Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture
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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News September 2011

September 2, 2011

The Memorial Foundation's Scholarship and Fellowship Programs, 2011-12

At the Foundation's Executive Committee Meeting in Israel this summer, our leadership focused on the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, about which I reported in my last Board Briefing, and the Foundation's scholarship and fellowship programs. Both are essential components of the Foundation's mandate for the development of the social capital of the Jewish people - i.e., our cultural and communal leadership.

Despite the financial crisis that we, like other non-profit bodies in the United States, have confronted in the last two years, the Foundation has maintained both the high level of excellence and support for our Doctoral scholarship and Fellowship programs as in the past.

You may recall that last year I prepared a report providing an analysis of our scholarship and fellowship programs. Those results were exceedingly impressive. The grades the recipients received in both programs over the last five years have been in continual and consistent ascent. The vast majority of our recipients received "P", priority evaluations. This year all the doctoral recipients received similar "P" evaluations, as did almost all the fellowships. Quite an accomplishment. This year we were also able to maintain the maximum level of $10,000 for the most outstanding recipients and increased the number of both our doctoral scholarships and fellowships.

To illustrate the success of these programs, I shall provide four thumbnail profiles of this coming year's recipients from each of the Foundation's scholarship and fellowship programs - a haredi historian, a woman Talmudist, a Ukranian non-Jewish philo-semite completing her doctorate at Harvard, and a community activist from Lithuania. Both they and their fields of endeavor are extraordinarily unique and reflect the wide range and diversity of the Foundation's impact on Jewish life.


Dr. Ayelet Segal

Ayelet Segal, a recipient of a Memorial Foundation fellowship for 2011-2012, completed her dissertation last year with the help of a special doctoral scholarship. Dr. Segal's project deals with "Prenuptial Agreements in Jewish Law", the subject of her dissertation. Her academic advisors at Hebrew University believed that her project will have major practical and public policy implications for crucial aspects of Jewish family law in Israel, and will address, in particular, the difficult and sometimes tragic situation of women who are refused a divorce by their husbands and, hence, become agunot.

The findings of her research have revealed that the halakhic tool of prenuptial agreements was widely used historically as a method of both preventing problems in the area of kiddushin and gittin and solving them. She found that the attitude of the halakhic decisors toward these agreements was surprisingly positive. They recognized the halakhic validity of the agreements as binding and forced the husband to fulfill his obligation in situations where, according to the strict letter of the law, in absence of the agreement, he would not have been required to do so. Her analysis of the halakhic sources demonstrated that improvement in women's legal status took place in communities where prenuptial agreements were used.

Although the solution of prenuptial agreements is considered today to be a modern innovation, many are unaware that while the term "prenuptial agreement" is indeed a modern one, this halakhic tool was in use in ancient, medieval and pre-modern Jewish society. She believes that increasing awareness of the numerous significant precedents revealed in her study and the positive attitude of the halakhic decisors to these agreements may encourage the wider use of prenuptial agreements as a solution to the problem of agunot.

Prior to her doctoral work at Bar-Ilan University, Ms. Segal studied halakha and Talmud at Matan and Midreshet Lindenbaum, and received certification as a To'enet Rabbanit from the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, qualified to serve as an advocate in the rabbinic court system on issues of divorce and agunah. Following her experiences in the Rabbinical Courts, she decided to enter the field of academic studies. The Talmud Department at Bar-Ilan University created a precedent by accepting her as the first women in a program designated for men with extensive Talmud backgrounds. 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.

At the Memorial Foundation's Executive Committee meeting this summer in Israel, Dr. Segal presented the findings of her research. It was a truly impressive performance. She joins the cadre of outstanding women who received support from the Foundation and completed their doctorates and/or the fellowships they have been awarded in Talmud with distinction: Aliza Bazak, 2009-10, 2010-11, 2011-12; Tehilla Beeri, 2009-10; Sarah Ben Moshe, 2007-08, 2009-10; Tamar Jacobowitz, 2009-10; Lynn Kaye, 2011-12; Ayelet Lazarovsky, 2010-11; Aliza Segal, 2010-11; and Vered Noam, 1998-99 and 2009-10.


Dr. Maoz Kahana

Dr. Maoz Kahana, who will receive the Ephraim E. Urbach Post-Doctoral Fellowship in 2011-2012 for his project, "Spiritualism and Law: Hassidic Halakha", plans to examine and analyze the genre of Hassidic Halakha and its characteristic features. Dozens of 18th and 19th century Halakhic adjudicators who served as Hassidic masters left behind Halakhic writings of enormous scope in Responsa and scholarly Halakhic literature. Through his study of specific Hassidic figures, Dr. Kahana will explore two opposite types of Hasidic adjudication, one conservative, in which the Hassidic influences serve as a source of stringency and concern; others, more radical, offer a specific Hassidic alternative to the Shulchan Aruch, The Code of Jewish Law.

Dr. Kahana's larger focus will be on halakha and Jewish history in the modern and early modern periods, with particular attention to the relationships between developments in European history and the formation of the structure and concepts of contemporary halakhic thought in the Responsa literature.

Dr. Kahana received his Ph.D., summa cum laude, from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2010, where he also earned his MA in Talmud. Previously he studied Talmud in various Haredi yeshivot and Jewish history, comparative religion and Jewish philosophy at Hebrew University. Two things are remarkable about his academic career - he continues to identify himself as a haredi Jew and, while engaged in his studies, Dr. Kahana was involved in communal work in one of the poorer neighborhoods in Jerusalem.

Work on his dissertation, "From Prague to Pressburg: Halakhic Writing In a Changing World, From the Noda BeYehuda to the Hatam Sofer, 1730-1839," was supported with a Doctoral Scholarship from the Memorial Foundation. Maoz's dissertation committee considered it one of the best written in the field of Jewish history in the last decade, both groundbreaking and highly original in creating new methodological tools to analyze the deep structural changes in what was once one of the central intellectual preoccupations of the Jewish elite, halakhic discourse and rulings.

Dr. Kahana was a Fellow at the Tikvah Center of Law and Civilization at the New York University School of Law last year. Next year he will teach at the History Department of Hebrew University in Jerusalem as a Scholian Scholar.


Sofiya Grachova

Sofiya Grachova, originally from Luhansk, Ukraine, who is concluding her third year at Harvard University where she is completing her doctoral dissertation in the History Department, will receive a special doctoral scholarship for 2011-2012. She also received a Memorial Foundation Doctoral Scholarship in 2010-2011.

Ms. Grachova's dissertation, "The Politics of Jewish Life: Medicine and Russian Jews (1881-1930)" under the supervision of Prof. Terry Martin, is investigating how Jews, deemed as an unhealthy ethnic group, became an object of social reform and intervention in pre-Soviet Russia and Eastern Europe. The idea that Jews were particularly susceptible to some diseases was perceived as scientific fact. Physicians advanced various theories, ranging from racial "degeneration" to the negative effects of official anti-Jewish discrimination. Ms. Grachova proposes to demonstrate that Russian-Jewish physicians were not passive recipients of this discourse about Jewish health, but creatively participated in its development. In the eyes of many Jewish physicians of the time, diseases had predominantly social causes. This led to the conviction that factors responsible for Jewish pathological health conditions could be eliminated by public efforts. By examining the physicians' interaction with the state, Grachova hopes to demonstrate how traditional models of public health policies, based at that time on governmental regulation, were replaced with a transformative approach based on expert medical opinion. This, in turn, led to implementation of public health programs to improve personal and social hygiene.

In his reference letter, Prof. Terry Martin, her dissertation supervisor, writes that Sofiya Grachova is, at this point in her career, "the best qualified graduate student that he has supervised in his dozen years teaching at Harvard." Her special strength as a gifted historian is the integration of Jewish history into Russian, Ukrainian, and European intellectual history. Although non-Jewish, Grachova has chosen to specialize in Jewish history. Her commitment to the Jewish community is also reflected in her courageous criticisms of anti-Semitism in contemporary Ukrainian life.


Simonas Dovidavicius

Simonas Dovidavicius from Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania will receive a Community Service Scholarship for 2011-2012. It will enable him to visit Holocaust research and documentation centers in Europe to study new methods of enhancing the Sugihara Museum which he helped establish in Kovno with our support, and to develop his own abilities and expertise to advance his work at the museum and in the rejuvenation of Jewish life and culture in Lithuania.

Some of the members of Dovidavicius' family were saved during the Holocaust by Lithuanian families who hid them. This inspired him to both memorialize the victims of the Holocaust in Lithuania and commemorate the heroes who helped them survive. He began that career by interviewing Holocaust survivors and righteous Gentiles from Lithuania for the Spielberg Foundation. With the help of several earlier Community Service scholarships from the Foundation, he became a major figure in the establishment of the Sugihara Museum.

The Sugihara Museum memorializes the heroism and altruism of Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara and honorary Dutch consul and businessman Jan Zwartendijk, who saved thousands of Lithuanian and Polish Jews by issuing them exit visas. Sugihara House attracts thousands of tourists from all over the world and works with local Lithuanian school children, educating them about Jewish history and the Holocaust in Lithuania. The Education Center at the Sugihara House includes a specialized library and research center, exhibits of Jewish art and culture and a Centre for Civil Tolerance.

Dovidavicius contends "that it is very hard for people during a war, and especially in a totalitarian environment, to do something that will make a positive difference. Sugihara teaches us that one individual can make a difference."

Dovidavicius himself, with our help, has made an enormous difference in Lithuania. Besides fostering Holocaust education in Kovno, he has also spearheaded the Jewish community's cultural and educational institutions there, served as Chairman of the Kaunas Jewish Community, and is currently a member of the national Lithuanian Jewish Community Council.

 

Best wishes for a New Year of peace, contentment and good health.

Warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President