meet on Fridays over lunch from 12:15-2:15PM on Duke’s East Campus. Contact for parking for those coming from outside of Duke. Duke faculty and students are encouraged to use the East-West campus bus.)

Friday, September 15, 2017: Carr 229

Joshua Friedman (Duke University): 'Traditional Ambiguities: Yiddish, Religiosity and the Secular in the American Jewish Identity Industry'

Joshua Friedman is a Perilman Postdoctoral Fellow at the Duke University Center for Jewish Studies. He is a cultural anthropologist with an ethnographic focus on the American Jewish non-profit sector. His general research interests deal with postindustrial transformations to American economic life, and their effects on the politics, practices and boundaries of ethnoreligious communities in the United States. In his dissertation “Yiddish Returns: language, intergenerational gifts, and Jewish devotion” he explores an analytically provocative but heretofore overlooked relationship between culture, religion and economy: the impact of wealth concentration among American financial elites on the practices of Yiddish language activists and culture producers in the United States.

Abstract: Yiddish Farm is a space of competing traditions. Located in Goshen, New York, the organization brings together secular and frum (pious) Jews within an immersive, halokhe (Jewish law)- observant environment. This religious breadth stems from two factors: Yiddish Farm’s background as a nonprofit, Jewish identity program targeting mostly 20-30 something American Jews, and its goal of building connections between secular Yiddish activists and native Yiddish-speaking Hasidim. These dynamics have yielded a space that affords participants opportunities to link Yiddish discursive practices and religious discursive practices in ambiguous, ambivalent and emergent ways. Indeed, at Yiddish Farm, ambiguity has itself become a Jewish practice, one that often underwrites people’s practices of Jewish self-making and Yiddish Farm’s activist agenda of Yiddish community- building.

Friday, October 20, 2017: Friedl 225

Zvi Ben Dor Benite (NYU): 'Where is the East: Asia and the Orient in Early Mizrahi Thought'

Zvi Ben Dor Benite is Associate Vice Chancellor for Global Network Faculty Planning and Professor in the Department of History and the Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at Faculty of Arts & Science, teaching courses on Asian history during and after the Mongol period and on Islam in the World. Specializing in Chinese and Islamic History, his research centers on the interaction between religions in world history and cultural exchanges across space and time. He is the author of The Dao of Muhammad: A Cultural History of Muslims in Late Imperial China (Harvard, 2005); The Ten Lost Tribes: A World History (Oxford, 2009); and more recently, an edited volume on Middle Eastern Jewish Thought (Brandeis, 2013); an edited volume on Sovereignty (forthcoming with Columbia University Press); and a monograph entitled Crescent China: Islam and Nation after Empire (forthcoming with Oxford).

Abstract: This paper offers a critique of the quest for “Orientaless” (mizrahiyut) in contemporary Israeli political discourse. It offers a a different approach to the question and instead of chasing the answer for “what is the orient,” it asks “where is the orient.” The paper demonstrates the changing nature of the “where” question through looking at a number of early Mizrahi thinkers, from 1893 to 1963.

Sunday, November 5, 2017. 4:00-6:00PM, John Hope Franklin Center Rm 240
The John Hope Franklin Center is located at 2204 Erwin Rd, Durham NC 27708. Free parking is available on Sunday in the Pickens Building Lot (next to Duke Family Medicine) across Trent Drive from the John Hope Franklin Center. No reservation needed; visit the JHFC contact page to view maps.

Paula Fredriksen (Boston University): 'How Jewish is God? Divine Ethnicity in Paul’s Theology'

Paula Fredriksen is the Aurelio Professor of Scripture emerita at Boston University and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Comparative Religion at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. A graduate of Wellesley College (1973), Oxford University (1974) and Princeton University (1979), she has published widely on the social and intellectual history of ancient Christianity, and on pagan-Jewish-Christian relations in the Graeco-Roman world. The author of Augustine on Romans (Scholars Press 1982) and the award-winning From Jesus to Christ (Yale Governors’ Award for Best Book, 1988; 2000), she has also published Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews (Knopf 1999), which won a 1999 National Jewish Book Award. Together with Adele Reinhartz, she contributed to and edited Jesus, Judaism, and Christian Anti-Judaism: Reading the New Testament after the Holocaust (Westminster/John Knox 2002), and has also edited and contributed to a collection of essays about Mel Gibson’s controversial film, On ‘The Passion of the Christ’ (University of California Press 2005). In Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism (Doubleday 2008; Yale 2010), Fredriksen traced the development of Christian anti-Judaism and explored Augustine’s singular response to it. Her most recent work investigates the ways that ideas about God, humanity, and the world shift and grow during the charged period between Jesus and Augustine in Sin: The Early History of an Idea (Princeton 2012).

Abstract: Land, language, family connection, gods: these were the prime markers of ancient ethnicity, both for pagans and for Jews. Ethnicity, like divinity, was a category that spanned heaven and earth: gods and their humans formed family groups, and gods often shared in the ethnicity of the peoples who worshiped them. In this regard, the Jewish god was no exception. What was exceptional was the Jewish god’s claims to cross-ethnic supremacy: at the end of days, the gods of the nations as well as their peoples would acknowledge Israel’s god alone. Paul gospel to ta ethnē (“the nations”) coheres completely with this Jewish eschatological paradigm; and the Jewish identity of Paul’s god illumines essential aspects of Paul’s language of gentile hagiasmos (“separateness, sanctification”) and huiothesia (“adoption as sons”).

Friday, December 1: Friedl 225

Guy Ben Porat (Brown): 'Secular, Secularized and Illiberal? Paradoxes of Israeli Democracy'

Guy Ben-Porat is an associate professor at the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University and an Israel Institute Visiting Fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University. He is the author of Between State and Synagogue, the Secularization of Contemporary Israel (Cambridge University Press, 2013) and Global Liberalism, Local Populism; Peace and Conflict in Israel/Palestine and Northern Ireland (Syracuse University Press). His new book (co-written) is on police and minorities (Cambridge University Press).

Abstract: The scholarly debate of religiosity and secularism in Israel has either engaged with ideological/theological questions or with formal political processes of elections and legislation. This work offers a different perception and interpretation of secularization that looks beyond openly-declared ideological secularism and its related struggles against the Orthodox monopoly in the political arena. The disaggregation of the concept of secularization opens up the new possibilities for research of both the declining role of religion in society vis-à-vis other systems (political and economic) and the role of religion in individual lives (beliefs, practices and values). The four issues studied in the book – civil marriage, civil burial, sale of pork and commerce on the Sabbath – demonstrate dramatic changes that occurred in the last three decades. These changes, as the study demonstrates, are at most partially attributed to a secular ideology and to an organized secular struggle. Consequently, secularization, measured in declining religious authority remains largely separate from secularism and a liberal ethos of equality and freedom.

RESCHEDULED – Sunday, March 4, Franklin Center 240, 3:00-5:00pm:

Beth Holmgren (Duke): 'The Country of Warsaw, 1919-1945: The Story of Krystyna Bierzynska and the Limits of Acculturated Jewishness'

Beth Holmgren is Professor of Slavic Studies at Duke University. Recent books include Starring Madame Modjeska: On Tour in Poland and America (2012) and Transgressive Women in Modern Russian and East European Cultures, co-edited by Yana Hashamova & Mark Lipovetsky (2016). Her current research examines the role of popular entertainment and the experience of its primarily Jewish performers in the Anders Army (1942-1946).

Abstract: This book tells the story of Krystyna Bierzynska, an acculturated Polish Jew, from her birth in Warsaw in 1928 up to the war’s end in May 1945, when she was reunited with her brother, Dolek, an officer in the Polish II Corps. Bierzynska not only survived the Holocaust due in large part to the extraordinary efforts of her parents, blood relatives, and surrogate Christian family, but also served as a sixteen-year-old orderly in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. Hers is a Warsaw story, a biography that demonstrates how, in urban interwar Poland, the lives of liberal educated Catholics and acculturated, unconverted Jews significantly overlapped. Co-creating the culture and developing the economy and industries of independent Poland, Jews at last dared to believe that they qualified as Polish citizens and patriots. Bierzynska’s story details her experience of two very different Warsaws: a cosmopolitan oasis of high culture, modern amenities, and tolerance, and an occupied capital intoxicated and united by conspiracy, where the residents joined together to overthrow a common enemy.

Friday, March 23, 2018: Friedl 225

Evyatar Marienberg (UNC-CH): 'Safedian Kabbalah on Earthly and Heavenly Sexual Unions'

Evyatar Marienberg is an historian of religions, having a particular focus on the study of beliefs and practices of lay Jews and Christians from various periods. Born in Israel, he studied for many years in yeshivahs. Later, during a five-year stay in Paris, he studied Catholic theology at the Institut Catholique de Paris, and religious studies at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes en Sorbonne. He later completed his doctoral dissertation at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, also in Paris. He published four books, in Hebrew, French, and English. Before joining in 2009 the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he was teaching or doing research at McGill University in Montreal, Paideia Institute in Stockholm, Tel Aviv University, the University of Notre Dame, the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, and Harvard University. He is currently working on a study of traditional Jewish guides to marital sexuality, and on a project regarding Catholics and their neighbors in a small town in North East England in the 1950s-1970s.

Abstract: Many types of books, pamphlets, or chapters in bigger works, have tried to explain Jewish readers through the ages, particularly learned males, the “how to” (and “how not to”) of marital relations. I write a a book exploring these texts, from the Talmudic period until today. In the project, I explore their evolution, reliance on one another, adjustments to surrounding culture and mores, impact and popularity, and more. The specific chapter I offer here explores texts associated with the type of Kabbalah that was developed in the town of Safed, in today’s northern Israel, starting in the sixteenth century.

Sunday, April 8, 2018, 3:00-5:00PM: Carr 229

Giacomo Todeschini: 'Jews, economic metaphors and the healthy body politic (15th-16th c.)'

Giacomo Todeschini is a world renowned historian of medieval and early modern economic thought. His research concerns the history of medieval economic theories and linguistic constructs, the Christian doctrine of infamy and exclusion from citizenship and the market, and the role of Jews in the medieval and modern Christian world. Among his many publications are: Franciscan wealth: From voluntary poverty to the market society (2009), Ricchezza francescana. Dalla povertá volontaria alla societá di mercato (2004), Visibilmente crudeli. Malviventi, persone sospette e gente qualunque dal medioevo all’etá moderna (2007), Come Giuda. La gente comune e i giochi dell’economia all’inizio dell’epoca moderna (2011), and La banca e il ghetto. Una storia Italiana (2016).

Abstract: “[T]he linguistic structure of the western Christian discourse about economics as resembling and symbolizing the entire logic of earthly government and order was closely connected to the shaping of the Christian discourse about Jews and Judaism as a religious and legal system as seen in the framework of the Christian “economy” of Salvation. From this perspective, one can consider as two sides of the same coin the economic thought shaped by patristic and scholastic argumentation, respectively in the late antique and high medieval periods, and the multiple polemics against Jews and Judaism put forward by the Church fathers from the 4th to 7th century and by the scholastic doctors from the 12th to the 15th century. […]
This “archaeology” can introduce us to a deeper understanding of the medieval and late medieval development of Christian polemics against Jews and Judaism. These polemics and discussions actually were not simply the expression of an explicit conflict concerning religious truths: at the same time, beyond the fight about the conversion of the Jews to Christianity, Christian theologians and jurists implicitly produced a polemical representation of economics which, in itself, represented Jews and Judaism as a perverted form of humanity.” (pp.5-7)

Sunday, April 15, 2018, 3:00-5:00PM: LOCATION CHANGE! Now at UNC: Carolina Hall 104 (220 E Cameron Ave, Chapel Hill, NC 27514)

Elisheva Carlebach (Columbia): Record Keeping: An Early Modern Jewish Community and its Practices

Elisheva Carlebach, Salo Wittmayer Baron Professor of Jewish History, Culture, and Society, specializes in the cultural, intellectual, and religious history of the Jews in Early Modern Europe. Areas of particular interest include the intersection of Jewish and Christian culture and its effect on notions of tolerance, religious dissent, conversion, messianism, and communal governance. Her books include The Pursuit of Heresy (1990), awarded the National Jewish Book Award, Divided Souls: Converts from Judaism in Early Modern Germany (2000) and Palaces of Time: Jewish Calendar and Culture in Early Modern Europe (2011), winner of the Association for Jewish Studies Schnitzer Prize. She has twice held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities. She was a Fellow at the New York Public Library Center for Scholars and Writers, Tikvah Fellow at NYU Law School, and Fellow at the Katz Center, University of Penn. She served as Editor of the Association for Jewish Studies Review and chaired the Academic Advisory Council of the Center for Jewish History. She has served as President of the American Academy for Jewish Research and is currently Director, Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies at Columbia. In 2017 she was awarded the Lenfest Distinguished Columbia Faculty Award.

Abstract: The Jewish community of Hamburg-Altona has left behind one of the richest troves of surviving archival records for the early modern period of any European Jewish community. I will touch briefly upon the significance of the Jewish archive within general archival studies, and will then describe and analyze one volume of records of a Jewish small-claims court in the eighteenth century and what it reveals about the lives of the working poor, particularly of domestic servants and the petty merchant households they worked in.


Cosponsored Seminars

Wednesday, February 21, 2018 (*new time/location* 11:30am to 1:00pm, 229 Carr Building, East Campus):

Anika Walke (Washington University, St. Louis): 'Space, Place, and Memory: The Long Aftermath of the Nazi Genocide in Belarus, 1941-2008'

Anika Walke is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Washington University in St. Louis. She was educated at the University of Oldenburg, Germany, and the State University of St. Petersburg, Russia, before she completed her doctorate at the University of California-Santa Cruz. Her research and teaching interests include World War II and Nazi genocide, migration, nationality policies, and oral history in the (former) Soviet Union and Europe. Her book, Pioneers and Partisans: An Oral History of Nazi Genocide in Belorussia (Oxford University Press, 2015), weaves together oral histories, video testimonies, and memoirs to show how the first generation of Soviet Jews experienced the Nazi genocide and how they remembered it after the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. Walke is currently working on a book on the long aftermath of the Holocaust and World War II in Belarus.

Abstract: How might, or should, we remember and live with the aftermath of genocide? Foregrounding the role of space and place, Anika Walke examines how people have remembered and lived with the effects and repercussions of systematic violence and genocide in Belarus. During the German occupation 1941-1944, up to two million Jewish and non-Jewish lives ended violently, with most Jews buried in hard-to-find mass graves. Furthermore, the German occupation pitted locals against one another in a struggle for survival and ideological supremacy.Building on a variety of sources including oral histories, photographs, and archival documentation, and memoirs, Walke complicates well-known critiques of (post-) Soviet politics of memory that foreground the marginalization of the Holocaust. An analysis of immense demographic losses, the ubiquity of mass grave sites, war-induced environmental damage, and the destruction of cultural heritage sites reveals how the Nazi genocide itself impinges on current forms of commemoration. Attention to the spatial relationships that were at the core of multinational integration in prewar Belarusian towns, German annihilation policy during the war, and postwar commemoration practices facilitates a better understanding of the Holocaust and its impact on Belarusian society.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018 (*new time/location* noon to 2:00pm, Ahmadieh Family Conference Room, West Duke 101, East Campus)
Cosponsored with Religions and Public Life at KIE. Kosher for Passover lunch served:

Anna Kushkova (Duke University and UNC-CH): 'Memory of the Holocaust and Jewish Identity in Soviet and post-Soviet Ukraine'

Anna Kushkova is a visiting scholar at Duke University and holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her dissertation, Navigating the Planned Economy: Accommodation and Survival in Moscow’s Post-War ‘Soviet Jewish Pale’, focuses on Jewish engagement in the marginal and illicit spheres of the Soviet post-WWII rigidly controlled state economy to show a) how Jewish ethnic traditions and social networking can facilitate cultural survival among oppressed minorities and b) how Jewish entrepreneurship in the local networks of production and distribution created a distinct version of Soviet Jewish collective identity. Dr. Kushkova has participated in multiple ethnographic expeditions to the former official Pale of Jewish Settlement (Ukraine, Moldova, Trans-Dniestr Republic) and various research projects on Jewish memory and identity in the large urban settings of St. Petersburg and Moscow.

Abstract: Based on Dr. Kushkova’s field research in the former shtetls of Western Ukraine, this presentation is an attempt to look at several small Jewish survivor communities living in the territory of the former Pale of Jewish Settlement (Ukraine) through the lens of their Holocaust experience. What place does the Holocaust occupy in the structure of these people’s individual and collective identity? How do people speak about the Holocaust, how do their narratives change over different historical periods and under the influence of different external actors, and how do they get appropriated by official political discourses? How do post-Holocaust commemoration practices create specific local lieux de mémoire?

Sunday, April 29, 2018, 3:00-5:00pm: UNC Hyde Hall, incubator room [second floor] (176 E Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27514)

Yaacov Deutsch (Hebrew university), 'Converting the New Testament?: Hebrew Translations of the New Testament in the Early Modern Period'

Yaacov Deutsch received his Ph.d from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (2005). He is the head of the History Department at David Yellin College and an adjunct lecturer at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. His research focuses on Christian-Jewish relations in the medieval and early modern period, and especially on Christian Hebraism. His book Judaism in Christian Eyes: Ethnographic Descriptions of Jews and Judaism in Early Modern Period was published in 2012 by Oxford University Press.

Abstract: “Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect”. This quotation, taken from the writings of the second century church father Irenaeus, presents an idea that was quite widespread during the first centuries of Christianity. However, there is no proof to support the existence of an early Hebrew version of one of the Gospels, and the first translationsof an entire Gospel are from the twelfth century, whereas the entire text of the New Testament was translated into Hebrew only in the middle of the sixteenth century. At least four more complete translations of the New Testament were prepared over the course of the next one hundred years (roughly until 1670). In my talk, I will briefly discuss these translations and will focus on the first complete translation that was prepared by Erasmus Oswaldus Schreckenfuchs in 1563.


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