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

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

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

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

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

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

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

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

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

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

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

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

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

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

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

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

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

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

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

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

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.