Transdisciplinary Perspectives in the Field of Jewish Cultural Studies

Diego Rotman

In the frame of the workshop ״ Transdisciplinary Perspectives in the Field of Jewish Cultural Studies״, at the Dubnow Institut in Leipzig, I presented an on-going research entitled “Repainting History: The Case of Fischach Wooden Sukkah”.

In the paper, I dealt with the reconstruction of a replica of the Deller Sukkah (dating to 1840), installed as part of the core exhibition of Judaica at the Israel Museum. The replica is a perfect copy of the original, but for a few deliberate differences between it and the original—some substantive and some symbolic. As a consequence of the replication process, the paintings on the walls of the sukkah subtly transformed: the image of Jerusalem on one of the walls, which in the original was an object of yearning, became a kind of proprietary statement; the scenes of the pastoral German village on the three other walls, which used to provide a kind of visual record of the original landscape, became a wistful memorial of a community and a time that no longer exist. The presentation was done with a fruitful dialogue with Leontine Meijer-van Mensch, the new director of the Grassi Museum in Leipzig who chaired the session.

Hanan Harif

Within the framework of the workshop: “Transdisciplinary perspectives in the field of Jewish cultural studies”, I presented a paper on which I work recently, titled: “The orientalist as advocate: Infanticide and exoticism in Mandatory Palestine”.

The paper explores a forgotten story of infanticide which took place in  the summer of 1939: A young father was convicted of murder for burying his son alive on the Tel Aviv beach. The father was sentenced to death but after public protests his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. As things turned out, however, the murderer was jailed for a much shorter period of time.

Based upon unknown archival materials as well as other materials, the paper sheds light on this forgotten story by exploring the ways in which the Jewish scholar S.D. Goitein used his expertise in order to advocate for the accused father. Goitein, a university professor and an official in the mandatory Department of Education, used his professional position in order to mediate between local Jewish communities, the Jewish official leadership and the British legal authorities. This episode illustrates how the anthropologist sometimes becomes an advocate, and thus raises a series of questions regarding the relations between colonial law and its subjects, cultural gaps and their legal implication, and the different narratives that exist within the juridical procedure.

In my paper I presented and analyzed this legal and public affair within its various contexts, focusing on the tensions between German-Jewish Orientalist scholarship, British law authorities and colonial subjects in Mandatory Palestine.

Jonathan Matthews

The workshop has brought together scholars from different fields  of Jewish Studies and created fruitful discussions in a multidisciplinary perspective. the participants have presented their research and answered questions that crated much discussions also after the panels were over. this resulted also in possible scientifically collaborations between the participating scholars and there is a high potential that the connections and discussions that were created during the workshop will lead to interesting future developments and publications.

On a personal level I had the chance to present my personal research which is on progress. This allowed me to receive comments and peer reviews before I continue in developing and learning the topic in later stages. the comments were beneficial of utmost value and will for sure contribute to my future research.

This workshop was a special opportunity in which I was glad to take part. I want to thank I-Core for the wonderful and organisation and I’m looking forward to further discussions with all the participants.

ido harari

The workshop “Makom: Transdisciplinary Perspectives in the Field of Jewish Cultural Studies” at the Dubnow Institute in Leipzig was both an academic success and a lot of fun. From the academic aspect, the workshop brought together a group of scholars which, although coming from different disciplines and working on very different topics, all seemed to be in conversation with each other on both the thematic and the theoretical levels – thus justifying the interdisciplinary rationale of Da’at HaMakom center. In addition, the fact that each paper was accompanied by a response from a scholar not affiliated with Da’at HaMakom opened new perspectives and was – at least for me – a real contribution and stimulus for further thought. From the non-academic aspect, the company of the participants and organizers made coffee breaks, meals and just hanging around no less interesting and no less fun.

Naomi Cohn

In February 2019 a group of researchers affiliated with “Daat Hamakom” were invited by Professor Yfaat Weiss to the Simon Dubnov center in Leipzig to give a two day conference on the topic of מקום //: – :// Makom: Transdisciplinary Perspectives in the Field of Jewish Cultural Studies. The opening keynote titled “A View Eastwards: Sephardic Sonorities in the Ashkenazi Synagogue” was given by Dr Naomi Cohn Zentner who focused on the historic and contemporary efforts of Ashkenazi Jews to revitalize and reform their liturgy by adding Sephardi melodies, piyyutim and modes of participation into their prayers. While 19th century attempts in England, France and Germany were generally short lived, it appears that new blended Ashkenazi -Sephardi communities founded in the last five years mainly in South Jerusalem may have an ongoing liturgical impact due to the unique social reality this kind of prayer reflects.

Yoni Mendel

Presenting at the seminar was a great honour for me, and a wonderful opportunity to meet with colleagues and friends with whom I share fields of interests and from whom I have learned a lot. It was also a very exciting academic event for me to give a concluding keynote paper, for which I am very grateful indeed.

The title of my presentation was “Supervising Arabic in Jewish Schools in British Mandate Palestine: S. D. Goitein vs. Yisrael Wolfensohn (Ben-Ze’ev)” and it included on overview of my general topic – the crystallisation of the field of Arabic language studies in the Jewish school system during British Mandate Palestine. I highlighted the different actors that took part in the shaping of the field, and focused on Jewish scholars who graduated from German universities, especially from centres of Oriental studies (Orientalistik) and Arabic studies. The paper then moved on to juxtapose two specific scholars ‒ showing the similarities and differences between them ‒ who took a significant part in the shaping of the field of Arabic language studies during the crucial period mentioned above. The first was S. D. Goitein (1900-1985), a Jewish-German Orientalist, a graduate of Frankfurt University (doctorate supervised by Josef Horovitz), focusing on his educational role in his capacity as the a chief inspector in the Department of Education of the British Government in Palestine. The second was Yisrael Wolfensohn [Ben-Ze’ev] (1899-1980) who was born in Jerusalem, received his first PhD from the University of Cairo (doctorate supervised by Taha Hussein), and then continued to Germany where he received a second PhD from Frankfurt University (doctorate supervised by Josef Horovitz), focusing on his educational role in his capacity as the supervisor of Arabic studies in Hebrew schools in the Education Department of the Jewish National Council in Palestine. Juxtaposing the educational attitudes and language beliefs of these two very different (yet, in some ways, also similar) scholars toward Arabic studies has enabled me to uncover main considerations in the forging of the field of Arabic established during the British Mandate, including which type of Arabic to teach, who were considered the most suitable experts for the mission, what was the role of native Arabic speakers in the field, and more.

Lastly, I would like to say that despite being a very short visit it was a lovely and friendly one. The hosts from Simon Dubnow and organisers from Da’at Hamakom, from both centres in Germany and Israel, have done their utmost to make sure we have a very pleasant academic experience, and took care of all our needs. This included being very patient and allowing us also to explore the social and cultural scene in Lepizig.

Avi-ram Tzoreff

The workshop at Dubnow Institute gave the chance to think from different aspects on the concept of a place, and to turn the place into the discussion’s point of departure. This shift—from the place as a mere context to the place as a subject in itself served as an interesting basis for the connections between the different presentations, that dealt with the place as a catalyst for transformations of knowledge, a site of cultural and political encounters and different spatial imaginations. My presentation, “Nt Only Within the Boundaries of the and of the Deer”—R. Binyamin Between Jewish and Arab Geographies” fit together with this bigger discussion. Here is an abstract of the presentation:
In an article he published on June 1930, Muhammad Roshan Akhtar, the editor of the English edition of the Palestinian newspaper Falastin, called for an establishment of an Arab federation, considering Jews as an integral part from a political community that its territory sprawled “from Basra to Jaffa”. Akhtar proposed a political structure that considered Jews and Arabs as partners, who must not serve as puppets in the hands of colonial authorities, but rather be an important power in itself, which is equal to the European powers. This article enjoyed an enthusiastic response manifested in an article that was published in the same newspaper, by the Jewish author and essayist Yehoshua Radler-Feldman (also known as R. Binyamin). RB was one of the main figures in the binational movements that espoused establishment of joint Jewish-Arab political framework, and considered the cultural affinities between Judaism and Islam as major foundations of this partnership. RB saw the spatial model that was suggested by Akhtar—a model that subverted the boundaries that were placed by the colonial powers and brought by the dissection of Arab geographic unity—as a basis for the fulfillment of the aspirations of the Zionist movement to rescue the lives of European Jews through mass immigration to the Middle East. RB opposed the hegemonic Zionist perceptions that saw in the repertoire of the European nation-state and in the creation of a Jewish majority within a distinctive and sovereign geographical unit exclusive models for the fulfillment of Zioinst claims. According to him, the large space between Basra and Jaffa—that supposed to serve as the basis for the anti-colonial unification of the Arab lands—could have served as a basis for a different thinking about Jewish existence in Palestine in particular and in the Middle East in general—an existence of Jewish masses dispersed throughout the whole region, where the old Middle-Eastern Jewish communities will play an important role.