Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award Winners (2020)


The National Jewish Book Awards are a significant snapshot of  mainstream American Jewish culture and book life. What it does, perhaps uniquely, is mix together across a broad spectrum of categories middle brow culture, including books for children, along with literature and academic scholarship. Without any critical animus, I’ll add this. That Jonathan Sacks and Art Green won awards, the one in Modern Jewish Thought and Experience, the other in Contemporary Jewish Life and Practice, is a sign of the times. These two awards indicate what is current and important in popular Jewish religious thought today, i.e. conservative moralism and New Age spirituality. Also of note is that a book on visual and material culture and objects, by Lau­ra Arnold Leib­man, won the award in three categories: American Jewish Studies,  History, and Women Studies. I am pasting the list of and links to winners and runners-up below the information from their website

About Jew­ish Book Coun­cil: Jew­ish Book Coun­cil is a non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cat­ed to edu­cat­ing, enrich­ing, and strength­en­ing the com­mu­ni­ty through Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture. With over 250 tour­ing authors each year, 2,000 book clubs, 1,300 events, the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Awards, Natan Notable Books, the pop­u­lar lit­er­ary series Unpack­ing the Book: Jew­ish Writ­ers in Con­ver­sa­tion, a vibrant dig­i­tal pres­ence, and an annu­al print pub­li­ca­tion, Paper Brigade, JBC ensures that Jew­ish-inter­est authors have a plat­form, and that read­ers are able to find these books and have the tools to dis­cuss them with their community.

About the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Awards: The Nation­al Jew­ish Book Awards were estab­lished by Jew­ish Book Coun­cil in 1950 in order to rec­og­nize out­stand­ing works of Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture. It is the longest-run­ning awards pro­gram of its kind.

Jew­ish Book of the Year

Everett Fam­i­ly Foun­da­tion Award


Moral­i­ty: Restor­ing the Com­mon Good in Divid­ed Times

Rab­bi Jonathan Sacks

Basic Books


Amer­i­can Jew­ish Studies

Cel­e­brate 350 Award


The Art of the Jew­ish Fam­i­ly: A His­to­ry of Women in Ear­ly New York in Five Objects

Lau­ra Arnold Leibman

Bard Grad­u­ate Center


Hid­den Heretics: Jew­ish Doubt in the Dig­i­tal Age

Ayala Fad­er

Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press

Well Worth Sav­ing: Amer­i­can Uni­ver­si­ties’ Life-and-Death Deci­sions on Refugees from Nazi Europe

Lau­rel Leff

Yale Uni­ver­si­ty Press

The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902: Immi­grant House­wives and the Riots That Shook New York City

Scott D. Seligman

Potomac Books

Auto­bi­og­ra­phy and Memoir

The Krauss Fam­i­ly Award in Mem­o­ry of Simon & Shu­lamith (Sofi) Goldberg


When Time Stopped: A Mem­oir of My Father’s War and What Remains

Ari­ana Neumann

Scrib­n­er (Simon & Schuster)


Friend­ly Fire: How Israel Became Its Own Worst Ene­my and the Hope for Its Future Ami Ayalon and Antho­ny David

Steer­forth Press

I Want You to Know We’re Still Here

Esther Safran Foer

Crown Pub­lish­ing Group

Here We Are: My Friend­ship with Philip Roth

Ben­jamin Taylor

Pen­guin Books


In Mem­o­ry of Sara Beren­son Stone


From Left to Right: Lucy S. Daw­id­ow­icz, the New York Intel­lec­tu­als, and the Pol­i­tics of Jew­ish History

Nan­cy Sinkoff

Wayne State Uni­ver­si­ty Press


Andrea Dworkin: The Fem­i­nist as Revolutionary

Mar­tin Duberman

The New Press

Rab­bi Leo Baeck: Liv­ing a Reli­gious Imper­a­tive in Trou­bled Times

Michael A. Meyer

Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia Press

The Sun and Her Stars: Sal­ka Vier­tel and Hitler’s Exiles in the Gold­en Age of Hol­ly­wood Don­na Rifkind

Oth­er Press

Book Club

The Miller Fam­i­ly Award in Mem­o­ry of Helen Dunn Wein­stein and June Keit Miller


The Lost Shtetl: A Novel

Max Gross



Han­nah’s War: A Novel

Jan Elias­berg

Lit­tle, Brown (Back Bay)

The Book of Lost Names

Kristin Harmel

Gallery Books

The Yel­low Bird Sings: A Novel

Jen­nifer Rosner

Flat­iron Books

The Tun­nel

A. B. Yehoshua

Houghton Mif­flin Harcourt

Children’s Pic­ture Book


Wel­com­ing Eli­jah: A Passover Tale with a Tail

Lesléa New­man, illus­trat­ed by Susan Gal



Judah Touro Did­n’t Want to Be Famous

Audrey Ades, illus­trat­ed by Vivien Mildenberger

Kar-Ben Pub­lish­ing

No Steps Behind: Beate Siro­ta Gor­don’s Bat­tle for Wom­en’s Rights in Japan

Jeff Gottes­feld, illus­trat­ed by Shiel­la Witanto

Cre­ston Books

Con­tem­po­rary Jew­ish Life and Practice

Myra H. Kraft Memo­r­i­al Award


Judaism for the World: Reflec­tions on God, Life, and Love

Arthur Green

Yale Uni­ver­si­ty Press


The Mus­sar Torah Com­men­tary: A Spir­i­tu­al Path to Liv­ing a Mean­ing­ful and Eth­i­cal Life Rab­bi Bar­ry H. Block

CCAR Press

Pre­pare My Prayer: Recipes to Awak­en the Soul

Rab­bi Dov Singer

Koren Pub­lish­ers Jerusalem

Debut Fic­tion

Gold­berg Prize


Flo­rence Adler Swims For­ev­er: A Novel

Rachel Bean­land

Simon & Schuster


The Orchard: A Novel

David Hopen


The Yel­low Bird Sings: A Novel

Jen­nifer Rosner

Flat­iron Books

Edu­ca­tion and Jew­ish Identity

In Mem­o­ry of Dorothy Kripke


Hebrew Infu­sion: Lan­guage and Com­mu­ni­ty at Amer­i­can Jew­ish Sum­mer Camps

Sarah Bunin Benor, Jonathan Kras­ner, and Sharon Avni

Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty Press


The Unstop­pable Start­up: Mas­ter­ing Israel’s Secret Rules of Chutzpah

Uri Adoni

Harper­Collins Leadership


JJ Green­berg Memo­r­i­al Award


Apeirogon: A Novel

Colum McCann

Ran­dom House


House on End­less Waters

Emu­na Elon

Atria Books

The Last Inter­view: A Novel

Eshkol Nevo, trans­lat­ed by Son­dra Silverston

Oth­er Press

Evening: A Novel

Nes­sa Rapoport

Coun­ter­point Press

The Mem­o­ry Monster

Yishai Sarid, trans­lat­ed by Yardenne Greenspan

Rest­less Books

Food Writ­ing & Cookbooks

Jane and Stu­art Weitz­man Fam­i­ly Award


Now for Some­thing Sweet

Mon­day Morn­ing Cook­ing Club



The Dairy Restaurant

Ben Katchor

Schock­en Books


Ger­rard and Ella Berman Memo­r­i­al Award


The Art of the Jew­ish Fam­i­ly: A His­to­ry of Women in Ear­ly New York in Five Objects 

Lau­ra Arnold Leibman

Bard Grad­u­ate Center


Stepchil­dren of the Shtetl: The Des­ti­tute, Dis­abled, and Mad of Jew­ish East­ern Europe, 1800 – 1939

Natan M. Meir

Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty Press

Res­cue the Sur­viv­ing Souls: The Great Jew­ish Refugee Cri­sis of the Sev­en­teenth Century

Adam Teller

Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press


In Mem­o­ry of Ernest W. Michel


The Unan­swered Let­ter: One Holo­caust Fam­i­ly’s Des­per­ate Plea for Help

Faris Cas­sell

Reg­n­ery History

Mid­dle Grade Literature


The Black­bird Girls

Anne Blankman

Viking Chil­dren’s Books, Penguin/​Random House


No Vacan­cy

Tzi­po­rah Cohen

Ground­wood Books

Anya and the Nightingale

Sofiya Paster­nack

Houghton Mif­flin Harcourt

Chance: Escape from the Holocaust 

Uri Shule­vitz

Far­rar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers/​Macmillan

Mod­ern Jew­ish Thought and Experience

Dorot Foun­da­tion Award in Mem­o­ry of Joy Unger­lei­der Mayerson


Moral­i­ty: Restor­ing the Com­mon Good in Divid­ed Times

Rab­bi Jonathan Sacks

Basic Books


Esther: Pow­er, Fate, and Fragili­ty in Exile

Dr. Eri­ca Brown

Koren Pub­lish­ers Jerusalem

The New Jew­ish Canon: Ideas & Debates 1980 – 2015

Yehu­da Kurtzer and Claire E. Sufrin

Aca­d­e­m­ic Stud­ies Press


Berru Award in Mem­o­ry of Ruth and Bernie Weinflash


Nau­tilus and Bone

Lisa Richter

Fron­tenac House


How to Love the World

Elvi­ra Basevich

Pank Books

Asy­lum: A per­son­al, his­tor­i­cal, nat­ur­al inquiry in 103 lyric sections

Jill Bialosky

Alfred A. Knopf


Adam Kam­mer­ling

Out-Spo­ken Press


Nahum M. Sar­na Memo­r­i­al Award


Time and Dif­fer­ence in Rab­binic Judaism

Sar­it Kat­tan Gribetz

Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press


Nah­manides: Law and Mysticism

Moshe Hal­ber­tal, trans­lat­ed by Daniel Tabak

Yale Uni­ver­si­ty Press

Demons, Angels, and Writ­ing in Ancient Judaism

Annette Yoshiko Reed

Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press

Sephardic Cul­ture

Mimi S. Frank Award in Mem­o­ry of Becky Levy


Forg­ing Ties, Forg­ing Pass­ports: Migra­tion and the Mod­ern Sephar­di Diaspora

Devi Mays

Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty Press


The Jews of Ottoman Izmir: A Mod­ern History

Dina Danon

Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty Press

The Con­vert

Ste­fan Hert­mans, trans­lat­ed by David McKay

Alfred A. Knopf

The Con­ver­so’s Return: Con­ver­sion and Sephar­di His­to­ry in Con­tem­po­rary Lit­er­a­ture and Culture

Dalia Kandiy­oti

Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty Press

Women Stud­ies

Bar­bara Dobkin Award


The Art of the Jew­ish Fam­i­ly: A His­to­ry of Women in Ear­ly New York in Five Objects 

Lau­ra Arnold Leibman

Bard Grad­u­ate Center


Her Sto­ry, My Sto­ry? Writ­ing About Women and the Holocaust

Edit­ed by Judith Tydor Baumel-Schwartz and Dalia Ofer

Peter Lang Publishers

The Rebel­lion of the Daugh­ters: Jew­ish Women Run­aways in Hab­s­burg Galicia 

Rachel Manekin

Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press

Writ­ing Based on Archival Material

The JDC-Her­bert Katz­ki Award


Blood Libel: On the Trail of an Anti­se­mit­ic Myth

Mag­da Teter

Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press


The Lost Archive: Traces of a Caliphate in a Cairo Synagogue

Mari­na Rustow

Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press

Leav­ing Zion: Jew­ish Emi­gra­tion from Pales­tine and Israel after World War II

Ori Yehu­dai

Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press

Young Adult Literature


The Way Back

Gavriel Sav­it

Ran­dom House Chil­dren’s Books


What I Like About You

Marisa Kan­ter

Simon & Schus­ter Chil­dren’s Publishing

Today Tonight Tomorrow

Rachel Lynn Solomon

Simon & Schus­ter Chil­dren’s PublishingMore from JBC Staffnation­al jew­ish book awardbooksfic­tionmid­dle grade fictioniden­ti­tyimmi­gra­tionrefugeesPreviousIllu­mi­na­tion: A Con­ver­sa­tion with Mark PodwalAda Brun­steinCategoriesArts & Culture

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Online Holocaust Memorialization Platforms & Post-Holocaust Culture


Marking  the 2021 International Holocaust Remembrance Day, this article here at Haaretz by film, media scholars Tobias Ebbrecht-Hartmann and Tom Divon is about online Holocaust memorialization platforms and culture. With mainline memorialization institutions (museums and memorials) responding to the particular form of life under Coronavirus, the article draws attention to the larger phenomenon of new media practice that will become a permanent feature of post-Holocaust discourse after the pandemic.

While not “the real thing,” noted is how “live tours enable users to express a rich range of responses, from (virtually) raising hands to ask questions on chat, or share their thoughts through comments and emojis. The navigator is in constant dialogue with the users online and communicates questions to the tour guide, thereby maximizing the users’ self-inscription, their embeddedness, into the experience.”

With links, these sites are featured: the Yad Vashem “IRemember Wall” and the Auschwitz Memorial’s 360 degree virtual tours, the historical information app of the  Buchenwald Memorial, and the Mauthausen Memorial’s educational hub on YouTube, the LIVE Instagram tours offered by the Neuengamme and Bergen-Belsen Memorials. Mentioned too are hashtags and the “migration” of memorialization to platforms like FB, Instagram and Tic Toc.

Going online embeds Holocaust memorialization into new human social environments long after the event, and also onto a new body-schema. I would look for an unreal and alien effect to these platforms. Instead of bringing the event up close under the illusion of immediacy, the effect is structured in terms of mediation and distance. While mimeographs, photocopies, books, film and other old media formats were always the critical component to Holocaust discourse, those old post-Holocaust-things were tangible. Many of them you could hold in the palm of your hand. These new digital creations are a new “generation” of Holocaust memory. Their place on the human body schema is at the tip of your fingers as you tap away at the device which you hold in the palm of your hand or one that sits on a table or desk.

More critical scholarly points of view are cited here, also at Haaretz, this one by Omer Benjakob.  Including FB and Holocaust denial at FB, here the concern is with the control and distortion of information, while highlighting, in my view, the importance of curation as integral discursive features at online sites and in online culture; also the understanding that digital literacy needs to be a fundamental component of post-Holocaust education and discourse.

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(Arendt) Fascist Insurrection & White Christian Nationalism (Trump)

Not wanting to overdo Arend’t famous excursus in Totalitarianism, it’s important to note that she draws a careful distinction between totalitarianism and fascism. And there’s something louche and laissez faire about the American fascism on display at the Capitol that does not fit the older European models. And fascism was more or less unrealized in America. Too close for comfort, maybe it remained something of a rump thing, which never managed to take over state and society. While larger scholarly analyses of fascism help explain the political organization of white supremacy and Christian nationalism in America today, I will refer more obliquely to “these kind of phenomena.” I do so in order to maintain some degree of separation between Nazi and Stalinist totalitarianism which are the proper subjects of Arendt’s analysis, on the one hand, and America First, MAGA and Christian Nationalism, militia movements, and conspiracy theorists, on the other hand.

About at least three things, however, Arendt in Totalitarianism gets right about our current moment.

The first thing that Arendt’s analysis of totalitarianism helps us understand is that, long before contemporary media and social media platforms, these kind of phenomena instantiate the political organization of an atomized social mass. By this she means “the mass of apparently indifferent people whom all other parties had given up on as too apathetic or too stupid for their attention.” Their place is “outside and against the party system.” Unlike the cases covered by Arendt in her analysis, I don’t think MAGA represents anything near like a majority of the country. MAGA is more like what Arendt called a “mob” than “the masses,” a “great, unorganized, structureless mass of furious individuals.” The mob she refers to in terms of so-called “tribal nationalism and rebellious nihilism” is in complete opposition to bourgeois “ideological outlook and moral standards” (pp.9-15, 26).

The second thing that Arendt understands about these kind of phenomenon relate to the political imagination and, in my own reading of her, to “religion.” For Arendt these refer to myth and mystery in the formation of imaginary worlds at war with the common sense of “the real world.”  What matters at this moment of danger to democracy in America are not facts, but the consistency of the MAGA system, and a “longing for fiction” over “mere occurrence.” Conjured up is a “lying world of consistency which is more adequate to the needs of the human mind than reality itself; in which through sheer imagination uprooted masses can feel at home and are spared the never-ending shocks which real life and real experiences deal to human being and their expectations (pp.49-51). Anti-Black racism and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories adorn the Big Lie that the election was rigged against and stolen from Trump.

Lastly and looking forward, Arendt in the concluding pages of Totalitarianism assumes that the plausibility of these fictional world can only be displaced by another and stronger reality. Arendt’s language here is notably strong. These kinds of political movements have to be shattered and destroyed. She’s writing about Germany after the war, but the words retain their resonant warning. In defeat, people caught up in these kind of phenomena give up the movement as a “bad bet.” But they’ll look around for another fiction or wait for the former fiction to re-establish itself as another mass movement.

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(Birthday) JPP is 9 Years Old (2020)

JPP turned 9 years old this month. It being a birthday, I will not say anything about the end of 2020, an ugly and angry year of social isolation and psychic miasma after 5 fearful years of Trump –except to thank all of you, family, friends, students, colleagues, strangers for being here at the blog and to commit tentative hope, a prayer moving forward about things that matter.

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(Jewish) Prayer (Gentile Kings and Democratic Country)


This 16th prayer, of Portuguese origin, Ha’Noten Teshua (He Who Gives Salvation) was then translated into English and presented by  Menasseh ben Israel to Oliver Cromwell in 1655. It became the template in traditional Jewish prayer and still appears in abbreviated form in modern orthodox prayer books. Appealing to autocrats, this baroque petition confirms Jewish fealty to sovereign authority and elevates and magnifies higher and higher the power of kings while begging protection from a position of Jewish social inequality. Unlike both the original form and the abbreviated form of the Ha’Noten Teshua in modern orthodox siddurim, the prayer for the country 1927 by Louis Ginzburg is democratic in spirit. It forms the basic template in Conservative movement siddurim, promoting good government and the universal blessings of liberal values like prosperity, peace, equality, and justice. Alas, it too lacks the poetic magnificence and visual grace, the path through strong waters and planetary star of the full Ha’Noten Teshua. Jonathan Sarna explores here the “liturgy of politics and the politics of liturgy” in American Jewish prayer.

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הַנּוֹתֵן תְּשׁוּעָה לַמְּלָכִים
וּמֶמְשָּׁלָה לֲנְּסִיכִים
הַפּוֹצֶה אֶת דָּוִד עַבְדּוֹ
מֵחֶרֶב רָעָה
הַנּוֹתֵן בַּיַם דֶרֶךְ
וּבְמַיִם עַזִּים נְתִיבָה
הוּא יְבָרֵךְ וְיִשְׁמוֹר
וְיִנְצוֹר וְיַעֲזוֹר
וִירוֹמֵם וִיגַדֵּל
וִינַשֵּׂא לְמַֽעְלָה לְמַֽעְלָה לַאֲדוֹנֵנוּ

He that giveth salvation unto Kings,
and dominion unto Lords,
He that delivered his servant David
from the sword of the Enemy,
He that made a way in the Sea,
and a path in the strong waters,
bless and keep,
preserve and rescue,
exalt and magnify,
and lift up higher and higher, our Lord:

[And then he names, the Pope, the Emperour, King, Duke, or any other Prince under whom the Jews live, and add’s :]

הַמֶּלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְלָכִים בְּרַחֲמָיו יִשְׁמְרֶהוּ
וּמִכָּל צָרָה וָנֶזֶק יַצִילֵהוּ׃

The King of kings defend him in his mercy,
making him joyful,
& free him from all dangers and distress.

מֶֽלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְלָכִים בְּרַחֲמָיו
יָרִוּם וְיַגְבִּיהַ כּוֹכַב מַעֲרַכְתָּוֹ
וְיַאֲרִיךְ יָמִים עַל מַמְלָכְתּוֹ׃

The King of kings, for his goodness sake,
raise up and exalt his planetary star,
& multiply his dayes over his Kingdom.

מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְלָכִים בְּרַחֲמָיו
יִתֵּן בְּלבּוֹ
וּבְּלֵב כָּל יוֹעֲצַיו וְשָׂרָיו
רַחֲמָנוּת לַעֲשׂוֹת טוֹבָה עִמָּנוּ
וְעִם כָּל יִשְּׂרָאֵל אַחֵינוּ

The King of kings for his mercies sake,
put into his heart,
and into the heart of his Counselors, & those that attend and administer to him,
that he may shew mercy unto us,
& unto all the people of Israel.

בְּיָמָיו וּבְיָמֵינוּ
תִּוָּשַּׁע יְהוּדָה
וְיִשְׂרָאֵל יִשְׁכּוֹן לָבֶטַח

In his days and in our days,
let Judah be safe,
and Israel dwell securely,

וּבָא לְצִיּוֹן גּוֹאֵל
וְכֵן יְהִי רָצוֹן
וָנֺאמַר אָמֵן:

and let the Redeemer come to Israel,
and so may it please God.

[[text and translation found here at the Open Siddur Project]]



אֱלֹהֵינוּ וֵאלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵֽינוּ
קַבֵּל נָא בְּרַחַמִים אֶת־תְּפִלָּתֵֽנוּ
בְּעַד אַרְצֵֽנוּ וּמֶמְשַׁלְתָּהּ.
הָרֵק אֶת־בּרְכָתְךָ ע֚ל הָאָֽרֶץ הַזֺּאת
עַל נְשִׂיאָהּ שׁוֹפְטֶֽיהָ שׁוֹטְרֶֽיהָ וּפְקִידֶֽהָ
הָעוֹסְקִים בְצָרְכֵי צִבּוּר בֶּאֱמוּנָה.
הוֹרֵם מֵחֻקֵּי תוֺרָתֶֽךָ
הַבִינֵם מִשְׁפְּטֵי צִדְקֶֽךָ
לְמַֽעַן לֺא יָסוּרוּ מֵאַרְצֵֽנוּ שָׁלוֹם וְשַׁלְוָה
אֺֽשֶׁר וָחֺֽפֶשׁ כּל־הַיָּמִים.

Our God and God of our ancestors:
Accept with mercy our prayer
for our land and its government.
Pour out your blessing on this land,
on its President, judges, officers and officials,
who work faithfully for the public good.
Teach them from the laws of Your Torah,
enlighten them with the rules of Your justice,
so that peace, tranquility, happiness and freedom
will never depart from our land.

אָנָּא יְיָ אֱלֺהֵי הָרוּחוֺת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר
שְׁלַח רוּחֲךָ עַל כָּל־תּוֹשְׁבֵי אַרְצֵֽנוּ
וְטַע בֵּין בְּנֵי הָאֻמּוֹת וְהָאֱמוּנוֹת הַשּׁוֹנוֹת הַשּׁוֹכְנִים בָּהּ
אַהֲבָה וְאַחֲוָה שָׁלוֹם וְרֵעוּת.
וַעֲקֺר נִלִּבָּם כָל שִׂנְאָה וְאֵיבָה קִנְאָה וְתַחֲרוּת.
לְמַלֺּאות מַשָּׂא נֶֽפשׁ בָּנֶֽיהָ הַמִּתְיַמְּרִים בִּכְבוֹדָהּ
וְהַמִּשְׁתּוֹקְקִים לִרְאוֹתָהּ אוֹר לְכָל־הַגּוֹיִם.‏

God of all that lives,
please bestow Your spirit on all the inhabitants of our land,
and plant love, fellowship, peace and friendship
between the different communities and faiths that dwell here.
Uproot from their hearts all hate, animosity, jealousy and strife,
in order to fulfill the longings of its people, who aspire for its dignity,
and desire to see it as a light for all nations.

וְכֵן יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶֽיךָ
שֶׁתְּהֵא אַרְצֵֽנוּ בְּרָכָה לְכָל־יוֹשְׁבֵי תֵבֵל
וְתַשְׁרֶה בֵּינֵיהֶם רֵעוּת וְחֵרוּת
וְקַיֵּם בִּמְהֵרָה חֲזוֹן נְבִיאֶֽיךָ
“לֹא־יִשָּׂ֨א ג֤וֹי אֶל־גּוֹי֙ חֶ֔רֶב
וְלֹא־יִלְמְד֥וּ ע֖וֹד מִלְחָמָֽה”
וְנֶאֱמַר “כִּֽי־כוּלָּם֩ יֵדְע֨וּ אוֹתִ֜י
לְמִקְטַנָּ֤ם וְעַד־גְּדוֹלָם֙”.

And so may it be God’s will
that our land be a blessing for all who live on earth,
and that fellowship and liberty will dwell between them.
Establish soon the vision of your prophet:
“Nation will not raise a sword against nation,
and they will no longer learn war,”[1]
and, as it is said: “for all of them will know Me,
from the smallest to the greatest’.[2]

[texts available here at Open Siddur Project]

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Zachary Taylor (Trump Insurrection) (2021)

A bust of former President Zachary Taylor was defaced with a red substance that appeared to be blood.Credit…Jason Andrew for The New York Times

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“What is the Mishnah?” an International Zoom Workshop Sponsored by Harvard University

Tuesday, January 5, 2021 (All day) to Thursday, January 21, 2021 (All day)


On Zoom


Links to join the individual sessions are pasted below, please register in advance: 

(after registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting) 

Panel 1: The Mishnah and History – Tuesday Jan 5, 2021 11:00AM – 1PM EST 

Shaye Cohen: Opening Remarks 

Martin Goodman:  The Presentation of the Past in the Mishnah 

Hayim Lapin: The Mishnah as a Historical Document

Panel 2: The Mishnah in its Historical Context – Thursday, Jan 7, 2021 11:00 AM – 1PM EST 

Vered Noam: Mishnah and the Dead Sea Scrolls 

Catherine Hezser: Mishnah and Greco-Roman Law 

Jonathan Milgram: Mishnah and Ancient Near Eastern Law

Panel 3: The Social World of the Mishnah – Tuesday January 12, 2021 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM EST 

Jonathan Klawans: Priests and Pietists

Adiel Schremer: Heretics

Ishai Rosen-Zvi: Gentiles 

Gail Labovitz: Women and Gender

Panel 4: The Mishnah in its Literary Context – Thursday January 14, 2021 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM EST 

Yair Furstenberg: The Literary Evolution of the Mishnah 

Shamma Friedman: Mishnah and Tosefta

Azzan Yadin-Israel: Mishnah and Tannaitic Midrash

Panel 5: Mishnaic Discourse – Monday January 18, 2021 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM EST 

Elitzur Bar-Asher Siegal: Mishnaic Hebrew/Language

Beth Berkowitz: Rhetoric (including mahloket)

Moshe Shoshan: Narrative

Panel 6: Composition, Transmission and Reception – Tuesday January 19, 2021 11:00 AM- 1:00 PM EST 

David Stern: Early Transmission/Publication of the Mishnah

Uziel Fuchs: From the Geonim to the Age of Print

Chanan Gafni: From the Age of Print to the Nineteenth Century

Panel 7: The Mishnah and Judaism – Thursday January 21, 2021 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM EST 

Chaya Halberstam: Mishnah and Torah 

Sarit Gribetz:Holiness in the Mishnah

Naftali Cohn: Mishnah as Utopia


Elitzur Bar-Asher Siegal, Associate Professor, Department of Hebrew Language, Hebrew University 

Beth Berkowitz, Ingeborg Rennert Chair of Jewish Studies and Professor, Department of Religion, Barnard College  

Shaye JD Cohen, Littauer Professor of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University 

Naftali Cohn, Professor, Department of Religions and Cultures, Concordia University, Montreal 

Shamma Friedman, Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Talmud and Rabbinics, Jewish Theological Seminary 

Uziel Fuchs, Senior lecturer Department of Oral Torah, Herzog College and Department of Talmud, Bar Ilan University 

Yair Furstenberg, Assistant Professor and Chair, Talmud Department, Hebrew University of Jerusalem 

Chanan Gafni, Rothberg International School at the Hebrew University and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev  

Martin Goodman, Professor of Jewish Studies, Fellow of Wolfson College, and Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, University of Oxford 

Sarit Gribetz, Associate Professor of Classical Judaism, Department of Theology, Fordham University 

Chaya Halberstam, Associate Professor of Judaism, Department of Religious Studies, King’s University College at Western University, Canada 

Catherine Hezser, Professor of Jewish Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London  

Jonathan Klawans, Professor of Religion, Department of Religion, Boston University 

Gail Labovitz, Professor of Rabbinic Studies, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University 

Hayim Lapin, Robert H Smith Professor of Jewish Studies and History and Director of the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Program and Center for Jewish Studies, University of Maryland 

Vered Noam, Professor of Talmud, Department of Jewish Philosophy and Talmud, Tel Aviv University 

Jonathan Milgram, Associate Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics, Department of Talmud and Rabbinics, The Jewish Theological Seminary 

Ishay Rosen-Zvi, Professor of Rabbinic Literature, Department of Jewish Philosophy and Talmud, Tel-Aviv University 

Adiel Schremer, Professor of Jewish History, The Israel & Golda Koschitzky Department of Jewish History and Contemporary Jewry, Bar Ilan University 

Moshe Shoshan, Senior Lecturer, The Joseph and Norman Berman Department of Literature of the Jewish People, Bar-Ilan University 

David Stern, Harry Starr Professor of Classical and Modern Jewish and Hebrew Literature, Professor of Comparative Literature, and Director of the Center for Jewish Studies, Harvard University 

Azzan Yadin-Israel, Professor of Jewish Studies, Department of Jewish Studies, Rutgers University 

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(Rashi) Translation At Sefaria (FYI)

In case anyone did not know and wanted to know, the Rashi commentary to the entire Hebrew Bible (Pentateuch + Prophets + Writings) is up translated at Sefaria. You can find it here. I’ve poked around a little here and there but was always too lazy to look at commentaries of actual special interest to me, namely Ecclesiastes, Job, and Song of Songs. Political theology types will have their go-to sources.

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God in the Poetics of Space (Bachelard)

Some of the mentions of God and gods in Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space are only incidental and unremarkable. While the most meager appearance of the word is “just” a figure of speech, in a meditation on poetics and imagination, words are not so simple. I’m following below and citing the main passages in the order in which the word “God” appears throughout Bachelard and making my own connection to the way “certainty” figures for Bachelard in the image. In order of appearance, the divine appears in [1] the self-enclosure of huts and shells. [2] The sense of wonder invoked in the poetic image moves into forests and into immense space [3] through thresholds. [4] The final image of a tree in a poem by Rilke is the quintessence of rounded being. The Poetics of Space has a running argument with Heidegger. Bachelard refuses the notion that being or human Dasein is “thrown.” The image-of-God-embedded-in-place-in-the-world is a figure of certainty; alone with God in place, the apparition of God is scaled from the intimate to the immense, moving back and forth in a spiral motion of thought between inside (consciousness) and outside (the world). One way to simply this concrete metaphysics is to point out that for Bachelard, a French thinker writing at mid-century, the universe is a hostile place. The house is warm, protective. That’s where God is first sensed in the poetic image. The final two word-phrases in the poetics of space,” this straining of a tree to see God, belongs to “the permanence of being” and a “concrete metaphysics.”


“The hut immediately becomes centralized solitude, for in the land of legend, there exists no adjoining hut. And although geographers may bring back photographs of hut villages from their travels in distant lands, our legendary past transcends everything that has been seen, even everything that we have experienced personally. The image leads us on towards extreme solitude. The hermit is alone before God. His hut, therefore, is just the opposite of the monastery. And there radiates about this centralized solitude a universe of meditation and prayer, a universe outside the universe. The hut can receive none of the riches “of this world.” It possesses the felicity of intense poverty; indeed, it is one of the glories of poverty; as destitution increases it gives us access to absolute refuge. This valorization of a center of concentrated solitude is so strong, so primitive, and so unquestioned, that the image of the distant light serves as a reference for less clearly localized images” (p.32).


“Poetry gives not so much a nostalgia for youth, which would be vulgar, as a nostalgia for the expressions of youth. It offers us images as we should have imagined them during the “original impulse” of youth. Primal images, simple engravings are but so many invitations to start imagining again. They give us back areas of being, houses in which the human being’s certainty of being is concentrated, and we have the impression that, by living in such images as these, in images that are as stabilizing as these are, we could start a new life, a life that would be our own, that would belong to us in our very depths. When we look at images of this kind, when we read the images in Bachelin’s book, we start musing on primitiveness” (p.33).


“Recalling these evenings during the dramatic winters in his father’s house, Bachelin writes (p. 104): ‘When our companions left us, their feet deep in snow and their faces in the teeth of the blizzard, it seemed to me that they were going very far away, to unknown owl-and-wolf-infested lands. I was tempted to call after them, as people did in my early history books: “May God help you.’ And what a striking thing it is that a mere image of the old homestead in the snow-drifts should be able to integrate images of the year one thousand in the mind of a child” (pp.41-2).


“Faced with ‘the horrible dangers of war,’ [Bernard] PaIissy [ed. footnote: sixteenth century scholar, potter and enamelist. One of the creators of the ceramic arts in France] began to muse about ‘a young slug that was building its house and fortress with its own saliva.’ Indeed, he passed several months dreaming of a construction from within, and most of his leisure time was spent walking beside the sea, where he saw ‘such a variety of houses and fortresses which certain little fishes had made from their own liquor and saliva that, from now on, I began to think that here was something that might be applied to my own project.’ ‘The battles and acts of brigandry” that take place in the sea being on a larger scale than those that take place on land, God ‘had conferred upon each one the diligence and skill needed to build a house that had been surveyed and constructed by means of such geometry and architecture, that Solomon in all his wisdom could never have made anything like it’” (pp.127-8).


“Poets feel this immediate immensity of old forests: 1 Foret pie use} foret brisee OU l’on n’enleve pas les morts Infiniment fermee} serree de vieilles tiges droites roses Infiniment resserree en plus vieux et gris fardes Sur la couche de mousse enorme et profonde en cri de velours (Pious forest, shattered forest, where the dead are left lying Infinitely closed, dense with pinkish straight old stems Infinitely serried, older and grayed On the vast, deep, mossy bed, a velvet cry.) Here the poet does not describe. He knows that his is a greater task. The pious forest is shattered, closed, serried. It accumulates its infinity within its own boundaries. Farther on in the poem he will speak of the symphony of an “eternal” wind that lives in the movement of the tree-tops. Thus, Pierre-Jean Jouve’s ‘forest’ is immediately sacred, sacred by virtue of the tradition of its nature, far from all history of men. Before the gods existed, the woods were sacred, and the gods came to dwell in these sacred woods. All they did was to add human, all too human, characteristics to the great law of forest revery” (p.186)


A rarely felicitous expression of the intimate nature of the notion of immensity may be found in the pages Baudelaire devoted to Richard Wagner, and in which he lists, so to speak, three states of this impression of immensity. He begins by quoting the program of the concert at which the Prelude to Lohengrin was played (loc. cit. p. 212). ‘From the very first measures, the spirit of the pious recluse who awaits the sacred cup, is plunged into infinite space. Little by little, he sees a strange apparition assuming form. As this apparition becomes clearer, the marvellous band of angels, bearing in their midst the sacred goblet, passes. The holy procession approaches, little by little the heart of God’s elect is uplifted; it swells and expands, stirred by ineffable aspirations; it yields to increasing bliss, and as it comes nearer the luminous apparition, when at last the Holy Grail itself appears in the midst of the procession, it sinks into ecstatic adoration as though the whole world had suddenly disappeared/’ All the underlinings in this passage were made by Baudelaire himself. They make us sense clearly the progressive expansion of the daydream up to the ultimate point when immensity that is born intimately, in a feeling of ecstasy, dissolves and absorbs, as it were, the perceptible world” (p.194).


“I should like to examine a little more closely, this geometrical cancerization of the linguistic tissue of contemporary philosophy. For it does indeed seem as though an artificial syntax welded adverbs and verbs together in such a way as to form excrescences. By multiplying hyphens, this syntax obtains words that are sentences in themselves, in which the outside features blend with the inside. Philosophical language is becoming a language of aglutination. Sometimes, on the contrary, instead of becoming welded together, words loosen their intimate ties. Prefixes and suffixes-especially prefixes-become unwelded: they want to think for themselves. Because of this, words are occasionally thrown out of balance. Where is the main stress, for instance, in being-there (être là): on being or on there? In there -which it would be better to call here- shall I first look for my being? Or am I going to find, in my being, above all, certainty of my fixation in a there? In any case, one of these terms always weakens the other. Often the there is spoken so forcefully that the ontological aspects of the problems under consideration are sharply summarized in a geometrical fixation. The result is dogmatization of philosophemes as soon as they are expressed. In the tonal quality of the French language, the là (there) is so forceful, that to designate being (l’être) by être là is to point an energetic forefinger that might easily relegate intimate being to an exteriorized place. But why be in such a hurry to make these first designations? One has the impression that metaphysicians have stopped taking time to think. To make a study of being, in my opinion, it is preferable to follow all the ontological deviations of the various experiences of being. For, in reality, the experiences of being that might justify “geometrical” expression are among the most indigent … In French, one should think twice before speaking of l’être là. Entrapped in being, we shall always have to come out of it. And when we are hardly outside of being, we always have to go back into it. Thus, in being, everything is circuitous, roundabout, recurrent, so much talk; a chaplet of sojournings, a refrain with endless verses” (213-14).


But then come the hours of greater imagining sensibility. On May nights, when so many doors are closed, there is one that is just barely ajar. We have only to give it a very slight push! The hinges have been well oiled. And our fate becomes visible. And how many doors were doors of hesitation! In La Romance du Retour, by Jean Pellerin, this tender, delicate poet wrote: 1 La porte me flaire, elle hbite. (The door scents me, it hesitates.) In this verse, so much psychism is transferred to the object that a reader who attaches importance to objectivity will see in it mere brain-play. If such a document had its source in some remote mythology, we should find it more readily acceptable. But why not take the poet’s verse as a small element of spontaneous mythology? Why not sense that, incarnated in the door, there is a little threshold god? And there is no need to return to a distant past, a past that is no longer our own, to find sacred properties attributed to the threshold. In the third century, Porphyrus wrote: “A threshold is a sacred thing.”2 But even if erudition did not permit us to refer to such a sacralization, why should we not react to sacralization through poetry, through a poem of our own time, tinged with fantasy, perhaps, but which is in harmony with primal values (pp.222-3)


“Without preparing us, precisely as regards the absolute nature of the image, Michelet says that ‘a bird is almost completely spherical.’ If we drop the “almost,” which moderates the formula uselessly, and is a concession to a viewpoint that would judge from the form, we have an obvious participation in Jaspers’ principle of “round being.” A bird, for Michelet, is solid roundness, it is round life, and in a few lines, his commentary gives it its meaning of model of being.1 “The bird, which is almost completely spherical, is certainly the sublime and divine summit of living concentration. One can neither see, nor even imagine, a higher degree of unity. Excess of concentration, which constitutes the great personal force of the bird, but which implies its extreme individuality, its isolation, its social weakness.” In the book, these lines also appear totally isolated from the rest. One feels that the author, too, followed an image of “concentration” and acceded to a plane of meditation on which he has taken cognizance of the “sources” of life. Of course, he is above being concerned with description. Once again, a geometrician may wonder, all the more so since here the bird is considered on the wing, in its out of-doors aspect, consequently, the arrow figures could accord here with an imagined dynamics. But Michelet seized the bird’s being in its cosmic situation, as a centralization of life guarded on every side, enclosed in a live ball, and consequently, at the maximum of its unity. All the other images, whether of form, color or movement, are stricken with relativism in the face of what we shall have to call the absolute bird, the being of round life” (p.237).


Sometimes we find ourselves in the presence of a form. that guides and encloses our earliest dreams. For a painter, a tree is composed in its roundness. But a poet continues the dream from higher up. He knows that when a thing becomes isolated, it becomes round, assumes a figure of being that is concentrated upon itself. In Rilke’s Poemes francais, this is how the walnut tree lives and commands attention. Here, again around a lone tree, which is the center of a world, the dome of the sky becomes round, in accordance with the rule of cosmic poetry. On p. 169 of this collection we read: Arbre toujours au milieu De tout ce qui I’ entoure Arbre qui savoure La vo’llte des deux (Tree always in the center Of all that surrounds it Tree feasting upon Heaven’s great dome)

Needless to say, all the poet really sees is a tree in a meadow; he is not thinking of a legendary Yggdrasill that would concentrate the entire cosmos, uniting heaven and earth, within itself. But the imagination of round being follows its own law: since, as the poet says, the walnut tree is “proudly rounded,” it can feast upon “heaven’s great dome.” The world is round around the round being.

“And from verse to verse, the poem grows, increases its being. The tree is alive, reflective, straining toward God. Dieu lui va apparaitre Or pour qu’il soit sur Il developpe en yond son être Et lui tend des bras murs. Arbre qui peut être Pense au-dedans. Arbre qui se domine Se donnant lentement La forme qui elimine Les hasards du vent! (One day it will see God And so, to be sure, It develops its being in roundness And holds out ripe arms to Him. Tree that perhaps Thinks innerly Tree that dominates self Slowly giving itself The form that eliminates Hazards of wind)”

“I shall never find a better document for a phenomenology of a being which is at once established in its roundness and developing in it. Rilke’s tree propagates in green spheres a roundness that is a victory over accidents of form and the capricious events of mobility. Here becoming has countless forms, countless leaves, but being is subject to 241 the phenomenology of roundness no dispersion: if I could ever succeed in grouping together all the images of being, all the multiple, changing images that, in spite of everything, illustrate permanence of being, Rilke’s tree would open an important chapter in my album of concrete metaphysic” (239-41).

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