Renowned Scholars Gather for Conference on “Israel and the Nations” Hosted by Revel Graduate School
From Jerusalem to Wyoming, dozens of leading scholars gathered for an academic conference on Yeshiva University’s Wilf Campus to share research on a broad array of topics within Jewish studies. The international conference on “Israel and the Nations: Visions and Reality,” was hosted by YU’s Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies and took place July 5-7.
“This conference, precisely because of its breadth and high quality of participants, and its international scope, reflects the enhanced role that the Bernard Revel Graduate School has assumed on the global stage of Jewish studies,” said Dr. David Berger, dean and Ruth and I. Lewis Gordon Professor of Jewish History at Revel.
Berger pointed out that the school’s faculty, doctoral students and course offerings have increased significantly in size over the past several years. “In order to add to the extremely impressive research by our veteran faculty, we have recruited younger scholars who have bolstered our research in Bible, modern Jewish history and Jewish philosophy,” said Berger.
Berger served on the conference’s steering committee along with Professors Avinoam Cohen, Hanah Kasher, Yeshayahu Maori and Yosef Rivlin. Support for the conference was provided by the Mordecai D. and Dr. Monique C. Katz Fund.
Over 40 scholars lectured in both Hebrew and English during the three-day conference, including Yeshiva’s Berger; Shalom Carmy, assistant professor of bible; Ephraim Kanarfogel, E. Billi Ivry Professor of Jewish History at YU; Jess Olsen, assistant professor of Jewish history; Jacob J. Schacter, University Professor of Jewish History and Jewish Thought and senior scholar at the Center for the Jewish Future, and Vice Provost Lawrence Schiffman.
The expansive fields of study included presentations by scholars of ancient, medieval and modern Jewish history, bible, Jewish ethics, Jewish law, literature and Zionism. Kanarfogel led off the first session, demonstrating the influence that the Tosafists had on Sephardic “conversion” process for repentant apostates.
The opening day of lectures was highlighted by Berger’s keynote address. He charted the development of Jewish-Christian encounters from the rise of Christianity to present time. Berger concluded that modern thinkers like Rabbis Samson Raphael Hirsch, David Zvi Hoffman, Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, Yosef Eliyahu Henkin and Ahron Soloveichik supported medieval scholar Menachem Meiri’s favorable attitude toward adherents of Christianity. In turn, Berger pointed out the “revolutionary” work of the Second Vatican Council during the 20th century to create a more positive outlook of Jews.
In his concluding remarks, Berger shared his concern that there exists a high degree of ignorance in the world today concerning Jewish-Christian relations and called for scholars and educators to help rectify this situation in order to promote further progress.
The second day of presenters commenced with a lecture by Cohen, who earned his doctorate in Talmud at Revel in 1980 under the guidance of Dr. Mayer Simcha Feldblum. His presentation argued that it is possible to detect early anti-Christian polemic in Talmudic literature. Cohen concluded his lecture by drawing distinctions between different polemical devises found in the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds.
“Bringing together American and Israeli scholars provides each group with the opportunity to interact and learn from different methods of research,” said Cohen. “Many Israeli and American scholars read different journals and lean toward different interests. It is therefore important that we take time to pause and consider how both groups can improve their research.”
While participating at the conference, Cohen was heartened by Yeshiva’s commitment to producing a community of Orthodox scholars who are also committed to the study of traditional Torah study.
Dr. Seth Ward of the University of Wyoming presented on attitudes of 20th century writers toward Gentiles, touching upon religious leaders like Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Abraham Joshua Heschel. “As a visiting scholar, it was a particularly welcome opportunity to spend time with academics who share both my commitment to Modern Orthodoxy and Judaic scholarship,” said Ward.