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The Research Blog—Hebrew and Jewish Studies


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Archive for the 'Hebrew' Category

Targum Studies in London, IOTS 2018

By uclhwis, on 15 April 2018

Download the Programme here, or read on below: IOTS-2018-Public

Hebrew Education on the Map: The State of the Field Internationally—by Rina Kreitman

By uclhwis, on 3 March 2016

Abstract: Institutional approaches to, and requirements of, foreign language may vary globally but can be  summarized as follows:

  1. Foreign language is a part of the requirements for any Bachelor’s degree (many American academic institutions use this model).
  2. Foreign language is required by a department or a program for a major (for example: German department may require varying degrees of knowledge of German. A Middle East department may require knowledge of Arabic, etc.)
  3. Foreign language is not required at all for graduating.

Tracks (2) and (3) may coexist in the same institution since students, who are not attending a specific program, may not have any language requirement.

Hebrew as a foreign language is offered in many institutions globally. In a system like (1) it is one of the languages offered by the college and students may select to take it just as they may select any other language such as Chinese, Russian or any other language. In such systems Hebrew has fared well but has  suffered a deline.  In a system like (2) Hebrew is usually and generally required by Jewish studies programs. In  such a system it may compete with Yiddish but usually only if the university offers Yiddish. In  most, but not all, institutions where (3) is the model, Hebrew may not be offered at all.

In this talk I will offer some data about enrollment in various Hebrew programs globally (US, UK and Australia) as well as strategies which various Hebrew programs adopt to increase enrollment in their midst. I will introduce approaches offered by different program coordinators to increase interest  in their programs and entice students to take Hebrew in academic settings.

We will further explore the different assets and tools at the disposal of coordinators globally and how they differ. For example, in Australia and the UK, the examination and entry system into college can be harnessed to boost numbers at the university level. Such a system, which barely exists in the US, cannot be used in the same way and thus, different approaches must be taken, as we will see  in the talk.

However, many languages with meager enrollments, which are not able to attract more students and grow, must take yet another approach. One of the new techniques adopted at Columbia University and currently shared by too few institutions is the shared electronic classroom. The shared electronic classroom is a new tool which involves exploiting current technology to deliver lectures to a wider range of students. This new technology can be integrated into all institutions and advance the  pedagogy of less commonly taught languages including Hebrew.


Bio: Rina Kreitman graduated with a B.A. from Tel Aviv University in 1999. She completed her M.A. (2002) and Ph.D. (2006) in Linguistics at Cornell University. Her research focuses on phonology, acoustic and articulatory phonetics, morphology and language acquisition. She continues to research and publish her linguistic work in various professional journals. She has presented in conferences such as Laboratory Phonology and at the Chicago Linguistics Society conferences among others as well as NAPH and AJS. She has taught Linguistics at Cornell University, Bar-Ilan University in Israel and at Emory University. She has taught Hebrew at Cornell University and at Emory University where she served as the coordinator of the program. Currently, she is the coordinator of the Hebrew program and a lecturer in the program at Columbia University in NYC.

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.

Scribal Culture and the Making of the Septuagint—by James Aitken

By uclhwis, on 2 December 2015

Please join us for this lecture:

Research seminar, Hebrew and Jewish Studies; Wednesday, 16 December, 4pm

Foster Court, 1st floor, room 132


Abstract: The Septuagint Pentateuch is to be understood not only as a resource for understanding the Hebrew Bible but as an important witness to Judaism in the third to second centuries BCE. To appreciate this Greek translation we should understand the neglected place of the text within the scribal cultural tradition of the time. It can be seen that through comparison of the translation technique with evidence of Greek scribal practice in Egypt, and through examination of the role that Greek had for all religious groups there, that the Jewish translators can be placed in a social class within Egypt. This has implications for how we understand features in the translation and how we understand the place of Jews within Ptolemaic Egypt.


Bio: James Aitken specialises in second temple Judaism and in the Greek and Hebrew languages, and more recently has focused upon the Septuagint. He pays particular attention to the language of the Septuagint and to the evidence offered by inscriptions and papyri as a means of recovering the social history of the text. Recent publications include No Stone Unturned: Greek Inscriptions and Septuagint Vocabulary (CSHB; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2014), The T&T Clark Companion to the Septuagint (London: T&T Clark, 2015), and The Jewish-Greek Tradition in Antiquity and the Byzantine Empire (ed. with James Carleton Paget; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).


Further reading: Technical papers relevant to today’s seminar are (all on his academia.edu page): ‘The Significance of Rhetoric in the Greek Pentateuch,’ in J.K. Aitken, K.J. Dell, and B.A. Mastin (eds), On Stone and Scroll (BZAW 420; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2011), 507–21; ‘The Language of the Septuagint and Jewish Greek Identity’, in James K. Aitken and James Carleton Paget (eds.), The Jewish-Greek Tradition in Antiquity and the Byzantine Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 120-34; and, ‘The Septuagint and Egyptian Translation Methods’, in M. Maiser & M. van der Meer (eds), XV Congress of the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies, Munich 2013 (Atlanta, Ga.: SBL Press, forthcoming).

A natural yet providential tongue: Moses Mendelssohn on Hebrew as a language of action—by Avi Lifschitz (UCL)

By uclhwis, on 27 November 2015


Please join us for this lecture:

Institute of Historical Research (IHR) Jewish history seminar; Monday, 30  November 2015, 5:15 pm;

Professor Olga Crisp Room 102, 1st floor, IHR, North Block, Senate House

How did Moses Mendelssohn reconcile a naturalistic theory of language, advocating the contingent development of all tongues, with the belief that Hebrew was a divine language that did not change ever since its inception? The seeming contradiction was resolved by employing the contemporary notion of the language of action – a primordial means of communication, where gesture and melody were as significant as words. Mendelssohn’s view of Hebrew as the language closest to this idiom was accompanied by his suggestion that the Jewish ceremonial law is a living script which can be properly understood only through oral instruction. He employed both ideas to counter the notions that the Hebrew vowel points were a late invention and that some loci in the Hebrew Bible had been subject to textual corruption. For Mendelssohn, the allegedly supernatural aspects of spoken Hebrew could be naturalised through constant and lively human conversation across the ages. The appropriation of contemporary critiques of the arbitrariness of language allowed Mendelssohn to forge an original synthesis that could simultaneously accommodate naturalism and providentialism.

Why Medieval Jewish Liturgy is not Dull—by Prof. Stefan Reif

By uclhwis, on 27 November 2015

In a PowerPoint presentation entitled “Why Medieval Jewish Liturgy is not Dull” (18.11.2015), Professor Stefan Reif, Emeritus Professor of Medieval Hebrew Studies and Fellow of St John’s College, in the University of Cambridge, discussed eight manuscript fragments of Jewish liturgy from the eleventh and twelfth centuries discovered among the literary treasures of the Cambridge Genizah Collections. He explained how their contents could be analysed for the manner in which they illuminated the evolution of medieval Jewish prayer. At the same time, a close study of each of them also yielded important information for historians of Jewish language and literature, theology, and broader culture, as well as for the serious student of Hebrew codicology and bibliography. Among the items that he explained were a Passover Haggadah with an Aramaic tale of the Exodus, a Qaddish from pre-Crusader Eretz Yisrael, a special collection of biblical verses for use on Shemini ‘Aṣeret, and a previously unidentified version of Saadya’s prayer-book text. He also provided intriguing information about how scholars could be misled by the earlier errors of others. All these fragments are fully transcribed, translated and annotated in his volume Jewish Prayer Texts from the Cairo Genizah which is scheduled for publication by Brill early in 2016.


Babylonian Gynaecology in the 1st Millennium BC in the Light of Intercultural Parallels

By uclhwis, on 9 September 2013

By Ulrike Steinert

In her lecture for the research seminar on March 21, 2012, Ulrike presented an overview over her current research project entitled „Gynaecology in the Medical Texts of Ancient Mesopotamia from the 1st Millennium BC“, funded through a Medical History and Humanities Fellowship of the Wellcome Trust, London. The primary aim of this project is to produce an up-to-date edition of the corpus of gynaecological cuneiform texts from 1st millennium BC Mesopotamia, paying special attention to the Assyrian and Babylonian texts on female healthcare in the British Museum, which include several hitherto unpublished cuneiform tablets on this subject. Based on the philological study of these texts, which include diagnostic omens, recipes and rituals for different problems such as infertility, miscarriage, irregular bleeding, or complications during childbirth, Ulrike seeks to achieve a better understanding of the features and contents of these texts by drawing on comparative sources about female healthcare from neighbouring Greek, Egyptian and Jewish traditions.

Although approximate contemporary sources are to be preferred for intercultural comparisons (e.g. the Hippocratic corpus), Ulrike pursued an unorthodox route in her presentation and chose a Hebrew Medieval compendium on female healthcare from 15th century Western Europe as an example: The Book of Women’s Love / Sefer Ahavat Nashim, a work which contains a mixture of source material – oral traditions (especially of women), Greek, Latin and Arabic medical texts, Jewish sources (esp. the Kabbalah) and medieval treatises from Western Europe (e.g. the Catalan treatise Tròtula). In her comparison of Mesopotamian medical texts and The Book of Women’s Love, Ulrike discovered far-reaching agreements and continuities between both textual traditions, regarding the recorded gynaecological complaints, the treatment forms and some used materia medica to combat gynaecological illnesses, although differences can be noticed as well (e.g. in phraseology and in typical Graeco-Roman medical theories and practises found in The Book of Women’s Love which were unknown in Mesopotamia). Thus, Ulrike highlighted that comparative information from other textual traditions and cultures can be of help to elucidate puzzling details in the Mesopotamian texts and to develop plausible interpretations. The presented cross-cultural data about common drugs were exemplified by treatments for one problem, gynaecological haemorrhage, and were supplemented by information from Dioscorides’ De materia medica (1st cent. CE).

The similarities between ancient Mesopotamian and Medieval Jewish texts on female healthcare suggest that both societies encountered and treated much the same female health problems. The agreements in treatment types and used materia medica in texts of different cultures and periods hint at the existence and stability over long periods of time of a common medical knowledge, experience and practise, which can be described as recipe-based and is partially grounded in folk medicine.