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Targum Shlishi Announces Recipients of 2012 Grants for Dissertations in Jewish Studies

October 21, 2012 – Targum Shlishi has awarded grants to support research for dissertations on topics related to Jewish Studies to twelve doctoral students studying at universities in the United States and Israel. This is the sixth year in which the foundation has supported dissertation research. Research topics within and related to Jewish Studies vary widely in both subject matter and field of study, as reflected in the grants awarded this year, which include support for an examination of Jewish self-defense in the Pale and Palestine; a consideration of the music of Jerusalem; interpretations of a genre of Talmud stories concerning the sages, and more.

“Every year our commitment to supporting this research grows—we are impressed and inspired by the richness of the scholarship and the contributions these students are making to their fields,” says Judith Dach, Ph.D., coordinator for Targum Shlishi’s dissertation research awards. “It is incredibly challenging for us to choose from among dozens of strong candidates—and of course, at the same time, we are thrilled that the decision is so difficult.”

Nearly one hundred students from almost forty universities in the U.S., Europe, and Israel applied for grants this year. The grants were awarded at two different levels of support: four grants of $2,500 and eight of $1,000.

“While Jewish education at the basic K–12 level continues to suffer from a lack of funding, vision, and initiative, I am delighted that at the university level, many aspects of Jewish scholarship are thriving,” says Aryeh Rubin, founder and director of Targum Shlishi.

Targum Shlishi’s dissertation grants are available to doctoral students whose dissertation research is related to Jewish Studies. The call for applicants is announced via e-mail in early fall. To sign up for Targum Shlishi’s e-mail announcements, please go to the website.

The awardees receiving grants of $2,500 are:

Mihály Kálmán, “Shtetl Heroes: Jewish Self-Defense from the Pale to Palestine, 1871–1929,” Harvard University (Near Eastern Languages and Civilization, Jewish Studies Program)

This dissertation examines the history of Jewish self-defense in Late Imperial Russian and during the Russian Civil War of 1917–21 and the transplantation of activists, ideas, practices, and memories of violence to Mandatory Palestine. Mihály Kálmán’s study focuses on Jewish armed resistance in the face of violence in the period preceding the Holocaust—during the pogrom waves in the Russian Empire, Palestinian-Jewish violence in pre-state Palestine, and self-defense in the context of Russian, Ukrainian, Soviet, and Zionist experiments with state-building and nation-building. “I intend to offer a corrective and contribution to our understanding of the emergence, transnationalization, and consequences of modern Jewish militancy by providing a close reading of some of its earliest and most consequential manifestations,” Kálmán writes. “Investigating the emergence of Jewish self-defense, and the first Jewish skirmishes with modern ethnic violence will allow me to explore their lasting effects, and to revise in this light the history of modern Jewish experience with violence, as well as the history of Soviet Jewry, and that of the Jewish settlement in early Mandatory Palestine.”

Mihály Kálmán majored in Jewish Studies, Russian, and Arabic at the Eötvös LorándUniversity in Budapest, spent a semester at the Pushkin Russian Language Institute in Moscow, and earned an M.St. in Jewish Studies from Oxford University. He is now a Ph.D. candidate in the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department at Harvard University. He has presented papers at several conferences and has been co-organizer of the Modern Jewish Worlds Workshop at Harvard since September 2010.

Michael A. Figueroa, Music and Monumentality in Jerusalem, 1967–present, University of Chicago (Ethnomusicology)

Songs of both victory and loss emerged from the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, in which Israel occupied the eastern half of Jerusalem along with Sinai, Gaza, and the Golan Heights. Much of the music survived the events of that year; some draws upon resources from centuries of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian musical tradition and most reflects aspects of this critical moment in history in which Jerusalemites from all three religions were forming their identities in relation to their history and the present, the aftermath of the war. “Music is a penetrating, emotionally fraught experiential mode through which that historical moment has been remembered, relived, critiqued, and transmitted to new generations of Israelis, Arabs, and others, for all of whom Jerusalem is a site of intense cultural meaning,” writes Michael A. Figueroa. In his dissertation, he considers this music with the goal of understanding ways in which it is central to the construction of the shared past for the various religions/groups who converge in Jerusalem. He also explores ways in which his findings might bear on broader trends in research on music and violence, phenomenologies of musical experience, and the forms of social identity made possible by musical monumentality in the modern world.

Michael A. Figueroa is a Ph.D. candidate in Ethnomusicology in the Department of Music at the University of Chicago. He received his undergraduate degree in musicology from Northwestern University, and recalls a childhood in which music was always playing in his home. He plays several instruments, which he began studying at age eleven, first classical guitar and percussion and later piano, voice, and the Arabic ‘oud. He has helped organize several conferences including “Jewish City Music” in April 2011. He spent last year in Jerusalem with the support of a Fulbright Fellowship.

Eliashiv Fraenkel, Meetings and Conversations of Sages in Stories Regarding Halakhic Background in the Babylonian Talmud, Bar Ilan University (Talmud)

This dissertation explores a specific genre of stories in the Babylonian Talmud—those describing interactions between sages in which the background context is halakhic—a genre that has not been sufficiently recognized, according to Eliashiv Fraenkel. He explains that between the halakhah (law) and aggadah(legend) stories in the Talmud is a third genre, a sort of in-between type of story involving meetings and conversations between sages. Fraenkelproposes to identify about fifty such stories from different tractates in the Babylonian Talmud and interpret them, looking to analyze the sage’s behavior and identify the values expressed. “Up to now, law scholars…were only interested in the halakhic aspect of the stories, and ignored the narrative dimension… Aggadah scholars saw these stories…as Halakha…Therefore these stories were not examined or interpreted properly,” he writes. “I would like to continue the halakhic story research, develop and deepen it, and eventually place it in its appropriate place in the study and research of Talmud.” Fraenkel notes that this research is important not only because it explores educational and moral values of the sages, but because it has the potential to revitalize Talmud study in Israel. “One of the hardships of the Talmud’s place within Israeli society is that it became a dry subject which is not relevant to most of the society. This genre…offers a real moral and educational perspective …and could make Talmud studies and research relevant and inspiring,” he writes.

A Ph.D. candidate in the Talmud Department at Bar Ilan University, Eliashiv Frenkel holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Talmud from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. For the past fifteen years he has worked as an educator, teaching at the university, high school, and elementary school levels. He also directs the research for Shamma Friedman at the Sol and Evelyn Henkind Talmud Text Databank of the Saul Lieberman Institute of Talmud Research.

Amy M. Smith, “Rebuilding and Remembering: Women and the Family Life of Holocaust Survivors in Displaced Persons Camps, the United States, and Israel between 1946 and 1960,” Yale University (Religious Studies, Judaic Studies Program)

The lives of female survivors and their families between 1945 and 1960 and particularly the impact of the Holocaust on family life are explored in Amy Smith’s dissertation. “For survivors, building a life after the Holocaust was a complex process, simultaneously fraught with grief and imbued with hope. By focusing on family life, I am able to examine the various ways in which individuals worked to rebuild their lives wile coping with the traumatic events they had experienced. The formation of new families was one of the most important sites of this process,” she writes. Her period of study begins with liberation and the DP camps and then follows survivors who immigrated to both the United States and Israel; the study concludes prior to the capture of Adolf Eichmann, as his trial led to a significant shift in popular attitudes towards the Holocaust. The core of the dissertation is a microhistory that focuses on six to eight families of Polish descent placed in the context of a broad study of survivor families.

Amy Smith received two bachelor’s degrees from the University of Maryland, College Park, in Jewish Studies and in History. She is now a Ph.D. candidate in the Judaic Studies Program at Yale University. She has presented papers at conferences including the Association for Jewish Studies and the Beyond Testimony and Trauma conference, and was accepted into the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Jack and Anita Hess Faculty Seminar exploring the topic of the uses of survivor testimony in the classroom.

The awardees receiving grants of $1,000 are:

Seth Appelbaum, The Encounter Between Classical Political Philosophy and the Jewish Legal Tradition: A Reading of Maimonides’ Introduction to the Commentary on the Mishnah and the Eight Chapters, Tulane University (Philosophy)

Vanessa J. Avery, Jewish Vaccines Against Mimetic Desire: Rene Girard and Jewish Ritual, Hartford Seminary (joint program with the University of Exeter) (Theology)

Gali Drucker Bar-Am, Am I Your Dust? Representations of the Israeli Experience in Yiddish Prose (Israel, 1948–1968), The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Yiddish Studies)

Jessica Marin Elliott, The Changing Status of Converted Jews in Thirteenth- and Fourteenth-Century Northern France, University of California, Santa Barbara (History)

Karen Frank, Jewish Women in Late Medieval and Renaissance Perugia, University of California, Santa Barbara (History)

Sarit Kattan Gribetz, Conceptions of Time and Rhythms of Daily Life in Rabbinic Literature (200-600 CE), Princeton University (Religion)

Rachel Rothstein, The Next Chapter: Polish Jewishness since 1968, University of Florida (History)

Yehuda Seif, Charity and Poor Law in Northern Europe in the Thirteenth Century, University of Pennsylvania (Religious Studies)

About Targum Shlishi

Targum Shlishi 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:


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