NC Jewish Studies Seminar

The NC Jewish Studies Seminar (NCJSS) 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 NCJSS 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.

Seminars will take place Sunday afternoons hybrid @ 3:30pm ET / online only @ 2:00pm ET 

Location:  Hybrid events will take place in Seminar Room 240 at the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies, 2204 Erwin Road Durham, NC 27708. Attendance is limited to vaccinated university faculty and students of sponsoring institutions. Community members are welcome to attend via Zoom.




Leadership | Shatzmiller Fellowship in Jewish Studies

Fall 2021 – Spring 2022 Seminar Dates and Speakers

Fall Semester


Pratima Gopalakrishnan, Duke University: “Structuring Labor Relationships in the Ancient Jewish Household”

  • August 29, 2021; 3:30 pm Eastern time (Hybrid)

The concept of mezonot (often translated as “maintenance”) in rabbinic texts refers to the food allowance provided to household members labeled as dependents. Although mezonot later becomes synonymous with a form of benevolent support, this paper explores the earlier legacy of this concept as a non-monetary compensation provided in the context of domestic labor exchange, whether between husband and wife, father and child, or employer and laborer.

Pratima Gopalakrishnan is the Perilman Postdoctoral Associate in Jewish Studies at Duke University. She is an historian of labor and gender in late ancient Jewish society. Her current research focuses on the relationships that govern the exchange of work and support within the household.



Elke Morlok, Center for Jewish Studies, Heidelberg: “Jewish Enlightenment between Tradition, Natural Sciences and Kabbala”

  • September 12, 2021; 2:00 pm Eastern time (Zoom only)

This lecture will explore the unique case of the maskil Isaac Satanov (1732-1804) and his harmonious combination between Jewish tradition, natural sciences and kabbalistic ideas as exemplified in his treatise Imre Bina (Words of Understanding), printed in Berlin in 1784. We will discuss the variety of his sources, his hermeneutical strategies in interweaving the different corpora, and his intellectual and pedagogic aims. Complex figures like Satanow and his contemporary Salomon Maimon challenge our widespread perception of the Jews’ entrance into modernity via rationalism, assimilation and secularization; therefore, we must question those parameters and chose our methodological approach(es) with great care.

Elke Morlok is the Lilli and Michael Sommerfreund Visiting Professor at the Hochschule fuer Juedische Studien in Heidelberg. She completed her doctoral dissertation under the supervision of Moshe Idel at the Hebrew University Jerusalem on “Rabbi Joseph Gikatilla’s Hermeneutics” (published in 2011 with Mohr Siebeck). Her habilitation (second book) at Frankfurt University on “Kabbala and Haskala. Isaac Satanov (1732-1804) between Jewish erudition, modern physics and Berlin Haskala” will be published November 2021 with De Gruyter. She has published various articles on Jewish mysticism, Christian Kabbalah, gender issues in Jewish studies, Gershom Scholem and Jewish Enlightenment.



Menachem Keren-Kratz, independent scholar: “The Satmar Rebbe’s Va-Yoel Moshe: The Most Influential Anti-Zionist Text in Modern Jewish History”

  • October 10, 2021; 2:00 pm Eastern time (Zoom only)

Menachem Keren-Kratz holds a DMD (The Hebrew University, 1985). He completed a PhD in Yiddish literature (Summa cum Laude, Bar-Ilan University, 2009) and an additional PhD in Jewish history (Tel-Aviv University, 2013). His last published book is a biography of the Satmar Rebbe titled The Zealot: Satmar Rebbe – Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum (Zalman Shazar Center, 2020, in Hebrew). Over sixty of his articles, both in Hebrew and in English, were accepted for publication in academic and semi-academic publications including numerous peer-reviewed academic journals.



Beth Berkowitz, Barnard College: “Appetite for Udders: The Return of the Repressed Mother in Babylonian Talmud Hullin 109a-110b”

  • November 21, 2021; 3:30 pm Eastern time (Hybrid)

Freud described the animal udder as an “image intermediate between a nipple and a penis.” Because the udder hangs down from the undercarriage of the cow, it appears to the human eye like a penis. Freud invokes the udder in two case studies, Dora and Little Hans, and it inspired him as he developed his theory of castration anxiety. In this paper I begin with Freud’s view of the udder as a helpful point of entry into classical rabbinic discussions of the udder. Joining recent efforts to recover maternal visibility in the narration and production of Jewishness, I look to the animal mother as an even more occluded yet still powerful figure.

Beth A. Berkowitz is Ingeborg Rennert Chair of Jewish Studies and Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Barnard College. She is the author of Execution and Invention: Death Penalty Discourse in Early Rabbinic and Christian Cultures(Oxford University Press, 2006; winner of the Salo Baron Prize for Outstanding First Book in Jewish Studies); Defining Jewish Difference: From Antiquity to the Present (Cambridge University Press, 2012); and Animals and Animality in the Babylonian Talmud (Cambridge University Press, 2018). Her area of specialization is classical rabbinic literature, and her interests include critical animal studies, Jewish difference, and Bible reception history. She is currently working on a project entitled What Animals Teach Us about Families: A Study of Four Biblical Laws and Their Afterlives that offers an interpretive history of the four “animal family” laws of the Pentateuch.


Shatzmiller Fellows of Jewish Studies Seminar, Duke University

    • December 5, 2021; 2:00 pm Eastern time (Hybrid)



Semih Gökatalay, PhD candidate, UC San Diego: “The Levant Fair and the Promotion of Tel Aviv as an “All-Jewish” City in the Interwar Period”

Semih Gökatalay is currently a Ph.D. candidate in history at University of California, San Diego. His dissertation is a political and economic history of the modern Middle East during the transition from the Ottoman Empire to nation-states. It explores the development of private and indigenous interest groups in the Middle East vis-à-vis state authorities and international capitalist classes.


Oskar Czendze, PhD Candidate, History Department, UNC; Graduate Fellow at the Center for Jewish History in New York: “In Search of Belonging: Galician Jewish Immigrants Between New York and Eastern Europe, 1890-1938”

Oskar Czendze is a PhD Candidate in the History Department and a TEP Fellow at the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies at UNC Chapel Hill. In 2021-22, he is a graduate fellow at the Center for Jewish History in New York. His research focuses on the cultural and social history of Jews in East Central Europe and the United States, Jewish migration and questions of memory, belonging and place in the modern era. Among his recent publications is “Between Loss and Invention: Landsmanshaftn and American Jewish Memory in the Interwar Era,” Dubnow Institute Yearbook 17 (2018): 35-56.


Leor Jacobi, Post-doctoral Fellow, Bar-Ilan University & Humboldt Stiftung Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Mainz: “Signals in the Noise: Girona Bookbinding Fragments as Unique Codicological Units”

Leor Jacobi is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at Bar-Ilan University. Leor’s interdisciplinary research interests, publications and talks range over Rabbinic Literature and Medieval Art and he has given presentations in Europe, America, Israel, and Abu Dhabi. He is currently the recipient of a Humboldt Stiftung Fellowship at University of Mainz, Germany, researching Manuscript fragments extracted from Medieval book- bindings in Girona, Catalonia. Leor is based in Jerusalem and can often be found loitering at the National Library of Israel.


Spring Semester


Eli Sperling, Duke University: “The Jewish National Fund: Land Purchases in Palestine, Fundraising in America, and Hebrew Musical Culture”

      • January 16, 2022; 3:30 pm Eastern time (Hybrid)

In July 1942, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) published the first of five separately themed Zionist songbooks produced for an American Jewish audience, under the title Classified Palestine Songs. The songbooks were published following the historic 1942 Biltmore Conference, which offered the first consensus platform for defining communal American Jewish efforts to help Zionists in Palestine and were part of a greater body of JNF propaganda, educational and fundraising materials developed for American Jewry during the Yishuv period.This paper explores the use of Hebrew music from Palestine in the JNF’s greater efforts to build a robust donor base and spheres of support amongst American Jewish communities during the during the pre-1948period, both crucial to the success of the Zionist enterprise in the later years of the British Mandate. By the conclusion of WWII—contrasting the decimation of Europe, European Jewry and the associated fundraising markets—American Jewry donated to the JNF at higher rates than the rest of the Jewish diaspora combined. Simultaneously, the JNF contributed to the development of Hebrew national culture and transnational Zionist engagement in America during the decades prior to Israel’s establishment and beyond. The JNF were central in establishing still operational frameworks for American Jewish engagement with Zionist institutions during the pre-1948 period, in part through activities like singing Hebrew songs and donating to Zionist land interests in Palestine.

Eli Sperling has traveled and conducted research extensively throughout the Middle East, spending significant periods of time in Israel, Cairo and the Sinai Peninsula. He holds an MA in Middle Eastern history from Tel Aviv University and received his PhD from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in September 2019. From 2012-2020, Eli served as the Senior Academic Research Coordinator at Emory University’s Institute for the Study of Modern Israel, where he also taught as a guest lecturer at the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies in 2019-2020. His current research focuses on the proliferation and use of Hebrew music from Palestine in the American Jewish community between in the pre-1948 period. He investigates how this music played a role in a greater process through which varying aspects of Zionist though, engagement and national culture became enmeshed in American Jewish life. Since June 2020, Eli has served as a Postdoctoral Associate in Duke University’s Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies and Center for Jewish studies.



David Koffman, York University, Toronto: “No Better Home? The History of Canadian Jews’ Intersections with First Nations History”

      • February 13, 2022; 3:30 pm Eastern time (Hybrid)

David S. Koffman is a cultural and social historian of Canadian and U.S. Jewries. He holds the J. Richard Shiff Chair for the Study of Canadian Jewry and an associate professor in the Department of History at York University in Toronto. His first book, The Jews’ Indian: Colonialism, Pluralism, and Belonging in America, won a 2020 Association for Jewish Studies’ Jordan Schnitzer Book Award. His newest book project, an edited volume entitled No Better Home?: Jews, Canada, and the Sense of Belonging, was published by the University of Toronto Press in early 2021. He serves as the Associate Director of York’s Israel & Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies, and as the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Canadian Jewish Studies / Études juives canadiennes.



Sam Brody, University of Kansas: “What We Talk About When We Talk About Jews and Economies”

      • March 13, 2022; 3:30 pm Eastern time (Hybrid)

Samuel Hayim Brody is Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas. His research is in modern Jewish thought and its many and varied interactions with philosophy, political thought, and economic thought. His first book, Martin Buber’s Theopolitics (Indiana University Press, 2018), was a National Jewish Book Award finalist and the winner of the Jordan Schnitzer Book Award from the Association of Jewish Studies. He holds an MA from the Jewish Theological Seminary and a PhD from the University of Chicago Divinity School.



Glenn Dynner, Sarah Lawrence College: “A Higher Education: The Hasidic Revival in Interwar and Nazi-Occupied Poland”

      • April 10, 2022; 3:30 pm Eastern time (Hybrid)

The post-WWI period saw an extraordinary revival of Hasidic education in Poland, from heder reform, to extensive yeshiva construction, to formal female education. The institutionalization of ostensibly “higher” education aimed to subvert both Polish mandatory public schooling and new secularist Jewish educational projects. During the Holocaust it continued underground in Ghetto yeshiva bunkers, symbolically repudiating Nazi dehumanization. Hasidic devotional education was thus not only a spiritual-intellectual practice but a political one; producing what Stuart Hall would term a “culture of resistance.” The resulting pedagogical revival calls into question prevailing framings of 20th-century Hasidism as beset by anti-intellectualism, crisis, and decline.

Glenn Dynner, PhD, is Professor and Chair of the Religion Department at Sarah Lawrence College; Editor of the journal Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies; and a Guggenheim Fellow. He is author of “Men of Silk”: The Hasidic Conquest of Polish Jewish Society (Oxford University Press, 2006), and Yankel’s Tavern: Jews, Liquor & Life in the Kingdom of Poland (Oxford University Press, 2014). He is currently working on a monograph entitled Higher Education: The Hasidic Revival in Poland on the Eve of the Holocaust.


Shatzmiller Fellows of Jewish Studies Seminar, Duke University

      • April 24, 2022; 3:30pm Eastern time

Jonathan Homrighausen, PhD candidate, Duke University & Adjunct Faculty, College of William & Mary
“Scribal Midrash and Typological Interpretation in Esther Scrolls: Or, What I Learned Hanging Out with Haman’s Ten Sons”

Neri Ariel, LLD, JD, 2nd PhD, Bar-Ilan Law School
“The Laws of Justice in Judgment: A Comparative Study of Medieval Adjudication Between Judaism and Islam”

Yael Attia, PhD Candidate, Department of Jewish Studies, University of Potsdam
“Jewish Studies, Postcolonial Studies: An Encounter with Albert Memmi”

Robin Buller, Post-doctoral Fellow, UC Berkeley
“Everyday Ottomans: Sephardi Immigrant Daily Life in Interwar Paris”

Moyn Addresses Human Rights and Material Inequality

On September 6th, the second annual Human Rights Lecture@Duke – a new partnership between the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, the Kenan Institute for Ethics, and the Duke Law School – welcomed Samuel Moyn, professor of law and history at Yale University, to Duke. Moyn’s most recent book, Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World (Harvard University Press, 2018), questions why the rise of human rights has occurred alongside enduring and increasing inequality, and why activists seek remedies for need without challenging growing wealth.

Speaking to a full room, Moyn stated that “human rights on paper and human rights movements — until very recently — have said nothing about material inequality. They’ve been a language and they’ve provided a kind of mobilization, belatedly, that takes on sufficient provision. But when it comes to material equality, human rights falls silent.”

“Professor Moyn’s lecture left me pondering a number of issues relating to the relationship between human rights and economic inequality, says Juliette Duara, a Senior Lecturing Fellow at Duke Law School and Senior Fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics.  “In particular, I have been mulling whether it is justifiable for a small group to become fabulously wealthy so long as the lives of those at the bottom rung are marginally improved in the process. I think not – but the ‘why not’ is interesting to contemplate.”

Click here to see a video of the talk.

The talk was co-sponsored by The Duke Human Rights Center at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, The Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute, The Center for International and Comparative Law at Duke Law School, the History Department, Sanford School of Public Policy, The Human Rights Archive at the Rubenstein Library, and International Comparative Studies.

“Workers Dreaming,” Photographs by elin o’Hara slavick – Exhibition on View at KIE

Public Reception: Friday, October 19, 5:30-7:00 PM, as part of Third Friday Durham.

Now on view at the Keohane-Kenan Gallery at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, Workers Dreaming is a series of 22 large-scale, color photographs (1999-2006) by Chapel Hill-based artist elin o’Hara slavick. Each photo is a portrait of a worker in their place of work – a street cleaner, a deli worker, a taxi driver – with their eyes closed, as if in a state of dreaming. Are they thinking about a faraway place that they would rather be? Are they taking a quiet break from their responsibilities? Each subject is an island of temporary calm in a busy, blue-collar workday.

Workers Dreaming performs in the spaces between labor and leisure, agency and servitude,” says slavick, Professor of Studio Art at UNC-Chapel Hill. “It is about the daily forgetting of those workers who build, clean, and transform spaces, often invisibly.”

Slavick wants her photo series to transform the way we see, acknowledge, and interact with workers today. “Fundamentally these photographs are about labor: those who perform it and who are often under-recognized, under-paid, and unnoticed. Although our eyes are open, we are often blind to beauty, to injustice, to cultural difference, and to class structure,” she says. “They deny us their return gaze, but offer us a meditative space. They are at once empowered and lost — in their own imaginings, desires, hopes, and self-consciousness.”

While eyes of the workers in slavick’s photographs are closed, we are aware that each of her subjects sees, feels, smells, and knows their situation intimately. And for all the workers slavick has documented, there are hundreds of thousands more: working assembly lines, sewing seams, pouring hot beverages, mopping a floor, collecting tickets, and all, at one time or another, probably daydreaming. “These workers — remembered and actual — inspire the photographs. They are mortal, majestic, tired, heroic, beautiful, and deeply human.” 

The Kenan Institute for Ethics’ exhibition of Workers Dreaming is the most extensive showing of the series to date. Portions have been previously exhibited at The Mint Museum in Charlotte, the Weatherspoon Art Gallery at UNC Greensboro, and the Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) in Raleigh, as well as at locations outside of North Carolina: the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University; the Pinkard Gallery at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore; and Square Blue Gallery in Los Angeles.

A reception for the artist will be held on Friday, October 19, from 5:30-7:00 PM, as part of Third Friday Durham.

Workers Dreaming will be on view through December 31, 2018.

Admission is free. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday 8-5.

Keohane-Kenan Gallery, The Kenan Institute for Ethics
102 West Duke Building, Duke University
1364 Campus Drive, East Campus
Durham, NC 27708

PHONE: 919-660-3033

EMAIL: kie@duke.edu


Images above by elin o’Hara slavick:

Matilde Llambi, Venice Biennale Attendant cleaning Fred Wilson’s Installation, Venice, Italy, 2003.

Salvador Sonchez, Waiter at Torreros, Durham, North Carolina, 2002.


What Now? Network Gives First-Year Students a Sense of Purpose and Community

This fall, the Kenan Institute for Ethics, working with Trinity College, has debuted the What Now? network of seminars, designed to enable first-years and faculty to build a community organized around some of life’s “big questions” and encourage them to develop the skills and habits that can lead to more fulfilling, purposeful lives. The What Now? network exposes incoming students to a wider array of ideas, as well as more faculty and engaged peers, than is typically possible in a single first-year seminar.

The program builds on insights from the Institute’s Purpose Program and a pilot course offered with the support of Trinity College last year; “Composing Oneself: Stress, Identity & Wellness,” co-taught by Denise Comer (Writing) and KIE Program Director Christian Ferney, struck a chord with students who took it. Because the class filled up so quickly, most of those who benefitted were seniors. The new What Now? network is specifically designed for first-years because “we hope to situate them to best take advantage of the next four years,” says Ferney.

All of the What Now? seminars – five offered this fall, and more coming in Spring 2019 – “have huge life-questions embedded in them,” says Ferney. What makes us happy? How do we judge success or goodness? How do we create durable and healthy communities? How can we engage effectively across differences? These seminars intersect in a dedicated weekly commonly scheduled period as well as structured in- and out-of-class activities that bridge seminars. interrelated and inter-disciplinary topics that provide context for the world students are preparing to enter while also inviting reflection on how they fit into that picture.

“I like to think of the What Now? seminar series as an effort to accomplish the principle aim of a liberal arts education, as Judith Shapiro described it when she was president of Barnard College,” says David Toole, a KIE Senior Fellow and associate professor of the practice of theology, ethics, and global health at Duke Divinity School. “She used to tell students that her job was to make the inside of their heads an interesting place to spend the rest of their lives. ‘A liberal-arts education does lots of other things,’ she would say, ‘but if it hasn’t made the inside of your head an interesting place, it has failed.’”

What makes the What Now? offerings unique from other first-year seminars is their “Common Time,” a dedicated, weekly, jointly-scheduled “lab” when all the students from all the network’s seminars can come together as one or rearrange into smaller groups. One such activity is an occasional “crawl” that takes students and faculty members to a place that lets them “get out of their heads.” The first crawl of this inaugural year was held at Duke Gardens. Students could wander around freely and talk with each other as they wanted to, while eating popsicles and without using their phones for 75 minutes. At the end, students expressed that they felt more relaxed and grounded than they had in a long time.

In addition to their crawls, What Now? network students meet every other week for faculty-led conversations in which they are grouped by residence hall rather than by seminar. These out-of-class activities bridge seminars and increase the chances that the students will run into the people that they have interacted with during class and common-time in daily-life situations. “It helps knit the community together,” says Ferney. “Real connections in communities are what keep people engaged and give life its richness. We want the experience of sharing that richness to follow them home, or to crop up again while walking to the bus or dinner.”


Kenan Senior Fellow Michaeline Crichlow co-edits New Book on Race and Rurality

Based on a 2014 conference co-hosted by the Kenan Institute for Ethics, Michaeline A. Crichlow, professor of African and African American Studies and Sociology at Duke and a Senior Fellow at the KIE, has co-edited a volume of essays examining globalization’s effects on the interplay of race and rurality as it occurs across diverse geographies and peoples.

Race and Rurality in the Global Economy suggests that our current fractious state of global politics begs for closer attention to be paid to the deep-rooted conditions and outcomes of globalization and development. Essays in the book, due out in October 2018 from SUNY Press, examine how issues of migration, environment, rurality, and the visceral “politics of place” and “space” have been the focus of recent political struggles in the United States and Europe and have been suffused by an antiglobalization discourse that has come to resonate with Euro-American peoples.  

Learn more here.

What the Catholic Church could Learn from Australia’s Response to Child Sexual Abuse

Effectively responding to the sexual abuse of children is, of course, beyond an American problem — it is a worldwide problem. For this reason, Americans would do well to consider the approaches of other countries to combat it, especially those of Australia, says Meredith Edelman, a postdoctoral fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics. In an op-ed published in The Inquirer (Philadelphia), she advocates in particular for Australia’s approaches to be used as guide, as that country has made “recent progress in addressing abuse in institutional settings across society.”

“Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and other countries have conducted inquiries into child abuse in different contexts, but the Royal Commission in Australia is a model in terms of the breadth of the investigation, the wealth of research produced, and the strength of its recommendations,” says Edelman.

In addition to her fellowship at the Kenan Institute, Edelman is a Ph.D. candidate at the Australian National University who writes about legal systems and institutional accountability for clerical child sexual abuse. Read her full op-ed here.