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Supporting Original Scholarship: Targum Shlishi Awards Grants for Dissertations in Jewish Studies

February 19, 2008—Targum Shlishi, a Raquel and Aryeh Rubin Foundation, has for the second year awarded grants for dissertations in Jewish Studies topics. Ranging from Medieval Europe to contemporary America, and from Holocaust survivors in Israel to “Crypto-Jews” in Brazil, the topics of these projects reveal the great diversity of Jewish experience and the range of vital themes that Jewish Studies, as an academic field, has the potential to address.

“We have always been deeply committed to Jewish education, and to supporting projects that help promote effective learning and teaching,” says Aryeh Rubin, director of Targum Shlishi. “It is also vitally important that our body of knowledge continues to expand, to be challenged, and to evolve. Our self-generated initiative to award grants for dissertation research grew from our conviction that original scholarship has a central role in the health of Jewish education, and should be nurtured.”

Targum Shlishi dissertation grants are open to doctoral students from the United States and Israel. Each grant carries an award of $2,500, intended to support dissertation research. The foundation expected to award four grants during the 2007-08 academic year, but the field of 49 applicants was so strong and included so many compelling projects, that it was decided to award six grants instead.

Descriptions of the research projects follow. For more in-depth information about the topics and the scholars, please visit the initiatives page on the Targum Shlishi’s website at

Descriptions of the research projects

Rachel Gordan’s dissertation asks the question: how did Judaism become an American religion in the post-war period? In the wake of the Holocaust, American society took a newfound interest in Judaism, and Jews responded by creating a variety of portraits of themselves. Gordan, a doctoral student in Religion at Harvard University, uses yearbooks, scrapbooks, sermons, journals, and other writings to show how Jews adapted their religious language to the expectations of American Christians even as they maintained the nationalist and cultural dimensions of Judaism that did not fit neatly within the American conception of religion.

Katelyn Mesler, a doctoral candidate in Religion at Northwestern University, is working on a dissertation about cultural exchange among Jews and Christians during the Middle Ages along the Northwestern Mediterranean. Mesler will use Latin and Hebrew manuscripts at the Biblioteca Palatina in Parma and the Bibliotèque Nationale in Paris in order to learn the extent to which Jews and Christians knew about each other’s magical beliefs and practices during the Middle Ages. The results of her research will shed light on the ways in which Christian understandings of Jewish practices were appropriated, distorted, or ignored in creating the anti-Semitic myth of Jewish sorcery.

Cantor David Moses Presler, a doctoral student at the Azrielli Graduate School at Yeshiva University, brings his background as a Hazzan, a music educator, and a concert artist to his research about the role of musical literacy in Jewish education. Presler’s proposed study will introduce a small part of the Nusach Hat’fillah—the principles of cantorial improvisation–into the Jewish educational curriculum and will measure the results in terms of students’ musical skills and attitudes. He believes that this may prove especially beneficial to at-risk children.

Yair Saguey’s dissertation will explore the emergence in recent decades of communities of Bnei Anusim in Brazil. These communities claim to be descended from Brazilian Crypto-Jews, groups that maintained secret Jewish identities for centuries after the forced conversion of Portuguese Jews in 1497. Saguey will examine the history of the Crypto-Jews with the goal of providing a context in nineteenth- and twentieth-century history for understanding the Bnei Anusim. Saguey is a doctoral student in Atlantic History at Florida International University.

Adva Seltser, a doctoral student in Jewish History at Bar-Ilan University, will conduct research on Jewish youth in interwar Poland. Among Seltser’s major concerns will be to show how the experiences of young people were shaped both by relationships among family members and by the turbulent cultural, economic and political circumstances in the larger Polish society. Collections of biographies written by Jewish youth in Poland during the 1930s will be especially important resources for this project, and will be complemented by a variety of other sources such as newspapers, guides for parents, and publications by youth groups.

Michal Shaul’s dissertation is about the role of Holocaust survivors among the ultra-Orthodox (“Haredi”) community in Israel from 1945 to 1967. Shaul, a doctoral student in Jewish History at Bar-Ilan University, aims to understand the role of Holocaust survivors in forming the Haredi community in Israel and in shaping that community’s memory of the Holocaust. Her research is based on a wide range of sources, from video testimonials to memoirs, as well as dozens of interviews that she has conducted with survivors.

About Targum Shlishi

Targum Shlishi, a Raquel and Aryeh Rubin Foundation, is dedicated to providing a range of creative solutions to problems facing Jewry today. Premised on the conviction that dynamic change and adaptation have historically been crucial to a vibrant and relevant Judaism and to the survival of its people, Targum Shlishi’s initiatives are designed to stimulate the development of new ideas and innovative strategies that will enable Jewish life, its culture, and its traditions to continue to flourish. For more information on the foundation, visit its website.

For Media and Other Inquiries

Contact Targum Shlishi at 305.692.9991 or e-mail


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