Ari Y. Kelman: To chair concentration in education and Jewish studies at Stanford University




Source: Stanford Daily News, 11-28-11

The School of Education appointed Ari Y. Kelman the inaugural Jim Joseph Chair in Education and Jewish Studies, a position and concentration funded by a $12 million gift from the Jim Joseph Foundation, the largest gift in the history of the School of Education.

Kelman was previously a professor in American studies at the University of California-Davis, where he was a leading scholar in contemporary Jewish life, with an emphasis on ethnic identity, media and American religious culture. Kelman will lead the new School of Education concentration in education and Jewish studies.

“Kelman’s appointment strengthens ongoing work at Stanford on the interactions of religion, ethnicity, identity and education and may well prefigure future growth in this area,” said Lee Shulman, Charles E. Ducommun professor emeritus of education, in a press release.

Kelman will design the new concentration and facilitate collaboration between the School of Education and the Taube Center for Jewish Studies.

Kelman is the author of “Station Identification: A Cultural History of Yiddish Radio” and the editor of “Sacred Strategies” and “Is Diss a System?: a Milt Gross Comic Reader

Marc Z. Brettler, Amy Jill Levine: New Testament edition meant for Jews, Christians




Source: Brandeis Now, 11-28-11

Jewish-annotated edition a best-seller on Amazon religion lists

Marc Z. Brettler, the Dora Golding Professor of Biblical Studies

It is not often that a bunch of professors’ scholarly work on an ancient religious text shoots past the thrillers, diet fads and self-improvement books that dominate the rapidly changing best-sellers list.

But that’s what happened over Thanksgiving break with the just-published book “The Jewish Annotated New Testament,” edited by Marc Z. Brettler, the Dora Golding Professor of Biblical Studies at Brandeis, and Amy-Jill Levine, the University Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt.

The book peaked at number 31 of Amazon’s top 100 in all categories, and while it then settled back a bit it was still number one yesterday in both the “Bible and Other Sacred Texts” and “Christian Reference” categories. It also was the subject of a feature story last weekend in the New York Times.

The editors will hold a book party and discussion at Brandeis at 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 9 in the International Lounge of Usdan Hall.Father Walter Cuenin, head of the Brandeis Interfaith Chaplaincy; Rabbi Elyse Winick, the Jewish chaplain, and Barry Shrage, director of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston also will speak.

“I had this idea after ‘The Jewish Study Bible’ was published,” says Brettler, referring to a similarly organized work that came out in 2004 and won the National Jewish Book Award. “People were excited about that, and I thought it would be interesting to try another such project. The New Testament seemed to be the logical book to do next.”

More than 30 people, all Jews, contributed introductions, annotations and essays to the new book.

“I wanted more Jews to read the New Testament and understand the majority religion in America,” Brettler said. “It also is important for Jews to know their history, and the New Testament is important to that, since the first Christians were Jews.”

But, Brettler said, “I knew Jews shied away from reading the New Testament” both because othey thought New Testaments from Christian publishers sought to proselytize and because the New Testament is deeply connected in the Jewish psyche with anti-Jewish attitudes. Because all the contributors to the project were Jews, he said, he hopes Jewish readers would feel more comfortable reading the volume.”…READ MORE

Amy-Jill Levine: Focusing on the Jewish Story of the New Testament




Source: NYT, 11-25-11

Christopher Berkey for The New York Times

Amy-Jill Levine of Vanderbilt is a New Testament scholar….

And she is not alone. The book she has just edited with a Brandeis University professor, Marc Zvi Brettler, “The Jewish Annotated New Testament” (Oxford University Press), is an unusual scholarly experiment: an edition of the Christian holy book edited entirely by Jews. The volume includes notes and explanatory essays by 50 leading Jewish scholars, including Susannah Heschel, a historian and the daughter of the theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel; the Talmudist Daniel Boyarin; and Shaye J. D. Cohen, who teaches ancient Judaism at Harvard….

Jewish scholars have typically been involved only with editions of the Old Testament, which Jews call the Hebrew Bible or, using a Hebrew acronym, the Tanakh. Of course, many curious Jews and Christians consult all sorts of editions, without regard to editor. But among scholars, Christians produce editions of both sacred books, while Jewish editors generally consult only the book that is sacred to them. What’s been left out is a Jewish perspective on the New Testament — a book Jews do not consider holy but which, given its influence and literary excellence, no Jew should ignore.

So what does this New Testament include that a Christian volume might not? Consider Matthew 2, when the wise men, or magi, herald Jesus’s birth. In this edition, Aaron M. Gale, who has edited the Book of Matthew, writes in a footnote that “early Jewish readers may have regarded these Persian astrologers not as wise but as foolish or evil.” He is relying on the first-century Jewish philosopher Philo, who at one point calls Balaam, who in the Book of Numbers talks with a donkey, a “magos.”

Because the rationalist Philo uses the Greek word “magos” derisively — less a wise man than a donkey-whisperer — we might infer that at least some educated Jewish readers, like Philo, took a dim view of magi. This context helps explain some Jewish skepticism toward the Gospel of Matthew, but it could also attest to how charismatic Jesus must have been, to overcome such skepticism.

This volume is thus for anybody interested in a Bible more attuned to Jewish sources. But it is of special interest to Jews who “may believe that any annotated New Testament is aimed at persuasion, if not conversion,” Drs. Levine and Brettler write in their preface. “This volume, edited and written by Jewish scholars, should not raise that suspicion.”…READ MORE

A version of this article appeared in print on November 26, 2011, on page A13 of the New York edition with the headline: Focusing on the Jewish Story of the New Testament.

York University ‘may tie with Hebrew University’




York ‘may tie with Hebrew University’

Source: The Jewish Chronicle, 11-24-11

Students at York University will vote next week on whether to link up with Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.

A referendum was initiated by politics student Jacob Campbell, who said he wanted to stand up for Israel and curb anti-Israel and antisemitic activity on British campuses.

If students vote in favour, York University Students’ Union (YUSU) will “work to build links with students at the Hebrew University” and will encourage York University itself to twin with the Israeli institution.

Mr Campbell said he decided to launch the twinning initiative earlier this year when the National Union of Students adopted a number of anti-Israel policies, since dropped. Last year a window in his student house was smashed after he displayed an Israeli flag.

Mr Campbell, who is not Jewish, also cited fellow students’ negative responses to the resignation of Lawrence Binitie, YUSU racial equality officer, who quit following an argument with a local councillor.

Mr Binitie was discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Jewish York City Council member David Levene when he told Mr Levene: “I would be ashamed if I were from Israel, or even Jewish”. He later added that he believed Israel’s “atrocities… are as severe as apartheid South Africa”.

The possible twinning will be debated at YUSU on Tuesday, with voting running from the following day until December 5.

Hagit Messer-Yaron: Israel’s open university is booming




Israel’s open university is booming

Source: The Jewish Chronicle, 11-24-11

She is president of Israel’s largest higher education institution. But it’s not Tel Aviv University or the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Professor Hagit Messer-Yaron heads the Open University, which has 46,000 students on its books.

Founded in 1974, the university plays a vital role in making higher education more accessible in a country whose economy depends on a skilled work force. “It’s easy if you select the best people,” said Professor Messer-Yaron. “But if you start with open admissions, it’s a challenge.”

The Open University is helping sectors of the Israeli population who have been under-represented at university.

Charedim have often been disadvantaged by the limited secular education they have received at schools, so the university has run preparatory classes in maths or English to bring them up to the requisite standards.

The university also has 4,000 Israeli Arab students. “If you take young married women, they are not allowed to go without a male escort. So we have study centres in their villages where they can come escorted.”

Next year a few courses will become available in English, enabling diaspora Jews in the West to study such subjects as secular Judaism or modern Hebrew literature.

Moshe Sokolow: Thanksgiving: A Jewish Holiday After All




Moshe Sokolow: Thanksgiving: A Jewish Holiday After All

Source: Jewish Ideas Daily, 11-23-11


In 1789, in response to a resolution offered by Congressman Elias Boudinot of New Jersey, President George Washington issued a proclamation recommending that Thursday November 26th of that year “be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation.”

In New York City, Congregation Shearith Israel convened a celebration on that day at which its minister, Gershom Mendes Seixas, embraced the occasion: “As we are made equal partakers of every benefit that results from this good government; for which we cannot sufficiently adore the God of our fathers who hath manifested his care over us in this particular instance; neither can we demonstrate our sense of His benign goodness, for His favourable interposition in behalf of the inhabitants of this land.”

While the celebrations at that venerable Orthodox synagogue continue unabated to this day, other American Jewish appreciations of Thanksgiving have ranged from the skeptical to the outright antagonistic. In an essay entitled “Is Thanksgiving Kosher?” Atlanta’s Rabbi Michael Broyde examines three rabbis’ halakhic positions on the subject: that of Yitzhak Hutner, who ruled Thanksgiving a Gentile holiday and forbade any recognition of it; that of Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who regarded it as a secular holiday and permitted its celebration (particularly by eating turkey), and that of Moshe Feinstein, who permitted turkey but prohibited any other celebration because of reservations over the recognition of even secular holidays.

Newly presented historical information, however, may swing the annual autumnal pendulum back in favor of participation in what now appears to have begun as a holiday with both a patent Jewish theme and associated rituals. In his recent book, Making Haste From Babylon, Nick Bunker reveals an item of particular significance for both Jewish observers and critics of Thanksgiving….READ MORE


And from this Psalme, and this verse of it, the Hebrues have this Canon; Foure must confess (unto God) The sick, when he is healed; the prisoner when he is released out of bonds; they that goe down to sea, when they are come up (to land); and wayfaring men, when they are come to the inhabited land. And they must make confession before ten men, and two of them wise men, Psal. 107. 32. And the manner of confessing and blessing is thus; He standeth among them and blesseth the Lord, the King eternal, that bounteously rewardeth good things unto sinners, etc. Maimony in Misn. Treat. Of Blessings, chap. 10, sect. 8.

Moshe Sokolow, professor of Jewish education at the Azrieli Graduate School of Yeshiva University, is the author of Studies in the Weekly Parashah Based on the Lessons of Nehama Leibowitz (2008).

Rabbi Scott L. Shpeen: Giving thanks is essential




Rabbi Scott L. Shpeen: Giving thanks is essential

Source: Times Union 11-18-11

I learned a very important lesson in understanding history while a student at the seminary in Cincinnati in a class on American Jewish history. Our professor, Jacob Rader Marcus, began by discussing when the first Jewish settlers came to North America.

It was assumed the year was 1654 when a ship arrived in New Netherlands from Recife, Brazil. The forebearers of the group aboard had fled the Inquisition in 1492 and now a century and a half later the settlers were seeking greater freedom in the Dutch colony. That is what was in the annals of history and accepted as fact. Yet Dr. Marcus noted that a document had been uncovered years before, handed down by the settlers describing their arrival: As they disembarked they was greeted ashore by an unknown co-religionist welcoming them with a hearty “shalom.”

It is with the same trepidation that I share the unofficial history of our Union Thanksgiving Service in Albany — because there are several versions of what was believed to have been the first joint Thanksgiving service. Some documents say it took place in the fall of 1927 while others say 1928 or 1929. I have yet to meet anyone who actually attended the first service, so we are still not sure which date is correct.

This much we know to be fact: The Thanksgiving ritual of coming together from different segments of Albany and the surrounding area, committed to mutual respect, understanding and friendship is a long-standing tradition that connects Congregation Beth Emeth, Trinity United Methodist Church, the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany and Westminister Presbyterian Church….READ MORE

Scott Shpeen has been the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Emeth since 1985.

Jane Davis: Poet Emma Lazarus embodied Jewish values




Jane Davis: Poet Emma Lazarus embodied Jewish values

Source: Huntsville Times, 11-18-11

Emma Lazarus: Nov. 14, 2011 Emma Lazarus: Nov. 14, 2011

Jane Davis, a professor of history and religion, invites visitors to the exhibit about poet Emma Lazarus and the Statue of Liberty. at Athens-Limestone Public Library through Dec. 16, 2011. (The Huntsville Times/Kay Campbell) Watch video

Emma Lazarus, the poet and essayist who wrote the famous “Give me your tired, your poor” lines now enshrined in the base of the Statue of Liberty, came from one of the founding families of the United States.
But during the frenzied years around the Civil War, she found herself, because her family was Jewish, cast as an outsider as virulent anti-Semitism began to rise in the U.S.

Lazarus’ own paradoxical insider-outsider status as well as Judaism’s emphasis on the importance of caring for the community created in the mostly secular poet a deep sympathy for the immigrants crowding into her native New York City during the post-war period, says Jane Davis, who has taught history and religion at Calhoun State Community College.

A display of banners giving an overview of the life and times of Lazarus, who died in 1887 at the age of 37, is on view at the Athens-Limestone Public Library, 405 E. South St. in Athens, through Dec. 16.

“She is the one who changed the entire meaning of the Statue of Liberty,” Davis said as she walked through the panels this week. “Her poem refigured it as a beacon of hope to immigrants, not the message of release from monarchy that Bertholdi and the other French creators intended.”…READ MORE

The complete sonnet, “The New Colossus,” posted on the Liberty State Park’s website.

Lior Wolf and Nachum Dershowitz: Hi-tech rescues Jewish texts




Lior Wolf and Nachum Dershowitz: Hi-tech rescues Jewish texts

THOUSANDS of fragments of centuries-old Jewish texts, from shopping lists to historical documents, are being joined together using new software.

The scraps of the Cairo Genizah being catalogued include a letter from a wife complaining about her husband and a rabbinical judge’s authorisation of the kosher status of cheese sold by a grocer.

The software, developed by Tel Aviv University professors Lior Wolf and Nachum Dershowitz, is analysing texts that span about 1000 years of Middle East history. The algorithm program adapts facial recognition technology to identify similar handwriting on documents which are then sorted into digital loose-leaf binders.

”The computer found thousands of items running for a week,” Professor Dershowitz said. ”Then it took months for the scholars to look at it and decide if the computer was correct.”…READ MORE

Joyce Ladner: Remembering a Jewish professor who fled Nazis to the Deep South




Remembering a Jewish professor who fled Nazis to the Deep South

Source: Herald Tribune, 11-11-11

Joyce Ladner

Joyce Ladner, a civil rights activist and Sarasota resident, discusses her early involvement in the fight for desegregation. On Monday, Ladner will appear at a discussion of Jewish academicians who fled their teaching positions for new lives in the U.S. Largely shunned by white American universities, many of these exiled scholars wound up teaching at historically black colleges in the Jim Crow south.



“Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges”
6 p.m. Monday
Temple Beth Sholom, 1050 South Tuttle Ave., Sarasota
For more information, call (941) 321-7852

In the years prior to the Holocaust, Jewish academicians fled their teaching positions in Germany for new lives in the U.S. Largely shunned by white American universities, many of these exiled scholars wound up teaching at historically black colleges in the Jim Crow south, where they carved out a precarious niche and helped speed integration.

“As white people in a community that was racially segregated, they were looked on with suspicion by blacks if they mingled freely with whites,” wrote historian John Hope Franklin, “and they were regarded as peculiar by whites if their social life was spent among blacks.”

Joyce Ladner, a civil rights activist and Sarasota resident, saw the phenomenon first hand. She will appear Monday at a public discussion about that part of American history at Temple Beth Sholom in Sarasota on Monday night.

Titled “Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges,” the discussion is connected with an exhibit on display at the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg.

The presentation is built atop research compiled by the late author Gabrielle Simon Edgcomb, who identified 41 of the German exiles in a 1993 book. It became a PBS documentary in 2000. Bonnie Gurewitsch, curator/archivist with the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, will be on hand to give an overview at the temple….READ MORE