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Archive for January, 2016

Khazars in the Hungarian Jewish Imagination—by Prof. Michael Miller

By uclhwis, on 25 January 2016

Abstract: In 1884, Sámuel Kohn, rabbi of Budapest’s Great Synagogue, published A History of the Jews in Hungary: From Ancient Times to the Battle of Mohács, in which he propagated a new theory about the ancient origins of Hungarian Jewry.   Hungary’s Jews, he argued, were descended from the Khazar tribes who took part in the conquest of the Carpathian Basin in 896 C.E.  The Khazar hypothesis gained considerable acceptance in Hungarian scholarly and popular circles and became a key facet of Hungarian-Jewish identity, especially among self-defined “Hungarians of the Mosaic Persuasion.”  It is hardly a coincidence that Arthur Koestler, who popularized this theory in the 1970s and even claimed Khazar origins for all of Ashkenazic Jewry, was himself a native of Budapest.

This lecture is not concerned with the veracity of this hypothesis, which has been largely discredited, but rather with its creation, reception and popularization in Hungary during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Kohn’s theory not only captured the imagination of Hungary’s Jews but also informed the research agendas of a whole generation of Hungarian-Jewish historians, folklorists and orientalists who believed (or wanted to believe) that Jews and Magyars shared common eastern origins.  Popular publications touted the Khazars as evidence of a thousand-year-old symbiosis between Jews and Magyars, and even noted with some satisfaction that Jewish Khazars had arrived in the Carpathian Basin prior to Hungary’s adoption of Christianity.

Significantly, the Khazar narrative dovetailed with the general Hungarian quest for the origins of the Magyar people, a quest that inspired linguists and orientalists to travel to Tibet, Anatolia and Central Asia in search of kindred peoples.  This meant that in Hungary Jewish historians, folklorists, publicists and rabbis could point to the “oriental” and “immigrant” origins of Hungarian Jewry in order to underscore a sense of common, intertwined destiny with the Magyar people.  This lecture will explore the Khazar “myth of origin” in an effort to understand its resonance – and remarkable resilience –  in the Hungarian-Jewish historical imagination.  was published in 2011 by Stanford University Press and will be published in Czech by Lidové noviny in 2015.  He is now writing a history of Hungarian Jewry.

Bio: Michael L. Miller is Head of the Nationalism Studies program at Central European University in Budapest, Hungary, where he also helped establish the Jewish Studies Program. He received his Ph.D. in History from Columbia University and his B.A. in History, Archaeology and Judaic Studies from Brown University. Miller’s book, Rabbis and Revolution: The Jews of Moravia in the Age of Emancipationwas published in 2011 by Stanford University Press and will be published in Czech by Lidové noviny in 2015.  He is now writing a history of Hungarian Jewry.

Why Aramaic in the Yerushalmi? Code-switching in Early Rabbinic Literature—by Willem Smelik

By uclhwis, on 4 January 2016

Please join us Wednesday 13 January 2016 at 4pm

for this lecture in the Institute of Advance Studies; Wilkins Building, seminar room 11


Abstract: To what extent the Jewish population of Roman Palestine in the first few centuries CE still spoke Hebrew in the context of contemporary multilingualism is an on-going debate. The attested existence of multiple dialects of any of the three main languages involved—Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew—and the diverse ways in which the Aramaic and Hebrew languages relate to one another in the extant literature and documents have so far been incompletely developed and understood. This presentation of research–in–progress is concerned with the linguistic reality of knowledge transfer as presented in the Talmud Yerushalmi, with particular attention to written code-switching between Hebrew and Aramaic. The results are significant for the way we understand vernacular language in the early rabbinic period and its written deposit, the textual unity of bilingual communication, the non-diachronic aspects of rabbinic code-switching, and the rabbinic perception of languages.

Bio: Willem Smelik works on Hebrew and Aramaic literature in Late Antiquity with special attention to the Jewish Aramaic translations of Scripture, Aramaic dialects, and multilingualism. Recent publications include Rabbis, Language and Translation in Late Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), Targum Studies in Munich, IOTS 2013 (edited with Robert Hayward in Aramaic Studies 11.2 [2013] and 12.1 [2014]), and ‘Justinian’s Novella 146 and Contemporary Judaism’, in Greek Scripture and the Rabbis (edited T.M. Law; Leuven: Peeters Press, 2012), pp. 141-163.

Further reading: The research to be presented here has not yet been published in any form, but some background information can be found in Rabbis, Language and Translation in Late Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 100-138 and ‘The Languages of Roman Palestine’, in The Oxford Handbook of Roman Palestine (edited C. Hezser; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 122-141.