Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert, Series Coordinator
“…the ‘textual’ fabric, the interpretative practices in Judaism are ontologically and historically at the heart of Jewish identity.”… George Steiner, Our Homeland, the Text (1985)
Text and the study of texts have traditionally been the raison d’etre of Judaism and the academic study of Judaism. The textual and literary traditions of Judaism still define the boundaries of sub-disciplines within the field of Jewish Studies: Bible, Rabbinics, Kabbalah, modern Hebrew Literature and so forth, even as the boundaries and nature of Jewish identity and therefore Jewish culture have been much debated and expanded. As in other areas in the humanities, a broad variety of approaches are subsumed under the umbrella of Jewish Studies, such as film studies, ethnographic studies of various Jewish cultures, and Jewish music, to name but a few. Nonetheless, scholarly knowledge of Judaism still does (and should) draw on the knowledge of various textual traditions. But it is in part due to the traditional dominance of textual studies that more or less visible fault-lines criss-cross the study of Judaism in various of its sub-disciplines. One position emphasizes rigorous philological knowledge and textual analysis, as well as a certain degree of self-referentiality of Jewish texts over and above cultural context, while the other position advocates reading Jewish texts as responding to and participating in their respective cultural milieu, however broadly conceived, whether that be the Roman or Persian Empires, medieval Christian or Muslim Europe, and so forth.
This series, entitled as broadly as can be, is to provide a framework for bringing scholars to Stanford campus who are working and thinking about the connection between Jewish text and culture, between text and context and to articulate the interpretive and analytic means by which such linkages are established. This includes of course questioning the very nature of text and culture. For just as culture is by no means a self-evident term anymore, if it ever has been, so it is with text, and even more so with Jewish text. Our goal is to introduce the Stanford community not only to the rich tapestry of Jewish textual traditions, but to enrich our ongoing conversations about the significance of studying Jewish literatures in the context of the humanities.