Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture
50 Broadway, 34th Floor
New York, N.Y. 10004

Tel: (212) 425-6606
Fax: (212) 425-6602

Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News November 2013

November 11, 2013

The Memorial Foundation's Scholarship and Fellowship Programs, 2013-14

At the Foundation's Executive Committee Meeting in Israel this June, 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 several years, the Foundation has maintained both the high level of excellence and support of our Doctoral scholarship and Fellowship programs.

At the request of the Executive Committee at its recent meeting where we did not have sufficient time to do so, I was asked to provide thumbnail profiles of selected recipients of our doctoral scholarships and fellowships. The five scholars profiled here, especially the two women Talmudists, reflect the wide range and diversity of the impact of the Foundation's scholarships and fellowships. The grades the recipients received in both programs in recent years have been in consistent ascent; the vast majority of our recipients receiving "P", priority evaluations. This year again almost all the fellowship and scholarship recipients received similar "P" evaluations. Quite an accomplishment.

Selected Recipients Of Special Doctoral Scholarships 2013-2014

Ayelet Libson

Ayelet Libson, from Jerusalem, is completing her doctorate in Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University. In NYU, she was awarded a prestigious fellowship for her work in Jewish Law and Interdisciplinary Studies. She currently is a visiting lecturer at Bar Ilan University.

In Ms. Libson's doctoral dissertation, "Radical Subjectivity: Self-Knowledge, Autonomy and the Limits of Talmudic Law", she plans to demonstrate how Talmudic law moved from the objective formulations of the Tannaim of the Mishna to the more subjective positions of the Amoraim of the Talmudic period. She will be using a number of Talmudic cases that surprisingly grant subjective knowledge and experience important legal weight.

She has already shown that in many areas the Talmud in later sources places greater importance on subjective factors than do the earlier ones, a trend that is the opposite of what we find in most other legal traditions. The late Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik devoted enormous attention to this area of Rabbinical scholarship, but from a somewhat different perspective. Her dissertation, according to her mentors, will make a substantial contribution to the field of Talmudic studies, Jewish ethics and comparative law.

Ayelet joins a very prestigious group of women scholars whom the Foundation has supported in their pioneering research in Talmud and Rabbinics. Yirbu kemosom b' Yisrael; may their numbers increase.

Mihaly Kalman

Mihaly Kalman, from Budapest, Hungary, did his undergraduate degree at Lorand Eotvos University in Budapest and received his Master's degree in Jewish Studies at Oxford. He is doing his doctoral studies at Harvard, where he has also been a teaching fellow.

His Ph.D. dissertation, "Hero Shtetls: Jewish Self Defense from the Pale to Palestine, 1871-1936", explores the history of Jewish self-defense during the Russian Civil War, then tracing those same practices of Jewish self-defense to Mandatory Palestine. He will examine Jewish resistance to violence during the waves of the pogroms that were precipitated by the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881 and following the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917. These pogroms helped reshape Jewish history by provoking a political reorientation among Russian Jews as well as the important Jewish migration out of Russia to Israel.

Mr. Kalman's study will also shed light on the range of responses by which diverse Jewish political, social and religious communities in Poland confronted the outbreaks of religious, political and ethnic violence within the Russian Empire and, thereafter, in the Jewish homeland.

Sarah Zarrow

Sarah Zarrow is completing her doctoral degree in Modern European Jewish History at New York University. She received a certificate in Yiddish Language and Culture from Vilnius University. She is currently a teaching assistant at NYU, and served briefly last year on the staff at the new Museum of the History of the Polish Jews in Warsaw, Poland.

Her doctoral dissertation, "The Social Roles of Ethnography for Jews in Interwar Poland", explores the relationships between Jewish scholars in urban centers and the shtetl-dwelling Jewish society there. Jewish ethnography reached its apex as a popular and institutional movement in interwar Poland. Her dissertation proposes to determine why, and what were the social functions of that ethnography. Her research so far suggests that interwar Jewish ethnography in Poland was not merely a natural outgrowth of earlier projects documenting Jewish life and culture. It was rather a response to a new set of circumstances stemming from the state of Jews in newly independent Poland and the place of Jews in the Second Polish Republic, and the concomitant need for Jews to demonstrate their "belonging" on Polish soil in order to ensure the continued Jewish presence there.

Her dissertation promises to provide a highly original perspective for understanding how a large East European minority group related to its ethnic and religious heritage in the face of political upheaval and catastrophic violence. At the same time, it sheds important new light on a central question of modern Jewish history—how texts and ideas created by elites were disseminated among, and received by, the various segments of Jewish society.

Selected Recipients Of The Ephraim Urbach Post-Doctoral Fellowship, 2013-2014

Jenny Labendz

Dr. Jenny Labendz will receive the Ephraim E. Urbach Post-Doctoral Fellowship for her project, "The Fate of the Nations in Ancient Jewish Imagination," which will examine rabbinic concepts of what will happen to the other nations of the world at the end of time.

Dr. Labendz obtained her Ph.D. with distinction in Talmud and Rabbinics from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. She has served as an Assistant Professor in the Religion Department of Barnard College. Her dissertation, "Socratic Torah: Non-Jews in Rabbinic Intellectual Culture", was just published by the Oxford University Press.

Her dissertation examined the relationship of the rabbis of Palestine to their non-Jewish neighbors and rulers. Overturning conventional interpretations that focus on rabbinic anxiety about non-Jewish political, cultural and religious dominance, Dr. Labendz reveals that the rabbis recognized that the involvement of non-Jews in rabbinic intellectual culture enriched the rabbis' own learning. Her new project continues her study of how ancient Jews understood the relationship between themselves and others by focusing on the apocalypse. Examining texts that illustrate the rabbis' views on what would happen to other nations at the end of time, she plans to shed light, not only on the rabbis' vision of the future, but also on what such discourse reveals about their own hopes and concerns.

Dr. Labendz is another example of a budding Jewish woman scholar engaged in pioneering research in Rabbinics.

Justine Isserles

Dr. Isserles's project, for which she will receive the Ephraim E. Urbach Post-Doctoral Fellowship, is "Medieval Jewish and Christian Calendar Texts from England and Franco-Germany". Dr. Isserles is a post-doctoral fellow at the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University College in London where she was twice awarded Doctoral Scholarships from the Memorial Foundation. She completed her Ph.D. summa cum laude at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris and at the University of Geneva in Switzerland.

Her current post-doctoral research will investigate the interest that Christian and Jewish medieval scholars developed in each other's calendars, how information about their calendars was exchanged between them, and what motivated this unique manifestation of scholarly Christian-Jewish cultural exchanges between Jews and Christians in medieval France.

Best wishes for a joyous Chanuka.
With warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President