Faculty News

Professor Stuart Miller Speaks at the 125th Anniversary of the New England Hebrew Farmers of the Emanuel Society

Professors Nicholas Bellantoni and Stuart Miller examine the mikveh at Chesterfield, CT

Professor Stuart Miller, the Center’s academic director, spoke at the 125th anniversary celebration of the New England Hebrew Farmers of the Emanuel Society on Sunday, June 11. The society, formed in 1892, served the Russian Jewish farming community that settled in Chesterfield, CT.

Today, the Society works to preserve the site of that historic Jewish community. An expert in ritual baths in ancient Israel, Professor Miller helped lead an excavation in Chesterfield, in 2012, where a rare mikveh was discovered as well as the remains of a synagogue and creamery. The site is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

For more information on the anniversary celebration, visit the New England Hebrew Farmers of the Emanuel Society at http://newenglandhebrewfarmers.org/nehfes-125th-anniversary-celebration/

You can also read about the excavation at Chesterfield in UConn Today.

Professor Arnold Dashefsky Interviewed by Connecticut Jewish Ledger

Founding director of the Center for Judaic Studies, Professor Arnold Dashefsky, was recently interviewed by the Connecticut Jewish Ledger. Professor Dashefsky spoke about the recent release of the American Jewish Year Book, which he co-edits along with Professor Ira Sheskin of the University of Miami. He discussed the Pew Research Center’s findings on Orthodox Jewry, which were reprinted in the Year Book, as well as the current trends in North American Jewish life.  Visit the Ledger’s website to read the article in full.  

May 3: Professor Roden to Discuss Latest Book for English Department’s Book Talk

Recovering JewishnessJudaic Studies affiliated faculty member Professor Frederick Roden will be discussing his latest book, Recovering Jewishness: Modern Identities Reclaimed (Praeger 2016) at a Book Talk sponsored by the UConn English Department.  The event takes place on May 3, at 1:30 pm, in the Stern Room, Austin Hall.

Also presenting at the Book Talk will be Professor Patrick Hogan who will discuss his latest work, Imagining Kashmir: Emplotment and Colonialism (University of Nebraska 2016).

Refreshments will be served.

New Fall Course Offering! Anthropology of Jewish Cultures

James Barnett Professor of Humanistic Anthropology Richard Sosis will be teaching a new course this fall entitled Anthropology of Jewish Cultures. The course is being developed by Professor Sosis and Assistant Professor and Director of the Research Program on Global Health and Human Rights Sarah Willen, recent awardees of the course development grant offered by the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life. Credits earned from the course may be applied toward the major or minor in Judaic studies.

Anthropology of Jewish Cultures (ANTH 3098) will meet this fall from 2:00-5:00 pm on Wednesdays.

About the Course:

Abraham Joshua Heschel once poetically remarked that the Bible is not human theology but rather “God’s anthropology.” God, so to speak, has not been alone in studying Jewish life. In Western culture, Judaism has been characterized by its minority, outsider, and marginal status.  Not surprisingly, given anthropological interest in studying “the other,” anthropologists have produced an extensive literature aimed at understanding Judaism and Jewish experiences. The primary goals of this course will be to engage this literature by exploring the diversity of Jewish cultures and examining how influential anthropological theorists (e.g., Mary Douglas, Roy Rappaport, Alan Dundes, and Melvin Konner) have sought to explain the variation and commonalities of these cultures.

The course will place considerable emphasis on Jewish folk traditions as they’ve emerged cross-culturally and their tension with, as well as occasional acceptance by, rabbinic institutions.  Moreover, anthropological efforts to document these traditions, such as Ansky’s ambitious Jewish Enthnographic Program, will be discussed.  Students will be exposed to the rich ethnographic literature on Jewish cultures. These ethnographic writings will be used to explore various topics, communities, and movements within Jewish culture including: Haredim, Ethiopian Jewry, Yiddish culture in Europe and the U.S., chavurah communities, Sephardic communities in Muslim cultures, the Ba’al Teshuvah movement, women’s status within Jewish cultures, and secularization among Jewish communities.

The course will conclude by briefly examining how rabbinic writers, including Mordechai Kaplan, Neil Gillman, and Jonathan Sacks, have drawn upon anthropological data and theories to interpret Jewish teachings and provide visions for the development of Jewish life.

Faculty Book Release: American Jewish Year Book 2016, co-Edited by UConn Professor Arnold Dashefsky

American Jewish Year Book 2016  Includes Pew Study that Finds Commonalities between Orthodox Jewry and Evangelical Protestants

Arnold DashefskyThe 2016 volume of the American Jewish Year Book, co-edited by Professor Arnold Dashefsky of the University of Connecticut and Professor Ira Sheskin of the University of Miami, has been recently published by Springer. The publication is supported by the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life as well as the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Connecticut and the Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Miami. Included in this volume of the Year Book is the 2015 Pew Report on Orthodox Jews, “A Portrait of American Orthodox Jews,” as well as a response to the report from nine distinguished scholars and a rejoinder by Pew researchers.

The 2015 Pew report on American Orthodox Jewry represents an extended analysis of the data collected in the 2013 Pew Study, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans.”  Pew, a nonpartisan research center that produces surveys on a myriad of topics, finds that while adult Orthodox Jews makeup only 10% of the American Jewish population, they represent a growing community due to their average younger age and high fertility rates. According to Pew, “if the Orthodox grow as a share of US Jews, they gradually could shift the profile of American Jews in several areas, including religious beliefs and practices, social and political views and demographic characteristics.” 

Despite the various sub-sects within the growing Orthodox community, Pew’s data find that politically and religiously, as a whole, the group more resembles white Evangelical Protestants than other Jewish groups based on the importance of religion in their lives and in that they are more likely to identify as more politically conservative than other Jews and are more than three times as likely to identify or lean Republican than other Jews.

If the divide between liberal and conservative Jews grows, significant policy implications in communal and political life could develop.  Unless dialog is cultivated and maintained across the spectrum of Jewish groups, a fractured community could come to distrust those with opposing views; and intolerance of differing viewpoints could be fostered, mirroring what we have recently seen in the wider American culture as the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath demonstrated.

American Jewish Year Book 2016Since 1899, the Year Book has served educators, scholars, lay leaders, and members of the Jewish community as an inestimable resource. Featuring chapters from eminent scholars on North American Jewish life as well as extensive lists detailing the numerous North American Jewish institutions, periodicals, academic resources, and major events, the Year Book preserves an invaluable annual record of Jewish life.

The 2016 volume includes topical articles on international affairs by Mitchell Bard, which summarizes and relates yearly events through the lens of the American-Israeli relationship, and an article on the diverse dimensions of American Jewish family life by Harriet Hartman.  Population studies for the United States, World Jewry, and Canada are provided by Ira Sheskin and Arnold Dashefsky, Sergio DellaPergola, and Charles Shahar, respectively.

Center Director Jeffrey Shoulson Speaks at Boston University on Early Modern Bibles

Professor Shoulson lecturesCenter Director Jeffrey Shoulson recently spoke at the Boston University Jewish Studies Research Forum and the BU Program in Scripture and the Arts on February 13, 2017.  The seminar entitled "Mapping and Unmapping Jewish History in Early Modern Bibles" examined the role played by maps depicting the Holy Land and other biblical locations—printed in Bibles as well as in other accounts of the region—in the construction of spaces construed as “Jewish."

Synopsis: Maps first appeared in printed Bibles nearly fifty years after the first illustrated, printed Bible was produced in 1483. In the century that followed, maps became an increasingly common supplement to the new Bible translations proliferating throughout Europe. Those Bibles that contained maps were overwhelmingly Protestant editions. Not surprisingly, the new emphasis Reformers placed on the literal/historical reading of Scripture sought and found support from the visual depictions of the geography of biblical texts. And nowhere was the spread and popularity of biblical maps during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries greater than in England. As the English Reformation progressed, the visualization of the Holy Land and its inhabitants functioned as a site for contested claims about a Jewish past and present that could be aligned with or distinguished from varieties of English Protestant identity.

Professor Susan Einbinder Elected Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America

Einbinder Susan 300x200The UConn Center for Judaic Studies extends a warm and well-deserved congratulation to faculty member Professor Susan Einbinder, who has been elected as a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America, one of only a handful of senior scholars who are chosen for this prestigious honor every year.

Mazel Tov, Susan!

More information about the Fellows of the Medieval Academy of America is available here.

 

Getting to Know Humanities Institute Fellow Daniel Hershenzon

Daniel Hershenzon, professor in UConn’s Department of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages and Judaic Studies faculty member, was recently interviewed by the Humanities Institute in a series that features their 2016-2017 Fellows. The interview can be found below.

What is your academic background and what is your current position in UCHI/at UConn/Your Home Institution?

My first degree, from the University of Tel Aviv, is a double major of Philosophy and History. Before getting this degree , I was studying industrial design. I left the world of design for the university when I realized that I was enjoying the history and theory classes much more than the design workshops. After receiving my B.A., I continued to study towards a Masters degree and in 2004 enrolled in a PhD program in the Department of History at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I was lucky to spend two years of my graduate studies researching in Spain (in Madrid, Valladolid, Barcelona, and the Canary Islands!), and another year in Florence, Italy, with a postdoctoral fellowship after I graduated. Then, I took my current position at the Department of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages, where I mostly teach medieval and early modern Spanish history.

What is the project you’re currently working on?

I am completing a book that examines the entangled histories of early modern Spain, Morocco, and Ottoman Algiers, and by extension the entangled lives of Christian and Muslim captives in the region. Captivity was a serious problem in the early modern Mediterranean, and scholars estimate the number of captives, Muslims and Christians, in 2 to 3 millions. The book argues that piracy, captivity, and redemption shaped the sea, a space integrated on the social, economic, and political levels. It demonstrates that despite confessional differences, the lives of Muslim and Christian captives were interrelated and formed part of a single Mediterranean system of bondage. These captivities were connected by a political economy of ransoming shaped by ecclesiastic ransom institutions; Spanish, Ottoman, and Moroccan rulers; captives and kin; and Jewish, Muslim, and Christian ransom intermediaries. They all interacted through texts that captives created and circulated across the sea. The history that emerges from these stories is both local and Mediterranean. It offers a comprehensive analysis of competing Spanish, Algerian, and Moroccan imperial projects intended to shape Mediterranean mobility structures. Simultaneously, the project reveals the tragic upending of the lives of individuals by these imperial maritime political agendas.

How did you arrive at this topic?

I became interested in captivity when I wrote a seminar paper analyzing the autobiographies of former Spanish captives. I was fascinated by how ex captives sought to convince their readers that they did not convert to Islam during their captivity, and yet, their accounts abound with different forms of religious, cultural, and imperial boundary crossing. I also began to see how problematic the absence of Muslim captives from this history is. Finally, I was struck by the importance of writing for captives—not only as a medium to make claims about one’s past after ransom, but also during captivity. Captives constantly wrote letters trying to arrange their ransom, and in its turn, this epistolary circulation extended the boundaries of maritime communities across the sea, putting captives in charge of channeling information about community members who had died, converted as captives, or suffered martyrdom. As importantly, researching Mediterranean captivity allowed me to spend two years in the Mediterranean.

What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?

As a historian, I engage in debates on the emergence of European territorial identities, cross-Mediterranean maritime networks, the political economy of forced migration, and the struggle between state and church over that mobility’s control and meaning. I do so by analyzing early modern interactions among 17th century Christian and Muslim captives, enslavers, redeeming friars, merchants, and rulers who struggled to shape piracy, slavery, and redemption according to their shifting vision – religious, economic, and political. The multiple cross-maritime interactions I explore do more than counter an image of a declining 17th-century Mediterranean dissolving into nation-states. They force us to rethink early modern Europe and its others questioning how seemingly European territorial identities were shaped by transnational maritime networks and their transformation. In this sense, the framework that my book proposes for the history of the early modern Mediterranean and Europe have repercussions beyond that specific history and can provide a lens through which to understand the current ongoing crisis surrounding mobility across the sea.

The original post by the Humanities Institute can be found here.

Remembering Louis Gerson

Emeritus professor and political science department head at the University of Connecticut, Louis Gerson, passed away on October 16, 2016. Gerson led an extraordinary life; he fled his native Poland just months prior to the Nazi invasion and fought with the United States Army in Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge.

After the war ended, he studied political science and diplomatic history at UConn, where he would meet his future wife Elizabeth Shanley. Gerson completed his doctorate in political science at Yale, afterwards returning to UConn to teach. This led to a 40-year career at UConn where he made many notable contributions to the political science department and the university as a whole.

According to Stuart Miller, Academic Director of the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life, Gerson “was certainly an early and prime mover in getting UConn to pursue the study of the Holocaust, Eastern Europe, and Human Rights.” Gerson, with the help of grants and scholars from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, and Oxford University in England, secured important Holocaust records in Poland. While UConn did not become the official repository for the material, Gerson was crucial in committing the university to support Judaic studies. His work helped attract the interest of Simon Konover, who would become the Center for Judaic Studies’ major benefactor.

The Hartford Courant article featuring the life of Louis Gerson can be found here.