JBuzz News March 28, 2013: Rome’s Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni in the Spotlight over Relations with New Pope Francis

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Rome’s Chief Rabbi In The Spotlight

In one week, Riccardo Di Segni prepares for Passover and a new pope.

 
Jewish-Catholic relations are “very complicated,” says Rabbi Di Segni, above. “But this pope shows a good disposition.”
Jewish-Catholic relations are “very complicated,” says Rabbi Di Segni, above. “But this pope shows a good disposition.”
 
Ground zero for Catholic-Jewish relations is Rome, and the man at the center of it all is the city’s chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni.

On the week before Passover, Rabbi Di Segni was busier than ever. A new pope had been elected and members of the news media flocked to the historic Great Synagogue to interview the 63-year-old religious leader.

With the clock ticking on the arrival of Passover, the rabbi attended the installation and shared some words with the new pope. “I blessed him for success and told him that we are interested to meet, the Jewish community and him, in a way that would be useful.”…READ MORE

JBuzz News November 20, 2012: Steven Windmueller: A communal ‘Tzedek’ who studies power

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A communal ‘Tzedek’ who studies power

Source: The Jewish Journal of Greater L.A., 11-20-12

Steven Windmueller. Photo courtesy HUC-JIR

Steven Windmueller. Photo courtesy HUC-JIR

In 2006, after leading the search for a new dean for the Los Angeles campus of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), Steven Windmueller was himself awarded the position, becoming the first non-rabbi dean of an HUC-JIR campus.

Two years later, when the national economy nosedived and the L.A. campus was slated to be shuttered, Windmueller might have regretted taking the reins. But instead, as the man in charge, he organized a robust — and ultimately successful — campaign to save it….READ MORE

JBuzz News October 23, 2012: Where Jewish Studies Captivates Non-Jews

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Where Jewish Studies Captivates Non-Jews

Source: The Jewish Week, 10-23-12

At City College, which is in Harlem, she’s hardly unusual: the Jewish studies program includes students from Bangladesh, Egypt, El Salvador, South Korea, Slovakia, Poland, Kyrgyzstan, Peru, Trinidad and Thailand, as well as the Bronx, Harlem and Queens….READ MORE

JBuzz News September 25, 2012: Devin Naar: Scholar with New Jersey roots creates digital Ladino library

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Scholar with NJ roots creates digital Ladino library

Source: New Jersey Jewish News, 9-25-12

Devin Naar, assistant professor of history and Jewish studies at the University of Washington in Seattle, surrounded by boxes of source materials for his Sephardic Treasures Project….READ MORE

JBuzz Profiles August 21, 2012: Hillel Fradkin: Why Bernard Lewis remains the greatest Middle East historian

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Why Bernard Lewis remains the greatest Middle East historian

Source: Jewish Ideas Daily, 8-21-12

Hillel Fradkin is director of the Center on Islam, Democracy, and the Future of the Muslim World at the Hudson Institute.

Bernard Lewis has published many books and still more articles on the history of the Middle East and Islam.  On these subjects he is, simply, the pre-eminent authority.  At 96, he has now published yet another book, a memoir titled Notes on a Century: Reflections of a Middle East Historian.  It provides a fascinating account of the varied, extraordinary, unexpected life he has led; it also points beyond the personal to questions of history and the vocation of the historian.

As those familiar with Lewis’s work know, he is a master of the telling anecdote, story, or citation—telling because with these devices, he immediately illuminates subjects that he also discusses in more typical scholarly fashion.  The same is true of his memoir, which recounts not just his scholarship but his vast travels in the Muslim world and experiences with his many Muslim friends and acquaintances, all facilitated by his extraordinary command of many languages.  He is, he says, a man who “relishes” language; but his command of his native English is especially complete and gives this book the graceful charm characteristic of his writings.

The theme of the historian’s responsibility is in part expressed, with Lewis’s characteristic modesty, by the book’s subtitle, Reflections of a Middle East Historian—but only in part, because Lewis is not “a” Middle East historian: He was one of the very first modern, professional European historians of the Middle East in the contemporary sense….READ MORE

JBuzz News April 30, 2012: Benzion Netanyahu: Noted historian father of Israel’s prime minister, dies at 102

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Noted historian Benzion Netanyahu, father of Israel’s prime minister, dies at 102

Source: JTA, 4-30-12

Benzion Netanyahu, a noted Jewish historian and Zionist thinker, and the father of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has died.

Netanyahu died early Monday morning at his home in Jerusalem. He was 102.

Benjamin Netanyahu visited his father for the last time on Sunday evening, according to a statement issued Monday from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Netanyahu was born Benzion Mileikowsky in Warsaw in 1910, and immigrated to Mandatory Palestine in 1920.

Netanyahu studied at the David Yellin Teachers’ College and later at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His research focused on the history of the medieval Spanish Jewish community and the history of Zionism. Among his books are a biography of Don Isaac Abravanel; a history of the Spanish Marranos; and his major work, “The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain.” He also authored “The Founding Fathers of Zionism,” about the lives of the founders of political Zionism — Leon Pinsker, Theodor Herzl, Max Nordau, Israel Zangwill and Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

Netanyahu was the editor in chief of the Hebrew Encyclopedia for more than a decade beginning in the 1950s. He served as a professor of Jewish studies at various universities in the United States, concluding his academic career as professor emeritus at Cornell University.

From his time as a student in Jerusalem, he was involved in public Zionist activities. Netanyahu was a supporter of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and edited a newspaper that also featured Joseph Klausner and poet Uri Tzvi Greenberg on its staff…READ MORE

JBuzz News April 9, 2012: Kenneth Libo: Historian of Jewish immigration, dies at 74

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Kenneth Libo, historian of Jewish immigration, dies at 74

Source: NYT, 4-9-12

Kenneth Libo, a historian of Jewish immigration who, as a graduate student working for Irving Howe in the 1960s and ’70s, unearthed historical documentation that informed and shaped “World of Our Fathers,” Howe’s landmark 1976 history of the East European Jewish immigration to the United States, died on March 29 in New York. He was 74.

The cause was complications from an infection, said Michael Skakun, a friend and fellow historian.

Libo’s contribution was acknowledged by Howe and the publishers of “World of Our Fathers,” who listed his name beneath the author’s on the cover of the book: “With the Assistance of Kenneth Libo.”

Scholars familiar with his archival work credit Libo with adding a level of emotional detail, and a view of everyday life in the teeming tenements of the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York, that the book might have lacked without his six years of work. “I don’t think ‘World of Our Fathers’ could have been written without the spade work done by Ken Libo,” said Jeffrey S. Gurock, a professor of Jewish history at Yeshiva University. “He had a certain researching genius, a feel for visceral detail.”

Libo worked with Howe on two more books and shared billing on both as co-author — “How We Lived,” a 1979 anthology of pictures and documentary accounts of Jewish life in New York between 1880 and 1930; and “We Lived There, Too,” an illustrated collection of first-person accounts by Jewish immigrant pioneers who moved on from New York to settle in far-flung outpostsaround the country, like New Orleans; Abilene, Kan.; and Keokuk, Iowa, between 1630 and 1930.

He became the first English-language editor of The Jewish Daily Forward in 1980, lectured widely, taught literature and history at Hunter College, and later in life helped several wealthy Jewish New York families research and write their self-published family histories.

But throughout his life, Libo was known best for his involvement in “World of Our Fathers,” a best-seller that Howe, a socialist and public intellectual, once described in part as an effort to reclaim the fading memory of Jewish immigration from the clutches of sentimental myth, Alexander Portnoy and generations of Jewish mother jokes.

The book was a large canvas — depicting a lost world of tenements, sweatshops and political utopianism — written with elegiac lyricism.

By most accounts Howe gave the book its vision, its voice and its intellectual legs. Libo gave it people and their stories.

He mined archives of Yiddish newspapers like The Forward, Der Tog and Freheit; the case records of social service organizations like the Henry Street Settlement House; the letters of activists like Lillian Wald and Rose Schneiderman; memoirs by forgotten people whose books he found in the 5-cent bins of used bookstores. He interviewed old vaudevillians like Joe Smith of Smith and Dale (the models for Neil Simon’s “Sunshine Boys”) for the story of Yiddish theater.

In an essay about the book, published in 2000 in the journal of the American Jewish Historical Society, Libo wrote that in the summer months “Irving did the bulk of the writing while I remained in New York with an assistant to run down facts.”

Kenneth Harold Libo was born Dec. 4, 1937, in Norwich, Conn., one of two sons of Asher and Annette Libo. His father was a Jewish immigrant from Russia, his mother American-born. His parents operated a chicken farm, friends said.

He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1959, served in the Navy and taught English at Hunter College of the City University until he began work on “World of Our Fathers” in 1968 with Howe, who died in 1993.

He received his Ph.D. in English literature from the City University of New York in 1974. He never married and no immediate family members remain.

JBuzz News & Reviews February 22, 2012: James Loeffler: University of Virgina Professor Explores Lost History of Russian-Jewish Composers

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U.Va. Professor Explores Lost History of Russian-Jewish Composers

Source: UVA Today, 2-22-12

James Loeffler

(Photo: Jack Looney)

University of Virginia historian James Loeffler explores the lost world of Jewish composers working in Russia before the Bolshevik Revolution in his new, award-winning book.

“The Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire,” examines composers who viewed themselves as both Jewish and Russian and who saw their work contributing to both identities. He focuses on the second half of the 19th century through the Russian Revolution, covering two generations of composers.

“It is an attempt to rethink the stock image of the Jewish experience in Eastern Europe,” said Loeffler, an assistant professor of history in the College of Arts & Sciences.

The research director of Pro Musica Hebraica, Loeffler is a pianist who has been actively involved in Jewish music for the past decade as a scholar, critic and performer. He co-founded the Jewish Music Forum, a new national academic organization supported by the American Society for Jewish Music and the Center for Jewish History in New York, and has served as a music consultant to numerous organizations and institutions.

Loeffler’s book has been lauded by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, receiving its Béla Bartók Award for Outstanding Ethnomusicology Book, and the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies, which presented him the University of Southern California Book Prize in Literary and Cultural Studies. His work was a finalist for the 2012 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, which recognizes the important role of emerging writers in examining the Jewish experience.

Loeffler’s book fills an important void in the scholarship of these composers, said Joel Rubin, an assistant professor and director of music performance in U.Va.’s McIntire Department of Music.

“This is the first substantial piece of research on this movement,” Rubin said. “A lot of what had existed before was old and romantic and not up to the standards of scholarship we are used to today. It is important he has tackled the subject and I am happy to have more material I can teach to my students.”

Rubin said the composers were influenced by Zionism and feelings of national aspiration, as well as by their Christian Russian contemporaries to create artistic music with Jewish roots. He said Western classical music evolved over a long time, without much contribution from Jews until the latter part of the 19th century.

“These are people who left the shtetl and went to the conservatory,” Loeffler said. “These are the contemporaries of Piotyr Tchaikovsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and later Igor Stravinsky.” Among them was Anton Rubinstein, a Russian-Jewish pianist and composer and a founder of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, the first in Russia.

“The people I write about are complex, but they felt they had to be validated by others,” Loeffler said. “They thought they were Russians and Jews and that they didn’t have to choose. They thought they were furthering classical music, that their twin identities would feed into each other and that they would be more accepted. And for a brief period they were heralded as the young guns, bringing Russian classical music into the modern era.”

But the brief period did not last. Loeffler said they had to choose an identity; if they did not choose, one was assigned.

“They believed art would transcend politics, but they found that it didn’t,” Loeffler said. “The Russian culture liked Jewish music, but it didn’t like Jews.”

Russian composers, though, wrote on many classic Jewish themes, Loeffler said, citing Dmitri Shostakovich and his the song cycle “From Jewish Folk Poetry” and his 13th Symphony, subtitled “Babi Yar.”

“It becomes a symbol that represents to liberals a freer, more pluralistic Russia that embraces minorities and allows free expression – or it warns of the dangers of a fifth column within the society,” Loeffler said. “It becomes a barometer of what kind of Russian you are.”…READ MORE

JBuzz News February 11, 2012: W. Gunther Plaut: Rabbi that Defined Reform Judaism, Dies at 99

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W. Gunther Plaut, Defined Reform Judaism, Dies at 99

Source: NYT, 2-11-12

W. Gunther Plaut, a rabbi whose vast, scholarly and ardently contemporary edition of the Torah has helped define Reform Judaism in late-20th-century North America, died on Wednesday in Toronto. He was 99.

Lanemontgomery

W. Gunther Plaut was the author of more than 20 books.

His son, Rabbi Jonathan V. Plaut, confirmed the death, saying that his father had been ill with Alzheimer’s disease for nearly a decade. At his death, the elder Rabbi Plaut was the senior scholar at Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, where he had served as senior rabbi from 1961 to 1977.

One of the most prominent rabbis in the world, Rabbi Plaut (the name rhymes with shout) wrote more than 20 books on Jewish theology, history and culture. He was best known for “The Torah: A Modern Commentary,” his magnum opus, published by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the umbrella organization for Reform Jewish congregations in North America.

First published as a single volume in 1981 and issued in a revised edition in 2005, Rabbi Plaut’s Torah has become a touchstone for Judaism’s liberal branches. While Jews have long studied the Torah — the first section of the Hebrew Bible — with the aid of rabbinic commentaries, none like his had ever before appeared.

“God is not the author of the text,” Rabbi Plaut wrote in the volume’s introduction, “the people are; but God’s voice may be heard through theirs if we listen with open minds.”

The Plaut Torah has sold nearly 120,000 copies, according to its publisher. It is used today in many Reform synagogues, as well as in some Conservative and Reconstructionist ones, throughout the United States and Canada.

“This is the first non-Orthodox full commentary on the Torah published in English for congregational use,” Rabbi Daniel H. Freelander, a senior vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism, as the Union of American Hebrew Congregations is now known, said in an interview on Friday.

Before the Plaut Torah, the commentary most widely used in North American synagogues across the Jewish spectrum was by Joseph H. Hertz, the chief rabbi of Britain. Published in the 1920s and ’30s, Rabbi Hertz’s commentary was written from the Orthodox perspective, and as such it considered the Torah the word of God, given to Moses at Mount Sinai.

The Hertz Torah “represents a point of view that is now unacceptable to many,” Rabbi Plaut told The Globe and Mail of Canada in 1981. “Furthermore, it was written at a time of growing anti-Semitism when Hitler was coming to power, and so it is highly apologetic. Its language is magnificent, but Jews today are entitled to be given insights that go beyond the traditional.”

Rabbi Plaut’s Torah, the first edition to be produced in the New World, spans nearly 1,800 pages and took more than a decade to prepare. Even its cover gives quiet but unmistakable evidence of its unorthodox intent: the 1981 edition opens from left to right, like a conventional English book, instead from right to left, as traditional volumes of Hebrew Scripture do.

Inside, the Five Books of Moses — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy — appear in Hebrew and English, accompanied by Rabbi Plaut’s commentary. (The commentary on Leviticus was written by Rabbi Bernard Bamberger.)

Drawing on scholarship in science, biblical archaeology, Near East studies, folklore, linguistics and feminism, and on non-Jewish texts including Shakespeare, the Koran and the New Testament, the commentaries in the Plaut Torah ascribe layers of possible meanings to the text. This makes probing analytical discussion — even argument — among worshipers not only possible but often satisfyingly inevitable.

“He used critical scholarship, and was open to it, in a book that was going to sit in the pews in synagogues,” Richard Elliott Friedman, the Ann and Jay Davis professor of Jewish studies at the University of Georgia, said Friday. “Which the Conservatives — forget the Orthodox — weren’t even doing then.”…READ MORE

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

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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.

Yosef Yerushalmi: Wanderings This Time In Fiction

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Yosef Yerushalmi: His short story in The New Yorker is the only fiction the noted historian ever wrote.

Yosef Yerushalmi: His short story in The New Yorker is the only fiction the noted historian ever wrote.

Not long after Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi — perhaps the most esteemed Jewish historian of the last half century — died two years ago, at 77, his wife Ophra got a frequent question: “Is there anything else he’s written that hasn’t been published?”

What they meant, presumably, was other academic work, certainly not fiction. But it was fiction — particularly, a short story called “Gilgul,” which The New Yorker published last week — that was the only other thing Ophra knew of. “Nobody knew about it, just me and my son,” she told The Jewish Week in a phone interview. “Not even our friends knew he wrote fiction.”

Ophra remembered Yerushalmi working intensely on something for a few weeks in 2004, but not telling her what it was. Only when he finished, did he say, “Let me read it to you,” Ophra recalled. “He got very emotional about it.”

Yerushalmi never tried to publish it. But after all the questions following his death, Ophra decided to show it to a friend of theirs in Paris. The friend told her it was good enough to publish. A month ago, Ophra pitched it to The New Yorker.

“I didn’t know if they’d take it,” she said, “but it was my first choice.”

That the magazine published the only piece of fiction Yerushalmi ever wrote is all the more surprising. “I was impressed that it came from someone who has never written fiction before,” said Deborah Treisman, the fiction editor at The New Yorker. “It has a lovely lyrical line to it.”

The story follows a character not unlike Yerushalmi. Simply called Ravitch, he’s a scholar of Jewish history living in New York, who, on a whim, flees to Israel….READ MORE

Elena Kagan’s First Year on Supreme Court Shows Judge With Chutzpah

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Source: Harvard Crimson, 8-7-11

Elena KaganpictureCrimson file photo

Kagan, seen during a champagne reception celebrating her appointment as HLS Dean in this April 2003 file photo, ascended to the position of dean only two years after receiving tenure.

It happens—or will happen—to all of us. And during her first year on the U.S. Supreme Court, it happened to Associate Justice Elena Kagan.

She got jury duty.

Like any Washington D.C. resident, she reported to the Moultrie Courthouse—a stocky, busy, fluorescent-lit federal building where the constant traffic has left a layer of grime on its facade. Kagan went to the third floor, stood in line at the jurors’ office, and proceeded to wait in the the jury room—a vast space with paintings of African tribal women on the walls and with windows that look down on a Cosi and an Au Bon Pan. Amicably chatting with the few people who recognized her, Kagan pulled out documents and began working away, making notes in the margin of a legal brief.

The image of Kagan, dutifully showing up for court with the rest of the city’s residents, is in one way representative of her brief tenure on the court. During that time, Kagan has made a point of making her opinions more accessible to the public, writing in a colloquial, approachable style that bears surprising resemblance to a fellow justice, Antonin G. Scalia.

Scalia has come to be indisputably recognized as the court’s best writer and as someone who forcefully and unabashedly expresses the hopes and ideals of conservative jurisprudence. And in two dissents this year it appears Kagan may be emerging as a similar figure for the left.

One year ago Saturday, Kagan was sworn in as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The early verdict on her first year indicates that Kagan is not only shaping up as the liberal bloc’s most eloquent voice but also as a consensus builder in the style of Chief Justice John G. Roberts ’67 who has proven to be highly influential in building majority coalitions.

Kagan’s first year—during which she recused herself from nearly as many cases as she judged—offers only a premature indication of her future on the court but does give a glimpse of a feisty jurist who seems to be quickly finding her voice as a justice….READ MORE

Andy Bush: Vassar Jewish-studies scholar, delivers surprises

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Source: Poughkeepsie Journal, 7-29-11

Like Sandy Koufax, Andy Bush — a popular Vassar College professor of Hispanic studies and Jewish studies who speaks five languages and has a Ph.D. from Yale — throws curveballs.

What I mean is Bush’s ideas, like curveballs, traverse a tantalizing and surprising path between where they begin and where they wind up.

For instance, Bush’s latest book, “Jewish Studies: A Theoretical Introduction,” seems at first glance like a short, conventional and narrowly focused work.

It’s actually long, revolutionary and broad.

At just 145 pages, it’s long because it requires rereading, revolutionary because it successfully breaks so many literary and scholarly rules, and broad because it spills over to enduring themes of intellectual life.

Traditionally, Jewish studies hold a privileged status for certain starting points, such as the Torah, medieval thinker Moses Maimonides, or the history of Eastern European Jews.

But Bush undermines this hierarchy with his unproven, but effectively demonstrated, faith in the interconnectedness of all things in this world.

Because Jews cleave so deeply to this world — Christians and Muslims seek, and sometimes even yearn for, a home beyond — all earthly starting places, geographic and intellectual, are equal.

This means Bush would implicitly approve of beginning a Jewish-studies quest right here in Poughkeepsie.

Just notice Rabbi Paul Golumb’s purposeful stride down Ferris Lane toward Vassar Temple, or the delight Ellen Devorsetz takes in finding out who knows whom, or Marist College pollster Lee Miringoff’s relentlessly funny, we’re-all-in-it-together perspective on political foolishness, and you’ve already entered the endlessly connected realm of Jewish studies.

In his concluding chapter, Bush abandons his thick, scholarly camouflage. He suddenly starts what looks like a play.

But it has an impossible structure: 37 Jewish characters — the living and the dead; a setting that is either Berlin in 1800 or a present day Jewish-studies class before the teacher arrives; and, silliest of all, a very omniscient narrator.

But the joke is on us: It works!

But for me, Bush, with an assist from a feminist Algerian Jew, Helene Cixous, is at his most brilliant in shedding new light on the ancient commandment “Thou shall not kill.”

And get this: He does it with a commentary on two previously unrelated Rembrandt paintings — “Bath-sheba” and “The Slaughtered Ox.”

Now, we may reach the end of this bewildering, life-giving book wondering what exactly Bush is up to.

Is it really Jewish studies? Maybe Jewish life? Or even human existence itself?

Surprise, surprise. It’s all three.

Welcome to the big leagues.

Play ball!

Lily Vuong: Professor Inspires Critical Thinking through Ancient Texts

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Source: Valdosta State University, 7-18-11

Dr. Lily Vuong, professor or religious studies at VSU, teaches courses in Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and early Jewish and Christian writings.

Dr. Lily Vuong, professor or religious studies at VSU, teaches courses in Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and early Jewish and Christian writings. Dr. Lily Vuong has spent many hours of the last decade translating religious texts amid dusty library basements. The assistant professor of religious studies, who is trained in eight languages — four of them ancient, came to VSU to encourage students to explore the faiths, cultures and traditions of religious origins. Vuong said she hopes to mold a community of critical thinking scholars who value diverse perspectives.

“By demonstrating the value of historical, cultural, political, sociological and theological approaches to the study of religion, my hope is to expand and challenge students’ critical thinking skills and prepare them to develop their own arguments and ideas,” said Vuong, who specializes in early Judaism, Christianity, and the ancient Mediterranean World. “Students who choose to become majors and minors in our department learn the skills to become better speakers, writers, and thinkers, which are precisely the skills graduate, medical and law schools are looking for in their prospective students.”

Vuong developed a love for religious studies during her undergraduate years at the University of Toronto in Canada, where she graduated with honors with a concentration in Western religions. She stumbled upon a Historical Jesus course and became fascinated with interpreting ancient scriptures and texts from a variety of social, historical, literary and feminist approaches. The experience pushed her to view familiar readings and stories from fresh perspectives. She aims to inspire that same meaningful examination in her students.

“As a teacher, I always welcome the opportunity to learn from students, especially when we are exploring new texts and ideas together. I cherish those moments when I am able to light a spark in a student’s mind and watch him or her eagerly head off to follow some intriguing line of thought,” said Vuong, who has presented papers throughout the world. “I hope that when my students leave my classroom they think of me as someone who pushed them to think profoundly about ideas and challenged them to question their own assumptions and biases.” ….READ MORE

Reuven Feuerstein: Israeli’s Nobel Prize nod gains momentum

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Intellectuals worldwide aim to see renowned psychologist Prof. Reuven Feuerstein win Nobel Peace Prize

Source: Ynet News, 6-12-11

What do a Muslim sheikh from Hebron, a world renowned Venetian intellectual and dozens of professors from the world over have in common with a Jewish educator? They all want the latter to win a Nobel Peace Prize.

Several dozen prominent intellectuals will convene in Jerusalem Monday, with the intention of devising a plan meant to see Prof. Reuven Feuerstein become a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

The Nobel Prize Committee has already received a recommendation on Feuerstein’s behalf, for which he said he was honored.

Feuerstein, 90, is a world-renowned clinical, developmental and cognitive psychologist. His lifelong work in developing applied theories in the fields of structural cognitive modifiability, mediated learning experience, deficient cognitive functions, dynamic assessment of learning propensity and shaping modifying environments, to name a few, has been recognized worldwide, and he is considered to be at the top of his field.   In 1992, Feuerstein was awarded the Israel Prize for Social Sciences.

“Since they don’t give a Nobel Prize for education, dad was recommended for the Peace Prize,” Rabbi Raffi Feuerstein, the professor’s son, explained.

“His supporters say that his work saves lives, so he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, especially when there are precedents for people receiving Nobels outside their discipline.”

Prof. Feuerstein’s methods have found their way to the Amazonas, Rwanda and even the Eskimos, and are now prevalent in Hebron as well: “We visited Hebron and saw the children’s needs there. We are now developing special programs for them,” he said.

According to Yedioth Ahronoth, the learning center in Hebron is one of the reasons one of the most enthused advocates for Feuerstein’s Nobel candidacy is Sheikh Jabbari Farid Khider – one of the city’s most prominent religious figures.

“We also have Gaza in mind,” the professor said. “We want them to send teachers to us and we will train them on how to teach children suffering from genetic disorders.”

Gus Tyler: Forward Editor, Writer & Firebrand of Labor Movement, Dies at 99

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZJBuzz_banner

Source: NYT, 6-11-11

Gus Tyler could recite word for word the first firebrand speech he gave more than 80 years ago on a soapbox on the Lower East Side. That long-ago youth tingled with the revolutionary promise he saw on the teeming streets of New York, in the new Soviet Union, in the great books he devoured, in the endless nocturnal debates.

Gus Tyler in 1964.

He tumbled through life like a Saul Bellow character, full of analytic thought and urban vitality. He wore multifarious hats: pamphleteer, professor and poet, but insisted on defining himself with a single word: agitator.

He became one as a teenager, throwing burrs at police horses during socialist demonstrations. And as a leader of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union for decades, he helped shape labor’s contribution to the postwar welfare state. His most powerful weapons were words, in books, newspaper columns, radio commentaries and speeches he wrote for labor chieftains.

His intellectual output was diverse, but Mr. Tyler tended to come back to one theme: the importance of democracy in unions, and the importance of unions to democracies. He pushed for government-sponsored health care and was a leader in the fight to reapportion voting districts so that cities were better represented.

A. H. Raskin, the labor expert who was a reporter for The New York Times, called Mr. Tyler one of the true intellectuals of the trade union movement. The historian Bernard Bellush wrote, “There are those who say that the history of the democratic left in America since World War I is the history of Gus Tyler.”

Mr. Tyler died on June 3 in Sarasota, Fla., at the age of 99, his nephew Jonathan Tilove said — 21 years shy of his goal of outliving Moses.

But he did see a promised land of sorts: his first job was at The Jewish Daily Forward when it was a big-circulation, left-leaning Yiddish daily. He threw himself into the 1930s brawls of Stalinists, Trotskyists and all manner of leftists before fighting some of the same people in the 1940s to kick Communists out of liberal veterans’ groups….READ MORE

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Menachem Mor: Visiting professor to help in creation of Jewish studies program

Source: The Pendulum, Elon University, 4-26-11
Menachem Mor

Menachem Mor from the University of Haifa visited Elon University last week and plans to assist in the development of a Jewish studies program on campus. Photo by Marlena Chertock.

A professor of Jewish history from University of Haifa in Israel joined Elon University last week, with plans to assist the university as it develops a proposed Jewish studies program.

Menachem Mor spent the week with his friend Yoram Lubling, professor of philosophy at Elon. They wanted to spend the Passover holiday together, said Mor, who joined Elon Hillel for Passover Seder, a dinner that commemorates the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt.

“I was very impressed by the fact that it’s supported by the president,” Mor said of Elon’s Passover Seder. “It was a very impressive evening. It was a short version, but still, that’s enough.”

Lubling and Mor met 20 years ago at Creighton University in Nebraska, where Mor was the Klutznick Chair for Jewish Civilization and Lubling taught philosophy.

This year, Mor is a visiting professor of Jewish studies at the University of Virginia.

He will help in the creation and brainstorming of ideas for Elon’s program, which is still currently being developed. He served as the dean of the faculty of humanities at the University of Haifa for many years and has experience in Jewish studies.

During the next few years, Mor said he will be involved in conferences and sharing ideas for Elon’s program.

“I think it’s a great education process that will be very helpful for all of the students that are here,” he said. “First of all, Elon has a nice group of Jewish students. It will be a good occasion for them to study more about their Jewishness. For non-Jewish students it will be a nice opportunity to get acquainted, learn about Judaism and take away some of the stereotypes.”…READ MORE

Samuel G. Freedman: A Passover Toast to a Rabbi Known for Social Activism, and for Kosher Coca-Cola

Source: NYT, 4-22-11

Rabbi Tuvia Geffen, of blessed memory, was born in Lithuania in 1870 and educated in the renowned Slobodka yeshiva. In the wake of a pogrom, he immigrated to New York in 1903, and seven years later he moved to Atlanta to become the rabbi of Shearith Israel, a tiny and struggling Orthodox congregation meeting in the battered remnant of a Methodist church.

Rabbi Tuvia Geffen

During his early decades at Shearith Israel, Rabbi Geffen established Atlanta’s first Hebrew school and oversaw its ritual bath. He stood by Leo Frank, the Jewish man falsely accused of murdering a young Christian girl, and after Frank’s lynching in 1915, the rabbi urged his congregants not to flee the South in fear.

At Passover in 1925, he spoke eloquently and presciently against Congress for passing immigration restrictions that “have slammed shut the gates of the country before the wanderers, the strangers, and those who walk in darkness from place to place.” As early as 1933, he warned about the Nazi regime in Germany. Long before feminism, he advocated for Orthodox women who were being denied religious divorce decrees by vindictive husbands.

But all those achievements are not why we invoke the name and memory of Rabbi Geffen today, more than 40 years after his death. No, we come to honor his least likely yet most enduring contribution to the Jewish people and his adopted nation: kosher-for-Passover Coca-Cola.

Yes, observant Jews of today, searching supermarket counters for those bottles with the telltale yellow cap bearing the Orthodox Union’s certification, and yes, Coke die-hards of any or no religion who seek out those same bottles for the throwback flavor of cane-sugar Coke, you owe it all to Rabbi Tuvia Geffen…READ MORE

How Christopher Browning realized the importance of eyewitness testimony

Source: Tablet (7-22-10)

Though it has long played a central role in the popular history of the Holocaust, survivor testimony has for decades been seen as marginal by Holocaust historians. The issue has preoccupied scholars since Raul Hilberg’s landmark 1961 book, The Destruction of the European Jews, in which he largely discounted the “usefulness” of survivor accounts.

Hilberg’s pioneering work established a methodological orthodoxy with regard to survivor testimony that was long adhered to by historians looking to establish a credible and unassailable historical record of Nazi crimes.

Christopher Browning was still operating within the boundaries Hilberg had set when he chose to focus on the slow brutalization of a single battalion of German soldiers in his pathbreaking 1992 book Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland.

But, more recently, while studying a 1972 German court case that acquitted a Nazi police chief on all charges related to his role in the liquidation of a small Jewish ghetto in central Poland, Browning was outraged.

He was struck by the presiding judge’s chilling dismissal of some 100 eyewitness testimonies by the ghetto’s survivors who attested to the defendant’s memorable savagery. The judge dryly noted, “As a matter of principle … eyewitness testimony was ‘the most unreliable form of evidence’ with which the judicial process had to deal.” Compounding the insult was the fact that virtually no other documentary or evidentiary material existed in this case.

In his latest book, Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave Labor Camp, Browning offers a corrective—one that represents a shift away from the field’s long-held eschewal of survivor testimony. “The history of the Holocaust,” Browning has concluded, “cannot be written solely as either perpetrator history or history from above.”…

Jason Epstein: Personal History The eminent publisher on his teacher, friend, and political opposite, Benzion Netanyahu

Source: Tablet Mag, 7-6-10

Benzion Netanyahu and his son Benjamin, then Likud party leader, meeting in Benzion’s Jerusalem home on election day, February 8, 2009.

Michal Fattal/Likud via Getty Images

There can be few friendships stranger than Benzion Netanyahu’s and mine, for on the urgent question of Israel’s security we could not be more opposed. Benzion, a disciple and former secretary of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and to this day an uncompromising Zionist Revisionist, believes that the State of Israel should occupy both banks of the Jordan, presumably by force. At the time of the Oslo Accords, when my wife and I visited Benzion, surrounded by his books in his comfortable Jerusalem home, he denounced the accords as “the beginning of the end of the Jewish State” and admonished his son Bibi, then as now prime minister, for having relinquished Hebron to the Palestine Authority under the agreement. For me, on the other hand, Oslo promised an end to a futile quarrel in which both sides stood to lose their homes and their souls. The predictable collapse of Oslo proved both of us wrong, me in my hopefulness, Benzion in his prophecy of doom. It was Benzion’s Revisionist tenacity that led Menachim Begin of all people to accuse him of right-wing extremism. Unmoved by this criticism, Benzion scorned Begin in a conversation with me as a weakling, a compromiser. Yitzak Shamir was beneath his contempt. Yet my admiration for Benzion is akin to love, and I like to think these feelings are to some degree reciprocated.

For Benzion, the Arabs are implacable enemies. For me, they are indispensable partners who with their Jewish counterparts might once have created—and perhaps still may find the wisdom to create—a flourishing bi-national state, an exemplary multiethnic enclave within a stable Middle East or, failing that, a two-state solution. If my position underestimates the dark side of human nature, Benzion’s ignores the futility and horror—the sadness—of a military solution. Since our immovable polarity is understood by both of us our discussions of Middle East politics tend to be brief. Our affection flourishes on different ground….READ MORE

University of Toronto’s blossoming Jewish Studies center now recognized as one of North America’s finest

University of Toronto’s blossoming Jewish Studies center now recognized as one of North America’s finest

Source: Jewish Tribune, 7-28-09

TORONTO – In the past two months alone, the number of majors at University of Toronto’s Jewish Studies centre, which had close to 2,200 students enrolled in its courses this past school year, has increased by 25 percent. By the spring of 2008, what had started out as an undergraduate Jewish studies program in 1967 evolved to become the Centre for Jewish Studies at University of Toronto (U of T), with Hindy Najman, associate professor of Ancient Judaism in the department of religion, as its director.

Last year there were 11 departments and centres that collaborated with Jewish studies; now there are 20. And while there had been 40 faculty members, now there are more than 50. As well, the Jewish Studies doctoral program, launched four years ago, has tripled in size this year, and there is a new Master’s program with 12 incoming students to date.

“I’ve worked very hard, gone to various departments to let them know the strengths of our program and what it has to offer,” Najman told the Jewish Tribune. “As a result, the students flocked to me. “The undergraduate program calls on various disciplines that touch on Jewish Studies, like religion, philosophy and political science,” she explained. “It has really been re-thought to reflect its strengths.”

Najman initiated an annual conference for graduate students, where faculty spends a full day listening to students’ papers and choosing the best ones for publication in a Jewish Studies journal. In fact, “this journal and many of the new programs are funded by two American foundations that have come to help us,” Najman said. “One is the Posen Foundation. And more recently, the Tikvah Fund of New York City, having funded Princeton and NYU [New York University] Jewish Studies programs – especially Jewish philosophy, thought and law – decided they wanted to help build our program. “They recognized, and hopefully the Toronto community will realize now, that our faculty resources are great, our students are the finest in Canada and U of T is one of the top universities in North America,” Najman enthused. “It’s time to bring us to the next stage,” she said. “There are community members who have stepped up to give support and encouragement.”

Indeed, an exciting addition is the Senator Jerahmiel S. and Carole S. Grafstein Fellowship to support advanced research in Jewish thought by post-doctoral academics from Israeli universities. Dr. Sol Goldberg, a native Torontonian, holds a doctorate in Jewish philosophy from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Among the last students taught there by the late renowned philosopher Emil Fackenheim, Goldberg is the program’s first scholar and will be mentored by Jewish Philosophy Professor Paul Franks. “One of my major initiatives this year was to build a bridge between the Jewish community and the Centre for Jewish Studies,” Najman said. “The crucial thing for me is to promote Jewish literacy, to educate the next generation of leaders and to address matters of interest to the Jewish community.” This is the first of a series on U of T’s Centre for Jewish Studies. The next article will focus on its contribution to the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit currently showing at the ROM.

Mohamed Hawary: What’s a nice Jewish studies professor doing in Egypt?

Source: Haaretz, 7-16-09

“What’s a nice professor of Jewish studies doing teaching in a place like this?” For those unfamiliar with contemporary Egyptian intellectual life, this might be the first question that comes to mind upon meeting Mohamed Hawary, a professor of Hebrew studies and Jewish thought at Ain Shams University in Cairo, a teeming school of some 180,000 students.

Hawary, 59, is considered to be the doyen of Jewish studies in Egypt. A world-renowned scholar of Judaism, the author of numerous books and articles on a wide range of Jewish subjects, Hawary is also a practicing Muslim and a proud and patriotic Egyptian. The Forward recently interviewed Hawary in Cairo, where both he and this reporter were attending an interfaith conference at Al-Azhar University. “I first developed an interest in Judaism and Israel because of the many verses in the Holy Quran pertaining to Jews,” Hawary recalled. “This led me to want to know more about Jews, the historical relationship between Judaism and Islam, but also to learn about Israel.”

It was, Hawary said, the 1967 Six-Day War with Israel that ultimately moved him to turn his budding interest into a career. “Israel was the enemy, of course, of Egypt and the Arabs. But I thought it was important to know who this enemy was.” Motivated to pursue Hebrew language and Jewish studies, Hawary received his Bachelor of Arts in 1971 at Cairo University and completed his doctorate at Ain Shams. There, he wrote his doctoral dissertation on “The Divinity of the Children of Israel, From Moses to the Babylonian Exile.”….

Mohamed Hawary: Egypt’s Jewish Studies Doyen Looks Back

Source: The Forward, 7-15-09

A Career in Academia Born of Desire To Know ‘The Enemy’ Leads to Acclaim and Visits From Fellow Scholars

“What’s a nice professor of Jewish studies doing teaching in a place like this?”

For those unfamiliar with contemporary Egyptian intellectual life, this might be the first question that comes to mind upon meeting Mohamed Hawary, a professor of Hebrew studies and Jewish thought at Ain Shams University in Cairo, a teeming school of some 180,000 students.

Genizah Go-To Guy: Mohamed Hawary’s expertise on Cairo’s Jewish treasure trove is valued by colleagues worldwide.

JACOB BENDER
Genizah Go-To Guy: Mohamed Hawary’s expertise on Cairo’s Jewish treasure trove is valued by colleagues worldwide.

Hawary, 59, is considered to be the doyen of Jewish studies in Egypt. A world-renowned scholar of Judaism, the author of numerous books and articles on a wide range of Jewish subjects, Hawary is also a practicing Muslim and a proud and patriotic Egyptian. The Forward recently interviewed Hawary in Cairo, where both he and this reporter were attending an interfaith conference at Al-Azhar University.

“I first developed an interest in Judaism and Israel because of the many verses in the Holy Quran pertaining to Jews,” Hawary recalled. “This led me to want to know more about Jews, the historical relationship between Judaism and Islam, but also to learn about Israel.”

It was, Hawary said, the 1967 Six Day War with Israel that ultimately moved him to turn his budding interest into a career. “Israel was the enemy, of course, of Egypt and the Arabs. But I thought it was important to know who this enemy was.”

Motivated to pursue Hebrew language and Jewish studies, Hawary received his Bachelor of Arts in 1971 at Cairo University and completed his doctorate at Ain Shams. There, he wrote his doctoral dissertation on “The Divinity of the Children of Israel, From Moses to the Babylonian Exile.”

“When I started out in the field,” Hawary said, “there were very few of us. Hebrew was not a separate department, but was studied as part of Arabic and Semitic languages.” Today, thanks to the efforts of Hawary and his colleagues, more than half of the 18 institutions of higher learning in Egypt have departments of Hebrew and Jewish studies….READ MORE

Sergey Dolgopolski: Agreeing to disagree: KU prof’s new book on Talmud

What is Talmud? The Art of Disagreement

Source: Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, 7-3-09

altSergey Dolgopolski has studied Talmud in his native Russia, Israel and the United States, and in his new book, he’s come to a conclusion: the disagreements in the text’s commentary are a lost art.

“What this is trying to accomplish is to show that Talmud is an intellectual discipline, like rhetoric or logic — an art of thinking,” Dolgopolski said.

In “What is Talmud? The Art of Disagreement,” Dolgopolski, an assistant professor of religious studies and Jewish studies at the University of Kansas, says that contemporary, mainstream culture encourages agreement as an ultimate goal.

However, Dolgopolski argues that the 15th century Talmud shows instances where it’s fine to disagree when someone cannot prove his point is right and another person’s is wrong.

“The book places the ways in which the Talmud has been studied into the much larger context, not only what was going on in the 15th century … but how the ways of studying the Talmud fit into the larger view of the history of western civilization and thought,” Dolgopolski said. “I’m not doing the work of a historian, but rather the work of an intellectual who looks at those methodologies from a theoretical perspective that has been developed in the 20th century.”

He says that today, “we all subscribe to the idea that people need to agree on something in order to make progress — agreement is the goal. We also think that if we disagree we need to overcome it.”

A true disagreement, by Dolgopolski’s definition, is when people on both sides are rational and intelligent and understand each other’s point of view. The assumption is that neither side has made a factual error in coming to his or her conclusion. A real disagreement is rare, he said, because there is usually a factual error somewhere.

“What we can learn from the art of disagreement of the 15th century is that instead of trying to find a common denominator … the Talmudic method of the 15th century invites us to explore a different alternative. There is a point where there is no way to come to an agreement,” he said.

True disagreement
That’s not to say people should disagree on everything. Dolgopolski pointed out that only certain situations meet the conditions of a true disagreement.

One example from recent history is that of the Nazis’ attempts at Jewish genocide, he said.

“It would be very simple to say Nazis were just regular criminals … it’s much more complex. Nazis considered themselves ethical people … they just thought Jews were not humans … the horror of what Nazis did is that they based the ethics on excluding Jews and homosexuals and others from the realm of what’s ethical,” Dolgopolski said. “One simplistic way of responding to that situation is to say, ‘Well, we disagree. You think we are not humans, and we think we are humans.’ This is the real point of disagreement —who is human (and) who isn’t is not something that can be rationally decided … (it) is a point of disagreement that cannot be resolved by any kind of practical agreement.”

Dolgopolski says this has practical application for current world issues.

“If we really want ‘never again,’ then we have to realize there is an issue here that hasn’t been resolved — that we are in a situation of disagreement about who is human and who isn’t,” he said. “The goal should be to really understand disagreements rather than deluding ourselves into the possibility of agreement where it is not possible … if you don’t understand the nature of what happens, there is no way for you to address it.”

Introduction to Talmud
Dolgopolski said he hopes many different audiences will appreciate the book. In addition to his work at the university, where he will teach an introductory Talmud class next spring, Dolgopolski likes to teach in the larger Jewish community.

He has taught classes under the auspices of Congregation Beth Israel Abraham and Voliner, where he is a member, and at the Lawrence Jewish Community Center. Dolgopolski was also a lecturer in an educational series presented by the Department of Adult Jewish Learning at the Jewish Community Center in cooperation with KU’s Jewish studies program.

And he has just learned that he will be part of the annual “Day of Discovery” Jewish-learning smorgasbord coming up Aug. 30.

Jeff Goldenberg, JCC’s director of adult Jewish learning, said he is trying to arrange a course focusing of a few different aspects of Dolgopolski’s new book sometime in the upcoming academic year. Anyone who is interested in such a class may contact Goldenberg at (913) 327-4647.

Dolgopolski’s book, published by Fordham University Press, is available for $60 at www.fordhampress.com and www.amazon.com.

Dr. Richard Hull publishes latest book on Jews in African history

Dr. Richard Hull Historian Publishes latest book on Jews in African history Jews and Judaism in African History

Source: Straus News, 5-22-09

Professor Richard W. Hull, Ph.D., recently authored his latest book, “Jews and Judaism in African History,” available in paperback and hardcover at Baby Grand Bookstore in downtown Warwick. Photo by Roger Gavan

Warwick resident Richard W. Hull, Ph.D., recently announced the publication of his latest book, “Jews and Judaism in African History.”

Many Warwick residents know Hull as the town’s official historian and author of several books on local history. However, for many years Hull has served as professor of African history at New York University where he received four awards for teaching excellence. He was also the recipient of the Orange County Revered Citizen Award, a United Nations Distinguished Citizen Award, and a Fulbright Fellowship.

In recent years Professor Hull has taught a graduate seminar at NYU on “Jews in Africa since Classical Antiquity.”

His latest book, “Jews and Judaism in African History,” is a concise yet comprehensive study of the contributions of Africans of Jewish ancestry to the development of the continent, from antiquity to the present.

Hull’s research project began some 15 years ago and took him to numerous libraries in England, Morocco, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

“I realized that although Jews were a minority, they played significant roles in African history hugely disproportionate to their numbers,” said Hull. “I decided to write this book because Jews have been largely left out of the major works in African history despite their significance.”

His narrative begins with the Israelites in ancient Egypt and North Africa and later explores the foundations of the Beth Israel communities of Ethiopia and the “lost tribe” of Lemba in southern Africa.

Hull also examines the role of Jews and conversos in the launching of the Atlantic slave trade along with the Jewish intelligentsia of early Morocco. Another chapter is devoted to Jews in South Africa and their participation in that county’s economic and cultural development.

“Jews and Judaism in African History,” is published by Markus Wiener Publishers of Princeton. It is available in paperback and hardcover at Baby Grand Bookstore in downtown Warwick.