Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture
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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News January 2013

January 21, 2013

Producing Scholars and Jewish Scholarship, 2012

Dr. Nahum Goldmann's vision, when he established the Memorial Foundation, was to create a generation of Jewish cultural leaders to replace those decimated in the Holocaust. The Foundation's scholarship and fellowship programs were the vehicles by which the Foundation has sought to accomplish this objective.

In the last decade, under the leadership of Professor Ismar Schorsch, this mandate has been expanded to include developing the social capital of the Jewish people, i.e., identifying and supporting the future generation of Jewish cultural leadership who will enable Jewish communities all around the globe to deal more effectively with the huge changes they are currently confronting.

Two thousand and twelve was a banner year for our scholarship and fellowship programs. All of the recipients of the regular doctoral scholarship and fellowship grants were assigned the grade "P", priority project, by the international panel of experts who evaluate our applications. The number and quality of those awarded the Special Doctoral Scholarships and the Ephraim Urbach Post-Doctoral Fellowship, intended for the most outstanding applicants, also increased in 2012. The latter program, administered in conjunction with the World Union of Jewish Studies, is awarded to candidates who have recently completed their doctorates with distinction, to launch their scholarly careers, to do further research in their area of special interest, and to publish their first book.

The most effective report that we can present about our grantees, especially those who received the Special Doctoral Scholarships and the Urbach Fellowships, is to introduce a select number of them through thumbnail profiles, including their recent academic achievements.


Selected Recipients Of Special Doctoral Scholarships 2012

Yigal Nizri

Yigal Nizri expects to complete his Ph.D. in History at New York University in the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies next year.

Mr. Nizri's dissertation, "Halakhic Writing in Morocco, 1860-1918," written under the supervision of Prof. David Engel, Chair of the Department of Judaic Studies and Professor of History at NYU, explores the social and judicial aspects of Jewish life in Morocco in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This was a period of accelerating modernization and integration, resulting from the shift from the culture of Arab authorities that governed Morocco from 1553-1912 to those associated with the French authorities. His study proposes to demonstrate how Moroccan rabbis coped with the new challenges that modernization posed to their judicial authority by resorting to already existing textual and literary conventions and practices they had at their disposal prior to the French reforms when the semi-autonomous status of the Jewish community still prevailed on matters concerning a wide variety of personal and communal issues. Mr. Nizri's hypothesis is that the specifically Christian characteristics of European society played a crucial role in shaping the familiar Ashkenazi patterns of modernization. In places where Sephardi Jews confronted a Muslim, rather than a Christian society, the road to modernity was necessarily different, rendering many of its most important manifestations invisible to scholars conditioned to identify modernization with Europeanization. Nizri locates his evidence in Moroccan halakhic literature, disputing the notion that North African Jewry remained a largely traditional society until it came under the domination of the Ashkenazi elite in Israel.

Noam Samet

Noam Samet, from Nokdim, Israel, is completing his doctorate in Talmud and Rabbinics in the Department of Jewish Thought at Ben Gurion University.

Samet's dissertation, "Ketsot HaChoshen-The Beginning of "Lamdanut," will examine the system of study and analysis found in the Ketsot HaChoshen, a halachic work which deals with business and financial laws. Mr. Samet's goal is to better understand the new methodology of the study of post-medieval Talmudic and Halachic scholars, as represented by the Ketsot HaChoshen. Samet will analyze this new approach to Talmudic learning and halachik application, which began in the early 19th century, and its relationship to, and differences from,"pilpul," which had earlier dominated Talmudic study in central and Eastern Europe. His teachers consider Mr. Samet as one of the new elite of Talmudic scholars combining the best features of traditional and academic research and learning.


Selected Recipients Of The Ephraim Urbach Post-Doctoral Fellowship 2012

Meir Ben Shahar

Meir Ben Shahar who completed his Ph.D. in Jewish History at the Hebrew University was awarded the Urbach fellowship for his project, "History and Sin in Late Antiquity" in which he explores attitudes towards sin in Jewish, Christian and pagan historiography in the period of Late Antiquity, a time marked by dramatic historical upheavals and intense theological preoccupation with the nature of sin and its significance. Ben Shahar will examine the relationship between sin and retribution in the historiographic writings of Jews, Christians and Pagans during this period. Ben Shahar is suggesting that the intuitive conclusion that God exacts retribution upon wrongdoers was severely challenged by the historical turmoil of the period.

Dror Ben Arie

Dror Ben Arie, from Israel, received the Urbach Post-Doctoral Fellowship for his project, "Hebrew Grammarians in Italy at the Time of the Renaissance," an expansion of the themes of his doctoral dissertation. Dr. Ben Arie received his B.Sc., summa cum laude, in Mathematics from Bar-Ilan University, where he also received his M.Sc., magna cum laude, in Mathematics. He was awarded his Ph.D., with highest distinction, at Bar-Ilan University in the field of Hebrew Language.

For his post-doctoral project, Dr. Ben Arie plans to research and prepare a comparative study of the Hebrew grammarians in Italy at the time of the Renaissance. He will explore the complex relationship of several of these Hebrew grammarians with Christian Hebraists. He hopes, thereby, not only to gain a better understanding of these figures, the development of Hebrew grammar and the history of the period, but also to better understand Renaissance Jewry and the influences of the wider academic and of religious world on their thought and methodology.

Dr. Ben Arie has been the recipient of numerous academic awards for outstanding achievement, including one from the Lady Edith Wolfson Memorial Scholarship Fund.


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A future report will deal with the scholarly results achieved by our past grantees during 2012 in the form of dissertations and books, completed and published, and honors our grantees were awarded in 2012 for their scholarly achievements.

With warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President