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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News September 2009

September 29, 2009

The Fifteenth World Congress of Jewish Studies

The World Congress of Jewish Studies, the most important global assembly dealing with Jewish scholarship in the world today, completed the fifteenth congress, one of their most successful programs, in Jerusalem this August. The World Union of Jewish Studies, which organizes these Congresses, has been a member organization of the Memorial Foundation for many decades and we have had a long-standing and very positive relationship with them. Congratulations to Prof. Sara Japhet, the outgoing president of the World Union, and her staff for the incredible success they achieved.

What was remarkable about this congress was the extraordinary range of Jewish scholarship covered at the meeting. The program's division of sessions included The Bible and Its World; The History of the Jewish People; Rabbinic Literature, Talmud, Jewish Law, and Jewish Thought; Literature, Languages, and the Arts; and Contemporary Jewish Society. A total of 1,408 scholars presented papers covering the incredible range of subjects listed above. Our office reviewed the names of those scholars and found that 739 doctoral scholarships and fellowships were awarded to them by the Memorial Foundation. Put another way, 450 of the 1,408, i.e. 32% of the presenters, received scholarships and/or fellowships from the Foundation for their doctoral studies and/or their research and publications, a truly remarkable statistic!

In my Board Briefings in the past, I have reported on the success in a variety of scholarly fields and communal endeavors of individuals who have received support from the Foundation early in their careers. The above statistic reflects the cumulative impact of our scholarship and fellowship programs on the growth and development of creative Jewish scholarship and culture around the world.


The Ephraim Urbach Post-Doctoral Fellowships

One of the most significant elements of the excellent history of co-operation between the Memorial Foundation and the World Union is the Ephraim Urbach Post-Doctoral Fellowships, a joint program of both institutions, initiated and funded by the Foundation in 1996. The Foundation established the Urbach Fellowships in honor of the late Prof. Ephraim Urbach, who served for many years as the vice president of the Foundation and was the long time president of the World Union. The fellowships are awarded to young men and women scholars who have recently completed their doctorates in Jewish studies with distinction, and have demonstrated great promise for productive and prominent careers in Jewish studies. To date fifty four individuals have received those grants (See Appendix A). According to the leading scholars in the field of Jewish Studies, the recipients are the creme de la creme of the next generation of Jewish scholars and academics.

Since the inception of the Ephraim Urbach scholarship more than a decade ago, Urbach Fellowship recipients have been invited by the World Union of Jewish Studies to present the results of their grants at the World Congress of Jewish Studies. At the fifteenth World Congress of Jewish Studies, eight recipients of the Urbach fellowships during the past two years did so at the august assembly that took place in Jerusalem this summer


Recent Recipients of the Ephraim Urbach Fellowship

The Memorial Foundation, with the cooperation of the World Union of Jewish Studies, awarded five Ephraim Urbach post-doctoral fellowships for the current academic year. The profiles and projects of these Urbach Fellowship recipients are presented below.

Dalit Berman Assouline, from Jerusalem, received the Ephraim E. Urbach Post-Doctoral Fellowship for the preparation of her book, "Israeli Haredi Yiddish: In the Shadow of Hebrew; A Study in Language Contact," an expansion of her doctoral dissertation, completed at the Hebrew University, where she was awarded the Ph.D., summa cum laude, in Yiddish in 2008.

Her work deals with the present-day Yiddish used by the ultra-Orthodox Haredi communities in Israel, mainly in Jerusalem, and the ways in which modern Israeli Hebrew, both spoken and written, affects Israeli Haredi Yiddish. Her innovative methodology combines a socio-linguistic study and linguistic analysis of important grammatical and semantic phenomena discovered by Dr. Assouline during many years of fieldwork within the Haredi community. The novelty of this unique socio-linguistic context is without precedent in the thousand year history of the Yiddish language, given the situation today that for the first time, the dominant language of the general population in which Yiddish is spoken and written is not an Indo-European language — Germanic or Slavic — used by gentiles, but a Semitic, Jewish language — Modern Hebrew.

Dr. Assouline currently teaches courses in Yiddish Language and Literature at Ben-Gurion University.

Ehud Krinis, from Kibbutz Shoval in the Negev, received the Ephraim E. Urbach Post-Doctoral Fellowship for revising, editing and publishing his doctoral thesis, "The Idea of the Chosen People in Judah Halevi's al-Kitab al-Khazari and its Origins in the Shi'i Imam Doctrine," for which he received the Ph.D., summa cum laude, in Judeo-Arabic Studies from Ben-Gurion University in 2007. Dr. Krinis was also awarded the Kreitman Foundation Fellowship for his doctoral studies and is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Mandel Institute for Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University, the most prestigious post-doctoral fellowship in Jewish Studies in Israel.

In his current project, Dr. Krinis examines the connection between the idea of the chosen people in Judah Halevi's Kitab al-Khazari (The Kuzari) and the Shi'i doctrine of the Imam. On the basis of his comprehensive reading in both Jewish and Shi'i sources, he has been able to point to significant similarities between the two concepts and to offer convincing evidence in support of his argument that Halevi's concept of the chosen people has its roots in early Shi'i belief about the Imamate. He suggest that Halevi, drawing on Shi'i literary sources, extended the Shi'i concept of the Imam, a chain of chosen leaders, to the notion of the people of Israel as G-d's Chosen People.

Eran Viezel, from Kibbutz Netiv HaLamed, received the Ephraim Urbach Fellowship for "The Sources of Peshat Exegesis in Northern France." Dr. Viezel was awarded his Ph.D., summa cum laude, in Bible from the Hebrew University in 2008, where he also received his B.A. in General and Comparative Literature, and his M.A. in Bible. His doctoral dissertation, "The Commentary on Chronicles Attributed to Rashi: Its Sources and Methodology, Its Contribution to the Exegesis of Chronicles, and Its Role in the History of Jewish Biblical Exegesis," is under the supervision of Prof. Sara Japhet.

The research proposed by Dr. Viezel investigates one of the most fundamental and evasive aspects of Jewish biblical exegesis. The origins and sources of the Peshat methodology which characterized the classical French school of exegesis is traditionally viewed as initiated by Rashi and his disciples. This school focused on the peshat, the plain meaning of the text. Dr. Viezel plans to devote his post-doctoral project to a thorough and systematic study of the links between northern French exegesis and commentaries produced in other countries, through a meticulous survey of the commentaries written by Rashi and his heirs in northern France and Germany and their comparison with earlier or contemporary works composed elsewhere. Dr. Viezel believes that the possibility that Rashi was influenced by earlier peshat commentators and fashioned his own exegetical method under their influence could offer a measured and more accurate evaluation of the degree of his exegetical innovation and his influence on those who followed him.

Dana Olmert's, project, "The 'I' and 'We' — The First Women Critics of Hebrew Literature," is an expansion of her doctoral dissertation, "The Emergence of Hebrew Poetry by Women during the 1920s: Psychoanalytical and Feminist Perspectives". She received her Ph.D., summa cum laude, in Hebrew literature at the Hebrew University in 2008. During her graduate studies, she chose to complement her M.A. in Hebrew Literature with a second Masters degree at University College London where she received a M.Sc., with distinction in Theoretical Psychoanalytical Studies, which she applied to her analysis of literature, especially poetry.

In her current project, Dr. Olmert proposes to analyze the emergence of women as cultural agents at the beginning of the 20th century in Israel through their works of literary criticism. The first part of the project will address the psycho-political, gender orientation and Zionist aspects of the critical writings of three poets: Rachel Bluwstein, Elisheva Bichovski and Yocheved Bat-Miriam.

Dr. Olmert has already published scholarly articles in academic journals and has served as a literary editor at the Hakibutz Hameuchad Publishing House. This year she is a post-doctoral scholar in the Literature Department at Tel-Aviv University. She has been teaching in the Department of Hebrew Literature at the Hebrew University since 2001.

We believe that the most recent recipients of the Ephraim Urbach Fellowships, like the four hundred and fifty scholars who the Foundation supported who gave papers at the fifteenth World Congress of Jewish Studies, will make a real difference in Jewish life as initiators of actions and purveyors of ideas that can transform the character of Jewish scholarship and culture around the world in the future.

Best wishes for a joyous Succot.

Warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President