Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture
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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News May 2014

May 19, 2014

Nachas Department Prof. Shamma Friedman, Foundation Recipient, Awarded Israel Prize

Professor Shamma Friedman was awarded the Israel Prize, that country's highest honor to individuals who have made distinguished contributions to Jewish life and culture, on Yom Ha'atzmaut of this year. Prof. Friedman was selected for this prestigious award for his contributions to all forms of Talmudic Literature, including the development of the text of the Babylonian Talmud, the development of motifs in the aggadic literature and its literary structure.

Prof. Friedman received his first grant from the Foundation early in his career in 1970, a fellowship for the Study of Talmudic and Syriac Law, one of his first research projects. He subsequently received two institutional grants from the Foundation to publish his most important work, A Scholarly Edition of the Babylonian Talmud. The first grant in 2000 produced Five Sugyot from the Babylonian Talmud in 2002, Talmud Ha-Igud and Berachot Chapter One in 2006, and Shabbat Chapter VII in 2007. His second institutional grant in 2008 produced Pesahim Chapter IV.

Professor Friedman has served as Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Schechter Institute for Jewish Studies in Jerusalem and at Bar-Ilan University. Prof. Friedman also founded the Saul Lieberman Institute of Talmud Research, named after his mentor, Prof. Saul Lieberman, and the Society for the Interpretation of the Talmud at Bar-Ilan University. Prof. Friedman emphasizes an intellectual approach to the study of the Talmud, combining academic, textual and literary disciplines that elucidate halachic and rabbinic thought and their historical development. According to Prof. Friedman, many contemporary approaches to the Talmud entertain agendas that go beyond the Talmud itself, addressing derivative subjects like applied Halacha or religion and ethical values, which lend their own dialectic to the study of the Talmudic text. The Society for the Interpretation of the Talmud is focused on understanding the text itself and the ideas it contains.

What the Society seeks to accomplish is to join two worlds, the heirs of Judische Wissenschaft and traditional Talmudic studies, especially represented by the Rishonim and Acharonim, whose approaches are compatible with academic disciplines and are precursors of critical methodology.

Prof. Friedman is the 48th recipient of the Israel Prize who has received scholarships and fellowships and/or institutional grants early in their careers to launch and/or publish their important research.

There are seven other Foundation recipients in the field of Talmud and Rabbinics who have received the Israel Prize for their contribution to this important area of Jewish culture. Prof. Menachem Elon, former Deputy President of the Supreme Court in Israel and Professor of Jewish Law at Hebrew University received the prize in 1979 for his pioneering work in Mishpat Ivri. Prof. Elon's student, Prof. Nahum Rackover also received the Prize in 2002 in the same field for his two-volume work, Modern Applications of Israel's Law. Both Professors Elon and Rackover and their students are responsible for the growing Judaization of the Israeli legal system of the future without religious coercion but rather through research and publication.

Prof. Adin Steinsaltz received the Israel Prize in 1998 for his monumental translation of the Talmud into Hebrew. The Memorial Foundation has supported his work almost from its inception and is responsible for the preparation and publication of sixteen of its volumes. Aside from making the Talmud accessible to Hebrew speakers, including the secular Israeli public, his monumental project has succeeded in the larger mission of giving fundamental Jewish texts back to all the Jewish people as part of their religious and national heritage.

Other recipients of Foundation support who were awarded the Israel Prize in Talmud include Rabbi Menachem Mendel Kasher and Professors Zalman Dimitrovsky, Jacob Sussman, and Israel Ta-Shma.

Quite a distinguished record, indeed.

National Jewish Book Council Awards in 2014

The National Jewish Book Council of the United States has awarded its 2014 prizes for outstanding books in the field of Jewish literature and scholarship to three past recipients of Foundation scholarships and fellowships: Elissa Bemporad for Becoming Soviet Jews: The Bolshevik Experiment in Minsk; Gennady Estraikh for 1929: Mapping the Jewish World; and Randolph L. Braham for The Geographical Encyclopedia of the Holocaust in Hungary.

Bemporad and Estraikh were recipients of doctoral scholarships and fellowships, which helped them complete their doctorates and launch their scholarly careers by publishing their first books, an essential goal of the Foundation's scholarship and fellowship programs. Prof. Braham received two fellowship grants in 1976 and 1982 for his earlier pioneering works, The Politics of Genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary and The Holocaust in Northern Transylvania.

Elissa Bemporad, a native of Modena, Italy, became engrossed in her teenage years in the works of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, two masters of world literature, and in Russian language and culture. As an Italian Jew she was not much interested in the Italian Jewish past and experience but found inspiration in combining her Jewishness with the passion for Russia.

Her first scholarly project was her MA thesis in Russian studies at Bologna University in Italy on Simon Dubnov, the great historian of Russian Jewry in the 19th century. Eager for more and better knowledge not accessible in Italy, she moved to New York to study the Yiddish language at Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary where she received her second Masters degree. With the help of a doctoral scholarship from the Memorial Foundation, she completed her PhD in Russian studies at Stamford University for her dissertation, Red Star on the Jewish Street: The Bolshevik Experiment in Minsk, 1917-1939 which she defended with distinction in 2006. In that work she examined the sovietization process of the Jewish national minority, comparing the process of accommodation and the strategies of resistance of Jews with Belorussians and Russians living in Minsk before World War II.

As an assistant professor of history at Hunter College and the New School, she revised and publicized her dissertation, again with the support of a prestigious Ephraim Urbach Post-Doctoral Fellowship from the Memorial Foundation. It is for that work, Becoming Soviet Jews: The Bolshevik Experiment in Minsk, that she was awarded the National Jewish Book Award and the Fraenkel Prize in Contemporary History.

Gennady Estraikh, the second recipient of the National Book Award, was born in one of the five national Jewish districts which existed in the pre-war Soviet Union. Raised in a home where Yiddish was the language spoken by his parents and grandparents, he ultimately transformed his deep connection to its literature as his life's work.

When the Modern Yiddish literary journal, Sovetish Heymland launched a campaign of recruiting young authors, Gennady emerged as one of the stars of that campaign and his writings began to appear in that journal and other Yiddish periodicals including the New York Yiddish Forward. When he moved to Moscow and became a refusenik, he joined with a group of young communal leaders and scholars to establish the Jewish Historical and Ethnographical Commission. That body was deeply engaged with the renaissance of Jewish culture in the former Soviet Union. The Foundation supported members of its core leadership, many of whom remained and became central to the revival of Jewish cultural life in the Soviet Union like Mikhail Chlenov, the chairman of the group who later served as President of the Russian Vaad.

Gennady moved abroad, first to Oxford where he wrote his doctoral dissertation, The Peculiarities of Soviet Yiddish, with the help of four doctoral scholarships from the Memorial Foundation. At Oxford, he also helped establish the Oxford Institute of Yiddish Studies and the Yiddish literary monthly Di Pen. With two additional fellowships in 1977 and 1999 he produced two monographs - Soviet Yiddish - A Newspeak of Utopia and A History of Proletarian Yiddish Literature. Since 2003, he has been an Associate Professor of Yiddish Studies at NYU where he has continued his prolific output including Soviet Yiddish, In Harness: Yiddish Writers' Romance with Communism, Yiddish in the Cold War, and Intensive Yiddish (a textbook).

The Fifth Nahum Goldmann Alumnus Serving on the Foundation's Board of Trustees

The Foundation's initial Nahum Goldmann Fellowships from 1987-2001 were organized in Europe. When we decided to internationalize the Fellowships, one of our major destinations was Australia. Yair Miller, who participated in numerous earlier Fellowships in different parts of the world, together with Nina Bassat, then the President of the Australian Jewish community at that time, played an important role in helping us implement that strategy which has led to a number of successful Fellowships in Australia including young men and women from New Zealand and Southeast Asia.

Since that time, Yair has ascended in his communal leadership roles serving as Vice President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the roof organization of the Jewish communities in Australia, and is currently President of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. He also serves as a governor of the Jewish Communal Appeal which is the primary fundraising, planning and facilitating agency for the major agencies in NSW.

Yair is the fifth Nahum Goldmann Fellowship alumnus to represent his community on the Board of Trustees of the Memorial Foundation.

According to Yair, the Fellowship has aided him to "challenge his own views and ideals" thereby helping him redefine himself Jewishly and making him a more effective leader in the Jewish community in Australia.

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

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President