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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News July 2009

July 20, 2009

The Next (New) Generation of Scholars in Talmud and Rabbinics

At the meeting of the Foundation's Executive Committee in Jerusalem on June 23rd, it was agreed that the Foundation should attempt to maintain both the high level of excellence and the support for the Foundation's Scholarship and Fellowship programs, as in years past, to the extent that our fiscal resources allowed at this time.

To most effectively illustrate the high and unusual quality of the scholarship grants we awarded this year, I will not provide you in my report with statistics, but with personal and scholarly profiles of recipients from only one subject area, Talmud and Rabbinics, which demonstrate dramatically the importance and impact of our work.

There were ten doctoral applications in the field of Talmud and Rabbinic this year. Six of those were awarded grants, all women. Furthermore, all received the highest rating of P, a priority project. Two of the women who received P+'s are receiving the special doctoral scholarships.

These women represent an extraordinary phenomenon in Jewish academic life, which should be self evident to even the least sophisticated observers of Jewish life.

Let me first report to you in somewhat greater detail about the two recipients of the special doctoral scholarships of $10,000 and then follow with brief profiles of three of the four women who received regular scholarships. I will then also share with you a bio on one of the Fellowship recipients in the area of Talmud, also a woman.

My brief commentary on this remarkable phenomenon will follow the presentation of these bios.

Sara Benmoshe

A numSarah Benmoshe is preparing her doctoral dissertation in Talmud and Rabbinics at Bar Ilan University, School of Jewish Studies. The personal circumstances in her life are quite daunting. Sarah is a single mother with no living relatives other than her son. After completing French matriculation at age 15 at the French Mission School in Fez, Morocco, she received degrees in Business and Administration at the Sorbonne in Paris.

Ms. Benmoshe began her studies in Talmud and Rabbinics at the Hebrew University after immigrating to Israel in 1997, and commenced her rabbinical studies at the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary where she received her rabbinical ordination. She began her doctoral studies in Talmud at Bar Ilan University in 2005.

Ms. Benmoshe's doctoral dissertation, "A Scholar's Commentary Edition to Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot, Chapter Four," under the supervision of Prof. Shamma Friedman, focuses on the development of the halachot dealing with a father's rights in relationship to his daughter, and a husband's rights in relationship to his wife, as well as his obligations with regard to both. She will examine the development of these laws and how they differ in the Israeli and Babylonian traditions, using all existing Jewish and non-Jewish textual sources.

Ms. Benmoshe was a previous recipient of a Doctoral Scholarship from the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture in 2007-08.

Ayelet Segal

Ayelet Segal, a Jerusalemite, is completing her doctorate in Talmud at Bar Ilan University. Ms. Segal was the first woman to receive a B.A. in the Talmud Department at Bar Ilan University in an accelerated degree program geared to students of unusual excellence who have studied Talmud more than five years in post-secondary educational institutions. Upon completion of her B.A., she was accepted directly into the Ph.D. program in Talmud, receiving a Fellowship from the prestigious President's Fellowship Program for Outstanding Doctoral Students. Prior to her doctoral work at Bar Ilan University, Ms. Segal received certification as a To'enet Rabbani from the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, qualified to serve as an advocate in the rabbinic court system where she served on issues of divorce and agunah.

The topic of Ms. Segal's doctoral thesis is "Prenuptial Agreements in Jewish Law." Her academic advisors advised us that her dissertation will have major practical and public policy implications in crucial aspects of Jewish family law in Israel, especially the difficult and sometimes tragic situation of women who are refused a divorce by their husbands and, hence, become agunot.

Aliza Bazak

Aliza Bazak is pursuing her doctoral studies at Bar-Ilan University. She was also certified by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel as a To'enet Rabbani, qualifying to serve as an advocate in the rabbinic court system and since 1996, has served as a rabbinic advocate in the rabbinical courts on behalf of plaintiffs in divorce proceedings. She is also an instructor in the conversion program for Israel Defense Forces soldiers at the Jewish Studies Institute where she prepares potential converts for conversion through the military rabbinical court.

Ms. Bazak's doctoral dissertation, "The Tav LeMeitav Presumption in Modern Halakhic Discourse," examines the development of the parameters, rules and assumptions that restrict the ability of a woman to obtain a Jewish divorce.

Tamar Jacobowitz

Tamar Jacobowitz is pursuing her doctoral degree at the University of Pennsylvania where she received her B.A. magna cum laude.

Her dissertation, "The Imperative Gaze: Discourse of the Body in Leviticus Rabbah," combines a literary analysis of midrashic exegesis with a study of the body as revealing components of the religious outlook of the rabbis. She is examining several chapters in Leviticus Rabbah, in which rabbis discuss a range of issues pertaining to the bodies of women, including menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth and illness, to learn how they might reveal something more about rabbinic attitudes toward a women's body.

Yifat Monnickendam

Yifat Monnickendam, another Jerusalemite, who is studying for her doctoral degree in Talmud at Bar Ilan University, received her B.A. and M.A. in Talmud magna cum laude at the Hebrew University. She currently serves as a research assistant in Talmud at Tel Aviv University for Dr. Vered Noam. More about Prof. Noam in a moment. Monnickendam was also awarded the Rotenstreich Fellowship, one of the most distinguished awards granted by the Council of Higher Education in Israel to doctoral students.

Her doctoral dissertation deals with "Halakhic Issues in the Writings of the Syriac Church Fathers Ephrem and Aphrahat," in which she explores the similarities and differences between Jewish and early Christian sources on issues concerning Halakhah and early Church Law.

Vered Noam, Yifat Monnickendam's advisor, is also the recipient of a fellowship this year to update her previously published work on Megilat Ta'anit, based on an additional discovered manuscript of the scroll and its later rabbinic commentary.

Dr. Noam, who currently serves as a professor of Talmud at Tel Aviv University, received a Memorial Foundation special doctoral scholarship and an Ephraim Urbach post doctoral fellowship to publish her critical edition of Megilat Ta'anit.

This text, often cited in Talmud is historically important because it is the only manuscript from the Pharisaic period from the second temple with the exception of Qumran works.

In 1998 when Vered Noam received her scholarships and fellowships, one of the earliest by the Foundation for a woman scholar in the field of Talmud and Rabbinics, she was invited to address a meeting of our Board of Trustees in Jerusalem. I remember well her incredible performance, which overwhelmed some of the professors and scholars represented on our Board who had earlier expressed some ambivalence about the invitation, which she easily overcame by her outstanding presentation. What is especially gratifying is that she is now an advisor to the next generation of women scholars in her field.

May I also add that Prof. Noam is the mother of six children.


Other Projects in Talmud Supported by the Foundation

These doctoral grants to women in the field of Talmud & Rabbinics represent only one facet of the numerous contributions we have made in the field of Talmud and Rabbinics. The Foundation has assisted in the preparation and publication of scores of classic publications dealing with academic and traditional rabbinic scholarship. We are one of the few foundations in Jewish life whose range encompasses both these, not always complimentary, areas. Several examples: we helped Rabbi Steinsaltz initiate and publish much of his monumental translation of the Talmud into Hebrew and subsequently into Russian and English. Other classics that we supported include Otzar Haposkim, Torah Shelemah, the Talmudic Encyclopedia, Yad Harav Herzog's Critical Edition of the Talmud, and Prof. Shamma Friedman's more contemporary and academic Critical Edition of the Talmud.

Nahum Goldmann decades ago introduced a program to support the Torah scholarship which was decimated in the Shoah through grants to rabbinic students in the field of traditional scholarship. The quality of those programs, in this and in past years, matches the level of our doctoral and fellowship programs.


The Macroscopic Impact

To fully appreciate the significance of the impact of these grants, I must switch for a moment to the macroscopic level of our work.

Since the Foundation's inception in 1965 we have awarded more than 13,000 grants in the Scholarship and Fellowship program. The payoff of these programs has been enormous. For example, forty-one of those recipients were subsequently awarded the Israel Prize, one of the most prestigious honors in Jewish life.

In this area, as I have written and reported in recent years, the Foundation has given special attention and played a more than modest role in the development and support of women scholars in a multitude of disciplines.

This report highlights a surprising and most profound development, the Foundation's role in developing the next (and new) generation of women scholars in the area of Talmud and Rabbinics. I am sure these women scholars will also make a difference, a real difference, in Jewish life in the 21st century, as initiators of actions, or purveyors of ideas that can transform the character of Jewish institutions and communities around the world. These women will undoubtedly, through their scholarship, have an enormous impact on Jewish cultural life, not via polemics or politics, but their ideas and ideals, rooted in Jewish texts.

It is not only that we are supporting them, but also that they have found us to enable them to pursue their scholarly commitments, thereby enlarging our understanding of rabbinic law through their scholarship. We should be enormously proud of the pioneering and critical role we are playing in this area. With our help, may these and other women scholars, grow from strength to strength.

Best wishes for a pleasant summer.

Warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President