Doctoral Dissertation Application 2012

Meet the 2012 Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Doctoral Dissertation Fellowships in Jewish Studies grantees!

We are proud to announce the 2012-2013 Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Doctoral Dissertation Fellows:

1) Adi Mahalel (Columbia University, Yiddish Literature)
“The Birth of a Jewish Radical: Y.L. Peretz in the 1890′s”

Before the Holocaust and the birth of Israel, writer Y. L. Peretz was not only the pre-eminent influence on the creation of modern Yiddish literature, but was also a towering cultural hero and leading figure in the development of diaspora-based Jewish nationalism. Yet he’s received scant scholarly attention in the past 50 years. By focusing on Peretz’s output in the first decade of serious work (1890s), Mahelel has undertaken the task of placing Peretz into modern scholarly discourse. This dissertation combines rigorous close readings with cutting edge literary theory to show what marked Peretz as a unique writer during a time of fundamental restructuring of its economic structures, institutions, and class, ethnic and gender relations.

2) David Sclar (CUNY Graduate Center, History)
“He will Bloom like a Cedar in Lebanon: Controversy, Acceptance, and Printed Books in the Life and ‘After-Life’ of Moses Hayyim Luzzatto”

Described as the founding father of the Haskalah, Hasidism, and the Musar movement, Moses Hayyim Luzzatto (1707-1746) produced celebrated literary works of mysticism, ethics, Talmud, rhetoric, grammar, poetry, and drama. Yet during his lifetime, Luzzatto was also at the center of a scandal that condemned him as a heretical and deviant threat to the Jewish people. In this dissertation, Sclar uses archival documents, manuscripts, and rare printed books, to contexutalize the Luzzatto controversy and explain his ascendancy within the changing cultural, intellectual, and social spheres of 18th- and 19th-century European Jewry.

3) Yosefa Raz (University of California-Berkeley, Comparative Literature)
“The Weak Prophetic: Rereading Prophetic Failure in the Classical Hebrew Prophets and in its Reception in Modern Hebrew Poetry”

In her dissertation, Raz concentrates on the internal complexities of prophetic writing—both in the biblical canon (especially Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel) and in the transformations of biblical prophecy in the work of modern Hebrew poets. Her theoretical framework draws on literary theory (Walter Benjamin’s “weak messiasnism”) to psychoanalysis (Freud’s “melancholia”) to sociology (Leon Festinger on cognitive dissonance in prophetic-apocalyptic movements) to construct a model of “strong” and “weak” prophecy in the body of biblical writing. She describes a tension between the prophetic writings of the classical prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel), in which the prophetic voice continually acknowledges its weakness in relation to the “strong” prophecy of its predecessors, both real and imagined.

4) Jacob Labendz (Washington University, St Louis, History),
“Jews and the State in the Communist Czech Lands, (1945-1952) 1952-1989”

Labendz has spent a great deal of time in state archives investigating how post-WW II Communist Czechoslovakia coped with its Jews and how Jews negotiated a place for themselves in that Communist state. Most studies of Jews in post-war Communist Eastern Europe have emphasized anti-semitism and the role of Communist ideology in state policy, in part because they were completed before archives were accessible to scholars. What is new in Labendz’s work is not only the use of archival material, but how it shows that Communist policy derived from pre-World War II, pre-Communist attitudes toward the Jews. Therefore, despite obvious turns in state policy dictated both by Communist ideology and the needs of the Cold War, Czechoslovak policy reveals a consistency with the policies of interwar democratic Czechoslovakia.

5) Debra Caplan (Harvard University, Yiddish and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations)
“Staging Jewish Modernism: The Vilna Troupe and the Rise of a Transnational Yiddish Art Theater Movement”

In her dissertation, Caplan looks at a central but hitherto missing chapter in the history of Jewish theater and modern theater at large: the story of the impoverished and perpetually itinerant Yiddish theater artists who, through extraordinary acts of theatrical creativity, developed a modernist theater movement (the “Yiddish art theater movement”). She argues that the spirit of innovation that characterized Yiddish art theaters was a product of the transnational nature of their movement—the steady exchange of directors, actors, scenic designers, and critics across the world.

Applications for 2013-2014 will be posted in fall 2012. To download the guidelines please click here.


The Doctoral Dissertation grant is intended to help students in their last year of thesis writing only. Please note that we can no longer accept applications from students who have applied previously unless students petition on an individual basis for an exception and can provide sufficient evidence of their ability to complete their thesis during the fellowship year. All applicants will be expected to provide a sample chapter (or more) of their thesis as part of the process.

Applicants should:

  • Be citizens or permanent residents of the United States or Canada;
  • Have completed all academic requirements for the Ph.D., except dissertation, by the date of application;
  • Demonstrate significant course work in Jewish studies at the graduate level;
  • Provide evidence of proficiency in a Jewish language (i.e., Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, Aramaic, etc.);
  • Have a proposal or prospectus that has been approved by a thesis committee;
  • Complete online application in full. Partially completed applications cannot accepted. It is the responsibility of the student to ensure that applications are complete by the deadline.

A strong preference is given to individuals preparing for academic careers in Jewish studies, and to those who indicate that they will pursue a career in the United States. Applications must be in English.

To enable recipients to devote themselves fully to completing the dissertation, it is expected that they will not hold a full-time job or equivalent academic workload during the fellowship year. We request that grantees inform us of any other fellowships or grants they may receive during their fellowship year.

Fellowships cannot be postponed or deferred to another year. Grantees who defer their awards will not receive special consideration upon reapplication.

To download the guidelines, please click here.

See the Doctoral Dissertation Fellowships page for more information.

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