Monday, November 8, 2010

"The Other Within" at the National Yiddish Book Center

On Nov 7, 2010, a group of nineteen BU students, faculty, and staff visited the National Yiddish Book Center, located on the campus of Hampshire College in the beautiful region of Western Massachusetts. On the way, David Braun, docent and lecturer in Yiddish language and literature, offered an introduction to Yiddish history and culture. The Center, a unique cultural institution, had one of the busiest days in the year. Members and supporters had been invited to view an impressive array of new curated exhibits, listen to klezmer music, and hear news about the center from its founder and director, Aron Lansky. Our group had a private tour by one of the Center's fellows, Jessica Antoline, who also happens to be a graduate of BU (Class of 2007) where she majored in Religion and Archaeology. Aron Lansky met with the group as well. This was a remarkable opportunity to encounter not only the wealth of the Yiddish tradition but also an inspiring group of people devoted to the preservation of this heritage.

The stacks in the background were part of an exhibit featuring the variety of themes on which Yiddish books were published in the 19th and 20th century. Particular impressive: book design from the 1920s.

Arielle, Daniela from D.F., and Shlom from Paris, students in CASRN339 The Modern Jew, view a list Yiddish terms that have migrated into American parlance.

Ilana likes National Yiddish Book Center.

Jessica Antoline speaking to "The Other Within"

From the current exhibit of Jewish-themed picture books, a story about a pig who wanted to be kosher.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

program website launched

"The Other Within" has its own program website now. Visit us at!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Three new Judaic Studies courses on "The Other Within"

The Other Within is the title of a sequence of three new courses and co-curricular events we are introducing to the CAS Judaic Studies curriculum. These courses, which are open to students from all colleges and concentrations, look at the modern Jewish experience through the prism of the sociological category of "otherness."

The first of these courses, RN339 The Modern Jew, will be offered in the fall semester of 2010 and will be co-taught by Professors Abigail Gillman (MLCL) and Michael Zank (RN). The second course, offered by Prof. Zank in the spring of 2011, will focus on Judaism and politics, and the third course, offered by Professors Gillman and Seligman (CURA/RN) in the fall of 2011, will focus on heretical Jews and Judaism as heresy.

The courses, supported by external funding from the Center for Cultural Judaism, will be accompanied by co-curricular events such as concerts, discussion panels, and film screenings. The goal of this faculty-driven initiative is to broaden the current range of approaches to the study of Judaism and to stimulate student and faculty conversation on Jews and Judaism in various modern and contemporary contexts that go beyond media headlines and all-too-familiar, conventional assumptions.

For more information, see or contact Katie Light (Program Assistant) at

RN339 The Modern Jew
Explores modern Jewish experience of space, body, language, and the self as sites of the struggles over a secular identity. Part of a sequence on "The Other Within." Counts toward concentrations in Judaic Studies and Religion.

Overview. The course on the "modern Jew" introduces students to the conditions of modern Jewish life from the 17th-21st centuries in Europe, Israel and America, and to the range of responses (cultural, religious, organizational, educational, social, political etc.) and initiatives (individual, communal, institutional, intellectual, cultural, artistic, etc.) that have characterized modern Jewish life and set it apart, in many ways, from its predecessors. It sets the stage for two upcoming courses-"The Political Jew" and "The Heretical Jew"-and is designed to augment extant courses such as Modern Jewish Thought (RN 329), Jews in the Modern World (HI 223), and Modern Jewish Writing (RN 524).

Rather than follow a strictly chronological (historical) approach to modern Jewish life, or begin with broad philosophical and sociological categories (i.e. Enlightenment, acculturation), this course offers an experiential, intimate approach to the modern Jewish condition by way of five categories: space, body, language, subjectivity, and ethics. 

Outline of course content. Our inquiry begins by situating modern Jews in their diverse physical environments.Modern Jews traveled "out of the ghetto" and into the city; to the "East" (in the land of Israel) and the West (in the United States); how did they build social communities in these diverse milieux?This initial unit provides an overview of the themes and questions of the course as whole.

The focus of the second unit, "Jews and their Bodies," is the new self-consciousness about body and physical markers of Jewishness mandated by emancipation and integration; an important sub-topic is the symbolic feminization of the Jewish male in modernity. Jews who immigrated to the land of Israel likewise had to shirk their old-world bodies and become "new Hebrews" or sabras, but plastic surgery is still widely popular among Israelis, as among Jews throughout the world.

The third unit, "Jewish languages / Jewish voices," deals not only with the new roles of Hebrew and Yiddish in modern Jewish life, but also with the complex role of translation in mediating the Jewish experience for Christian society. Our fourth unit examines the articulation of selfhood through writing. We will read seminal works (and excerpts thereof) from the tradition of Jewish autobiography-a line that extends from Salomon Maimon's account of his abandonment of the shtetl (1793), to immigrant autobiographies of the mid 20th century and Holocaust memoirs, to the recent bestseller by Amos Oz, A Tale of Love and Darkness. 

The final unit moves outward from the domains of body, voice and subjectivity to pose the question of ethics: where do modern Jews find guidelines for ethical behavior in secular society?

Goals of the course sequence, "The Other Within." As noted, "The Modern Jew" will serve as the core course as well as the introductory course to a sequence of three interrelated upper-level undergraduate courses also open to graduate students. The overarching focus is Jewish secularization: the painful yet productive struggle for identity and integration into a secular (or ostensibly secular) world that has characterized modern Jewish existence. The Jew in modern society has often been dubbed "the Other" vis à vis modern society-the outsider, the victim, or the victim who has achieved retribution. Rather than look at the Jew as the other, we wish to explore the Jewish other - the other of the other, as it were. We are interested in uncovering representations of otherness internal to Jewish history. 

Our pedagogical goal is therefore to add a new idiom to our understanding of one of the prime markers of secularism (i.e. as pluralism) within Jewish civilization, one that will deepen our appreciation of its depths and subtleties.It is our hope that these interdisciplinary courses, offered in conjunction with a series of lectures, seminars, field trips, will encourage students, colleagues, and eventually the community at large to adopt a different perspective on Jewish culture.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Secular Jewish Studies in Israel woefully underfunded

TALI and other privately funded educational initiatives with a pluralistic bent are woefully underfunded in a Jewish state that underwrites ultra-orthodox (haredi) educational institutions, argues a recent Jerusalem Post editorial. Read the editorial HERE. 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Posen Event, March 25, 2010

On Thursday, March 25th, the Posen grant program hosted a panel discussion entitled "Paths in Jewish Secularism/ Secular Judaism." The panel included Mike Felsen, Abigail Gillman, Adam Seligman, Mitchell Silver, and Toba Spitzer and was moderated by Michael Zank. The event drew many members of the BU and greater Boston Jewish communities. The presentations and discussion were engaging and stimulating. We look forward to having you attend our future events, which we hope will be as good, if not better than this. Here are some photos from the program.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Other Within: Panel Discussion at BU on Paths in Jewish Secularism

"Paths in Jewish Secularism/Secular Judaism" is the theme of a panel-discussion at BU in connection with a program on "The Other Within" sponsored by a grant from the Center for Cultural Judaism.

This event explores different ways of negotiating Jewish identity and secularism ranging from personal and family life to culture, education, and politics.

Panelists include Mike Felsen, Mitchell Silver Rabbi Toba Spitzer, Adam Seligman, and Abby Gillman (moderator: Michael Zank). 

The event is scheduled for March 25, 2010, from 6-8pm, and will be preceded by a reception, beginning at 5:30, at the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies, 147 Bay State Road, second floor.
Abigail Gillman is Associate Professor of German and Hebrew Literature in the Department of Modern Foreign Languages and Comparative Literature at BU. Her new book Viennese Jewish Modernism: Freud, Hofmannsthal, Beer-Hofmann, and Schnitzler, was published by Penn State Press in 2009.

Mike Felsen is the President of Boston Workmen's Circle and an executive officer of Workmen's Circle-National, board member of the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy, and trustee of the Interreligious Center for Public life.

Adam Seligman is Professor of Religion and Research Associate at the Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs (CURA), where he directs a project on inter-religious tolerance. His most recent book, co-authored with Robert Weller, Michael Puett, and Bennett Simon, is Ritual and its Consequences: An Essay on the Limits of Sincerity (2008)

Mitchell Silver is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at UMass Boston and the author of Respecting the Wicked Child: A Philosophy of Secular Jewish Identity and Education (1998) and The Plausible God: Secular Reflections on Liberal Jewish Theology (2006).

Toba Spitzer serves as rabbi of the Reconstructionist congregation Dorshei Tzedek in Newton, Mass. She is the immediate past President of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, and has for many years been a peace and social justice activist. She currently serves as the chair of the greater Boston chapter of the J Street Rabbinic Cabinet.

Michael Zank is Associate Professor of Religion at BU where he teaches classes in Judaic Studies and the Philosophy of Religion.