The big World Union of Jewish Studies conference just concluded 5 days of stimulating papers, discussions, and schmoozing. I was struck by the difference between the big conference here versus the annual meetings of the Association of Jewish Studies in the United States. The conference here is at once more international and more parochial. Namely, the conferees come from all over the world: Israel, of course, and lots of Europeans, North Americans, and, increasingly, young scholars from Asia. But also more parochial in the sense that the guiding methodologies that define Jewish Studies in the States have not taken as deep a root here in Israel.
As I always, I moved around different sections of the Congress: Jewish philosophy and thought, history, and art. I tried to make it into “Between Jews and Romans in Antiquity,” but the room was too cramped with too many people. There were paper and panels on the concept of religious truth; identity, the evil eye, and garments and accessories in late antique synagogue mosaics; aspects of popular religion in medieval Ashkenaz (wax figurines and sorcery, laws re: menstruants in the synagogue and the circumcision of babies who don’t make it to their 8th day, and general patterns of popular observance and non-observance); Jewish and Christian post-Holocaust theology; Robert Nozick as Jewish meta-theologian; a memorial panel to Menachem Elon on Jewish Studies, law in Israel, and Mishpat Ivri; Jewish encounters with American capitalism; Rav Kook; Israeli art (modernist silversmithing of Gumbel and Wolpert, politics and messianism in the art of Baruch Nachson, an artist active in Hebron, and the appearance of the figure of God in works by Anna Ticho, Aviva Uri, Michal Na’aman, and Zoya Cherkassky); illustrations by Rashi, cartographies of redemption, a magnificent 16th Hebrew map of the Holy Land produced in Mantua; Scholem’s correspondence with Ernst Jünger, Margarete Sussman, Otto Michel, and Jacob Taubes.
In addition: long talks with MF, CF, ES, LS, EK, YM, MT, SF, HP, LK, SS, YL, BM, JC, and others I’m sure, about Jewish philosophy, Jewish Studies, Israeli politics and cultural politics.
As always for me, Jewish Studies is the material stuff and associational patterns, international and transhistorical, that condition the emergence of Jewish thought and philosophy. And that too constitutes a difference between Jewish Studies in the United States versus here. In Israel, Jewish Studies is part of larger cultural, historical, political, social, and visual networks, in spite of all those very factors that might limit its point of view, including severe financial crises.