Yeshiva College Students Selected to Present at Princeton Jewish Studies Conference
Two Yeshiva College students have been invited to present 15-minute lectures on their research at Princeton University’s inaugural Undergraduate Jewish Studies Conference on February 14, 2016. Yeshiva University is the only institution besides Princeton to be represented twice at the conference, which draws together outstanding students from universities across the country to share ideas and connect with other highly-motivated undergraduates.
Yakov Ellenbogen, a junior majoring in history from Sharon, Massachusetts, will present his work on the demonology of the Ramban, in which Ellenbogen closely examines Ramban’s attitudes on the classification and abilities of demons and how they interact with humanity, comparing those attitudes to those held by Ramban’s non-Jewish contemporaries.
“What I found was that Ramban’s presentation of demons often matches the opinions of Christian naturalists and theologians, from Saint Augustine to writers in the twelfth century,” said Ellenbogen. “This is so even though earlier rabbinic sources often imply that demons are different than Ramban presents them. While the interaction between Ramban and the surrounding Spanish culture of his lifetime has been explored before, I think what makes my research distinctive is that I tried to flesh out Christian religious and scientific discussions more to see how they influence Ramban and what made it into his commentary on the Torah and what didn’t, resulting in a more nuanced picture of Ramban.”
Ellenbogen’s fascination with the Ramban’s attitudes on demons stemmed from his interest in The Odyssey. “When I was in yeshiva in Israel, one of the Ramban’s comments was mentioned during a class I was taking on the Book of Samuel, and as it turns out the comment was very similar to a necromantic ritual depicted in The Odyssey, where Odysseus and his crew summon the spirits of the dead,” said Ellenbogen. He started to wonder whether Ramban could have been exposed to Homer in any form, eventually expanding his inquiries to develop a better understanding of Ramban’s view of necromancy and the summoning of spirits in general and what might have influenced those opinions.
Ultimately, Ellenbogen hopes to earn a master’s degree in Jewish history, with an emphasis on the medieval and early modern periods.
Samuel Berkovitz, a senior at Yeshiva College majoring in Jewish studies from Far Rockaway, New York, will share his research on the prohibition against carrying objects on Shabbat as recorded in Second Temple-era literature, such as the Book of Jubilees or the Dead Seas Scrolls. His work explores the similarities and differences of the law as it is portrayed in its Second Temple context versus biblical sources and rabbinic literature. “While both rabbinic and Second Temple sources understand the law to be about carrying in general and not mercantile activities, as it is presented in Jeremiah and Nehemiah, scholars tend to borrow terminology from the rabbinic corpus to attempt to shed light on the Second Temple sources while actually misrepresenting them,” said Berkovitz. “The idea behind my paper is to question in what ways we can use later rabbinic sources to understand non-rabbinic texts from the Second Temple period.”
Berkovitz’s interest in the area was sparked by his studies in the beit midrash. “In my first year at YU, the Yeshiva was learning mesechet Shabbat, and my shiur was learning the first chapter, which is about carrying on Shabbat,” he said. Berkovitz began to wonder about the history of the law—a curiosity he brought to his college classes in Judaic studies and which eventually led him to study its earlier iterations.
“The faculty at Yeshiva College have made a strong impact on me, both in terms of this research and my general interests and ideas,” said Berkovitz. “I’ve taken Professor Moshe Bernstein for five classes now and he has been integral in shaping my notions of how the worlds of the beit midrash and the academy can and can’t be integrated. Professors Joseph Angel and Richard Hidary have been especially important resources for me in terms of this paper specifically, and there are also many other faculty in the Jewish studies department who have been important teachers of mine.”
After graduation, Berkovitz hopes to continue his studies at YU by pursuing a master’s degree in ancient Jewish history at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies and semicha at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. “I truly think we have one of the best Jewish studies departments in the country,” he said.
“The students’ participation in this conference is a great achievement for them and reflects our department’s reputation for excellence in the training of students to conduct world-class research in Jewish Studies,” said Dr. Shalom Holtz, associate professor of Bible and chair of the Robert M. Beren Department of Jewish Studies at Yeshiva College.