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International Conferences on Jewish Studies

Conference Report

On January, 29–31, 2017, The Twenty Forth Annual International Conference on Jewish Studies was held in Moscow Hotel Izmailovo. More than two hundred researches from scholarly centers and universities of the USA, Israel, Lebanon, Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, Serbia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania,Moldova, Ukraine and Russia took part in this event.

The conference was organized by Sefer Center with the financial support of the American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee, Russian Jewish Congress, Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, Philanthropy Group Genesis, and sponsors who preferred to remain anonymous.

Thanks to the EAJS travel grants 18 PhD students and early career researchers have got the opportunity to participate in the Conference.

This year we decided to combine the International conference on Jewish Studies with annualyouth conference(for students and young researchers, below PhD degree), which usually take place in summer. Our goal was to unite generations of Jewish studies students, and to raise a level of research through the discussions at the sessions planned in advance. Inclusion in the conference of young researches was considered by participants as a good organizers decision.

At the Conference, there were also the presentations of the new publications and projects in Jewish Studies, as well as award theProfessor Eugene Weiner grants. This year two persons were granted: Prof. Sergey Tischenko (Moscow, Russia), and Dr. Gektoras Vitkus (Klaipeda, Lithuania).

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Conference program included 18 sessions, as well as the meeting of the Sefer Academic Board; discussions with Polish colleagues about the planned Summer School in Poland; consultations about the new scholarly magazine publication (instead of the proceedings).

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Here are brief descriptions of the setions:

Aramaic and Hebraic Studies (Chairs: Alexey Lyavdansky, Matthew Morgenstern). The session was organized by Alexey Lyavdansky of Moscow State University, who spoke about the use of the qa- particle in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, and demonstrated that it seems to be used with certain types of verbs alone. Matthew Morgenstern of Tel AvivUniversity (Israel) discussed grammatical forms in Babylonian Aramaic and Mandaic which fell out of use or were lost in the process of later textual transmission. Kristina Benyaminova of Moscow State University (Russia) talked about some unusual features the North-East New Aramaic Dialect Tal (subdialect Badaraye), while Tatiana Fine discussed some problems in defining the fine semantic meaning of some words in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic. Gaby Abou Samra of theLebanese University in Beirut brought evidence for connections between the magic bowl texts from Late Antiquity and later Syriac magical manuscripts. Two papers dealt with Hebrew. Victor Golinetz of the Hochschule für Jüdische Studien in Heidelberg (Germany) adduced evidence Greek translations to propose that in several cases the matres lectionis in the Massoretic Text of the Hebrew bible reflect an erroneous textual reading. Finally, Yulia Budman examined the terms for “root” in the works of mediaeval Hebrew linguists.

Scriptures of Ancient Israel in Historical Perspective (Chairs: Dr. Sergey Tischenko, Dr. Mikhail Seleznev, 18 presentations). Vera Duerrschnabel from Bern made a very good presentation on the magic bowls (with spells written on them in Aramaic), and she was extremely lucky. The highlight of the meeting was the report of Alexey Volchkov about the Book of Jonah in the context of deconstruction, and many participants of the meeting were involved in the subsequent debate. The youth session was generally successful, bright, stimulating effect not only for young scientists, but also for the more respectable members of academic community. Big honor for the section was made by the participation of the known scientist, Alexander Grishchenko.

Yiddish Literature (Chiars: Dr. Valery Dymshits, Dr. Alexandra Polyan)

The session Yiddish Literature included 8 papers, two of which were in the youth part. Presentations were given in three languages: six papers in Russian, one in English (Arnaud Bikard (PhD) About what shall I bear witness? Expressing the trauma of life as a refugee in the USSR during World War Two in Yiddish literature) and one in Yiddish (Leonid Roitman Lexical Wordplays in Sholem Aleichem`s Works). Other papers in first section were: Valery Dymshits The Jewish Chronotope. Space and Time in the Traditional East European Jewish Mentality, Alexandra Polyan (PhD) Glueckel of Hammeln’s Memoirs as a Baroque Text, Ber Kotlerman (prof.) Der Nister the Publicist on the Post-Holocaust Jewish Reconstruction, Valentina Fedchenko (PhD) I. Bashevis-Singer`s Double Corpus: Soul expeditions vs. Shosha. In the youth section there were Ekaterina Kuznetsova-Wolfrum (MA) "Comparative Analyses of Two Translations of Abramovitch's The Nagfrom Yiddish into Russian"and a presentation by Victoria Alexeeva (BA) Comparison of Literarishe bleter Magazine and Kultur Lige Organization: Historical and Ideological Aspects. The geography of the section was wide: two persons from Israel (Ber Kotlerman and Leonid Roitman), one from Germany (Ekaterina Kuznetsova), Alexandra Polyan from Moscow, and all the others from St. Petersburg (though Arnaud Bikard is originally from France). The section was very interesting both for professional researchers and for wide audience the room was full with people, and there was not even a vacate place to sit. Comparing to previous years it was a sign of success and effective development of the Yiddish section. The themes of papers were focused on the Yiddish literature and its different aspects: historical, linguistic, social ones. The order of papers in the section was chronological: from the medieval Yiddish texts to the 20th century. Valery Dymshits spoke about a specific attitude to geography that exists in Yiddish written texts starting from Binyomin of Tudela and to Tevye der milkhiker. Particularly he concentrated on the fact that locations with no Jewish population are blind spots in the Jewish geographical mentality. Then he demonstrated that Sholem Aleichem showed a very interesting fusion in the concept of time in his character Tevye the Dairyman, who used in the text Jewish religious, Christian religious and Russian state holidays as time markers. Dymshits presentation was followed by an intensive discussion with many questions, mostly about the Tevyes regularity of exceptionality for the Yiddish culture of the end of the 19th century.

Alexandra Polyan proposed a new view on the well-known text memoires of Gluckel of Hammeln. This text was never analyzed as an example of baroque literature before, and Alexandra Polyan proved that it bears all the necessary features to be viewed so. Leonid Roitman analyzed linguistic games in Sholem Aleichems works, particularly in Tevye the Dairyman and Railroad stories. He differed several types of bilingual humor in them, concentrating on the examples of misinterpretation of Hebrew quotes. Arnaud Bikard presented a research based on the analysis of diaries and memoires written by the Jewish refugees (mostly from Poland) in the USSR during the 1930-1940s. The second most discussed paper was the one by Ber Kotlerman. He used different sources: Soviet movie about the WWII and partisan movement, personal memoires and literary essays by Der Nister. Prof. Kotlerman showed the shift in Der Nisters views on the future of Jewish nation in the USSR the writer used Biblical prophetic hints in his articles which can be understood as a sympathy to the Zionistic movement. The fact of appearance of such texts in the mid-40s is very interesting. Valentina Fedchenko presented a very thorough comparison between English and Yiddish versions of the novel Shosha by I.B.Singer. It is the subject of her research for already several years. Particularly she explained the differences in literary methods in two versions, the presence and absence of irony in them, the difference in the general meaning (i.e. English version is more psychological, while Yiddish one is more mystical and philosophical).

Jews in Diaspora: Contacts and Conflicts (Chairs: Dr. Maxim Khizhy, Dr. Victor Shnirelman) included 10 presentations. The presented papers on very diverse topics cover almost 400 years, and a wide geographical area, including Poland, Russia, Latvia, and even France. In principle, we proposed an experiment to combine the meeting with the youth section was quite justified. Victoria Mochalova The Image of the Jews in the Polemic Literature of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of the XVII century. The paper was dedicated to the analysis of the published texts written by Polish Catholic intellectuals and discussed the demonic origin of Jews. One of the most impressive details of the presented research was the social background of Polish authors who were not only nobles but commoners as well. Maxim Khizhiy Rabbi Shneerson and Russian Authorities in 40-50-s of the XIX century: the attempt of dialogue dealt mainly with the case of imprisonment of Lyubavich Rebe Menachem-Mendl Shneerson. This case was described in the article of Israeli researcher Zoya Kopelman but the author of the paper analyzed the materials, which were not studied by Zoya Kopelman. Dr. Khiziy tended to examine this case in the general imperial political, legal and confessional context and came to some very important conclusions. The key idea of the author is that the Russian empire, though it sounds like a paradox, in case of rabbi Shneerson appeared to be a real legal state where the law stood above all confessional and social issues, and no anti-Semitic or confessional conflict in general was relevant in this case. In my opinion this idea deserves special attention since it shows that every case in Jewish-Russian relations must be studied carefully before judging it as anti-Semitic and aimed specifically against Jews. Dmitriy Bratkin Unpublished Biography of D.A.Khvolson from Saint Petersburg Brunch of the Archive of Russian Academy of Science: semitologist-amateur, blood label and Soviet Russia dedicated his presentation to the detailed study of the unknown personal archival collection of a famous scholar of Jewish origin Daniil Khvolson. To my mind the most important part of this research connected to Khvolsons activity in the sphere of Russian-Jewish dialogue. As Dr. Bratkin said, professor Khvolson was the most eastern representative of Wissenschaft des Judentums and did a lot to bring Jewish topics on scientific level. Khvolson hardly recognized himself separate from the Jewish people but otherwise. Gita Umanovskaya It happened in Varaklyany: How Jews beat Latvian students (1925) presented a close study of one local episode of violence in Jewish-Latvian relations. Opposite to the common situation the Jews of small shtetl Varaklyany became not victims but aggressors who decided to use physical violence against their offenders. In the paper there were some very important details such as that the leader of Jewish aggressors was an Old Believer and that the reaction of local representatives of Catholic Church was very tolerant to Jews (they actually defended Jews from students accusations).

Jewish Thought session (Chairs: Dr. Arkady Kovelman, Mikhail Wogman) included 13 presentations which were connected by the common theme the Thought and the Commentary. The chronological spectrum was wide: from the ancient times to the 20th century. Some of the participants shared their own experience of the translation of Jewish philosophical texts from Hebrew into Russian.

Session Field Research: Epigraphy (chairs: Ida Shenderovich, Michail Vasilyev) became a meeting point for both young and amateur researches engaged in documenting, preserving and cataloguing of Jewish Cemeteries across the Eastern Europe. The session included 5 presentations. The first lecturer, Alexanda Fishel (Kiev) analyzed the phenomenon of extensive quotation of the biblical Book of Job in Hebrew inscriptions on traditional Jewish tombstones. Ida Shenderovich (as an invited speaker) provided a comprehensive overview of the Jewish cemeteries remained in the Mogilev Region (Belarus). The young career researches Ekaterina Karaseva(Saint-Petersburg) and Julia Len(Minsk) presented some preliminary results of documenting the Jewish Cemeteries in Sestroretsk and Berdichev respectively. Finally, Mikhail Karanaev (Kazan) addressed the methodical issues of the epigraphic field expeditions organized by Center Sefer.

Field Researchs: Linguistics, Folklore Studies and Oral History (Chairs: Dr. Dov-Ber Kerler, Dr. Olga Belova) All the reports were very interesting due to the new field and archival data. There were presented materials from the regions in which in recent years has led the folklore-ethnographic and linguistic studies by Russian and foreign scientists (Belarus,Moldova, Romania, Latgale, Russia, Ukraine). The participants were not only able to compare the subjects that represent today the Jewish tradition in different regions, but also to discuss the problem of cataloging and digitalisation of materials.

History of Jews in the USSR and Post-Soviet Countries (Chairs: Dr. Gennady Kostyrchenko, Alexander Ivanov, Dr. D. Shevelev). As the first A.Ivanov whose presentation has been devoted expedition of the St.-Petersburg State museum of ethnography to Birobidzhan to 1937 the Lecturer acted has noticed that a main objective of the specified expedition was to prove process of modernisation of the Jewish population in the USSR in post-revolution the period. In this connection participants of expedition - D.Pozdnev, I.Pulner, etc. - were engaged in gathering of the statistical data about development of agriculture, the industry, were engaged in search of ethnographic materials. The author of research has drawn conclusions that expedition work was not effective as Birobidzhan was boundary territory, and work of researchers was supervised by bodies of People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs. On a life of the Jewish population small exhibits which have caused negative responses in visitors of exhibitions have been collected.

A. Lokshin's presentation has been devoted «to not Opened secrets of black years of the Soviet Jewry: 1946 - 1953». The lecturer has noticed that the specified period as a whole already thoroughly is studied by historians. Nevertheless, in its opinion, there are such white stains, as the reasons of concealment of the facts of reprisals against Jews, the reasons of difference of the Anti-jewish reprisals of 1930 and post-war years, the reasons of masking of murder of Mihoelsa in accident. According to A. Lokshin, about second half 1940th of Jews in general began to present as enemies of the people, without accusing of concrete crimes.

As the third the author of the report acted with the report. During discussion 2 questions have been set: the reason of registration of the press of the Minsk community in Hebrew and whether by believer of the prayer book to the representative of local authorities (with the latest request to return) the fact of transfer has been connected with political policy change. According to the lecturer, the press of the Jewish religious communities throughout all century were made out in Hebrew (sometimes - also in Russian) as Hebrew was language of religious divine services. In Yiddish the press of the Jewish Soviet establishments (it was characteristic for 1920-1930th) could be made out only. Concerning the second question it has been noticed that delivery and prayer book return have occurred throughout a short time interval and have not been connected with power change in republic. It is possible to explain such behaviour of the believer that fact that about the fact of receipt of prayer books from abroad anyway it would become known in KGB, on the other hand inhabitants of the Belarus cities felt sharp deficiency of the new divine service literature.

G.Kostyrchenko in the presentation has analyzed reprisals against the Helsinki group. Problems of cooperation of representatives of intelligency with bodies of KGB, position otkaznik in the USSR, rehabilitation have been mentioned.

The presentation of A.M. Basauri-Zjuzinoj it has been devoted works Ukrainian scientist M. Shahnovich. Thorough enough analysis of works of the specified author has been presented listeners. The special attention has been given their such feature, as poor issued references to works of other authors, incorrectness of transfer of primary sources. The lecturer has drawn a conclusion that scientific level of works of M. Shahnovich was low enough.

In the basic section D. Shevelev's devoted to revival of the Jewish religion in Belarus in 1990 the report was final - 1994 the Turning-point the lecturer named 1990 as more mass celebrating of Easter with houses of worship from now on has begun, in republic the quantity of Judaic communities has started to increase. Inconsistency of activity of communities and Council about affairs of religions, and also obscurity process of returning by believer of cult buildings were the most significant problems, according to D. Shevelev.

Work of youth section became logic continuation the basic. In it have taken part A. Krohichev, K. Barkan, M. Shishigina and J. Stonchius. Their reports have been devoted problems Zionism, activity of religious communities and anti-Semitism in the Soviet republics.

The State of Israel session consisted of three parts: From the History of Zionist Movement, The State and Society of Contemporary Israel. The chairpersons of all parts were Dr Dmitry Mar'yasis and Dr Mikhail Shapovalov. Together with the participants who attended the conference for many years there were young researchers who presented their first serious scientific results.

Several sessions were devoted to Jewish Art:

Jewish Art: Music and Theatre (Chairs: Dr. Eugenia Khazdan, Svetlana Pakhomova) Five participants from Russia(Moscow and St. Petersburg.), Switzerland (Geneva), Belgrade (Serbia), Israel presented almost all the spectra of musicology. Questions were raised about the theory and practice of academic and folklore studies the interaction of music and poetry, music and theater, and music anthropology, covers the period from the formation of Jewish musicology to the present. All the speakers showed a high and very high research level.

Jewish Arts: Cinema (Chairs: Dr. Eugenia Khazdan, Svetlana Pakhomova) It is very young, developing area of research. report, most affecting language of cinema itself (rather than the scenario questions the choice of actors, artistic image), was at Elina Vasilyeva from Daugavpils. Ability to understand the visual and audio series, their relationship, look for semantic accents reference - in other cases, is only desirable.

Jewish Art. Four papers were presented in the session, which took place on 31 January 2017 and was chaired by Dr.Lidia Chakovskaya (State Institute for Art Studies): Lidia Chakovskaya (Moscow) The New Perspectives in the Research of Byzantine Synagogues in the Light of the New Finds; Irina Chernetsky (Jerusalem) The Presence of Jerusalem in Florence in the Fourteenth and the Fifteenth Centuries. She discussed the correlation between the representations of the Jerusalem and Florence in the late Medieval and early Renaissance period. Dagmara Budzioch (Krakow) Two engraved amulets against Lilith (Nitra 1832, Wroclaw 1839) their description and comparison; Anna Moiseeva (Moscow) Decorative Arts of the Jewish community in Yemen.

Jewish Literature. Literary Communications session (chairperson: Leonid Katsis) consisted of 7 presentations and 3 presentations for young panel. The themes were various: poetry, prose, drama. A special attention was paid to the problems of translation (Olga Karasik), to the problem of literary influences and allusions (Anna Waisman, Yury Orlicky), and to the reflection of the relations between Jews and other nations in literature. The panel is to focus on the methodology of the history of literature and the problems of the Jewish (Hebrew) literature in general.

Round Table on Khazarian History and Culture. On the round table Khazar Studies the discussions were extremely interesting and vibrant, since this is not a regular theme for Sefer conferences, and the participants felt the lack of time and plenty of things to discuss. They noticed that the time frames were very limited for such an important subject. 3 presentations were performed (by Olga Kulikova, Oleg Bubenok, Igor Semenov).

Media coverage of the conference