2014 – 2015 BUJS Forum

September 9, 2014 – Orit Rozin (Tel Aviv University), “On the Right to Be Heard: Immigrants Demanding Recognition”
At our first BUJS Forum of the year, Orit Rozin (History) spoke about immigrant demands for recognition in the early years of the Israeli state. An estimated 700,000 Jewish immigrants settled in Israel in the three years following its independence. They wanted, as Professor Rozin explained, not only to voice their complaints but to be recognized in a dialogue with their fellow citizens. They had not only political demands but emotional needs. As important as the work of labor leaders to secure material support for these immigrants was the ascendancy of a new idea, that the right to be heard is a natural right.

September 23, 2014 – Rolf Schuette, “Germany and Israel: 50 Years after the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations”
German Consul General to New England Rolf Schuette delivered a riveting talk on German-Israeli relations, salted with anecdotes from high-level diplomatic meetings in Brussels and informal chats in Israeli living rooms. Addressing a packed crowd in our library, Schuette traced the history of this special relationship from a period of informal diplomacy, when the acceptance of German reparations was the subject of fierce debate in Israel, through the period of normalization beginning in 1965, to the current day, when many Israelis consider Germany to be their second-most important international ally. With 20,000 Israelis currently living in Berlin and more than 7,000 Germans and Israelis participating in youth exchange programs each year, citizens of the two countries are more closely connected than ever. But, while Germany remains a steadfast ally and somewhat less afflicted by the growing plague of European anti-Semitism, it has in recent years grown out of its policy of unconditional, uncritical support.

[Note: In October and November we scheduled major public events, including the annual Yitzhak Rabin lecture and the ERP series (see below). To avoid over-scheduling, we did not hold any BUJS Forum meetings in the remainder of the fall semester.]

December 2, 2014 – Simon Rabinovitch (BU), “Interpreting and Resisting the First Soviet Show Trials: The Case of Avrom Revutsky”
Professor Rabinovitch (History) presented the case of Avrom Revutsky, minister for Jewish affairs in Ukraine during much of its War of Independence (1917-1921). Considering one fascinating and previously unknown document—a deposition given by Revutsky, Professor Rabinovitch explored the complexities of Ukrainian-Jewish-Soviet relations, both during and after the civil war.

February 18, 2015 – Yair Lior (BU), “Cultural Crisis and Textual Transitions: The Confucian and Jewish Cases”[1]
In a wide-ranging talk, recent PhD (GDRS ’14) and visiting researcher Yair Lior (Religion) explored parallels in the evolution of Neo-Confucianism and Kabbalah. Beginning with two thirteenth-century developments—the appearance of the Zohar and the rise to prominence of the Four Books of Confucian philosophy—Dr. Lior noted that each system of thought was initially feared as a heresy, then accepted as part of a new orthodoxy. In both cases, the new system emerged when canonical texts—for Jews, the Talmud; for Chinese thinkers, the I Ching—lost their aura of absolute authority as a result of social change and an influx of new ideas. Whether that authority was shaken by the arrival of Buddhism in China or new translations of Greek philosophy in Europe, Kabbalah and Neo-Confucianism, Lior argued, are defensive theologies, conservative reactions by elites to cultural upheaval.

February 24, 2015 – Michael Grodin (BU) and Erin Miller (CAS ’17), “Medical Halacha and Rabbinic Responsa in the Ghettos and Camps During the Holocaust”
Historically, when rabbis have faced new questions of Jewish law, they have supplemented Halacha (settled law) with legal opinions called “responsa” or “teshuvot” (answers). During the Holocaust, Professor Grodin (School of Public Health) explained, rabbis were confronted with painful questions for which Halacha offered insufficient guidance. Drawing on research from the Project on Medicine and the Holocaust, he discussed questions dealing with sterilization, contraception, abortion, smothering a crying baby while in hiding, ransom, death, burial, suicide, and post-mortem cesarean section. As rabbis composed their answers during this period, they took into account not only Jewish law but the psychological impact of their decisions on their communities. At the same session of the forum, Erin Miller (CAS ’17), an undergraduate assistant on the Project, presented case studies from her original research.

March 24, 2015 – Olga Litvak (Clark University): “Zionism Before Herzl: The Religious Origins of Modern Jewish Political Culture” 
Challenging the scholarly commonplace that Zionism was originally a secular movement, Professor Litvak (History) offered as a counterexample the Hibbat Zion (“Lovers of Zion”) movement and discussed its roots in nineteenth-century Russian-Jewish thought. Early Zionism, she argued, drew in equal measure on Jewish thought and the ideals of Russian political reformists. In the 1870s, many educated Russians, disaffected by the unwillingness of the Czarist state to reform its feudal economy, took an interest in parliamentary systems, egalitarianism, and social democracy. For Leon Pinsker, Moshe Lilienblum and other founders of Hibbat Zion, the pogroms of 1880-1881 gave new urgency to the reformist project, which they began to re-envision in the promised land. Marrying democracy and piety in the ideal of “auto-emancipation,” this proto-Zionist movement confounds the labels “secular” and “religious.”

April 13, 2015 – Sarah Hammerschlag (University of Chicago), “School of Prophets: The Renaissance of Judaism in Postwar Paris”
Without Hitler, goes the saying, many French citizens would not even have known that they were Jewish. Thanks to Robert Gamzon and the Jewish Scouting movement (Les Éclaireurs Israélite de France), however, French Jews found in the EIF a new center of Jewish education and a place to hide. Recounting the origins of the scouting movement, Professor Hammerschlag (Religion and Literature), described its intellectual roots and its experiment with farm schools, where, from 1940, urbane, assimilated Jews labored to revive rituals and live off the land. The war, she explained, was “something of a school for prophets,” leading to a renaissance for Jewish intellectuals and Jewish life generally in France.

April 26, 2015 – Adi Ophir (Brown University and Tel Aviv University), “Gentile Troubles: Saint Paul, the Rabbis, and Us”
At our final BUJS forum of the year, Adi Ophir—Professor of Philosophy at the Cohn Institute, Tel Aviv University, and Mellon Visiting Professor at Brown University—traced the history of the goy or gentile, the Jew’s “other.” In a talk that began with St. Paul on Jews and gentiles, and ended with a similar distinction in contemporary Israeli law, Professor Ophir explained the singularity of the gentile: an “other” defined not by ethnicity or nationality but solely by what he is not.

[1] Rescheduled from late January because of snow emergency.