Conferences, English

Next Month: AJS

In case you need some convincing to go to the AJS next month, here are some sessions that might persuade you to make the trip to DC.

Three trends of note:  (1) There seems to be new interest in thinking through the formation and construction of the self (the gendered self, the religious self, the embodied self), and the idea of personhood in rabbinic sources.  (2)  The recent fascination with reading rabbinic texts in conversation with legal theory and comparative legal systems has continued.  (3) Irano-Talmudica is still going strong, and there’s a “second generation” now!

Talmudic redaction, material culture, rabbinic exegesis, and rabbis in Greco-Roman and Christian contexts are also well-represented this year.  That means there’s something for everyone…

Sunday, 9:30-11am: The Androgyne: Breaking the Gender Binary in Rabbinic Law and Literature (Grand Hyatt Washington, Renwick)

“Defying the Binary?: The Androgynus in Tosefta Bikkurim,” Sara Lev (Reconstructionist Rabbinical College)

“Stoning the ANDROGYNUS: Subverting the Boundaries of Masculinity,” Max Strassfeld (Stanford University)

“Seed and Sexuality: Rabbinic Concerns about Female Semination,” Tirzah Meacham (University of Toronto)

Chair: Judith Hauptman (The Jewish Theological Seminary)

Sunday, 11:15-1pm: The Formation of the Religious Self in Ancient Judaism (Grand Hyatt Washington, Penn A)

Abstract: This panel examines ancient Jewish texts in an effort to reconstruct the regimen of pious behaviors they seek to inculcate. The ancient Jewish texts we explore advocate the repeated performance of certain behaviors and the avoidance of others. This panel explores what was at stake when they did so. We examine several regimens of pious behavior (disciplining the senses, training one’s vision and daily performance of the Shema rituals) and argue that these regimens regulated the interaction between practitioners and the world around them, even while they led to the creation of religious subjects. We note that regimens of pious behavior gradually transformed the subject by steering him away from postures that were deemed to be unproductive or harmful and towards those that were assumed to edify and ennoble. Rather than merely changing the external behavior of the practitioner, regimens of pious behavior effected a fundamental change in how the practitioner located himself within his environment. Regimes of pious behavior sought to form the self and subjectivity of the religious practitioner. The panel contributes to our understanding of the dynamics of ancient Jewish religion by 1) highlighting how religious life operates in the concrete physical and sensory domain, and 2) showing that cultivating patterns of behavior – rather than dictating doctrine – leads to the construction of the religious self.
Chair: Steven P. Weitzman (Stanford University)

“Sensory Disciplining and Construction of the Self in the Book of Proverbs,” Greg Schmidt Goering (University of Virginia)

“Prohibition and the Production of the Rabbinic Self,” Rachel Neis (University of Michigan)

“The Shema Rituals and the Embodied Self in Tannaitic Literature,” Elizabeth Shanks Alexander (University of Virginia)

Respondent: Steven P. Weitzman (Stanford University)

Sunday, 4:15-6:15: Materiality and Politics in Jewish Antiquity (Grand Hyatt Washington, Lafayette Park)

“Hellenistic Diaspora Narratives and the Construction of an Embodied Self,” Francoise Mirguet (Arizona State University)

“Idols in Color: Polychromy, Avodah Zara and Jewish Views of Imperial Roman Sculpture,” Steven Fine (Yeshiva University)

“Preliminary Observations on the Occurrence of Ritual Implements and Iconography at the Ostia Synagogue,” Joshua Ezra Burns (Marquette University)

“The Maccabean Revolt: Who Is to Be Blamed?,” Louis H. Feldman (Yeshiva University)

Chair: Hayim Lapin (University of Maryland)

Sunday, 4:15-6:15: Rabbinic Theology: Radicalism and Revisionism (Grand Hyatt Washington, Roosevelt)

“Season(s) of Judgment: Competing Notions of Divine Justice in m. Rosh Hashana 1:2,” Joshua Cahan (The Jewish Theological Seminary)

“Crumbling Walls & Faltering Houses: Aggadic Dialectic on Disaster, Merit, and Miracle in Bavli Taanit,” Julia Watts Belser (Harvard Divinity School)

“Cultural Enthusiasm: The Transmission of The Sugya of ‘AVERA- LISHMA’ (Transgress for God’s sake),” Yuval Blankovsky (Universitaet Potsdam)

“The Paulinian and Matthean Moments of Rabbinic QABBALAT HATORAH,” Aryeh Cohen (American Jewish University)

Chair: Michael Pitkowsky (Jewish Theological Seminary)

Monday, 8:30-10:30am: Theory and History of Talmudic Redaction (Grand Hyatt Washington, Renwick)

“Caesarean Revisions and the History of the Talmud,” Moulie Vidas (University of California, Davis)

“Stylistic and Mnemonic Factors as Clues to the Intellectual History and Evolution of a Talmudic Text,” Jay Rovner (The Jewish Theological Seminary)

“‘Impurity in Public is Overridden Because the Headplate Renders it Acceptable’ – On Bavli Reconceptualization of Tannaitic Legal Thought,” Leib Moscovitz (Bar-Ilan University)

“Mingling Moments: Conjunctive Time and Rabbinic Modes of Temporality in the Babylonian Talmud,” Lynn Kaye (New York University)

Chair: Yonatan Feintuch (Bar-Ilan University)

Monday, 11am-12:45pm: Rabbinic and Medieval Exegesis (Grand Hyatt Washington, Constitution C)

“Parsing the Poetic Genre of the Song of Songs in Early Rabbinic Interpretation,” Jonathan Kaplan (Yale University)

“Peshat in the Torah Commentary of Moses ben Nahman (Ramban),” Martin I. Lockshin (York University)

“Nahmanides’ Structural Analysis of the Pattern and Design of Biblical Narrative,” Michelle J. Levine (Stern College)

“The Apocalyptic Messiah in Pesiqta Rabbati,” Rivka Ulmer (Bucknell University)

Chair: Naomi Grunhaus (Yeshiva University)

Monday, 2-4pm: Studies in Irano-Talmudica: The Next Generation (Grand Hyatt Washington, Constitution B)

Abstract: The field of Irano-Talmudica, as it has been dubbed by Shai Secunda, is expanding at an ever more rapid rate, and this panel is primarily dedicated to introducing new faces in the field, including three doctoral candidates whose dissertations are nearly completed, and their work, and one more senior new face, that of Dr. Mahnaz Moazami, of Columbia University’s Center for Iranian Studies who also teaching Middle Persian at Yeshiva University.  Samuel Thrope, a doctoral candidate at the University of California at Berekeley, presents a study that involves a fresh rethinking of the way to view the Skand Gumānīg Wizār, the “Doubt-Smashing Document,” a Zoroastrian religious polemic against Judaism, Christianity and Manichaeism. Thrope examines its very polemical interpretation of the Garden of Eden story and explores what it reveals of the author’s wider intentions.  The other papers involve various aspects of the Zoroastrian legal system and their relations—convergent or divergent—to rabbinic concerns. Yishai Kiel of Hebrew University and Shanah Schick of Yeshiva University deal with question of liability and intention in ritual and legal contexts and compare Zoroastrian approaches to parallel rabbinic texts. Mahnaz Moazami of Columbia University and Yaakov Elman examine the intersection of rabbinic and Sasanian exegesis of their respective scriptures and legal/ritual issues.  Mahnaz Moazami of Columbia University and Yaakov Elman of Yeshiva University deal with an interesting case of the intersection of legal and exegetical concerns in the Babylonian Talmud and the Pahlavi Vidēvdād, both fifth-century Sasanian compilations.

“Bad Seed: Rewriting the Garden of Eden in a Zoroastrian Critique of Judaism,” Samuel Thrope (University of California, Berkeley)

“Intention and Negligence in Rabbinic and Zoroastrian Tort Law,” Shana A. Strauch Schick (Bar-Ilan University)

“‘Shared Liability’ in Rabbinic and Zoroastrian Literature: A Comparative Analysis,” Yishai Kiel (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

“Scriptural and Unscriptural Prohibitions: Zoroastrian and Rabbinic Sin-Counting and the Severity of Atonement,” Yaakov Elman (Yeshiva University) and Mahnaz Moazami (Columbia University)

Chair: Steven Fine (Yeshiva University)

Monday, 4:30-6:30pm: Gender and Genesis: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Rachel and Leah (Grand Hyatt Washington, Constitution C)

Abstract: Rachel and Leah are paradigms of sororal relationships in the Bible, and the authors of Genesis use their rivalry to propel the narrative and to ensure the fall of Laban. Rabbinic midrash excerbates or ameliorates the sisters’ rivalry to serve their exegetical needs. Medieval kabbalists invert the rivalry and place Leah in higher esteem than Rachel. This theological twist gave rise to innovative rituals first introduced in Safed, and still practiced today among some Hasidim. Male biblical authors, the Rabbis and Kabbalists used Rachel and Leah to serve their narrative, exegetical, and theological needs. Modern Israeli female poets reclaim Rachel and Leah and see them as part of a new sorority.

“Rachel and Leah: Dangerous Sisters and the Fall of the House of Laban,” Amy Kalmanofsky (The Jewish Theological Seminary)

“Strange Bedfellows: Rachel and Leah and Jacob,” Gwynn Kessler (Swarthmore College)

Respondent: Wendy Ilene Zierler (Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion)

Chair: Wendy Ilene Zierler (Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion)

Monday, 4:30-6:30pm: Rabbinic Rhetoric (Grand Hyatt Washington, Roosevelt)

Abstract: This panel will focus on rabbinic thought, with particular interest in the role rhetorical devices and rhetoric as a discipline play in the late ancient corpus of rabbinic texts in its
various genres, analyzed from literary, intellectual, and historical standpoints and contexts. We will begin discussion by setting up a theoretical and historical framework in which to illuminate the complex relationships between philosophical, rhetorical and rabbinic traditions in the scope of ancient and late ancient period. We will begin by setting up a theoretical and historical framework in which to illuminate the complex relationships between philosophical, rhetorical and rabbinic traditions in the scope of the late ancient period. The notion of truth in relationship to law will serve as a conceptual focus of the discussion in the panel. We will continue by exploring the relationships between philosophical truth and rhetorical readings of the text of the Talmuds through a case study of textual redundancy as a source of truth in interpretation. We will then broaden the scope of the discussion by looking into literary-rhetorical forms of the Babylonian Talmud as a whole in terms of finalized truth reached through seemingly open dialectical discussion in individual sugyot in contrast to overall open-endedness of the Talmud as a larger literary unit or a “book.” We will conclude by looking even more broadly into the role of the rhetorical device of refutation in making claims of the legal truth in Rabbinic tradition in the Mishnah, and its interpretation in the Bavli. Each paper will take up to 20 minutes, and the time that remains will be given to questions from the floor and to general discussion.

“Gorgias and the Rabbis: Rhetoric, Law, and Truth in the Talmud,” Richard Hidary (Yeshiva University)

“The Rules of Redundancy: How Changes in Rabbinic Rules of Exegesis Contributed to the Growing Complexity of Sugyot,” David Brodsky (New York University)

“Rhetorical Ends of the Talmud: From Local Conclusiveness to Metatextual Openness,” Zvi Septimus (Harvard University)

“PERITROPE (Self-Refutation) in Sextus Empiricus and the Rabbinic discourse,” Sergey Dolgopolski (University at Buffalo, SUNY)

Chair: Barry Scott Wimpfheimer (Northwestern University)

Tuesday, 8:30-10:30: The Making of Rabbinic Law, Power, and Authority (Grand Hyatt Washington, Renwick)

“Rabbinic Specialization,” Tzvi Michael Novick (University of Notre Dame)

“The Study of Tannaitic Law in its Ancient Legal Context,” Jonathan Milgram (The Jewish Theological Seminary)

“Narrating the Trial of Herod/Jannaeus: Late Antique Jewish Conceptions of Law and Power,” David C. Flatto (Pennsylvania State University)

“The Image of Moses in SIFRE ZUTA and the Construction of Rabbinic Authority,” Nehemia Polen (Hebrew College)

Chair: Christine Hayes (Yale University)

Tuesday, 10:45am-12:45pm: Comparative Contextualizations of Jewish Legal History (Grand Hyatt Washington, Independence I)

Abstract: This panel offers a critical comparison of historical moments of intersection between rabbinic legal culture and non-rabbinic contexts. Our objective is to situate specific rabbinic legal ideas within their diverse antique or late antique contexts through case-study comparisons with neighboring legal traditions. The panel’s theoretical goal is to assert that rabbinic and non-rabbinic legal similarities result not merely from “borrowing” or from “influence,” but from historical instances of dialectic interchange, from shared customary traditions, and from shared contexts.  Each of the three papers uses a doctrinal case study to address broad questions of comparison and contextualization. Two of the papers examine issues related to the legal treatment of the MOREDET (the recalcitrant or insubordinate wife) from the perspective of two distinct historical contexts: one Sasanian and the other Islamic. One paper scrutinizes the relationship between Sasanian and Jewish practices by exploring how the MOREDET is classified, what legal ramifications result from her status, and the procedure of document issuance. Another paper investigates how a Gaonic decree concerning the MOREDET has been interpreted within rabbinic historiography and seeks to historicize the relationship between this decree and its presumed Islamic context. The third paper continues the panel’s theme of comparative contextualization by examining the relationship between Roman and rabbinic discussions of animals as legal subjects, with particular focus on how the Mishnah’s treatment of the matter relates to Roman legal (and philosophical) ideas.  By presenting these three distinct perspectives on rabbinic law, this panel challenges some aspects of the emplotted – to use Hayden White’s terminology – historical narrative of Jewish law. In so doing, we seek to problematize the boundary between rabbinic and non-rabbinic in the historical construction of rabbinic legal authority.

“Animals as Legal Subjects in Roman and Rabbinic Law,” Beth A. Berkowitz (The Jewish Theological Seminary)

“The Disobedient Wife in Sasanian and Rabbinic Law,” Shai Secunda (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

“The Recalcitrant Wife in Jewish Law and Islamic Context,” Lena Salaymeh (University of California, Berkeley)

Respondent: Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert (Stanford University)

Chair: Jeffrey L. Rubenstein (New York University)

Tuesday, 1:45-3:45pm: New Perspectives on Eating and Identity in Jewish Studies (Grand Hyatt Washington, Independence G)

“In Defense of Kosher Food: Ancient Apologies for KASHRUT,” Jordan D. Rosenblum (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Tuesday, 1:45-3:45pm: Rituals and Ritual Concepts in Mishnah and Tosefta (Grand Hyatt Washington, Renwick)

“The Multiple Speech Acts of the Cemetery Blessing,” Yehuda Septimus (Brooklyn College / Touro College)

“Extending Greetings to the Other,” Michael Pitkowsky (Jewish Theological Seminary)

“Concepts of Pollution in Numbers 5 and Mishnah SOTAH,” Eve Levavi Feinstein (Independent Scholar)

Chair: Elizabeth Shanks Alexander (University of Virginia)

Tuesday, 4-5:45pm: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity (Grand Hyatt Washington, Independence I)

“Performance and Piety: Theaters and Synagogues in Later Rabbinic Culture,” Loren R. Spielman (Portland State University)

“Shifting attitudes to time, society, and calendars in Jewish and Christian late Antiquity,” Sacha Stern (University College London)

Chair: Jonathan Milgram (The Jewish Theological Seminary)


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