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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News March 2012

March 29, 2012


Aharon Appelfeld, Talya Fishman and Deborah Dash Moore
Among Foundation Recipients Awarded Prestigious Jewish Book Prizes

The Jewish Book Council of the United States awarded its prizes for outstanding books in the field of Jewish literature and scholarship in March to four past Foundation recipients. Among the recipients were Aharon Appelfeld, one of the best and most well known writers in the world today for his sixteenth novel, Until the Dawn's Light, Jonathan Krasner for The Benderly Boys and American Jewish Education, and Prof. Deborah Dash Moore, co-author of Gender and Jewish History.

All the above individuals were recipients of doctoral scholarships and/or fellowships which helped launch their career as outstanding literary and cultural figures in Jewish life. Aharon Appelfeld received two fellowships in 1972 and 1973 which enabled him to pursue his literary aspirations: Jonathan Krasner received a fellowship in 2006 and Professor Deborah Dash Moore one in 1983-84.


Talya Fishman

I should like to focus in this report on Professor Talya Fishman, the fourth Foundation recipient of the National Jewish Book Prize for her book, Becoming the People of the Talmud: Oral Torah as Written Tradition in Medieval Jewish Cultures. Prof. Fishman represents a vital example of a growing and powerful trend of distinguished young women who are making a powerful impact on Jewish scholarship today. Prof. Fishman, an associate professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, was also supported at the beginning of her academic career with doctoral scholarships in 1982, 1983 and 1984 at Harvard University where she studied, and was mentored by, and apprenticed to, Prof. Yitzchak Twersky, the only woman to receive a doctorate under his supervision. Prior to her graduate studies, she was active in a leadership role in community work in Areivim, a program sponsored by the World Union of Jewish Studies and supported for many years by the Foundation where she also made impressive contributions in Europe.

In recent years, the Foundation has been monitoring the growing role of Jewish women scholars like Prof. Fishman in advanced scholarly research in Jewish studies. When I came to the Foundation several decades ago, few women were recipients of Memorial Foundation grants. Today about half the grantees in our doctoral, special doctoral and fellowship programs are women.

An important correlate of this new phenomenon is the number of women from traditional Jewish backgrounds prominent in this area. More and more women graduates of Jewish day schools in the United States and religious schools in Israel are enrolling in graduate programs of Jewish studies and planning for academic careers in the field. It is not unlikely that in the decades ahead, Jewish women, including many from traditional backgrounds like Prof. Fishman, will occupy important positions in the field of Jewish Studies. Indeed, many of the graduate students that Prof. Fishman teaches and advises at the University of Pennsylvania already come from this type of background.

A surprising and most profound development within this trend has been the Foundation's role in developing the next (and new) generation of women scholars in the area of Talmud and Rabbinics. They are not only outstanding students but also extraordinary teachers like Prof. Fishman. Indeed, when she taught at Rice University in Texas, the Jewish community awarded her a prestigious communal prize for her role as an educator in their community, bringing her new perspectives, not only to the students at the University, but to the Jewish community as well.

Prof. Talya Fishman suggests that women can and do bring a fresh perspective to Talmudic texts. This is especially true of women, who like herself as indicated above, received extensive training at Jewish schools prior to their university studies in Jewish texts, notably Tanach, but also Talmud. In her view, they are not constrained by the methodologies and orientation characteristic of the male yeshivot, and therefore can bring to Talmudic and Rabbinic texts different perspectives, most importantly, acknowledging their connection with the broader culture of the environment in which those texts were formulated and studied in all generations of Jewish history.

We are certain that these women scholars like Prof. Fishman and her colleagues will, through their scholarship, not only enlarge our understanding of rabbinic law but make a difference, a real difference, in Jewish cultural life, not via polemics or politics, but via their ideas and ideals, rooted in Jewish texts.

We are enormously proud of the pioneering and critical role we are playing in all these areas. We salute Professor Fishman on her achievements as she joins a true Who's Who of women Jewish scholars who have received scholarships and fellowships early in their career and who now hold distinguished positions and chairs in Jewish Studies around the world: Prof. Elisheva Baumgarten, Bar Ilan University; Prof. Adina Berkowitz, Bar Ilan University; Prof. Rachel Elior, Hebrew University; Prof. Paula Hyman, Yale University; Prof. Sara Japhet, past president of the World Union of Jewish Studies, Hebrew University; Prof. Barbara Kirschenblatt-Gimblett , New York, University; Prof. Deborah Lipstadt, Emory University; Prof. Ziva Amishai-Maisels , Hebrew University, a recipient of the Israel Prize in Art History; Dr. Vivian Mann, Jewish Theological Seminary; Prof. Vered Noam, Tel Aviv University; Prof. Dalia Ofer, Hebrew University; Prof. Dina Porat, Tel Aviv University; Prof. Galit Hasan-Rokem, Hebrew University; Prof. Tamar Ross, Bar Ilan University; Prof. Anita Shapira, a most recent recipient of the Israel Prize in Jewish History, Tel Aviv University; Prof. Chava Turniansky, Hebrew University; and Prof. Ruth Wisse, Harvard University.

There were also seven finalists in the competition for the National Jewish Book Awards and Rohr Prize who were also recipients of Foundation support: Professor Elisheva Carlebach, Palaces of Time, received three doctoral scholarships in 1997,1998 and 1999 and a fellowship grant in 1990 for her work on the cultural, intellectual and religious history of the Jews in the early modern era; Michah Gottlieb, Writings on Judaism Christianity and the Bible, a recipient of doctoral scholarships in 2000-02; Deborah Lipstadt, The Eichman Trial, recipient of a fellowship in 1997-98; Linda Stern Zisquit, These Mountains: Selected Poems of Rivka Miriam, recipient of a fellowship in 2005-06; Eliyana R. Adler, In Her Hands, recipient of doctoral scholarships in 1998-2000 and an Ephraim E. Urbach Post-Doctoral Fellowship in 2004-05; Abigail Green, Moses Montefiore: Jewish Liberator, Imperial Hero, recipient of a fellowship in 2004-05; and James Loeffler, The Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire, recipient of a special doctoral scholarship in 2003-04.


Selected Publications Supported by the Memorial Foundation

Attached is a select list of publications supported by the Foundation that resulted from our doctoral, fellowship and institutional programs received at the Foundation during the academic year 2011. These publications provide ample testimony to the key role the Foundation plays in nurturing Jewish scholarship and creativity around the world. The Foundation has since its inception assisted in the publication of approximately 4,000 volumes covering all aspects of Jewish culture, broadly defined.

I should like to call attention to several of the volumes on the attached list.

The Plaut Modern Torah Commentary, published originally in 1994, provided a contemporary commentary on the Torah for the Reform movement in North America. The Russian language edition which has now appeared with the support of the Memorial Foundation was conceived in response to the growing number of Russian speaking Jews afiliated with Reform congregations in Russia. The training of many of the rabbinic and other leaders of those congregations was supported through the Foundation's International Community Service Scholarship program in the former Soviet Union as well as Europe and Israel.

The Plaut Russian edition is one of four Russian editions of the Torah, two of which pre-dated Glasnost, from different scholarly and religious perspectives to which the Foundation has provided support, including The Hertz Russian language edition.

The volume, The Responsa of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, contains the massive ouevre of his unpublished responsa dealing with the whole gamut of contemporary issues addressed by one of the great traditional decisors of Jewish law in the 20th century. Some of those responsa reflect his emphasis on darchei shalom, when warranted, in the manifold areas of Jewish life in the post Holocaust era.

We are especially proud of the range of religious literature supported by the Foundation, exemplified by these two important volumes serving two important sectors of the Jewish community globally.

The Encyclopedia of Russian Jewry published by the Russian Academy of Sciences, one of the most prestigious scholarly bodies in Russia, and Shamir, documents the contribution of Russian Jews to Russian society and culture. The remarkable and surprising finding in these volumes is the evidence it presents of the important and sometimes ground breaking contributions, especially in the area of science, that Russian Jews were making even during the repressive Communist regime under Stalin.

The volume, Nazi-Looted Jewish Archives in Moscow: A Guide to Historical and Cultural Collections in the Russian State Military Archives, is part of the Jewish Archival Survey in the former Soviet Union which the Foundation has supported since its inception about which I reported in my last report to the Foundation leadership. Published in conjunction with the United States Holocaust Museum, it describes 98 Jewish archival collections that were looted by the Germans as they conquered Europe, and then seized and shipped to Moscow by the Soviets at the end of the War. There the collections were kept in a top-secret repository called the "Special Archive" whose existence was first revealed in 1990. This volume has been praised for rescuing from oblivion entire chapters of Jewish history.

Best wishes to you and your family for a joyous Passover.

With warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President