Meet the 2012-2013 Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Doctoral Dissertation Fellowships in Jewish Studies grantees: Adi Mahalel (Columbia University, Yiddish Literature); David Sclar (CUNY Graduate Center, History); Yosefa Raz (University of California-Berkeley, Comparative Literature); Jacob Labendz (Washington University, St Louis, History); and Debra Caplan (Harvard University, Yiddish and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations).
Congratulations to the grantees, the finalists, and the dozens of worthy applicants!
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 has 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.
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 an early influence on 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.
Yosefa Raz (University of California-Berkeley, Jewish Studies program)
“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.
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.
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.
The panel included a new co-chair, Dr. Beth Wenger, a leading historian of American Judaism (University of Pennsylvania), as well as last year’s co-chair, Dr. Ephraim Kanarfogel (Yeshiva University), Dr. Jay Berkovitz (U-Mass Amherst), Dr. Judith Hauptman (Jewish Theological Seminary), Dr. Ken Moss (Johns Hopkins University), and Dr. David Jacobson (Brown University).