Zachary M. Baker completes a six-part research guide

Friday, September 29, 2017

Zachary M. Baker, Reinhard Family Curator of Judaica and Hebraica Collections in the Stanford University Libraries, has completed a six-part research guide, Resources in Yiddish Studies. The research guide was published in installments during the first half of 2017, in the online journal In geveb. He is currently working on a presentation for the conference “Placing the Irreplaceable – Restitution of Jewish Cultural Property,” which will take place in mid-November at the Simon Dubnow Institute at Leipzig University. The title of his presentation (which is based on research in the papers of Salo W. Baron, in the Stanford University Libraries) is “Setting the Stage: Preliminary Efforts by the Commission on European Jewish Cultural Reconstruction to Document Endangered Jewish Cultural Properties.”

Hi all and welcome back!

Monday, September 25, 2017

On behalf of the Taube Center for Jewish Studies, it is my pleasure to welcome you back and wish you sweet new years, both academic and Jewish.  I am pleased to serve the Stanford community this year as the interim director of the Taube Center for Jewish Studies, while Professor Charlotte Fonrobert is on a well-deserved sabbatical.  

For the upcoming academic year, the Taube Center is again proud to bring some of the best of Jewish Studies to our campus and our community.  We are fortunate to be able to offer a full schedule of performances, speakers, book events, and panels, offering an array of perspectives on Jewish life, culture, religion, people, places, ideas, and texts.

This year, we are especially excited about bringing you the following events, to name a few:

* Professor Deborah Lipstadt speaking about truth and history, and her role in the recent film, “Denial”
* Cantors Yanky and Shulem Lemmer, in concert and conversation
* A conference celebrating our own Zachary Baker, upon his retirement from Stanford.
* A conversation with Professor Ken Goldberg about Golems, artificial intelligence, Jewish folklore and the future of knowledge (in honor of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein).)
* Professor (and Stanford History PhD) Daniel Heller on the history of right-wing Zionism.
* Celebrations of new publications by our faculty.
* A new podcast series, in case you can’t make our live events (launching early in 2018, tfu, tfu, tfu).

We are most excited about continuing to be the center of ongoing conversations and collaborations around Jewish Studies at Stanford, and we are grateful to be part of such an exciting, vibrant, engaged community.

We are looking forward to seeing all of you at our events over the course of the year, and to engaging with you on Facebook, as well.  

Please do stay tuned for more announcements, check our webpage and our Facebook page for upcoming events, and we wish you a sweet, full new year.

Shana tovah, umetukah,

Professor Ari Y Kelman

Jim Joseph Professor of Education and Jewish Studies
Interim Director, Taube Center for Jewish Studies

Couscous on the last menu of French 133/JEWISHST 143!

Thursday, April 20, 2017



Introduction to Francophone Literature from Africa and the Caribbean taught by Dr. Marie-Pierre Ulloa

Student authored vignettes on their couscous dinner experience at Bistro Vida on 30/13/17.

Bistro Vida is a French restaurant located in downtown Menlo Park, opened in 1998 by Egyptian cosmopolitan owner Ali Elsafy. Born in Cairo, Ali speaks five languages, English, Arabic, French, Italian, and Spanish.The menu features traditional French-style bistro cuisine, and couscous, and our dinner was generously sponsored by the Stanford Mediterranean Studies Forum.

Our class visit to Bistro Vida brought alive the texts we read in French 133 because cuisine is latent with culture, tradition, and history. By ordering couscous, we were granted access to Maghreb culture in a way that supplemented the literature we discussed in class. As we ate our meal, I was reminded of Laferrière’s L'Enigme du retour and how the protagonist, upon a sip of coffee, thinks of his late father and Haiti. As we ate, I thought Albert Memmi’s La Statue de sel and how the protagonist links a meal of couscous with the act of grieving. I thought of Maryse Condé in La Vie sans fards whose sense of community is forged by the food she shares with others, regardless of the country she is in. This experience with my classmates and Professor Ulloa was not only a highlight of the course, but also a wonderful way to culminate our curiosity for Francophone literature. (Sonia)

Our outing to Bistro Vida proved to be a wonderful evening. Prior to the dinner, we read about the history and significance of couscous in both North African (maghrébine) and West Indian (antillaise) cultures, and placed the dish's influence within the context of our course's readings. Therefore, upon arriving at Bistro Vida, we approached the dinner with an intellectual curiosity and framework that added another dimension to the meal. As we ate, we conversed (in French!) about the process and styles of preparing couscous. The direct link between the meal and our course learning, along with the ambiance of the restaurant, the conversation in French and the opportunity to enjoy a well-prepared meal, made the evening quite pleasant. (Kaitlyn)

The French 133 couscous dinner at Bistro Vida in Menlo Park was a highlight of the quarter. The dinner provided a great opportunity to get a taste of the influence of Maghreb and French cuisine and culture on a local venue. Bistro Vida also offered a great setting to discuss course material (Francophone Literature of Africa and the Caribbean) over delicious food, including a staple of North African cuisine (couscous) as well as classic French desserts (among them, Crème Brûlée, macarons, and Tarte Tatin). It was a joy to experience this collision of culinary cultures close to Stanford campus with my professor and classmates and a wonderful way to wrap up the quarter beyond the classroom. Opening up a window onto local flavor, the dinner at Bistro Vida was a great way to discover and celebrate the culinary tradition of France as well as the Maghreb. (Chloé)

Our class’s trip to Bistro Vida was a special ending to our class on African-Caribbean French Literature. After having read multiple works by North African authors, such as Albert Memmi and Kaouther Adimi, it was interesting to learn about the culture in a different way—through the cuisine. The couscous was delicious, with chicken, sausage and lamb; I have not had authentic North African food since coming to college, and so it was exciting to taste those flavors again. With my small classes, I also really enjoy

getting to know my classmates, and during this dinner I talked to many upper classmen who offered me new perspectives on life at Stanford. (Renata)

Thanks for funding our class trip to Bistro Vida in Menlo Park! It was a great opportunity to eat the staple dish we’ve encountered in nearly all of the texts we’ve read this quarter, and it was also wonderful to spend some time with our peers and professor outside of the classroom. We sat at a large table right at the front of the restaurant, looking out onto the sidewalk as the sun was setting. The weather was beautiful! The owner of the restaurant took our orders – all couscous, of course, with different combinations of meat and vegetables. I had the vegetarian version and others had theirs with sausage, chicken and lamb which we learned is called a “royal" couscous. Our experience was only slightly different from the texts we studied in that the couscous was not served on a big plate for the entire table to share, and we also didn’t eat with our hands. That’s a skill to be mastered for the next time! (Ali)

At Bistro Vida, our French 133 course had a chance to escape campus and travel temporarily to North Africa and taste the local cuisine. We tried the couscous royal, a dish that we learned takes hours of preparation but is well worth the effort. The couscous is traditionally served family-style, but we each had our own portions. It was full of flavors and textures, from the grain itself to dried fruits to well-seasoned vegetables and grilled meats; all of the components of the couscous blended together to form one harmonious dish. Although we learned that in Morocco, people sometimes eat couscous with their hands, I appreciated having utensils to use during the meal. It was a delicious experience. (Ameena)



More information on Bistro Vida:

Original post found here:

John Felstiner, Stanford Professor and poetry scholar, dies at age 80

Thursday, March 9, 2017

It is with great sadness that we share this public obituary for John Felstiner, who was an important member of our JS faculty.

John Felstiner, Stanford Professor and poetry scholar, dies at age 80

Louis John Felstiner, Jr., died on February 24, 2017 at the age of eighty. Professor Felstiner was a translator, literary critic, teacher, poet, and ardent environmentalist. He is survived by Mary Lowenthal Felstiner, his wife of over fifty years, their two children, Sarah and Alek, and two grandchildren, Brayden and Asa.

As an active and committed Jew, Professor Felstiner participated in services, offered courses in Jewish Studies, and helped organize events and bring speakers to campus. He also served on the Hillel Board of Directors and the Half Century Faculty Committee. After retirement he and his wife continued to teach courses on Holocaust history and "creative resistance."

Professor Felstiner was born in Mount Vernon, New York, in 1936. He attended Exeter Academy and Harvard University, then served for three years as a naval officer on the USS Forrestal before returning to Harvard to earn a PhD. He taught at Stanford University, in English, Jewish Studies, and Comparative Literature, from 1965 until his retirement in 2009.

Through translations of poets such as Paul Celan and Pablo Neruda Professor Felstiner pioneered a critical approach to literary translation that incorporates history, poetics, and self-reflection. His books Translating Neruda: The Way to Macchu Picchu and Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew fused literary criticism and biography, while exposing readers to the art and mechanics of translation. Professor Felstiner augmented his scholarly pursuits with political activism. He organized support for oppressed poets and academics abroad, and in later years devoted himself to environmentalism and the nexus of poetry and ecological recognition. His other works include Can Poetry Save the Earth?, Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan, The Lies of Art, The Norton Anthology of Jewish American Literature (co-ed.), this dust of words (now a documentary by Bill Rose), and numerous essays on literature and translation, as well as his own poetry. In 2010 he established the Save the Earth Poetry Prize, an annual high school poetry competition for poems that “evoke humankind’s awareness of the natural world.”

In addition to teaching at Stanford, Professor Felstiner taught at the University of Chile, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Yale University, and Stanford’s programs in Oxford and Paris. He received the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism, as well as honors from the Modern Languages Association, PEN West, the National Book Critics Circle, and the Commonwealth Club of California, among others. Professor Felstiner held Guggenheim, Rockefeller, NEA, and NEH fellowships. He became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2005.

Professor Felstiner was a lifelong athlete and music lover. He played varsity soccer and lacrosse at Harvard, and continued to swim every day until shortly before he died. He also performed in amateur singing groups from high school through college, and up until retirement. Professor Felstiner and his wife were devoted patrons and fixtures in attendance at Stanford's Lively Arts programs. He often brought musicians and recordings into his classrooms to draw connections between music and poetry.

A private memorial is planned for later this spring. In lieu of any memorial gifts, the family suggests donations in Professor Felstiner’s memory to the Sempervirens Fund ( or the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment (

Here is John's obituary, as it appeared in the Stanford Report.

Association for Jewish Studies (AJS) Executive Committee Issues Statement on U.S. Executive Order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

On February 1, 2017, the AJS Executive Committee issued the following statement:

As the officers of the Association for Jewish Studies, a learned society of 2,000 scholars and students dedicated to advancing research and teaching of Jewish Studies in institutions of higher learning and to fostering a greater understanding of our scholarship beyond the walls of academe, we are outraged at the executive order issued by President Trump denying entry into the United States for the next 90 days to citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries. 

This executive order has arbitrarily thrown the lives of innocent people around the globe into disarray, and, among them, are some of our students and colleagues.  As scholars of Jewish history and culture, we remember the disastrous impact of the 1924 National Origins Act, which limited the immigration into America of Jews fleeing European persecution. We celebrate the diversity that immigration has brought to America, and are dismayed that our nation, a country built by immigrants, has not learned the lessons of the past, of the imperative for humanitarian and moral action.

This rejection of our core values was heightened by the fact that President Trump signed this executive order on international Holocaust Remembrance Day.  We lament that the President’s statement issued that day obscured the historical reality of the Holocaust by failing to mention either the Jews or antisemitism. 

We call on our government to honor our past as a nation of immigrants, to recognize that a religious test for immigration violates the ideals embedded in our Constitution, and to end immediately these discriminatory practices. 

Pamela S. Nadell, President 
Zachary Baker, Secretary-Treasurer 
Christine Hayes, Vice President for Program 
Magda Teter, Vice President for Publications 
Jeffrey Veidlinger, Vice President for Membership 
Jonathan D. Sarna, Past President 

(The statements of other US learned societies on the executive order are available at

The Association for Jewish Studies is the largest learned society and professional organization representing Jewish Studies scholars worldwide. Learn more at

Statement on the Presidential Suspension of the Syrian Refugee Program and Anti-Immigration Executive Order from (Select) Muslim-Majority Countries

Monday, January 30, 2017

As members of the faculty of the Taube Center for Jewish Studies at Stanford University, we express our outrage at the executive order issued by President Trump denying entry into the United States for the next 90 days to citizens of seven Muslim countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. Although some aspects of the executive order have been stayed Saturday night, the executive order has arbitrarily thrown the lives of innocent people around the globe into disarray, among them at least one of Stanford’s students directly, and many others in a variety of ways. As scholars of Jewish history and culture we are well aware of the denial of entry into the United States to Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler, and are outraged that fellow human beings, refugees from Syria who are fleeing war and death are not being welcomed here. The scandal to our democratic culture is heightened by the fact that President Trump signed these executive orders on a day that is internationally recognized as Holocaust Memorial Day, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. We are shocked by proposals of a future religious test for entry into the United States. Along with colleagues around the country we demand that the United States government end this outrageous and potentially anti-constitutional policy immediately.



Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert, Director, Taube Center for Jewish Studies, Associate Professor of Religious Studies

Maya Arad, Writer-in-Residence, Jewish Studies and Drama Department

Zachary Baker, Reinhard Family Curator of Judaica and Hebraica Collections

Joel Beinin, Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History

Jonathan Berger, Denning Family Provostial Professor

Amir Eshel, Edward Clark Crossett Professor of Humanistic Studies and Professor of Comparative Literature

Shelley Fisher-Fishkin, Joseph S. Atha Professor in Humanities

Katherine Jolluck, Senior Lecturer in the Department of History

Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann, Senior Associate Dean for Religious Life, Lecturer in Jewish Studies

Ari Kelman, Jim Joseph Chair in Education and Jewish Studies and Associate Professor, by courtesy, of Religious Studies

Norman Naimark, Robert & Florence McDonnell Professor of E. European Studies, Fisher Family Director of SGS and Professor, by courtesy, of German Studies and Senior Fellow, by courtesy, at the Hoover Institution and at the Freeman Spogli Institute

Reviel Netz, Suppes Professor of Greek Mathematics and Astronomy

Gallia Porat, Lecturer in Hebrew

Aron Rodrigue, Charles Michael Professor in Jewish History and Culture

Noah Rosenberg, Stanford Professor of Population Genetics and Society

Nancy Ruttenburg, William Robertson Coe Professor of American Literature, Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and Slavic Literatures

Gabriella Safran, Eva Chernov Lokey Professor in Jewish Studies and Professor, by courtesy, of German Studies

Lee S. Shulman, President Emeritus, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education Emeritus

Anna Schultz, Associate Professor of Music

Vered Shemtov, Eva Chernov Lokey Senior Lecturer in Hebrew Language and Literature

Sam Wineburg, Margaret Jacks Professor of Education and History (by courtesy)

Steven Zipperstein, Daniel E. Koshland Professor in Jewish Culture and History

Congratulations to our alums: Sarah A. Stein and Devin Naar!

Friday, January 13, 2017

We are excited to share the news that two of our alums have won for the following categories in the 2016 National Jewish Book Awards:

For Sephardic Culture, Sarah Abrevaya Stein won the Mimi S. Frank Award in Memory of Becky Levy for her book, "Extraterritorial Dreams: European Citizenship, Sephardi Jews, and the Ottoman Twentieth Century".

For Writing Based on Archival Material, Devin Naar won The JDC-Herbert Katzki Award for his book, "Jewish Salonica: Between the Ottoman Empire and Modern Greece".

From J. Weekly: Joan Nathan serves up the backstory on latkes at Stanford

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


Latkes? An age-old Jewish tradition? Think again.

While pancakes have been around for some 12,000 years — millennia before the Maccabees put their stamp on an ancient winter celebration — potato pancakes are a relatively recent phenomenon. So said award-winning Jewish cookbook author Joan Nathan, who lectured last week on “The Latke and Civilization” at Hillel at Stanford.

Although the Conquistadors brought potatoes back from South America in the late 1500s, the lowly spuds didn’t hit Eastern European tables until the early 1800s. At first, they were viewed as animal fodder.

“They were a harder sell than tomatoes,” said the Washington, D.C.-based author, addressing some 250 academics and foodies at an event sponsored by several Stanford organizations as well as the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. An explorer of regional and global cookery, Nathan already has published 10 cookbooks.

The earliest pancakes, Nathan pointed out, likely were gluten free, thanks to the abundance of chickpeas, a go-to ingredient in ancient Middle Eastern recipes. In fact, while researching her forthcoming book, “King Solomon’s Table,” which explores Jewish cooking from around the world, Nathan came upon some 44 pancake recipes inscribed in cuneiform on tablets from 1700 BCE. She handled the tablets at Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library, sharing the photographs during her presentation.

Joan Nathan (left) served up latkes and conversation at Hillel at Stanford.  photo/janet silver ghent
Joan Nathan (left) shmoozes over latkes after her lecture at Stanford Hillel. photo/janet silver ghent

Peppered with spices and seeds, these pancakes were savory, rather than sweet, she said. But since ancient times, the griddlecake continued to evolve, while taking inspiration from its roots in past civilizations. The potato pancake came of age in the folk cuisines of 19th- and 20th-century Europe, from the Hungarian placki to the German kartoffelpuffer to the Irish boxty. But the Yiddish word “latke,” derived from a Russian word for “little pancake,” didn’t appear in major Jewish cookbooks until the mid-20th century. In fact, the 1906 “Aunt Babette’s Cook Book,” one of the earliest Jewish cookbooks in America, makes no mention of latkes, but does include a recipe for potato pancakes, a breakfast dish served with such sides as tomato preserves.

The 1930 and 1946 editions of “The Settlement Cook Book,” which grew out of the Milwaukee settlement house for immigrant Jewish women, eschew the term “latke” in favor of the generic “potato pancake,” Nathan said, pointing to a certain discomfort with Yiddish terms. “It was only in 1952 that the venerable New York Times used the word ‘latke’ to describe ‘a golden brown potato pancake that was served to Jewish troops in Korea.’ ”

But by 1993, when Wolfgang Puck put latkes on a seder menu at Spago in Los Angeles, “Jewish food came of age for foodies,” she said.

Jewish cooking, said Nathan, is all about the cross-pollination of culinary cultures, from the time of Solomon, who reportedly had 700 wives who brought their own traditions to the table, to contemporary America. While the sufganiyot, a jelly doughnut, itself an amalgam of recipes from various countries, became the popular Hanukkah treat in Israel, the latke is the undisputed Hanukkah food in America. It may not rival the rich variety of Christmas goodies, she said, but you can’t beat the aroma. In fact, while Nathan is marketing her cookbooks during the December holidays, she fries up latkes in the bookstores.

These days, she pointed out, latkes have gone gaga, with such un-Jewish adaptations as apple cheddar, pumpkin pie, Brussels sprouts, chile poblano and grilled sweet potato with candied pecans and brown sugar syrup.

“And of course, popular this year, more than ever before, you will see those ancient gluten-free chickpea latkes.”

But Nathan’s favorite remains the traditional potato latke, fried up with onions and served with applesauce (ideally, homemade) and sour cream. That’s what the guests enjoyed after her lecture, the old country aromas amplified by the melodies of the Stanford Klezmer Band.

Nathan wasn’t selling books, as “King Solomon’s Table” won’t be out until April. But if they had been available, they surely would have sold like hotcakes.

by janet silver ghent, j. correspondent (source: 

Eminent French-Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai revisits the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in his new film, Rabin, the Last Day, 20 years after the tragic night that sent shock waves throughout the Middle East, and across the world.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Amos Gitai is one of Israeli cinema's most internationally feted directors, with 45 films to his credit, spanning 35 years. Gitai visited Stanford October 19-21, 2016 for the screening of his acclaimed thriller Rabin, the Last Day.

Amos Gitai and Marie-Pierre Ulloa
Amos Gitai and Marie-Pierre Ulloa

A student at Berkeley in the 70s and 80s, where he received his PhD in architecture in 1986, Gitai is a naturalized French citizen, and he is an Officer of the prestigious order of Arts and Letters of the French Republic.

November 2015 marked the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. On November 4th, 1995, after addressing a peace rally in Tel Aviv, Rabin was killed by a right-wing Jewish extremist. Twenty years later, Amos Gitai revisits the murder scene, the causes and the circumstances leading up to Rabin’s final day. The film also opens with one of the last interviews of the late Shimon Peres.

Like the iconic movie Z by Greek film director Costa-Gavras (1969) about a judge investigating the murder at a peace rally of a reformist politician and with the Greek junta in the background, Rabin features the faux-documentary style while revisiting the political thriller genre.

The US presidential campaign events have fueled its resonance in America and journalist Thomas Friedman twice praised the movie in the New York Times, a year apart. Friedman stated that "it seems quite relevant to America today. It’s about what can happen in a democratic society when politicians go too far, when they not only stand mute when hateful words that cross civilized redlines suddenly become part of the public discourse, but, worse, start to wink at and dabble in this hate speech for their advantage."

Despite a very busy night on campus with the 2016 Homecoming and Reunion weekend's first day of festivities, spectators came from all over the bay area to see the film, from San Francisco to Santa Cruz to San José, and to get a chance to talk with the filmmaker at the post-screening Q & A.

During his three-day campus visit organized by faculty host Marie-Pierre Ulloa, Amos Gitai met with a diverse range of students and faculty from various fields, from the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages, to the Architectural Design Program, from Film Studies to Religious Studies, for a series of engaging conversations on memory and cinema, and on architecture and film. 

Sonia Gomez and Amos Gitai

He also addressed the delicate art of movie adaptation of a literary work, of how to proceed from the page to the screen, while talking with undergraduate student Sonia Gonzalez about his movie adaptation of Roses à crédit by French novelist Elsa Triolet, starring Léa Seydoux, and the casting of American playwright Arthur Miller for his 2001 movie Eden, his own adaptation of Miller's novel, Homely Girl, a Life.

Amos Gitai first visited Stanford in 2014, but is no stranger to the bay area. He spent the late seventies in Berkeley, which he elusively referred to during the presentation of Rabin, the Last Day. After being graciously introduced by Zachary Baker, the Reinhard Family Curator of Judaica and Hebraica Collections, Gitai joked that during his time in the bay, Berkeley students were prohibited from setting foot on Stanford campus.

Announcing the recipients of our Undergraduate Awards for 2016

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Congratulations to these undergraduates!!

The Second Undergraduate Short Story Contest

Grand Prize Winner:
The Guest by Beatrice Garrard

Second Place Winner:
New Photographs by Adam Schorin 

Third Place Winner:
Just a Cup by Zane Hellmann

Honorary Mention:
The Man and the Boy by Michal Leibowitz

The Dr. Bernard Kaufman Undergraduate Research Award in Jewish Studies

Sawyer Altman for his proposal on Jewish Modernists on How Technology Shapes Us

The Donald and Robin Kennedy Undergraduate Award  

On Trauma and Camp by Adam Schorin

Honorary Mention:
Yid by Beatrice Garrard

The Koret  Award for Best Essay Written in Hebrew

Breaking the Silence by Gil Lorch Kornberg

Honorary Mention:
Israeli Cinema by Josh Lange

Karim Miské, Acclaimed Author, Discusses His Work with Stanford Community

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Internationally acclaimed French-Mauritanian author, Karim Miské, discusses his work with Stanford community
  This May, French-Mauritanian author Karim Miské met with members of the Stanford community. Faculty, students, and community members had the opportunity to view his recent documentary, Jews and Muslims: Intimate Strangers, and read from his novels, his award-winning debut novel Arab Jazz, and his autobiographical essay N’appartenir. 
  They join Miské to discuss his work.
  His visit marked the long-standing collaboration between the French and Italian Department, the Taube Center for Jewish Studies, and the cultural services of the French Consulate in San Francisco.
  Widely admired on the Francophone scene for his documentaries, Karim Miské grew up in France and studied journalism in Dakar, Sénégal. Karim made his first documentary in 1988, Economie de la débrouille à Nouakchott (1988). Since then, he has directed films on Muslims in France, the Crusades, neo-fundamentalism in Islam, Christianity and Judaism, and the world of the deaf.
  His latest book, set in Paris and in the synagogues of New York, won an English PEN award. It was highly praised by The Guardian: 
  “This is a brilliant debut, both from Karim Miské and Sam Gordon, the very capable translator. The setting – “between the Lubavitch school complex, the Salafist prayer room and the evangelical church” in north-east Paris, home turf of the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket killers – couldn’t be more topical. […] Arab Jazz is a genre novel in the same way that Pulp Fiction is a genre film – superseding the form even as it pays homage. It is a transcontinental identity novel, too, dramatizing the painful contradictions and fertile syntheses of contemporary multicultural life, focusing on racial discrimination in Morocco as well as Paris.”
  Stanford students and faculty from a diverse cultural background participated in discussions with the author in a classroom on Francophone literature, in a lunch with undergraduate students, in the annual French fest organized by the French instructors of the Language Center, and a dinner at the Maison Française.
  Lecturer in French and Francophone Studies, Marie-Pierre Ulloa explains the significance of bringing Miské into the classroom. "Hosting Karim Miské was a unique opportunity to expose students to unfamiliar and captivating storytelling. His work shows how documentaries and detective novels are not only pure entertainment but also receptacles of memory where multiple identity negotiations occur. It is highly rewarding for students and teachers alike.”

Relevant URL (book page, news article, award announcement, etc.)

Congratulations to Jonathan Berger!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Taube Center for Jewish Studies wishes to extend our congratulations to Jonathan Berger for receiving a 2016 fellowship in Music Composition from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Mazal tov, Jonathan!

His profile on the Guggenheim site.

Commentary by Arnie Eisen: Donald Trump and the Painful Price of Religious Intolerance

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary responds to the Republican frontrunner’s proposal to ban Muslim entry to the U.S.

All Americans should be outraged by Donald Trump’s advocacy of a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” Jews have special reason to be concerned.

I am the grandson of immigrants who came to America in search of freedom from Czarist oppression. I am a historian well aware of the pain and suffering inflicted on countless generations of Jews who were expelled from countries they had long called home and denied entry to other nations because of their religion. And I am a Jew commanded by the Bible to deal fairly with strangers (such as refugees) because “you were strangers in the land of Egypt”—and because our tradition holds that every human being is created in God’s image and is therefore entitled to be treated with dignity and respect.

The lesson of the Exodus, taught again and again by the prophets of the Bible, is that we all have responsibilities to add justice and compassion to God’s world. The lesson of America is that we are all descended from immigrants, and that our country thrives on our coming together: Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others; left, right, and center. Everyone.

Wednesday is the third day of Hanukkah, a holiday which—more than any other on the Jewish calendar—celebrates religious freedom. Antiochus Epiphanes, who promulgated the decrees against Jews that led to the Maccabean revolt in 165 BCE, was neither the first tyrant nor the last to argue that religious difference could not be tolerated. Jews are only one among many religious and ethnic minorities to have suffered from the argument that all members of the community should be punished for the misdeeds of a few, or that their religion itself constituted a threat to the wellbeing of the nation or the world.


Words matter greatly, according to Jewish tradition, and must be carefully weighed. Judaism’s sages taught that three sins are so grave they are not only punished in this world, but bar entry to the world to come: idol-worship, forbidden sexual relations, and murder—“and wicked speech is equal to all of them.” This holds true even for the weakest form of slanderous speech, for it destroys the reputation of those against whom it is deployed.

We’ve all seen words translated all too quickly into violence; Jews and many others have learned through atrocity that aspersions on our character lead to persecution. It is wrong and dangerous to imply that every Muslim is a potential terrorist, just as it is wrong and dangerous to say, because of the killings at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado last week, that every Christian should be viewed as a potential murderer.

Our country, like every other, needs to take concerted action to safeguard its borders and its citizens. Terrorists wreaking havoc on every continent from their base in the Middle East must be stopped before they spread so much fear that civilized countries sacrifice the ideals that are the most important guarantors of our security.

During Hanukkah, Jews light additional candles every night to dispel darkness, to counter fear, to encourage faith. Donald Trump’s proposal is a vote for darkness.

Arnold Eisen is the chancellor of The Jewish Theological Seminary

This commentary is from Fortune.

An Interview with Jewish Studies alumnae Julia Cohen and Sarah Stein

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Sephardi Lives in Living Color

Two editors, seven years, fifteen languages, and hundreds of documents.

These are the elements of Sephardi Lives: A Documentary History. The impressive new volume out from Stanford University Press was co-edited by Prof. Julia Phillips Cohen of Vanderbilt University and Prof. Sarah Abrevaya Stein of UCLA. Sephardi Lives won the National Jewish Book Award last year for the Sephardic Culture category, and it shows every sign of becoming a landmark publication in the growing field of Sephardic Studies.

Professors Cohen and Stein will both be in Seattle on Dec. 6th to present a special program at the 3rd annual International Ladino Day celebration at UW. I caught up with them over phone and email recently to find out more about their process of building a new canon of Sephardic historical documents. Below is an edited and condensed version of our conversations.

~ ~ ~

Hannah Pressman: What was it like collaborating on Sephardi Lives?

Julia Phillips Cohen: “When we started this collaboration, we actually had no idea that we were going to create this book. Sarah had originally contacted me and suggested we co-author an article with a broad view of modern Sephardi intellectuals. However, when we started brainstorming ideas for the article in the fall of 2008, we realized it needed to be a much larger project.”

Sarah Abrevaya Stein: “Julia and I worked together on this volume for many years, facing a great number of logistical, intellectual, and conceptual challenges along the way. However, throughout Julia and I worked together marvelously, and our collaboration proved a fantastic education into the fine-grained nuances of a history I had already studied for some years. Our collaboration was made all the sweeter by the generosity of colleagues like Devin Naar [chair of the UW Sephardic Studies Program], who shared with us their research treasures, insights, and aid.”

HP: What kind of support did you receive for the project?

JPC: “Usually, when you set out to create a documentary history, it’s obvious which sources are canonical. However, we didn’t simply want a top-down portrait of the political elite. We also wanted to represent everyday life—women, the poor, the people in between. So, for this project, we had to start from scratch and do a lot of original research. There was no go-to source for certain topics such as gender, so we really had to dig. It was a fascinating process of writing a documentary history and creating the narrative as we went. We had to create the canon for ourselves.”

“Gender Studies, in particular, was very important to us because few people have bridged Gender Studies and Sephardic Studies for the modern era. It is a lacuna within a lacuna. A research award from the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute supported this aspect of the project. Additionally, we received a Scholarly Editions and Translations Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanitiesas well as support from the Maurice Amado Chair at UCLA and the Program in Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt. This enabled us to hire several translators to help us translate texts from over a dozen languages. Numerous colleagues also contributed sources drawn from their own research. It ended up being an amazingly collaborative process with many wonderful people.”

HP: Congratulations on your National Jewish Book Award! What do you think this volume reveals about the state of Sephardic Studies today?

SAS: “The field has expanded vigorously, and it is a pleasure to see so much fine scholarship emerging in a field that was very small, and which has been perceived as marginal for too long. We are thrilled by the award, of course, but feel that the real success of the book depends on it being read and used in the classroom—hopefully not only to supplement classes on modern Jewish history and culture, but to invite teachers to rethink the overall arc, geography, and texture of Jewish society.”

JPC: “It’s hard to imagine that this book would have been possible ten years ago. We’re at a very exciting point in the burgeoning field of Sephardic Studies: the hard work of scholars around the globe continues to bring new material to light. In addition to the existing studies dealing with culture and politics, new projects exploring modern Sephardic diasporas, communal organization, and the everyday lives of women and children are pushing the field in exciting new directions. While preparing this volume we were able to reach out to colleagues laboring in such areas, including those pursuing particularly neglected aspects of modern Sephardic Studies such as gender and poverty. Such breadth simply didn’t exist a decade ago.”

SAS: “At times, while writing this book, we wondered if we were stretching the frame ‘Sephardi’ too thin. Could this organizing motif, we asked ourselves, truly encompass all the voices arrayed in the volume? The conclusion we reached, which we hope readers will take away from the book, is that ‘Sephardi’ is a wonderfully expansive category, reaching not only into Jewish or Middle Eastern history, but also into the history of gender, thought, families, religion, violence, empires and nation-states, and political movements, as well as into the many places we touch upon: not only the main Sephardi regional centers of Istanbul, Salonica, Edirne, and Izmir, but Palestine and North Africa, Latin America and southern Africa, Los Angeles and Seattle, with many stops in between.”

HP: Is Sephardi Lives representative of a local or global version of Sephardic history?

SAS: “The book offers insights on both a local and global level, allowing us to appreciate not only the nuances of individual experiences or places or events, but also how the fabric of a global Sephardi diaspora was knit together—and frayed—over time and space.”

JPC: “Creating the book was a very international affair. We got permissions from archives and private collections all over the world, some of which were difficult to access in places like the Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Bosnia. That’s another thing that’s very exciting about the book—we didn’t only rely on public collections. We wanted to think outside the box as we created this canon and to include pieces that had never been seen before. The vast majority of the pieces in the book had never been published in English. A number also arrived to us from dusty boxes in family collections: in many cases, the original texts (often written in the soletreo handwriting style of Ladino) were no longer accessible to descendants who don’t read Ladino. The process of identifying and translating these sources was thus one of discovery both for us and for their owners.”

HP: Do you have a favorite document in the collection?

JPC: “There are a number that I find endlessly fascinating. One is a document that was hidden at Auschwitz by a Greek Jew named Marcel Nadjary. [Editor’s note: this is Item #98 on p.285 of Sephardi Lives.] He wrote it thinking that he wasn’t going to survive. It was only discovered decades later, so we titled it “Message in a Bottle.” The document is partly illegible now, and there are a lot of blanks on the page, which speaks powerfully to the material history of the document, which spent decades disintegrating before being rediscovered. Who would have thought, in a book entirely based on bringing past voices to life, that we’d be able to include something with so many words missing? The end of the source is also very powerful: its final lines make clear that even as he faced his death, the author remained defiantly proud of his identity, both as a Jew and as a Greek citizen.”

SAS: “It is so very hard to choose! To me, the most moving voices in this book are inter-familial. I think of a 1917 letter, penned by a sister in Salonica to her brother in Manchester, that offers a first-hand account of the terrible fire that decimated that culturally rich Jewish city [Item #28, p.87]; or a letter written (partly in code) by a husband to his wife from the internment camp of Drancy, during the Second World War [Item #90, p.265]. The book includes a series of Ladino-language reflections, composed in 1778, on the advice a mother should offer her child [Item #7, p.34]; and a wonderful 1916 letter submitted to the editors of a Ladino journal in New York City by an immigrant Russian Jewish woman who sought to know with certainty whether the man with whom she has fallen in love could really be Jewish as he claimed, despite the fact that he looked and gestured ‘like an Italian’ [Item #119, p.347]. These are the sorts of voices that are more often than not elusive in existing documentary histories—but are among the very richest sources, regardless of whether one is a scholar, student, or general reader.”

HP: That leads me to my next question! What audiences do you think will be interested in this book? What do you hope people will gain from it?

JPC: “Our core audience is in the classroom. Both of us are committed to using primary sources in teaching so that history comes alive for students and they can see how people have expressed themselves historically. This is empowering for students, to be given the chance to read history for themselves without mediation and interpretation by others. We hope that the volume will also continue to prove useful to scholars, as it’s unlikely that any one person will have mastered the fifteen languages and many regions, perspectives, and time periods contained within.”

“But the volume is certainly not intended only for scholars and students. It’s also designed for anyone interested in Sephardic history and culture, as well as that of the Ottoman Empire, the Balkans, modern diasporas, and Jewish history writ large. A number of people have commented how readable they find it. The texts are very short, generally ranging from a paragraph to a few pages; readers can pick the book up and be drawn into the world of one particular piece and then put it back down again. Because each piece is independent, returning to a new entry at a later date doesn’t disrupt the flow of the book, and sources don’t have to be read in any particular order to make sense.”

SAS: “The book has so much within it—documents about Sephardic culture, of course, but also about Sephardi Jews’ interactions with Jews of other backgrounds, as well as the Muslims and Christians they lived alongside. Because it explores so many facets of life over a wide geographic range and broad chronological sweep, it is our hope that it will be of interest to students of history (of all ages and levels) eager for original sources about everyday life and ordinary women, men, children, and families—sources that make history come alive. If I had to identify one hope I have for the impact of the book, it is that readers will better appreciate the internal richness and diversity of Sephardic culture, which can’t be reduced to a single typology.”

HP: What aspect of Ladino Day in Seattle are you most eagerly anticipating?

SAS: “For me, a return to the University of Washington is a return home: I am excited to see colleagues and friends, and to observe the fantastic expansion of the Sephardic Studies Program.”

JPC: “I personally never imagined that this book would come alive in the mouths of native Ladino speakers—that they would be reading the texts out loud in their original Judeo-Spanish versions at a public event. What better way to give voice to these voices from the past?”

This article was originally published at and appears here with permission. 

Feminist Hermeneutics and the Babylonian Talmud // Marjorie Lehman and Charlotte Fonrobert

Friday, September 18, 2015

From the blog of the Katz Center at UPenn:

This past summer a group of scholars from North America and Europe, working in the field of Talmud and Rabbinics, gathered at the Katz Center to explore feminist hermeneutic approaches to studying the Bavli. Each of the scholars is working on a commentary on one of the Bavli’s tractates. The commentary volumes are part of the Feminist Commentary to the Babylonian Talmud series edited by Professor Tal Ilan and published by the German publisher Mohr Siebeck. Navigating the complex field of Jewish Feminist Studies, our goal was to broaden the definition of what it means to employ a feminist analysis of rabbinic texts as well as to explore the ways in which modern scholars can contribute to the age-old project of writing commentaries to rabbinic texts, one of the practices that has defined Jewish literary practice for centuries.

Feminist scholarship of the Babylonian Talmud has come into its own during the past few decades, having developed a variety of strategies of engaging with and countering the androcentrism of rabbinic culture. Such strategies range from excavating and foregrounding of women, women’s practices, and women’s experiences, to studying the variety of gender identities and dynamics, and the ways in which the rabbis of the Talmud themselves use gendered strategies to assert their authority. These approaches fundamentally change the way rabbinic texts are read and re-appropriated. Feminist scholarship in particular has made a crucial contribution towards the wider reception of the Talmud and rabbinic texts in contemporary Jewish culture. The contributors to the Feminist Commentary project came together to explore collectively the potential of organizing such scholarship and scholarly commitments in the form of Talmudic commentary. After an initial workshop in May 2014 devoted to discussing best practices of feminist Talmudic commentary, sponsored and organized by the Stanford Taube Center of Jewish Studies, Professor Steve Weitzman initiated the idea for a cooperation between the Katz Center and the Taube Center for Jewish Studies at Stanford, to enable collaborative scholarship on this particular project. Recognizing the potential of our project as well as our ability to make a far stronger contribution to the field of Talmud and Rabbinics by engaging in thoughtful discussions with each other and with scholars working on gender in other fields of Jewish Studies, the two centers initiated the summer collaboratory.

As a result, this past July we worked together intensively on a daily basis in order to discuss our varied feminist strategies of studying the Talmud, and the ways in which our approaches could shape the task of writing commentary. We thought together about the importance of defining particular feminist approaches as well as integrating them one with the other in our volumes. We examined criteria of selection for identifying Talmudic texts to comment upon and we talked extensively about what it means to study a Talmudic tractate as a coherent project with an overarching agenda. Additionally, we invited scholars who work in gender in other fields of Jewish Studies, including Talya Fishman, Laura Levitt, Miriam Peskowitz, and Beth Wenger to challenge us, prompting us to think further about what it means to read the Talmud in an effort to produce a feminist commentary.

Engaging in this collective endeavor to study strategies and best practices of writing talmudic and feminist commentary, we realized that the very act of joining together should function as a feminist paradigm of doing scholarship. The experience of working as a team of scholars, guiding one another, presenting our material and incorporating each others’ suggestions into our written work, sharing and discussing past scholarship in feminist studies, transformed the way we think scholarship can and should be done. Because we were engaged in the process of mutually redefining what it means to engage in feminist analysis in rabbinics, there is no doubt that our experience will enhance our scholarly output and our contribution to the field, but also the way in which we teach our students the study of Talmud.

Our month-long collaboratory concluded with a symposium designed as an interactive forum for the summer fellows to present the fruits of their collective labor. Shaped in a way that allowed for extensive conversation, we created yet another opportunity to discuss the contributions and challenges of using a feminist hermeneutic in writing Talmud commentary. We addressed issues such as: why it is important to write commentaries, why feminist analyses are so significant to our understanding of the Bavli (and rabbinic literature more generally), how we mine the Talmud for texts appropriate for writing a feminist commentary on one tractate, why it is significant to study one tractate in its entirely, and what we are adding to the field of Talmud and Rabbinics. 

Participants in the symposium: 
Co-convener: Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert, Stanford University
Co-convener: Marjorie Lehman, Jewish Theological Seminary

Aryeh Cohen, American Jewish University
Naftali Cohen, Concordia University
Judith Hauptman, Jewish Theological Seminary
Jane Kanarek, Hebrew College
Gail Labovitz, American Jewish University
Sarra Lev, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Elizabeth Shanks Alexander, University of Virginia
Christiane Steuer, Freie Universitat Berlin
Dvora Weisberg, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (LA)

Tal Ilan of Freie Universitat Berlin, the general editor of the commentary series, attended and discussed the future of the project.

Rosh ha-Shanah Greeting

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Taube Center for Jewish Studies and its staff wishes everyone a wonderful and sweet new year.

Shanah tovah u-metukah, a sweet 5776.

Grad Student Jeremiah Lockwood featured in the j.weekly

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Our grad student, Jeremiah Lockwood, was featured in the j.weekly on May 1st. In the article he speaks about his passion for Jewish music. Read the full article here or below.


Rock musician celebrates beautiful chaos of Jewish music

by alix wall, j. correspondent

When he was a young boy, Jeremiah Lockwood definitely made an impression on his third-grade teacher at P.S. 87 on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

“One day I had classical music playing when the kids came in the room,” the teacher, Diane Wirtschafter of Berkeley, still remembers. “When Jeremiah noticed, he approached to ask me if I liked classical music. He was gleeful upon hearing that I did and followed up with, ‘Do you like Wagner?’ He wanted to know if he could bring in a tape so that the class could listen.”

Those who have heard Lockwood perform with his band the Sway Machinery probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that even in third grade, his eclectic musical taste included the controversial German composer.

Hearing about his teacher’s memory, Lockwood recalls that his brother, who is five years older, was “a serious opera person” at the time. “His focus on 19th-century opera was at its peak then, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I was listening to Wagner at that age.”

Jeremiah Lockwood  photo/scott irvine
Jeremiah Lockwood photo/scott irvine

Lockwood, 36, who is living in Palo Alto with his wife and two sons while he works toward a Ph.D. at Stanford University, recently played a few Bay Area gigs with the Sway Machinery. He’ll speak at the Jewish Community Library on May 7 about hazzanut, the cantorial tradition of Ashkenazi Jews, and will incorporate classical cantorial recordings with some of his own performance.

In his talk, he’ll differentiate between cantorial recordings and singing in synagogue, and talk about the aesthetic of noise and chaos in cantorial and Jewish music.

Lockwood’s music defies easy categorization. It’s rock ’n’ roll with a wide ranges of influences, from classical cantorial vocals to American blues to guitar riffs from Mali, a region in Africa home to numerous world-famous musicians, including Tinariwen and Ali and Vieux Farka Touré (Lockwood’s band played Mali’s famed Festival of the Desert and recorded an album there as well).

Perhaps because describing his music to journalists gets so tiresome, Lockwood characterized it as such: “It’s the best! It’s got a story and a mission behind it, which is preservation and celebration. It’s about creating community through music, but also about rock ’n’ roll and creating an experience that transcends visceral pleasure. It’s rock ’n’ roll and funk and the destruction of expectations, and the celebration of the personal, and trying to create spaces for people to remember how to have a good time and not be hooked up to the machine and to celebrate the primal machine of creation.”

Got that?

Lockwood’s two biggest musical influences were his grandfather, Cantor Jacob Konigsberg, and Carolina Slim, a blues musician whom Lockwood met playing on the street.

Konigsberg was a generation younger than those European-born cantors who sang in the “golden age of cantorial music,” said Lockwood, but he nonetheless was educated in that same tradition and sang in synagogues throughout the United States.

Given that his father is a composer as well, Lockwood said theirs was a musical home, where every Jewish holiday turned into “mini concerts in my grandparents’ living room.”

He started playing guitar at 12 and, consciously or not, began trying to incorporate the music he heard growing up.

By 14, Lockwood already thought he was a pretty fine guitar player and went to a New York street fair to start “busking blues on the street” when he found Carolina Slim (born Elijah Staley) playing.

“I was very impressed by him, and asked if I could sit in with him,” recalled Lockwood. Thus begun an apprenticeship that lasted until Slim died last year.

“He was critical but also graceful,” said Lockwood. “The paradoxical thing is you get your learning by being broken down a little bit. I already played well, and had a bit of a swollen ego. At 14, I already knew a little about music, and thought I was perfect, but he taught me the value of self-criticism and self-respect, which is very important for a young musician to learn.”

Lockwood especially admired how Slim took music from the African diaspora and used it as a basis to create new music, an approach that Lockwood is now doing with Jewish music.

From Slim, Lockwood also learned “how to be a professional musician, meaning how to present yourself as an artist and what that means, and valuing your own work and learning to face the world and be brave and assertive about who you are and what you can offer people.”

In the last years of his life, “We’d sit in his basement and sing gospel music together, which was a very sweet and beautiful coda to our friendship,” said Lockwood.

Their relationship, which spanned over 20 years, had such a great impact on Lockwood that musical apprenticeship as a form of education is the topic of his graduate studies at Stanford. He’s studying in the education department with a concentration in Jewish studies.

His cantor grandfather lived until 2008 and was able to hear the beginnings of the Sway Machin­­ery. “He appreciated what I was doing,” Lockwood said.

As does his former third-grade teacher. “As a fan of both cantorial music and Tom Waits,” Wirtschafter said, “I delight in the Sway Machinery’s surprising and haunting blending of the traditional liturgical melodies with bass-y and brassy contemporary sounds.”

Press for "The Jewish 1968 and Its Legacies” Conference

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Check out this article published in the j. weekly on February 12 about the "The Jewish 1968 and Its Legacies” Conference held at Stanford on February 15-16 and co-sponsored by the Taube Center!

For more information about the Conference, please go to the website.

Zipperstein and Jewish Studies Alumnae win 2014 National Jewish Book Awards

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Jewish Studies is proud to announce that one of our faculty members and two of our alumnae took home awards at the 2014 National Jewish Book Awards.


We would like to congratulate faculty member, Steven J. Zipperstein, for winning the National Jewish Book of the Year Award for 2014, together with Anita Shapira, for their work as series editors of Yale University Press's Jewish Lives Series.

We would also like to congratulate our alumnae Julia Phillips Cohen and Sarah Stein for winning the National Jewish Book Award in "Sephardic Culture" for their co-edited book Sephardi Lives: A Documentary History, 1700-1950 (Stanford University Press).

Cohen was also awarded the National Jewish Book Award in "Writing Based on Archival Material" for her book Becoming Ottomans: Sephardi Jews and Imperial Citizenship in the Modern Era (Oxford University Press).

For more information about the National Jewish Book Awards and for a full list of winners, please visit their website.

Jewish Studies emeritus faculty Arnold Eisen on the grand opening of Polin: The Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw last month

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Arnold Eisen, emeritus faculty in our program, on the grand opening of Polin: The Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw last month, which - as Prof. Eisen points out - received crucial support from Tad Taube, our prominent supporter of Jewish Studies at Stanford.

From his blog:

It’s not often that a museum makes history as well as chronicles it, and rare too when otherwise cautious observers, chastened by the repeated experience of expectations gone awry, remark at the opening of a new museum that it may prove a source of hope and pride that propels an entire society forward. Both of those things happened this week in Warsaw, with the opening of Polin: The Museum of the History of Polish Jews, the stunning museum erected on the site of the ghetto where, 70 years ago, Jewish history seemed to come to an end. I travelled to Poland for the event, as did Reuven Rivlin, the new president of the State of Israel, and hundreds of other Jewish leaders, scholars, and activists from around the world, including several members of the Jewish Theological Seminary family. The occasion was not only moving but portentous. A once-ravaged and much-reduced Jewish community, and a long-suffering country far from innocent in the suffering of its Jews, had come together for a moment, in a joint project of ambition and consequence. The two seemed to be grasping—simultaneously and together—at new life. I wanted to be there to cheer them on.

The museum’s opening has received enormous press coverage, both in Jewish and non-Jewish media. I will therefore say little about the building itself (placid, graceful, light-filled, and dramatic without a hint of pretentiousness) or its creative engagement of visitors through ingenious storytelling, state-of-the-art technology, and—in the galleries devoted to the modern period—utterly riveting photography and film. I went through the 43,000 square-foot core exhibition from start to finish three times, and would happily return to spend entire days in the sections devoted to the shtetl and yeshiva; the inter-war years; and the tragic, ambiguous tale of Jews in post-war Poland, to which the museum has added another chapter. The years of Nazism and the Holocaust are captured with power and restraint, I think, neither overshadowing all that precedes them nor downplaying the magnitude and horror of the Shoah. Anyone who has ever taught a class will marvel at the thoughtfulness and consistent high quality of the museum’s “lesson plans.” Teachers of Jewish history will likely take special note of the pedagogy on view. The museum owns few items from the past: its point is not to preserve and display objects, but to tell a story that it wants its visitors to carry forward.

That objective struck me forcibly again and again. Committed Jews have far more at stake in the telling of Jewish history on this site than mere recital of facts and dates. Poles committed to the rebirth of their country as a liberal democracy in the heart of Europe likewise have much at stake in the recognition that Jews have long played a major role in their history and must be welcomed now if the current experiment is to succeed. Polish Jews perhaps have the most at stake, betting with their lives that their community has a future, despite the recent past of Holocaust and Communism, and in the face of anti-Semitism that has not entirely disappeared. They hope to build on a thousand years of life that was far more than persecution, including centuries of real cultural and economic flowering, as basis for renewed achievement.

I was hard-pressed to remain unmoved by this effort, which speaks through gallery after gallery of the core exhibition, and I doubt that Polish visitors will be able to preserve distance either. The Jews who walked through the museum with me wiped back tears and commented about how much the experience meant to them. Words such as “exhibits” or “galleries,” which connote viewing a spectacle apart from oneself, do not capture the emotion elicited by the place. This is true even as one admires the exquisite craftsmanship in evidence throughout and nowhere more visible than in the already famous reproduction (at 80 percent scale) of the wooden synagogue of Gwozdziec. Its gorgeous colors and zodiac designs held me for long moments. I did not want to move. The museum’s curators have made it the literal centerpiece of the story they tell: halfway point on a march through Jewish history and perhaps a pointer, in a way only time will reveal, to the future of that history.

This is the point at which I want to pause as well. JTS, to my mind, represents a similar commitment to building a vibrant Jewish future by reaching deep, again and again, into the Jewish past. We too disdain mere nostalgia for the past, because rosy pictures of what was allegedly easy and nice will not help us navigate conditions that, like all human conditions, and certainly all Jewish situations, are difficult and complex. We prefer engagement, critical inquiry, conservation, and transformation aimed at giving the past new vitality. Like the new museum in Warsaw, JTS rejects the picture of Jewish history as entirely one of suffering and loss, and has no interest in elegiac approaches that consign Jewish history to a past that makes no claim on you and me, here and now. At JTS we feel that claim and act on it every day. We take the past seriously enough to understand its complexity, challenge its assumptions, and dare to change its rules.

I confess I felt the claim of the Gwozdziec Synagogue and of the house of study attached to it most keenly. (So did JTS Professor David Roskies, who like me sat long in that exhibit and kept returning to it, notebook in hand.) How could we not? The synagogue’s soaring but fragile wooden roof made me feel privileged to serve the same God, and be part of the same people, as the Jews who inhabited the original. I carry their path forward, with a comparable mixture of love, self-concern, anxiety, and imperfection. History is the story of change, of course, and the move from gallery to gallery, and within galleries, drove home the fact of change for me better than any lecture on the subject. No differences are denied at Polin, and no conflicts pampered-over. But these are my ancestors, I kept thinking to myself. My history has been shaped by theirs in ways too numerous to count. By bringing their story to life with such care and quality, the museum had brought those Jews home to me—and me to them. I am grateful for that.

At Tuesday’s opening ceremony, held on the plaza outside the museum, the theme of continuity with the past, along with marked contrast from it, was paramount. The presidents of Israel and Poland together, flanked by a Polish honor guard and numerous members of the Polish and Israeli security forces, laid wreaths at the monument honoring the fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto. As if that symbolism were not powerful enough, the Polish president, Bronisław Komorowski, then confronted the horrors of so much Jewish history on his soil and the complicity of Polish bystanders to the Nazi murders, while also paying tribute to Poles who had risked and lost their lives while protecting Jews. He also cited the interdependence of Jewish and Polish cultural achievement over the centuries, and pointed out that only in a free Poland, resolutely committed to democracy, to the West, and to Israel, could this museum have been dreamed or built. (It represents an unusual partnership among private donors and foundations, the government of Poland, and the city of Warsaw.) Marian Turski of Polin’s Museum Council quoted the refrain of Zog Nit KeynmolHymn of the JewishPartisans over and over again: “We are here!” (“Mir zaynen do!”). He himself had survived Auschwitz and then Communism. Now he was presiding over a museum that contained that past—his personal past, his people’s past—inside the larger frames of the thousand years of Jewish life that preceded it and of this ceremony, taking place on the site of the ghetto uprising, with the participation of the president of the reborn State of Israel. Jews and Poles, Jewish and non-Jewish Poles, had partnered in mutual hope carefully poured into concrete and glass. Amazing things do happen sometimes.

I too have a personal, though far less substantial, connection to the museum: my friend Tad Taube, a longtime supporter of the Jewish Studies program at Stanford University and now a supporter of JTS, worked and dreamed tirelessly for about 20 years to bring the museum into being. The opening was a personal triumph for Tad, and I wanted to be there with him. But to me the museum seems the fulfillment of another prayer, said by Jews repeatedly during the High Holidays: Zochreinu L’Chaim (Remember Us for Life). Jews address that prayer to God when we recite it in shul. During my three days of visits to the museum, I heard in my head the voices of Polish Jews from centuries past, including those who lived and fought in the ghetto, directing those words at us—and I heard Jews and Poles directing the prayer to one another. So many people have told me over the years that it is folly to invest in the future of Poland or its Jewish community, and many more have told me that it is folly to invest in the future of non-Orthodox Jews and Judaism in America. Wrong on both counts, I believe. We Jews remember for life, live through memory, and—at our best, with God’s help—transmute memory into life. We bet repeatedly on a future that breaks with, as well as continues the past, and sometimes that bet succeeds.

Tuesday’s gathering in Warsaw gave voice to a silent resolve to give hope a chance once more.

Stay tuned for a contribution about the grand opening by Prof. Ari Kelman's (Education and Jewish Studies), another member of our faculty who was able to be there as well.

Presenting the 2012-2014 Jewish Studies Newsletter

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

We are proud to present the newest edition of our Taube Center newsletter. Take a look to see Jewish Studies highlights and updates from 2012-2014.




  (PDF format)





See past issues here.

Our new director, Prof. Charlotte Fonrobert in the J. Weekly

Thursday, September 18, 2014

the space between |  Stanford prof: Talmudic rabbis were into analyzing sexuality

by Dan Schifrin

Seven years ago, Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert, the new director of Stanford’s Taube Center for Jewish Studies, wrote an essay for “Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia,” exploring the centrality of multiple gender categories in classical Jewish legal discourse. Likely the first scholarly article on this topic, Fonrobert approached the essay as part of her growing body of work exploring gender and sex in talmudic culture, as well as the question of boundaries and limits in Jewish law and society.

Among her findings: Although the rabbis were committed to a “fundamental assumption of gender duality,” they were remarkably interested in the varieties of sexual categories.

“I count seven sexual categories in the literature, and you could probably cook up a few more,” she explained over coffee near Berkeley’s Graduate Theological Union, where she received her doctorate. “While this might seem like a marginal issue in the tradition, discussions of it pop up all over the place.”

Among the detailed sexual categories that the rabbis discuss are androgynos (one born with both primary sexual organs), tumtum (one born with neither) and two kinds of eunuchs, the saris hamah (a man who is sterile from birth) and saris adam (a man who becomes incapable of reproduction).

While the distinctions among these categories might have seemed both theoretical and fanciful for most students of rabbinic literature, Fonrobert argues that the assignment of a sexual identity was crucial for the validity of Jewish rituals. For instance, the urgent need to circumcise a male baby on the eighth day meant that the procedure would occur even on the Sabbath. But if the baby was not “officially” male — meaning the gender was ambivalent — then there was a chance of violating the Sabbath for a procedure that would, in effect, be done on a girl. Similarly, in the very specific case of levirate marriage, in which the brother of a childless deceased man must marry his widow, the “potency” of the brother, and therefore his specific sexual status, must not be in doubt.

“Putting aside the issue of what these distinctions actually meant for the [talmudic] rabbis,” she explained, “we are now in a powerful moment in contemporary Jewish life, when readers of these texts identify with categories that the rabbis ‘invented,’ and do so in order to develop a new social vision.”

This moment reflects a deep cultural shift in both the general and Jewish community. Fonrobert points to Facebook’s decision earlier this year, on its page allowing users to select their gender, to choose among 58 categories, including “non-binary,” “androgyne” and “pangender.” This diversity of choices reflects recent biological and social research, suggesting that sexual identity lives in the shifting, dynamic space between nature and nurture.

And in the Jewish community, many Jews who consider themselves along the wide spectrum between poles of male and female are assuming leadership roles in both communal and scholarly Jewish life.

Fonrobert is quick to point to the work of colleagues and students blazing a trail within the scholarly-communal arena, including her former Stanford student Max Strassfeld, who just assumed a post at the world’s first academic program on transgender studies at the University of Arizona. She gives credit to a Bay Area community of scholars and activists who have combined rigorous Jewish study and courageous social exploration to help create useful categories of thinking about identity and ritual from the rabbis’ apparently fanciful theorizing.

But the shift in Jewish thinking is far from limited to progressive Bay Area activists, and has been brewing for a generation. Fonrobert offers two examples. In the 1970s and 1980s, the treatment of intersex babies started to be discussed in Orthodox medical halachah by prominent rabbinic leaders like Eliezer Waldenberg and Moshe Feinstein. And in 1998, after the transgender Israeli singer Dana International won the Eurovision song competition, a serious debate ensued as to “whether, and how, Dana International should daven in shul.” The result, according to at least one rabbinical authority: “Once a man always a man, so s/he should be counted in a minyan. But since s/he is also now a woman, she can’t sing in front of the community,” since that would violate the Orthodox proscription of kol isha.

Contemporary Jews searching for wisdom in the tradition have explored not just the legal discussions in the Talmud, but the interpretive creativity in ancient midrash. Fonrobert points, among many examples, to texts interpreting Abraham and Sarah as tumtumim whose sexual status changed late in life so they could procreate, as well as a Genesis interpretation that the first human was created as a hermaphrodite and later cut in half into male and female identities.

Fonrobert’s journey to the leadership of Stanford’s Jewish studies program (she was previously co-director with her colleague Vered Shemtov) is as complex as a passage of the Talmud. Born in Dusseldorf, Germany, she had considered a career as a Protestant minister when she began to study biblical Hebrew. Captured by a new world of Jewish ideas and scholarship, she eventually moved to Berkeley, where she earned her doctorate and then underwent an Orthodox conversion. She went on to write the award-winning book “Menstrual Purity: Rabbinic and Christian Reconstructions of Biblical Gender,” and co-edit the Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature, among many other publications.

When asked about the connections between her biographical and scholarly journeys, Fonrobert wondered aloud at the similarities between two areas where we often think in binary terms: male-female, and Jewish-not-Jewish.

“The language we use here is interesting. We talk about ‘conversion’ and ‘transition’ [as metaphors] for people moving into an intangible place,” she offered.

In an essay in the collection “Balancing on the Mechitza: Transgender in the Jewish Community,” edited by local author Noach Dzmura, Fonrobert acknowledges that the Talmud’s approach to sexual possibilities should not be confused with “the scale of sexual identities” imagined by contemporary advocates for “intersexuality … where human bodies and their sexual identity are considered to be as variable as can possibly be imagined.”

And yet the effect of the Talmud’s attempt to understand and articulate these varieties suggests an orientation of inclusiveness, rather than punishment. For the rabbis, she writes, “It was much more important to demonstrate that the Torah, in the form of law or halacha, could absorb everything under its mantle.”

Fifty-eight kinds of Jews?

Article in J.Weekly.

Announcing the Winners of the First Annual Short Story Contest

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Congratulations to the winners of the first undergraduate Short Story Contest sponsored by the Taube Center for Jewish Studies.

Grand Prize Winner:

A Man Without a Watch by Beatrice Garrard (sophomore)

Second Place Winner:

Kasanov's Bakery by Max Weiss (freshman)

Third Place Winners:

Tefillin by Alberto Hernandez (senior)


Babel by Kim Leon (senior)

The stories were judged anonymously by a jury of world-renowned authors: Maya Arad, Sara Houghteling, and Tobias Wolff.

See The Dish article here.

Undergrads, stay tuned for the second year of the Short Story Contest!

(Pictured from left to right: Kim Leon, Tobias Wolff, Beatrice Garrard, Sara Houghteling, Max Weiss, Alberto Hernandez, Marie-Pierre Ulloa, and Maya Arad)



Taube Center Alumna Wins National Jewish Book Award

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The National Jewish Book Award winners have just been announced. See the list of winners. Both the winner and the finalist in the following category are Taube Center alumnae:

Writing Based on Archival Material

The JDC-Herbert Katzki Award


Becoming Soviet Jews: The Bolshevik Experiment in Minsk
Elissa Bemporad
Indiana University Press


Embodying Hebrew Culture: Aesthetics, Athletics, and Dance in the Jewish Community of Mandate Palestine
Nina S. Spiegel
Wayne State University Press


The Taube Center for Jewish Studies Featured in SGS Newsletter

Thursday, April 25, 2013


eNewsletter; Vol. 1, Issue 4


Did you know that the Taube Center for Jewish Studies is one of the top centers in the world for scholars of Jewish education, history, language, literature, politics and religion?  Marie-Pierre Ulloa, Associate Director of the Taube Center for Jewish Studies, shares some recent innovations and how they support Stanford students:

Director Steve Weitzman and I are very enthusiastic about the programs, activities and experiences in Jewish Studies available through the Taube Center. Our program coordinates the study of the Jewish experience at Stanford, supports scholarly work and community service in the field of Jewish Studies, and designs courses attended by hundreds of undergraduates.  Here’s just a few examples of recent developments: 


Each year, we present lectures on a wide range of Jewish-related topics, bringing celebrated academics and intellectuals to campus. These lectures present opportunities to hear and engage with outstanding speakers, such as the Russian-born writer Gary Shteyngart, the author of Absurdistan and Super Sad True Love Story, and Stanford alumnus, screenwriter Michael Green, who wrote the TV series King David.


Historically, the Center has focused its efforts on graduate fellowships, and has now trained and produced two generations of professors in various universities. The Center is internationally praised as a leading place for graduate research in Jewish history, religion, and culture. Now, the Center is trying to develop an undergraduate program, while a major and a minor in Jewish Studies are currently offered through the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity(CCSRE).

Professors Noah Rosenberg and Steve Weitzman premiered a one-unit course with Biology this fall, “From Generation to Generation: Scientific and Cultural Approaches to Jewish Genetics.” In addition to experts at Stanford, the course included speakers from the Rambam Medical Center in Israel, Duke University, Harvard University, UC Berkeley and more.  Topics ranged from “Jews and the Science of Race at the Fin-de-Siecle” to the provocative “Are Genes Jewish?: The Conceptual Ambiguities of the New Genetic Age.” The course was extremely popular with both students and community members, so stay tuned because we plan to extend the conversation!

Also in the fall quarter, I taught a new course “Beyond Casablanca: Exploring North African Cinema and Literature.”  We read from Memmi, Camus, Derrida, Kummer, Stora, and explored the different fates of Jews in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, with a special focus on the Nazi occupation of Tunisia during World War II. I will teach it again next fall.


With help from the Koret Foundation the Taube Center will support two undergraduate summer internships. Noam Rosenthal will intern for the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, and Simone Hudson will intern for Bend the Arc, an organization committed to creating economic opportunities and promoting social justice.

Travel Opportunities:

For the first time in 25 years, the Bing Overseas Studies Program has given the green light to a program in Israel. Steve Weitzman is leading the seminar (June 18-July 7) that will take 15 students to Israel to explore the nature and history of sacred space, with visits to Jerusalem, Galilee, Haifa and Tel Aviv, and day trips to the Judean Desert and the Dead Sea.

Publications and Print Resources:

Our library collection is always open, with much of our impressive archive of documents for Tel Aviv digitized and available online. We are also proud to note that two of the major publications in the field, Jewish Social Studies: History, Culture, and Society, published by Indiana University Press and Stanford Studies in Jewish History and Culture, published by Stanford University Press, are based at the Taube Center.

We encourage all students, Jewish and non-Jewish, to consider engaging in Jewish Studies, whether that means coming to an event, taking a course, or minoring or majoring in the field.  Jews are found around the globe, and their multi-lingual culture combines elements of religion and ethnicity. There are many fascinating texts to study—from the Dead Sea Scrolls to the poetry of Yehuda Amichai and journalism of Sayed Kashua.  Plus, Jewish Studies is a great way to study other cultures—ancient and modern, Western and Eastern European, North African, Persian and American. But it is not just about culture and texts; it is also about the real world—the challenges of sustaining a minority culture, the relationship between secular and religious culture, and the impact of prejudice and ethnic conflict.

Stop by the Taube Center anytime and discover our supportive and enriching community of students and scholars. Learn more by visiting our website or contacting me (, Center Director Steve Weitzman (, or Center Manager Linda Huynh (