(Job Opening) Phyllis Backer Professor of Jewish Studies (Judaism)

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Assistant Professor: Judaism
The Department of Religion and the Jewish Studies Program in the College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University (Syracuse, NY) invite applications for the Phyllis Backer Professor of Jewish Studies, who will be appointed as a tenure-track assistant professor in the Department of Religion to begin August 2020. We are seeking a colleague broadly trained across the field of Jewish Studies with demonstrated facility in the study of Religion, including theories and methods.

Candidates should demonstrate areas of specialized interest in one of three rubrics but with possible points of overlap between: gender, texts in cultural context and ethnographic approaches to “lived religions.”

The successful candidate will make significant contributions both to the undergraduate and graduate curricula of the Department of Religion and of the undergraduate Jewish Studies Program. At the undergraduate level, we are looking for a scholar with specialized research focus in Jewish Studies, and teaching competence across a broad range of Jewish Studies outside her or his area of specialization. At the graduate level, in addition to Judaism, the successful candidate will contribute to one or more of the Religion Department’s methodological concentrations: communities & identities, critique-image-politics, texts & contexts.

While scholars of all historical periods and geographical areas are welcome to apply, we are particularly interested in a scholar whose work contributes to the understanding of modern and contemporary Jewish texts, ideas, and cultures.

In addition to completing an online application, please include a letter of application, a curriculum vitae, sample syllabi and contact information for at least three letters of reference.


The Search Committee will begin reviewing files on October 15.

For More information and Quick Link


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Critique Image Politics Reading Group (Syracuse University)


Organized by Gail Hamner and the CIP (Critique Image Politics) Group in the Department of Religion, Syracuse University

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[Please Don’t Insert Tasteless Holocaust Joke Here] [New York State Fair 2019


Adding this to the list of things you cannot un-see at the New York State Fair.

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(Trump Trade Wars) The Cows Are Gone (New York State Fair 2019)


The jewel in the crown at a big State Fair is the cowsheds. Dairy-families bring their stock to show, camping out and caring for the animals, and connecting with each other and with the larger social public. This year we walked into the shed and it was practically empty. Where once the place was full of human and animal life, the place is now empty by at least a half. It felt like walking into a disaster zone. It used to be a bustle of action: cleaning, clipping, washing, walking, milking. The cow people used to schmooze a lot, with each other and with us. There used to be more cow-kids too, working the stalls with their parents and out and about on the Midway.

When we asked her what was going on, one of the women working there simply said, “Farming sucks.” By her reckoning, farm communities are holding on by a thread, it’s expensive to bring cows to a fair and to maintain them there, and there’s no money to spare. She blamed the problem largely on milk prices remaining flat against the rise in the cost of living. As for the future of the industry, she guessed that fewer and fewer large concerns would own more and more stock. She also said that there had been signs of this for some time now, but that this year was really bad. Indeed,  I’ve never seen anything like this all my years coming to the New York State Fair. But I did not have the courage or heart to ask if this hollowing out of farm communities has not even a little to do with Trump trade wars. All that empty space. You feel for things and for people and let it go.

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(Nighttime Dance) Machine Parts in Motion (New York State Fair 2019)


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You can’t say you like technology and dance or Bauhaus and not like looking at the rides at the New York State Fair as you wander among them as they gyrate in the night. Before JG taught me how to use the manual setting on my cheap’ish digital camera, I would have shot this dancing beast in automatic. The resulting image would have been an ecsatatic blur of blasting light, missing the discrete and wild movement of the lit machine parts that constitute this ride at the New York State Fair.  Dance you monster to my soft song!



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Heterotopia (New York State Fair 2019)


“There are also, probably in every culture, in every civilization, real places- places that do exist and that are formed in the very founding of society-which are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted. Places of this kind are outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in reality. Because these places are absolutely different from all the sites that they reflect and speak about, I shall call them, by way of contrast to utopias, heterotopias.”


“Opposite these heterotopias that are linked to the accumulation of time, there are those linked, on the contrary, to time in its most fleeting, transitory, precarious aspect, to time in the mode of the festival. These heterotopias are not oriented toward the eternal, they are rather absolutely temporal [chroniques]. Such, for example, are the fairgrounds, these marvelous empty sites on the outskirts of cities that teem once or twice a year with stands, displays, heteroclite objects, wrestlers, snakewomen, fortune-tellers, and so forth. Quite recently, a new kind of temporal heterotopia has been invented: vacation villages, such as those Polynesian villages that offer a compact three weeks of primitive and eternal nudity to the inhabitants of the cities. You see, moreover, that through the two forms of heterotopias that come together here, the heterotopia of the festival and that of the eternity of accumulating time, the huts of Djerba are in a sense relatives of libraries and museums. For the rediscovery of Polynesian life abolishes time; yet the experience is just as much the rediscovery of time, it is as if the entire history of humanity reaching back to its origin were accessible in a sort of immediate knowledge”


–Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces,” Diacritics, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Spring, 1986), p.24, 26


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Talmud & The Casuistic Style (Shlomo Deshen & the Jews of Morocco)


Working through 18th and 19th century halakhic sources (in this case, responsa) to get a bead on traditional Moroccan Jewish life prior to formal colonial period (prior to the establishment of the French protectorate in 1912), Shlomo Deshen said something interesting in this classic study about the Talmud and the casuistic style.

In a comment that should bedevil the work of any social historian who relies on this material, Deshen writes:

“The reasoning of Talmudic sage, as they advance towards conclusions, frequently leads them to describe scenarios that could theoretically have arisen in the case discussed. The sages describe ways of action that protagonists could have chosen and other eventualities that could have arisen. Sometimes these scenarios are based on elements of real-life possibilities, but more often they are the products of legal minds that are steeped in Talmudic literature and precedents of other times and places. Insensitive reading of the responsa material sometimes leads researchers to impute reality to casuistic statements that are completely imaginary” (The Mellah Society: Jewish Community Life in Sherifian Morocco, p.12).

The same sensitivity should be required also of Jewish philosophers when they write about law and authority, and also about scholars of rabbinics who perform symptomatic readings of the texts in order to get a grip on social history and social tensions. Key words in Deshen’s statement include “theoretical,” “could have,” “scenarios,” “products,” “literature,” impute” and “completely imaginary,” and also””frequently” and “sometimes.”



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