The Frankel Institute Annual is a publication of the University of Michigan’s Jean & Samuel Frankel Center for Judaic Studies, a leader in Jewish studies, with faculty from top-tier departments throughout the University of Michigan offering an interdisciplinary curriculum. More...
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Sephardic Identities, Medieval and Early Modern
Much research on Sephardic culture over the past two decades has focused on modern and contemporary perspectives and has often been marked by present-day cultural debates within Israeli society. By focusing on the medieval and early modern periods, our group explored a new and exciting area of research by highlighting the markers of Jewish experience and selfhood in the context of shifting political circumstances and unique cultural perssures. Under Muslim rule, the so-called "Golden Age" of Jewish life in the Middle Ages, Iberian Jews developed numerous new forms of cultural and religious expression.
Jews and the Material in Antiquity
How did Jews in the ancient Mediterranean engage, sense, and construct material entities, artifacts, bodies, buildings and more? How did those who were not Jewish perceive or represent the relationships between Jews and matter? How has the history of Jews and matter been reconstructed in modern scholarship and how might scholars approach the nexus of Jews and the material more productively?
Israeli Histories, Societies, and Cultures
This year, the theme of Israeli Histories, Societies, and Cultures: Comparative Approaches attracted a diverse group of scholars from the US, Europe, and Israel. These scholars represented a range of disciplinary perspectives—history, literature, political science, Middle Eastern studies, cultural studies, anthropology, and urban planning. The group charted new ways to study and understand Israel comparatively by contextualizing the study of the Yishuv (the Jewish community in pre 1948 Palestine) and Israel within new developments in Jewish studies and Middle Eastern studies, and by complicating established narratives about Israel.
Secularization & Sacralization (2016)
The place of religious faith in society, politics, and everyday life is being questioned today from a variety of perspectives. At the Frankel Institute this year, we explored various processes of separating spiritual life from daily living.
Jews & Empires (2015)
The theme of Jews and Empires covered several thousand years of history in much of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. To add to its diversity, the Institute attracted a highly interdisciplinary group of scholars of rabbinics, literature, history, religion, politics, cultural, and medieval studies. Yet certain principles helped to organize this cornucopia of possibilities. For one, Institute Fellows all recognized two basic divisions among the many empires under consideration: land versus sea. While not absolute, land empires—such as the Persian and Russian empires—often created governing structures that differed from sea empires—such as the Roman and British empires. Other difference followed, relating to cultural and religious exchanges, political conflict, textual borrowings, and interpretations. Over the course of the year, Fellows developed a common core of shared knowledge and an ability to speak to issues across centuries and geographies. This year’s Annual reflects that range and inherent dialogue. Organized around the basic land/sea difference, the essays bring to bear distinctive perspectives that illuminate multifaceted views of Jews’ relationship to empire.
New Perspectives on Gender & Jewish Life (2014)
Thinking with gender has stimulated fresh and provocative approaches to Jewish studies that build upon but go beyond methods introduced by women’s studies. This year’s Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies took the theme of Gender and Jewish Life into many established frameworks in order to reconsider accepted interpretations of history and language, texts and contexts. Under Convening Fellow Beth Wenger’s superb guidance, Institute fellows discovered common ground in their efforts to rethink a wide range of topics. Several scholars used gender to illuminate rabbinic interpretations of priests and the ambivalent sexuality of the androginos; other scholars appreciated the opportunity to consider Jewish masculinities in 19th century Germany and 20th century United States in the context of gendered relationships. Still others focused on literature, including the gendered dimensions of translation and of spaces of literary production. And several reopened questions of antisemitism by introducing a gendered analysis of imagery and language, revealing complex entanglements of “Jews” in the imagination of others.
Borders of Jewishness: Microhistories of Encounter (2013)
For the first time, a colon followed articulation of the theme of the Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies, Borders of Jewishness. The phrase “microhistories of encounter” signaled an interest in methodology to complement the broad range of discipline and time periods usually embraced in a theme year. Focusing on microhistory and encounter encouraged fellows to delve deeply into specific, fascinating topics that promised to illuminate larger questions revolving around the borders of Jewishness. Thus fellows learned intimate details about a protracted legal struggle for divorce and remarriage in 18th century Trieste, as well as ordinary real estate transactions articulated in Jewish and Muslim legal systems in 19th century Morocco. Personal stories of identity and loss from prewar Prague and postwar Paris in the 20th century resonated for many sitting around the table, as did forms of storytelling in contemporary America and Israel, ancient Palestine, and medieval England. The year’s final colloquium, held in Crazy Wisdom bookstore, physically convened the fellows in a type of space whose meaning—personal, literary, political, and Jewish—unfolded through yet another microhistory.
Jews & Political Life (2012)
Politics generates strong opinions. But studying Jewish political thought and behavior involves far more than viewpoints and interpretations. Arguments need to be sustained by evidence; interpretations should rest on solid methodology. It is not surprising then that Jews and Political Life, the theme for the 2011-12 year of the Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies, provoked vigorous discussions. How important, for example, was gender? For some scholars around the seminar table, it provided a critical theoretical framework for analysis. Others disagreed. They considered class and religion far more salient. Fellows drew upon diverse disciplines to make their case. Political scientists contended with historians, sociologists, and philosophers. These energetic conversations produced both debates and convergences.
Critical Terms in Jewish Language Studies (2011)
“Jewish Languages.” The theme of the 2010-11 Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies provoked passionate discussion among the Fellows all year long. Languages were nominated for consideration and immediately challenged. Not only did Fellows debate criteria for inclusion under the rubric “Jewish,” they also disputed what qualified for consideration as a “language.” Yet the lively arguments produced amazing moments of insight and illumination.
The Culture of Jewish Objects (2010)
We live in a material world. Much of the time we take for granted objects of daily use while paying attention only to those reserved for special times and purposes. Indeed, we hardly even notice how objects affect our bodies and selves except, perhaps, when a poorly fitting shoe rubs a blister on a toe. Despite our inattentiveness, objects make their presence felt in important ways. Objects reflexively shape cultures even as people employ objects to express their values, tastes, aspirations, and ambitions. These mutually synergistic relationships served as common ground for the Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies theme year of 2009-2010 devoted to “The Culture of Jewish Objects.”
Studying Jews (2009)
An exceptional group of fellows gathered for the second year of the University of Michigan’s Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies. A sense of experimentation and excitement pervaded the discussions around the seminar table. “Studying Jews: New Topics, New Methods, New Directions” invited fellows to think provocatively about their own fields and to stretch the boundaries of Jewish studies.
Jews & the City (2008)
An extraordinary group of fellows gathered to inaugurate the first year of the University of Michigan’s Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies. Devoted to “Jews and the City,” our discussions concerned the locations of Jewish life and of the Jewish imagination, the long history of urbanization and the religious, economic, cultural and political changes it has wrought. In ways illuminated by several of the essays that follow, we often considered what it meant to use the Hebrew word מקום makom - “place” in English, although that word carries none of the reverberations of makom—and just what kinds of places Jews have created in the cities they have inhabited over the millennia. Jewish concerns with place have been expansive in space and time, extending into the material world in considerations of exile, diaspora and Zion, as well as in the spiritual world since makom is one of the ways in which Jews refer to God.