On April 6th, students and community members were treated to a special virtual tour in the latest installment of the Crisis and Hope series. Dr. Ronnie Perelis welcomed Monica Unikel-Fasja, the author of “Synagogues of Mexico.”  Using many detailed photographs, Monica explored the history of the Jewish settlement in Mexico, from the first crypto- Jews to the modern day community. She specifically spoke about and showed beautiful images of the Sinagoga Justo Sierra, the first Ashkenazic synagogue in Mexico, built in 1941, where Monica now serves as director. The full video from the event can be viewed here: https://www.yu.edu/crisisandhope/past-recordings

 

Who was Shabbetai Tzvi? Why was his messianic movement incredibly successful, even surviving the apostasy and death of the purported messiah? What lasting impact did this false messiah have on Jewish History?

On Tuesday Feb. 16, over 400 people joined a Zoom lecture organized jointly by the Bernard Revel Graduate School and the Young Israel of Great Neck to hear Dr. David Berger, former Dean and current professor at Revel, speak about one of the areas of his scholarly expertise.

Dr. Berger, drawing upon the work of Gershon Scholem and other academic treatments of the subject, first sketched a biography of Shabbetai Tzvi. Born in Smyrna in 1626, Shabbetai began acting strangely at the age of 22, pronouncing the name of God, telling the sun to stop in its tracks, later marrying a Torah scroll, and engaging in other bizarre, or even forbidden acts. Dr. Berger explained how this possibly manic-depressive individual’s eccentricities developed into a full-blown messianic movement with the involvement of Nathan of Gaza, who became the prophet and theologian for Sabbateanism, which at one point captured the allegiance – to a greater or lesser degree- of most of world Jewry.

Scholars argue as to the cause for Sabbateanism’s unprecedented success. Some point to the Chmielnicki Uprising in Poland, which occurred in 1648, the same year Shabbetai Tzvi began to garner attention. They suggest that the despair of Ashkenazic Jewry in the aftermath of the bloody uprising was fertile ground for a messianic movement. Gershon Scholem rejected this explanation on the grounds that the movement’s origin and greatest intensity were in the Sephadic orbit and instead emphasized the influence of widespread Lurianic mysticism in the movement’s success. Moshe Idel and others rejected this on the ground that Lurianic mysticism was not that widespread. A third, plausible factor is the extensive diaspora of Marranos, former Marranos, and relatives of Marranos. Crypto-Jews had been forced to declare their belief in a false messiah and now had the opportunity to welcome the true redeemer. An additional consideration is the rapid international communication that was available by the seventeenth century, a factor noted by Jacob Katz. Finally, the rational approach of Maimonides, who says THAT the exact messianic process is unclear, made it difficult to disprove that Shabbetai Tzvi might turn out to be the messiah.

Sabbateanism had a lasting impact on world Jewry. It led to communal weakness and a diminution of respect for rabbinic authority. It yielded a small but significant number of conversions to Christianity and perhaps contributed both to the rise of and opposition to Hasidism. The decline of traditional Jewish messianism and new movements of Emancipation, Enlightenment, Reform Judaism and Zionism have all been associated with Sabbateanism as well.

As always, Dr. Berger’s lecture was engaging, enjoyable, and erudite. The audio link is available here.

 

On Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration, along with the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies and the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) and supported by the Shevet Glaubach Center for Career Strategy and Professional Development, hosted the Jewish Education Night of Networking.

The event began with a welcome from Dr. Rona Novick, dean of Azrieli Graduate School, in which she addressed both the stresses for Jewish educators brought on by the pandemic as well as the strategies and innovations being developed to support them and their schools. Underscoring the role of spirituality, finding fun, being flexible and actions to make a difference, Dr. Novick reminded educators that in order to care for their students, they need resources. “Just as the stewardess reminds you, in case of a sudden loss of cabin pressure,” she noted, “affix your oxygen mask before helping others: you need to find ways to take care of yourselves.”

Attendees then had the opportunity to visit online presentations by the faculty of Azrieli, Revel and RIETS as well as by representatives of Jewish schools and educational organizations. These included included brief lectures on relevant topics and introductions to the work and culture of various Jewish day schools.

The discussions touched upon such topics as teaching the Holocaust, incorporating the teachings of Pirkei Avot [Ethics of the Fathers] to support social-emotional learning, the importance of Jewish philosophy, managing loss, how to give a model lesson and making Gemara [Talmud] relevant for students.

Presenters included Dr. Karen Shawn (associate professor of Jewish education at Azrieli), Dr. Shay Pilnik (director, Emil A. and Jenny Fish Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies), Dr. Daniel Rynhold (dean, Revel Graduate School) Dr. Scott Goldberg (associate professor of education and psychology at Azrieli), and Rabbi David Block and Rabbi Ari Segal of Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles, California.

 

Zoom screens from the Night of Networking
Scenes from YULA and Yeshiva Har Torah (Little Neck, NY)

 

Over 35 schools and other chinuch-related [education] organizations shared the innovations taking place at their schools to engage educators for potential positions. They came from all around the country, including the Midwest (Farber Hebrew Day School of Southfield, Michigan),  the Southeast (Margolin Hebrew Academy-Feinstone Yeshiva of the South in Memphis, Tennessee), the West coast (Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles and Southern California Yeshiva High School) and the New York metropolitan area (SAR High School in Riverdale and Yeshivat Noam in Paramus, New Jersey).

Those who attended appreciated meeting with representatives from multiple schools and learning about the opportunities available in Jewish education. One Azrieli student who had never considered a job outside the New York metropolitan area said she so enjoyed her “visit” with representatives from the Addlestone Hebrew Academy of Charleston, South Carolina, that she envisioned taking a job there.

The success of the Night of Networking can be measured in the 150 people attending nearly 70 different presentations throughout the evening. In the coming weeks, the Shevet Glaubach Center will be sending the résumés of attendees to presenters so that people can build upon the connections made during the Night of Networking that will ultimately strengthen the field of Jewish education.

 

What does it mean to belong to, then abandon, and then return to a community?

On Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, over 500 people who had registered on Zoom had the pleasure and privilege of hearing Dr. Ari Berman, President of Yeshiva University, and Dr. Ephraim Kanarfogel, E. Billi Ivry University Professor of Jewish History, Literature, and Law at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, discourse about Dr. Kanarfogel’s newest book, Brothers from Afar: Rabbinic Approaches to Apostasy and Reversion in Medieval Europewhich challenges a long-held view that those who had apostatized and later returned to the Jewish community in northern medieval Europe were encouraged to resume their places without the need for a ceremony or act that verified their reversion.

 

Brothers From Afar Cover

 

The event, sponsored by Revel, began with a spirited welcome by Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, David Mitzner Dean of the Center for the Jewish Future. He marveled at how the “medium of Zoom” allowed Yeshiva University to share “this stimulating and elevating experience of scholarship and reflection with people from all over the world,” a point echoed by Dr. Daniel Rynhold, dean of Revel, as Dr. Rynhold set the stage for the two men’s conversation.

The next hour was filled with detailed and nuanced investigations of what Dr. Berman called the central issue not only of Dr. Kanarfogel’s work but of Jewish life itself: Jewish identity. “We’ve long been taught the premise that once a Jew, always a Jew: you always stay Jewish and always in all matters,” noted Dr. Berman. But, as both men knew, “the halachic [Jewish legal] history is actually far more complicated,” especially when it concerned those who had converted to another religion and then wanted to return to Judaism.

[For more background on this topic, read this interview with Dr. Kanarfogel.]

At the end of the conversation, everyone could agree with Dr. Berman when he said that they had had “a very rich and deep conversation that deals with halachic history, social circumstances and how the rabbis applied the Talmudic text to new situations.” The two men also, as Dr. Berman said, “probably raised more questions than they answered but also enlightened a lot of people with new ideas in halachic history that they perhaps had not known before.”

For his part, Dr. Kanarforgel lauded Dr. Berman for his erudition on this topic. “He has written a wonderful work on these ideas and is an expert, too, and everyone should seek out his expertise. I hope we can have a return engagement.”

The entire event, noted Dr. Berman, demonstrated “a real merger between the yeshiva and the University.”

Listen to the audio of the discussion.

 

Rebecca, Miriam, and Denise (L-R)

Denise Zami currently teaches Tanakh to 9th and 11th grades at SAR High School in Riverdale. She is also studying towards her MA in Bible Studies at Revel. Denise received her BA in Jewish Education from Stern College, where she was a Legacy Heritage Scholar. Denise previously taught Jewish Studies at Gann Academy, an innovative pluralistic high school in the Boston area. Denise lives in Manhattan with her husband Jason, around the corner from her sisters Miriam and Rebecca.⠀

Miriam Zami is in her first year studying towards a PhD in Ancient Jewish History at Revel. She received her BA from Stern College for Women and previously served as the Jewish educator at the Hillel at Baruch College, where she brought Jewish texts and ideas to hundreds of students in New York City. Miriam is especially interested in the study of Tannaitic literature in its cultural context and is excited to pursue research under the guidance of the wonderful professors at Revel.⠀

Rebecca Zami is a Master’s student at Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies studying ancient Jewish history. Currently, Rebecca is the Leon Charney Research Associate at the YU Center for Israel Studies working on the upcoming exhibit at the Yeshiva University Museum, Samaritans: A Biblical People. Rebecca has a particular interest in Biblical archaeology and has participated in archaeological excavations in Israel and hopes to pursue a degree in archaeology following her graduation from Revel.