Caroline Block, The Spirit of Tradition and the Institution of Authority: Knowledge and Community in American Orthodox Women’s Talmud Programs, Johns Hopkins University (Anthropology)
Orthodox Jewish women who are enrolled in the women’s Talmud programs that have recently emerged in the American Modern Orthodox Jewish community are studying the traditional rabbinic curriculum, although the position of rabbi is unavailable to them – currently there is little possibility of being ordained as a rabbi or serving the functions of a rabbi in the Orthodox community. These women, facing an uncertain future, are experimenting with alternative ways to claim authority and create spiritual leadership roles within Orthodoxy. Caroline Block notes that while these women are enrolled in postgraduate programs that are part of the Judaic tradition of preparing for rabbinic ordination through textual studies, they are also profoundly affected by the American practice of denominationalism, particularly due to the way in which the rabbinate in the U.S. has been influenced by the Protestant tradition, and “rabbi” has come to refer not to an academic distinction, but to a job in the public sphere. Block’s dissertation explores the tensions of American Jewish denominationalism and particularly how denominationalism relates to Modern Orthodoxy.
Caroline Block is a doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University. She received her undergraduate degree from Princeton University where she studied Cultural Anthropology with minors in Jewish Studies and French language and culture. She has also studied at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.
Polly Zavadivker, Soviet History, Jewish Fate: The War Writings of S. Ansky, Isaac Babel, and Vasily Grossman, 1914-1948, University of California, Santa Cruz (History)
The Russian-Jewish writers S. Ansky (1863-1920), Isaac Babel (1894-1940), and Vasily Grossman (1905-1964) represent three different generations who witnessed and wrote about the impact of war on Jews in the Ukrainian-Polish borderlands (the former “Pale of Jewish Settlement” region) during World War I, the Russian Civil War, and World War II, respectively. The writers all traveled in the region in various professional roles (relief work, political education, war correspondence) with the imperial Russian and Soviet Red armies. Polly Zavadivker’s dissertation focuses primarily on the war diaries of these writers, which served as the basis for later works of prose that each produced. While the diaries are fragmentary and disorganized, the subsequent memoirs and fiction crafted by the writers present coherent narratives whereas. In her research Zavadivker seeks to illustrate how diaries were important sources of historical evidence that tell of the daily life, violence, and death that unfolded against a backdrop of war. She notes that not only do they describe events, but the diaries also engage questions such as the moral responsibility of the witness and the nature of truth and causality.
Polly Zavadivker is a doctoral candidate in History at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She received an undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley in Interdisciplinary Studies and Slavic Languages and Literatures and went on to earn two master’s degrees from New York University, one from the department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies and one in Public Administration and Non-profit Management. In addition to her academic career, she held a position as a program office at the Jewish Community Foundation in Oakland, California.
Joseph Ringel, The Sephardic Rabbinate, Sephardic Yeshivot, and the Shas Educational System, Brandeis University (Near Eastern and Judaic Studies)
The nature of the religious identity of Middle Eastern Jews living in Israel is subject to debate among the Sephardim themselves. The Shas Party is an Israeli Orthodox politic party whose goal is to lead a pan-Sephardic religious revival by encouraging religious observance. Shas attempts to attract Sephardim from all walks of life and claims to speak for all Sephardim, although there are many Sephardic rabbis who either don’t identify with Shas or who oppose it. Joseph Ringel’s dissertation explores the debates over Sephardic identity by examining how Shas’ network of schools and Sepahrdic yeshivot transmit what they consider to be Sepahrdic values in the student body. This process of identity reconstruction includes the search for a usable past in order to confront the challenges modernity poses to the Sephardic religious tradition – this process has resulted in the preservation of certain religious practices and traditions, the creation of new customs and ideas through re-interpretation, and the misinterpretation and distortion of other elements of the Sephardic tradition. In exploring the debates within the Sephardic world surrounding Shas’ reconstruction of Sephardic identity, Ringel’s dissertation explores the complexities of connecting past experiences and traditions to current realities.
Joseph Ringel received a master’s degree at Yeshiva Unviersity in medieval Jewish history where he concentrated on Jewish intellectual history under Islam. He has published several articles on Ottoman Jewish communities and Ottoman rabbis. In his doctoral studies in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University he continues to focus of Jews under Islam but with a shift in emphasis to modern times.
Joshua Z. Teplitsky, Between Court Jew and Jewish Court: David Oppenheim, the Prague Rabbinate, and eighteenth-century Jewish politics, New York University (History and Judaic Studies)
David Oppenheim (1664-1736) was, among other things, the scion of a rabbinic family, the chief rabbi of Moravia and then of Prague and Bohemia, a legal authority, and a Talmudic commentator. Oppenheim’s various roles placed him at the crossroads of several important developments of the early modern period for both the history of Jewish political cultural development and the history of the Habsburg monarchy and its imperial politics. Joshua Teplitsky’s dissertation views the changes in the relationship between the Habsburg state and local Jewish communities in the early modern period through the lens of Oppenheim’s career.
Joshua Teplitsky received his undergraduate degree in History from Yeshiva University and is currently a doctoral candidate studying History and Judaic Studies at New York University. He has received numerous awards and fellowships, has taught or assisted in the teaching of several college courses at New York University and elsewhere, and speaks frequently on topics related to his scholarship.
In addition to the four grants of $2,500 listed individually, four awardees received $1,000 grants:
Yonatan Adler, The Archeological Evidence for the Observance of Ritual Purity Laws during the Second Temple and Rabbinic Periods, Bar-Ilan University (Land of Israel Studies and Archeology)
Debra Caplan, Staging Jewish Modernism: The Interwar Yiddish Art Theater Movement in Poland and the United States, Harvard University (Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations: Program in Yiddish Language and Literature)
Efrat Sadras-Ron, New Israeli Jewishness, Michigan State University (Anthropology)
Zach Mann, The Rabbi as Public Intellectual: Jacob Agus and American Judaism, Jewish Theological Seminary (Modern Jewish Studies)