X Close

The Research Blog—Hebrew and Jewish Studies


Just another Blogs.ucl.ac.uk site


Archive for the 'modern Jewish history' Category

Viktor Levi’s Ha-Mayyim Ha-Marim ve Ha-Me’arerim o la Agua de la Sotah, an anticlerical Judeo-Spanish novel published in Constantinople in 1889

By uclhwis, on 22 September 2016

In the latter 19th century, fiction began to appear in Judeo-Spanish or Ladino, the habitual language of Jews in the Balkans, Asia Minor and Greece. The heyday of the Ladino novel was between 1908 and 1914, and in the 1920s.

Usually these novelettes were either ‘blood and thunder’, crime and adventure  stories, or sentimental tales intended to appeal to women. A large proportion of them were translations or adaptations from popular novels in other languages, mostly French. Probably the greatest of the novelists was Elia Karmona, of Constantinople (1869-1932), one of whose novels I have transliterated from the text in the Rashi  typeface in which Ladino was printed, and translated into English.

Another novelist, as well as a journalist, editor and, translator, was Viktor Levi of Constantinople (1865-1940). His novel, the subject of this seminar, is original, both in that it is not a translation and that it is a fiction on a biblical subject and caused considerable outrage and demands for its suppression. I shall discuss it in the context of the conflict between progressive journalists and the Chief Rabbinate of Constantinople.



Sarah Abrevaya Stein, Making Jews Modern; the Yiddish and Ladino Press in the Russian and Ottoman Empires (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004).

Olga Borovaya, Modern Ladino Culture: Press, Belles-Lettres and Theater in the Late Ottoman Empire, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012).

Aron Rodrigue, ‘The Ottoman Diaspora; the Rise and Fall of Ladino Literary Culture’, in  David Biale (ed.) Cultures of the Jews (New York: Schocken Books,2002), 863- 885.

Michael Alpert, ‘The Ladino Novel’, European Judaism (London: Leo Baeck College, 43,2  [2010] ),  pp. 52-62.

Elia R. Karmona, La muz’er onesta (transliterated and translated as The Chaste Wife  by Michael Alpert, Nottingham, Five Leaves, 2009)

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.

Delineating Jewish Intercession from Early Modern to 19th Century Europe: Attempts of a Definition—by François Guesnet

By uclhwis, on 14 December 2015

Research seminar, Hebrew and Jewish Studies; Wednesday, 4 November, 4pm

Foster Court, 1st floor, room 112


Abstract: In January 1817, the Jewish army contractor and entrepreneur Elieser Dileon was received by the Russian Tsar Alexander I. A letter sent by Dileon to the Jewish community in Minsk starts with the remarkable exclamation “Today, we have become a people.” This sentence and the detailed description of the negotiation between the representative of the Minsk community, and of Jews in Russia more generally, served as a starting point of this presentation, arguing that the symbolic meaning of Jewish intercession went far beyond the mere negotiation of specific grievances. In my research on shtadlanut, I show that acts of intercession also reflect symbolic interaction of a diasporic community establishing itself in the fabric of a commonwealth: Intercession is constitutio in actu, as the Swiss historian André Holenstein has defined it. I argue that in contexts with considerable legal and constitutional security fr the Jewish community (e.g. medieval Spain or early modern Poland-Lithuania), intercession was integrated into communal policies and institutions. In more precarious contexts (e.g. the Holy Roman Empire of German Nations, or Eastern Europe after the partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century) intercession became the task of highly positioned, prominent individuals, with a less clear communal mandate. This research project looks into the institutional framework of intercession, the personality of the intercessor, the spaces of intercession as well as the epistemology of intercession, in an attempt to describe the transition of the early modern Jewish community into the more complex and more precarious world of the 19th century.

Medal celebrating in 1748 the successful intervention on behalf of the Prague Jewish community expelled in 1744, a cause célèbre of the mid-18th century

Medal celebrating in 1748 the successful intervention on behalf of the Prague Jewish community expelled in 1744, a cause célèbre of the mid-18th century

Bio: Dr François Guesnet is Reader in Modern Jewish History in the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University College London. He specializes in the early modern and 19th century history of Eastern European, and more specifically, Polish Jews. Recent publications Der Fremde als Nachbar. Polnische Positionen zur jüdischen Präsenz in Polen. Texte seit 1800 (Suhrkamp-Verlag: Frankfurt am Main 2009), Zwischen Graetz und Dubnow: Jüdische Historiographie in Ostmitteleuropa, Akademische Verlagsanstalt: Leipzig 2009), with Gwenyth Jones Antisemitism in an Era of Transition: The Case of Post-Communist Eastern Central Europe (Frankfurt/Main: Peter Lang Verlag 2014), and with Glenn Dynner Warsaw. The Jewish Metropolis. Studies in Honor of the 75th Birthday of Professor Antony Polonsky (Boston, Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers 2015).

Further Reading: François Guesnet, “Thinking Globally, Acting Locally: Joel Wegmeister and Modern Hasidic Politics in Warsaw,” in: Quest. Issues in Contemporary Jewish History. Journal of Fondazione CDEC 2 (October 2011) URL: www.quest-cdecjournal.it/focus.php?id=222 ; “Agreements between neighbours. The ‘ugody’ as a source on Jewish-Christian relations in early modern Poland,” in: Jewish History 24, 3-4 (2010), 257-270; “The Turkish Cavalry in Swarzedz, or: Jewish Political Culture at the Borderlines of Modern History,” in: Simon-Dubnow-Institute Yearbook 6 (2007), 227-248; “Textures of Intercession: Rescue Efforts for the Jews of Prague, 1744/48,” in: Simon-Dubnow-Institute Yearbook, 4 (2005), 355-375; “Moses Mendelssohns Activities as an Intercessor in the Context of Jewish Political Culture in the Early Modern Period,” [in German] in: Julius H. Schoeps et al. (eds.), Menora. Jahrbuch für deutsch-jüdische Geschichte 2005/2006. Bd. 16: Moses Mendelssohn, die Aufklärung und die Anfänge des deutsch-jüdischen Bürgertums, 115-137; “Politics of Intercession. Speaking up for Jewish Communities in the Premodern Era,” [in German] in: Dan Diner (ed.), Synchrone Welten. Zeitenräume jüdischer Geschichte (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck&Ruprecht 2005), 67-92; “Political Culture in the Early Modern Period – Jewish Intercession in the Wake of the Partitions of Poland,” [in German] in: Simon-Dubnow-Institute Yearbook 1(2002), 235-255.



Helmut Gernsheim and the museum of photography that never was

By uclhwis, on 9 September 2013

by Michael Berkowitz

University College London


In 1951, Helmut Gernsheim proposed and curated an exhibition as a part of the Festival of Britain on masterpieces of Victorian photography. His idea for the exhibition grew out of his work in the history of photography, in which he may be considered one of the primary figures in the establishment of the field. It also came about as a consequence of Gernsheim’s ardent and systematic collecting of photography which he pursued along with his scholarship. At the time photography was not highly valued, and his insistence that photography belonged in the realm of fine arts was treated as an eccentricity, if not derided in harsher terms. Gernhseim failed in his quest. No national museum or institute of photography, with a historical approach, was ever founded–although parts of other institutions, such as the National Media Museum in Bradford and Victoria & Albert Museum now have formidable collections. The bulk of Gernsheim’s trove is housed at the Ransom Center of the University of Texas in Austin, and in Mannheim, Germany. The lack of support for Gernsheim’s endeavor was due to attitudes toward photography, which were intertwined with Gernsheim’s marginal status as a refugee (of Jewish origins) from Nazi Germany. Indeed, he had taken up photography upon the strong advice of his brother, who advised him that one of the few avenues available to him, in Britain’s art scene, would be through the practice of photography. His original passion was art history. This presentation was part of a current book-in-progress, /Jews and Photography in Britain: Connections and Developments, 1850-2007/, based on research at the Warburg Institute archives, the British Library, the Getty Institute (Los Angeles), and the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas. At the Getty Research Institute Professor Berkowitz was a library research fellow, and at the Ransom Center he held a Schusterman-Dorot Postdoctoral Fellowship for work in the Gernsheim Collection.