Jews and Melancholia
University of Buffalo
March 30-31, 2017
Samuel Friedman Library, Clemens 708
The connection between Jews and melancholia is a long-standing one in Western thought and culture, and is grounded in religious, medical, astrological, artistic, literary, and philosophical traditions that extend all the way to antiquity. The association begins in late Roman antiquity, when the Jewish Sabbath was identified with the worship of Saturn, the planet of melancholics; it continues throughout the Middle Ages and early modern times, when melancholia was linked in the Christian imagination with the Jewish cannibalistic lust for Christian blood; and culminates in such twentieth century Jewish figures as Walter Benjamin and S. Y. Agnon, who identified their Judaism, or certain forms of modern Jewish mentality, with a melancholic disposition. What is at stake, then, in the notion of melancholia, and why is it frequently associated with Jews and Jewish identity? The symposium will present an opportunity to think about these questions and discuss them in an interdisciplinary academic forum. The purpose of the symposium is to promote an interdisciplinary dialogue on melancholia—while drawing on classical, medieval, and modern notions—not only by charting the specific relation of such notions to Jews, but also by identifying how they came to influence certain artistic, theological, and literary practices.
Topics and Speakers:
Are “Jews” Melancholic? Acedia in Rabbinic (In)action – by Sergey Dolgopolski (Jewish Thought, SUNY at Buffalo)
Freud and Agnon: Melancholy Objects – by Anne Golomb Hoffman (English, Fordham University)
Left-Wing Melancholy in Early Hebrew Literature – by Nitzan Lebovic (History, Lehigh University)
Demonic Melancholy. Reading Gershom Scholem and Walter Benjamin Today – by Vivian Liska (German Literature, University of Antwerp)
The Portrait of the Jew as a Saturnian Cannibal – by Noam Pines (Jewish Thought, SUNY at Buffalo)
The Melancholy Jew: Humoral Theory in Medieval Jewish and Christian Polemics – by Irven Resnick (Philosophy and Religion, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga)
This event is sponsored by the Department of Jewish Thought, the Department of Comparative Literature, The Humanities Institute, The Center for the Study of Psychoanalysis and Culture, and by Ewa Ziarek, Julian Park Professor of Comparative Literature.
Kafka Conference a Success!
Photo of Speakers, taken on April 5, 2016, at Samuel Friedman Judaica Library, 708 Clemens Hall, UB: from left to right: Professors Paul North, Nitzan Lebovic, Richard Cohen, Max Pensky, Sergey Dolgopolski, Noam Pines (Organizer)
“Kafka and the Law” Conference
at University at Buffalo
April 4-5, 2016
The law is a theme that pervades the work of Franz Kafka as a whole, from his early writings, such as “The Judgment,” through The Trial, to later works such as The Castle and the neglected piece “The Animal in the Synagogue.” Yet despite its critical importance, the law remains a “cloudy spot” in Kafka’s oeuvre and a bone of contention for subsequent critics and interpreters. The conference will explore some of the literary, philosophical, and theological aspects of the law in Kafka’s writings, and suggest ways to situate it within his work as well as within the general context of Jewish thought and modernist literature.
April 4th, 708 Clemens
9:00 am – 9:30 am
Reception and opening remarks
9:30 am – 10:50
Nitzan Lebovic (Lehigh University)
The Law of the Land and No Man’s Land: On Kafka and porous borders
11:00 am – 12:20 pm
Richard A. Cohen (SUNY at Buffalo)
Pusillanimous Kafka: A Sad Case
2 pm – 3:20 pm
Sergey Dolgopolski (SUNY at Buffalo)
Anteriorities: Kafka’s critique of the political in the Talmud
3:30 pm – 4:50 pm
Max Pensky (SUNY Binghamton)
Spooky Action at a Distance: Kafka and the Laws of Spacetime
Evening Panel on the the topic: “Kafka in Our Time,” 8 pm, 280 Park Hall
An open discussion in which the conference participants will answer questions from the audience.
April 5, 708 Clemens Hall
Paul North (Yale University)
To Defraud But Not to Deceive
10:30 am-11:50 am
Noam Pines (SUNY at Buffalo)
On Shechita in Kafka’s The Trial
12:30 pm – 2 pm
Conclusion and Roundtable Discussion
Organized by Prof. Noam Pines, sponsored by the Institute of Jewish Thought and Heritage, and the Humanities Institute, University at Buffalo. This conference is free and open to the public. Everyone is welcome.
“The ‘Strange Hell of Beauty’:
Hell in Existential Paris”
Thursday, March 24, 2016, 2:00pm
University at Buffalo, North Campus
108 Baldy Hall
James McLachlan is a Professor of Philosophy at Western Carolina University. He earned a Ph. D from the Centre for the study of religion at the University of Toronto and did graduate work at Indiana University, Universite de Paris, and Pennsylvania State University.
The Department of Jewish Thought
IJTH Faculty to give Five Community Lectures on
LOVE in the Jewish Tradition
2015: October 29, November 15; 2016: March 15, April 18, May 18. Mark your calendars.
at University at Buffalo
November 19, 2015
One of the most revolutionary figures in the Jewish tradition is the philosopher and legal scholar, Moses Maimonides (1138-1204). Maimonides changed the ways Jews understand their religion through his major theological work, the Guide of the Perplexed and his legal code, the Mishneh Torah, so much so that everyone after Maimonides was influenced by him, even his critical opponents. As the eminent Maimonides scholar Isadore Twersky observed, “although religious rationalism did not begin with Maimonides, it came to be totally identified with him. Protagonists and antagonists would draw the lines of their positions in relation to Maimonides. To a great extent, subsequent Jewish intellectual history may be seen as a debate concerning the wisdom and effectiveness of the Maimonidean position.”
One would think that eight hundred years after his death, scholars would have completed the study of his writings, but scholars still actively debate Maimonides’ ideas and deliberate over the extent to which they support the Maimonidean project.
The last two years have witnessed many new books published on Maimonides’ thought by leading academic scholars in the United States, Canada and Israel. This conference seeks to bring these scholars together for the first time to discuss their works, allowing them to converse with each other over the lasting significance of Maimonides’ writings.
The conference will take place at the University at Buffalo, North Campus on Thursday November 19 in 708 Clemens. Here is the schedule:
11:00 am -12:00
“Emotion and the Law: Maimonides’ Conception of Mourning”
Kenneth Hart Green
“Why Maimonides Was Controversial”
“Love and Fear of God in the Writings of Maimonides According to Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik”
“Nahmanides vs Maimonides on Memory and The Shaping of Jewish Identity”
Evening panel at Temple Beth Tzedek on the theme: “Why Read Maimonides Today”
All four professors will give brief presentations and answer questions from the audience. Their books will be available for purchase, thanks to Talking Leaves Books. The authors will be signing their books as well.
Four Invited Distinguished Scholars and their Recent Books on Maimonides:
– James Diamond, Maimonides and the Shaping of the Jewish Canon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
– Moshe Halbertal, Maimonides: Life and Thought. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013.
– Kenneth Hart Green, Leo Strauss and the Rediscovery of Maimonides and Leo Strauss on Maimonides: The Complete Writings, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.
– Lawrence Kaplan, Maimonides, Between Philosophy and Halakhah: Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s Lectures on the ‘Guide of the Perplexed’. Urim Publications, 2013.
Moshe Halbertal is the Gruss Professor at NYU School of Law and a professor of Jewish thought and philosophy at Hebrew University. He received his Ph.D. from Hebrew University in 1989, and from 1988-92 he was a fellow at the Society of Fellows at Harvard University. Moshe Halbertal has also served as a visiting professor at Harvard Law School, and at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He is the author of the books Idolatry (co-authored with Avishai Margalit), and People of the Book: Canon, Meaning, and Authority, both published by Harvard University Press, and of Concealment and Revelation published by Princeton University Press. He has also authored two books, Interpretative Revolutions in the Making, and Between Torah and Wisdom: R Menachem ha-Meiri and The Maimonidean Halakhists in Provence, both published in Hebrew by Magnes Press. His most recent books are By Way of Truth: Nachmanides and the Creation of Tradition, published by the Shalom Hartman Institute and Maimonides: Life and Thought published by Princeton University Press .
– Lawrence J. Kaplan received his Ph.D. from Harvard University and his rabbinical ordination from Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. He has taught Rabbinics and Jewish Philosophy in the Department of Jewish Studies of McGill University since 1972. In the spring of 2004 he held a Harry Starr Fellowship at the Center for Jewish Studies of Harvard. He is probably best known for his scholarship on and translation of the works of “the Rav,” Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. He translated from the Hebrew Rabbi Soloveitchik’s classic monograph Halakhic Man (Jewish Publication Society, 1983), as well as his essay “Kol Dodi Dofek.” His overview of the thought of Rabbi Soloveitchik appeared in the Cambridge Companion to Modern Jewish Philosophy.
– Kenneth Hart Green teaches Jewish Studies in the Department for the Study of Religion and the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto. He received his Ph.D. in the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University. He has published books and articles which explore the thought of Judah Halevi, Moses Maimonides, Benedict Spinoza, Moses Mendelssohn, Franz Rosenzweig, Leo Strauss, Gershom Scholem, and Emil Fackenheim. His most recent books are Leo Strauss, On Maimonides: The Complete Writings, and Leo Strauss and the Rediscovery of Maimonides. His next book is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press entitled Emil Fackenheim’s Search of Revelation: Divine Presence and Diabolical History. He is also presently working on a manuscript with the tentative title: What Moses Saw: Maimonidean Meditations, or On the Torah as a Speculative Teaching.
– James A. Diamond holds the Joseph & Wolf Lebovic Chair of Jewish Studies at the University of Waterloo. He earned an LLB from Osgoode Hall Law School; an LLM in International Legal Studies at New York University School of Law and, while practicing civil litigation, an MA and PhD in Medieval Jewish Thought from University of Toronto. He was the international director of the Friedberg Genizah Project. His books, Maimonides and the Hermeneutics of Concealment, and Converts, Heretics, and Lepers: Maimonides and the Outsider, garnered Canadian Jewish book awards; the latter a Jordan Schnitzer Notable Selection. He has published widely on Jewish thought from the Bible to Maimonides to R. Kook. His most recent book is Maimonides and the Shaping of the Jewish Canon published by Cambridge University Press.
(Specific paper topics and times TBA)
This conference has been organized by Prof. Alex Green, IJTH, and is sponsored by the Institute of Jewish Thought and Heritage, and the Humanities Institute, of the University at Buffalo. It is free and open to the public. We welcome you to attend.
April 30, 2015
Jewish Studies Open House a Big Success
Organized by Prof. Alex Green, Jewish Studies majors and minors and other interested UB students gathered in Clemens 708 for dinner and conversation, and to learn about Jewish Studies courses and activities at UB.
(Events for Fall 2014 and Spring 2015 will be posted when speakers, topics, dates, times, places are finalized.)