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Targum Shlishi Announces Recipients of Grants for Dissertations in Jewish Studies: Ten Grants Awarded for Diverse Range of Scholarship

December 22, 2013 —Targum Shlishi has awarded grants to support research for dissertations on topics related to Jewish Studies to ten doctoral students from the United States, Israel, and Germany. This is the seventh year that Targum Shlishi has funded dissertation research. Topics within and related to Jewish Studies vary widely in both subject matter and field of study, as reflected in the grants awarded. The topics of dissertations receiving 2013–14 grants include support for an exploration into the continuity of Lubavitch society; a consideration of the controversial work of Moses Hayim Luzzatto for which the scholar draws from unpublished archival documents and rare printed books; Rashi’s Torah commentary considered within the context of the twelfth-century renaissance in northern Europe; and a critical edition and analysis of the ninth chapter of the Talmud tractate Sanhedrin.

Students from universities across the United States, Europe, and Israel applied; four grants of $2,500 and six grants of $1,000 were awarded. “Reviewing the applications from these young scholars is a window into the world of Jewish Studies and an education in and of itself,” says Judith Dach, Ph.D., coordinator of Targum Shlishi’s dissertation awards. “Every year we are inspired by excellent quality of the research represented in the applications we receive, as well as the sheer quantity. Deciding who receives the grants is quite difficult, which we see as a very good sign.”

The applications go through a multi-step review process that includes evaluation by an outside board of scholars. This year the external review board members were Melissa Raphael, Ph.D., a professor of theology and religious studies at the University of Gloucestershire; Richard Sugarman, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Vermont whose fields are phenomenology, philosophy of religion, and Jewish philosophy; and Rabbi Alan Zelenetz, M. Phil., an educator and writer.

“The seven years of awarding these grants for dissertation research has made it clear to us that scholarship in Jewish Studies is at a very high level. Many of the research topics are fascinating and provocative. Yet, very few outside of academia are aware of this rich field of study, even fewer have access in order to learn from the research, and fewer still are intellectually stimulated by this scholarship,” says Aryeh Rubin, director of Targum Shlishi. “In addition to supporting students in the field, we have realized that the next step is to help find ways to publicize the incredible work being done in Jewish Studies so that the wider Jewish world becomes aware of this growing body of work.”

The awardees receiving grants of $2,500 are:

Nahum Ben-Yehuda, The Production of Flax-Linen in Light of Talmudic Literature, Bar Ilan University (Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology Department) This dissertation is a multi-disciplinary examination of the production and use of flax-linen in the Land of Israel in the Roman era, based on Talmudic sources. These sources have been located, examined, and sorted by several parameters, such as time period, locale, context, and the tradents quoted. Archaeological sources will be presented and compared to the Talmudic sources. Ben-Yehuda notes that this dissertation will be the first time that the Jewish cultural contexts of flax-linen production and use, in both halakhic and aggadic contexts, are studied in a structured, academic fashion, and that the research will serve as an indispensable aid to those studying Talmud as well as for those studying international textile history and the religious contexts of textiles.

Nahum Ben-Yehudah’s work and academic experience is wide-ranging and includes expertise in both the Talmud and in textile history and production. He is a teacher of Talmud, a rabbi (ordained in 1986 by The Chief Rabbinate of Israel and Harry Fishel Institute), and someone who has studied textiles for more than ten years. He has lectured widely on the subject of textiles and published many articles in the field. His master’s thesis, Jewish Dress and Religious Identity in the Land of Israel During the Roman Period—The Talmudic Dress Code, has been recognized by scholars as filling a void in the field. His career includes founding and serving as head of a yeshiva high school, serving as a community and school rabbi, and founding and owning a factory for the production of musical instruments.

Amit Gvaryahu, Usury and Currency in Rabbinic Literature, The Hebrew University (Talmud Department) This dissertation explores the place of money markets in rabbinic literature and the impact the prohibition of usury had on them. Rabbinic literature, though it was created in the Roman and Sassanian empires, provides extensive legislation on credit and money markets, only some of which is mandated by the Torah. This legislation can be seen as an act of resistance to the ruling powers, but it also had real world effects on people within the rabbinic community. Ultimately, this dissertation can help lead to an understanding of the role of debt and credit in the religious world of the rabbis. The primary goal of the dissertation is to formulate the religious meaning of currency, debt, and credit in the complex rabbinic corpus. Gvaryahu explains that the project’s primary contribution to the field will be to add another chapter to the ongoing study of the history of Jewish law and to illuminate Roman economic history and thought from the perspective of Jewish sources.

As an undergraduate, Amit Gvaryahu studied Talmud and Classics at The Hebrew University before serving, along with his wife, Yedidah Koren, as scholars in residence at Paideia, the European Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden. He is on the faculty of Yeshivat Hadar in New York and is a founding faculty member of Yehivat Talpiot in Jerusalem. He was awarded a Ph.D. fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation for Jewish Morals and Ethics in 2012–13. His master’s thesis, entitled The Tannaitic Laws of Battery, is being prepared for publication as a series of articles (in both English and Hebrew).

Schneur Zalman Newfield, Reproducing the Sacred: Communal Continuity and Change in Contemporary Lubavitch Society, New York University (Sociology Department) How do religious communities manage to reproduce themselves in a pluralistic and ever-changing society? While it may seem to be, it is not the case that once a community overcomes the hurdle of establishing and then perpetuating itself for a second or third generation, its continuity is no longer a puzzle. The means available for a community to reproduce are either to retain the young members born into it and/or to attract new members, and both means present many challenges. Newfield’s research examines three interrelated facets of communal life central to Lubavitch society: the role of systems of rewards and punishments in maintaining religious obedience, the fluid categories of group membership, and the symbolic boundaries separating the community from the outside world. The dissertation is based on a combination of in-depth interviews with members of the Lubavitch community, participant observation, and archival research.

Schneur Zalman Newfield holds an undergraduate degree in Psychology from Brooklyn College and a master’s degree in Sociology from New York University. He notes that his personal biography is relevant to his dissertation topic, as he grew up Lubavitch and subsequently left the community. He attended Lubavitch schools from childhood until he was twenty years old, and then spent a year in Singapore doing Lubavitch outreach. He also spent time as a rabbinical student and outreach worker in Russia, Argentina, China, and various parts of the United States. In addition to the critical and academic approach he brings to the study of ultra-Orthodoxy, he also brings to his topic a deep understanding of the strengths of the denomination and its draw for people. As he explains, “Researchers often approach religion, especially extreme forms of religion, as puzzling aberrations from normal human behavior…Part of what I hope to accomplish as an academic is to demystify the world of extreme religious communities.”

Avinoam Paul Sharon, Elu hanisrafin: A Critical Edition and Comparative Law Analysis of Chapter Nine of the Babylonian Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin, The Jewish Theological Seminary of America (Talmud) This dissertation is a preparation of the first critical edition of the ninth chapter of the Talmud tractate Sanhedrin, and a comparative-law analysis of the underlying jurisprudential and theological principles of the rabbinic approach to the principles of criminal culpability and guilt. This chapter treats such subjects as criminal intent, transferred malice, culpability and guilt, and the punishment of offenders. Sharon notes that there is currently no critical edition of this chapter or of the related Tosefta. His objective is to analyze the Talmudic and related early-rabbinic sources in order to present the underlying theoretical framework of rabbinic criminal jurisprudence. The resulting critical edition of the chapter, and the legal analysis of its guiding principles, will provide essential groundwork for researchers of Talmudic law, for jurists seeking to conduct comparative legal research, and for courts and legislative bodies in their application of the concepts and moral principles of rabbinic law to contemporary issues.

Avinoam Paul Sharon earned his undergraduate degree in linguistics and Semitic languages at Columbia University and studied law at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he worked as a research assistant in criminal law to Professor S. Z. Feller and served as a student editor of the Israel Law Review. He earned a master’s degree in Talmud and Jewish law from the Jewish Theological Seminary – Schechter Institute, and received rabbinical ordination from the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem. He completed his articles as a law clerk in the firm of Ehud Olmert & Co., and as law clerk to the late Judge Zvi Bar Niv, Chief Justice of Israel’s National Labor Court. He is a member of the Israel Bar Association, and his legal experience includes both private practice and service in senior staff and command positions in the Chief Military Advocate’s Unit of the Israel Defense Forces.

The awardees receiving $1,000 grants are:

Yedida Eisenstat, Rashi Reconsidered: How the Torah Commentary is an Expression of the Twelfth Century Renaissance, The Jewish Theological Seminary of America (Midrash and Scriptural Interpretation)

Markus Krah, Turning a Lost World Into a Usable Past: How American Jews at Mid-Twentieth Century Reinvented Their East European History, The Jewish Theological Seminary of America (Modern Jewish Studies Department)

Melanie Hembera, The Shoah in the District of Cracow in the General Government: The City of Tarnów as a Case Study, University of Heidelberg (Department of History)

Akhmad Sahal, Religious Law and State in Israel and Egypt: Isaac Breuer’s Torah State and Rashid Rida’s Caliphate State, University of Pennsylvania (Department of Religious Studies)

David Sclar, “He will Bloom like a Cedar in Lebanon”: Heresy and Heroism in the Life and “After-Life” of Moses Hayim Luzzatto, City University of New York Graduate Center (History Department)

Rebecca Scharbach Wollenberg, “And They Became the People of the Book”: Tracing the Turn to Text in Medieval Jewish Genres, University of Chicago Divinity School (Committee on History of Religions)

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 at


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