New Book by Dr. Alexander Green

The Virtue Ethics of Levi Gersonides

​This book demonstrates how Levi Gersonides articulated a unique model of virtue ethics among medieval Jewish thinkers.  Gersonides is recognized by scholars as one of the most innovative Jewish philosophers of the medieval period, yet his model for virtue ethics has received scant analytic attention. Alex Green splices Gersonides’ model into two distinct parts. The first is a response to the seemingly capricious forces of luck through training in endeavor, diligence, and cunning aimed at physical self-preservation. The second is altruistic in nature. It is based on the human imitation of God as creator of the laws of the universe for no self-interested benefit, leading humans to imitate God through the virtues of loving-kindness, grace, and beneficence. Both of these aspects are amplified through the institutions of the kingship and the priesthood, which serve to actualize physical preservation and beneficence on a larger scale, amounting to recognition of the political necessity for a division of powers.

“Alex Green shows that Gersonides was not only a brilliant metaphysician and scientist but also an original ethical thinker who developed a new virtue ethics.” — Warren Zev Harvey, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

“The ancient question of what constitutes a good life has become urgent for us. What are the virtues that best promote human flourishing? How can we square human choice, judgment, and action with the emerging scientific picture of our brains? Green does a real service by bringing the virtue ethics of a great medieval rationalist.”  — Alan Mittleman, Jewish Theological Seminary, USA

“Alexander Green lucidly shows Gersonides’ relevance for current philosophical interest in an ethics that is concerned with human character and not just rules for human conduct. Green skillfully puts Gersonides into conversation with contemporary virtue theorists like Alasdair MacIntyre and Martha Nussbaum.”  — David Novak, University of Toronto, Canada

“Informed by contemporary philosophical debates, Green’s careful work opens new vistas in the study of one of medieval Judaism’s most protean figures.” — Menachem Kellner, Shalem College and University of Haifa, Israel​​


Professor Richard Cohen Receives Prestigious NEH Grant

The Department of Jewish Thought is happy to announce that Professor Richard Cohen, first chair of the department, has been awarded a United States Government sponsored National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant to run a one-week Seminar for College Teachers, July 17-21, 2017, at the University at Buffalo, on the topic of “Emmanuel Levinas on Morality, Justice and the Political.”  Open to sixteen university and college teachers from America, this seminar will examine in depth the ethical and political philosophy of the French Jewish thinker Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995), one of the foremost philosophers of the twentieth century.  The one week long summer seminar also represents the fifth annual Levinas Philosophy Summer Seminar (LPSS), directed by Professor Cohen.

NEH is an independent federal agency that funds humanities projects in fields such as art history, literature, philosophy and archaeology. Created in 1965, NEH awards grants three times a year to top-rated proposals as examined by panels of independent reviewers.  “NEH grants help bring humanities experiences to Americans across the country,” said Chairman of NEH William D. Adams. “Our funding supports museums, libraries and cultural institutions, and the local state councils that create and sustain humanities programs in their communities. Through films, original research, and new intellectual insights, our grants strengthen the nation’s cultural fabric and identity.”

“I am honored and happy to receive this grant,” says Professor Cohen, “The annual Levinas Philosophy Summer Seminar has been a great success for four years.  We’ve had seminars in Vilnius, Buffalo, Rome and Berkeley, with scholars traveling from all parts of the globe to attend – all without registration fees or funding.  It is a matter of educators pursuing what is most precious, most important: thinking together, sharing ideas, criticizing, arguing, learning, growing spiritually.   These engagements – with people, with books, with ideas – are the heart and soul of the Humanities.  This grant from the NEH, which provides stipends for participants, will help sixteen scholars and teachers to come to UB to share in discussion and debate regarding one of the most important thinkers of our time.  Furthermore, the topic – which is a perennial one – could hardly be more significant or relevant just now: the relation between ethics and politics.  The timing is also right because this grant will bring national attention to UB’s new Department of Jewish Thought.”

UB’s new Dean of the College of Arts and Science, Robin Schulze, underlines this last point: “This is indeed an honor and a wonderful advertisement for the new Department of Jewish Thought.”   Many thanks are due to many people, not least of whom are the many members of the Buffalo Jewish community and UB alumni who have so generously supported the creation and ongoing success of Jewish Studies at UB.


New Book by Professor Richard A. Cohen

Out of Control: Confrontations between Spinoza and Levinas

(Albany: State University of New York Press, 2016) 359 pp.

Out of Control imagefront cover

From the back cover:

“Cohen’s work here is nothing short of spectacular. His analysis of the mathematical and scientific foundations of Spinoza’s philosophy is exemplary.  Lucidly, meticulously, and with very disciplined analysis he conveys the force, power, and influence of Spinoza’s philosophy on contemporary religious thought.”  –  Professor Richard Sugarman, University of Vermont

“Richard Cohen has managed to not merely bring these two notoriously difficult philosophers into conversation with each other, but to do so in an extremely readable way.  Indeed, he is able to explain extremely difficult philosophical disputes with clarity and to convey a palpable sense of excitement.”  –  Professor Robert Erlewine, Illinois Wesleyan University

After the end of superstitious religion, what is the meaning of the world?  Baruch Spinoza’s answer is truth, Emmanuel Levinas’s is goodness: science versus ethics.  In Out of Control, Richard A. Cohen brings this debate to life providing a nuanced exposition of Spinoza and Levinas and the confrontation between them in ethics, politics, science, and religion.

Situating these two thinkers in today’s context, Out of Control responds to the fear of dehumanization in a world flattened by the alliance of positivism and plutocracy.  It offers a non-ideological ethical alternative, a way out and up, in the nobility of one human being helping another, and the solidarity that moves from morality to justice.

Prof. Cohen perusing 1st ed. 1677, Latin) Spinoza, Opera Posthuma, at Biblioteca dell Academia Nazionale dei Lincea, Rome, Italy, July 2015

Prof. Cohen perusing 1st ed. 1677, Latin) Spinoza, Opera Posthuma, at Biblioteca dell Academia Nazionale dei Lincea, Rome, Italy, July 2015



December 16, 2015: Dean Bruce Pitman announces official formation of Department of Jewish Thought in the College of Arts and Science at University at Buffalo.

The Department of Jewish Thought is dedicated to the academic study of the Jewish intellectual tradition in the development of Western civilization. The highly interdisciplinary department will foster inquiry, knowledge and understanding through innovative scholarship and teaching that explores the rich philosophical and spiritual contributions of Jewish culture from antiquity to the present.

UB’s Department of Jewish Thought in the College of Arts of Sciences will be oriented toward theory and philosophy with an emphasis on ethics, the central and unifying feature throughout the long and diverse history of Judaism.

The Department builds on the foundation of the university’s Institute of Jewish Thought and Heritage (IJTH). Established in 2008, the IJTH has since 2012 offered a Bachelor of Arts degree in Jewish Studies as well as a minor in Jewish Studies.  The Department of Jewish Thought has an identity that distinguishes it from similar programs and departments at other colleges and universities.

“We are deliberately being called the Department of Jewish Thought because that is our particular orientation of Jewish studies.” says Richard Cohen, Professor of Philosophy, Director of the IJTH, and now first chair of the new department. “There are many departments of Jewish Studies engaged primarily in history and philology, but at UB as a department within the humanities, we’re highlighting ethics which relates us to philosophy, generally, and to great Jewish thinkers, for instance, Moses Mendelssohn, Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig and Emanuel Levinas, especially.”

“Creating this department is a testament to the continuing support of UB for the humanities, and a desire for the campus to be a leader across the spectrum of humanities scholarship,” says E. Bruce Pitman, Dean of UB’s College of Arts and Sciences.

While ethics, the biblically inspired teachings of morality and the prophetic call to justice will form the department’s core guiding its direction and providing definition, its contours will still consist of components in history, semiotics, language, history, politics and literature, but Cohen says the focus will be on humanism and a fluency in its related disciplines.

“It’s what’s needed today,” he says. “This is not vocational training. This is teaching of one of the most basic strands – morality and justice – of what it means to be human in the Western world, and no less in the world entire.”

To find out more about upcoming Jewish Studies-related events, sign up for the Institute of Jewish Thought and Heritage mailing list. Please send an email with subject line: “Mailing List,” that includes your name and mailing address, to jewish-studies@buffalo.edu



                                 Professor Sergey Dolgopolski Appointed

                  Gordon and Gretchen Gross Professor of Jewish Studies

The IJTH is pleased to announce that Professor Sergey Dolgopolski, who joined UB’s Institute of Jewish Thought and Heritage in 2010, has received a three-year appointment as the Gordon and Gretchen Gross Professor in Jewish Studies effective July 1, 2014.  Professor Dolgopolski is a nationally recognized scholar of Talmudic interpretation.  He is prolific writer and author of What is Talmud?, published in 2009, and The Open Past: Subjectivity and Remembering in the Talmud, published in 2012. Gordon Gross is a founding member of one of Buffalo’s most respected law firms, Gross Shuman Brizdle & Gilfillan, P. C..  He has a long record of public service, including serving as Trustee for the State University of New York.  He is the recipient of the Samuel J. Capen Award, the highest honor given by the UB Alumni Association. His wife Gretchen Gross currently serves as President of Buffalo’s Jewish Community Center.  Together they have generously endowed the Gordon and Gretchen Gross Professorship in Jewish Studies as part of the Institute of Jewish Thought and Heritage at UB.

Noam Pines: Appointed New Faculty Member of the IJTH to start Fall 2014

The IJTH is pleased to announce the appointment of Noam Pines, PhD, to the tenure-track position of Assistant Professor in the IJTH starting August 2014.  Noam did his graduate work in the Department of Comparative Literature at Stanford University.  His PhD dissertation is on the topic of “The Poetics of Dehumanization in Modern Jewish Literature.”  He received his MA in literature and BA in history and philosophy from Tel-Aviv University, Israel.  A native Hebrew speaker, Noam is fluent in English, German and Yiddish.  In fall 2014 he will be teaching JDS225 “Modern Jewish Thought” and JDS237 “History of Israel and Zionism.”

In his own words: “I look forward to coming to Buffalo because the Institute of Jewish Thought and Heritage presents an opportunity for me to work in a unique academic environment. Today, scholarship in the field of Jewish Studies often takes place in departments such as Comparative Literature or Near Eastern Studies, but at the IJTH I will be able to work with other scholars in an academic environment entirely dedicated to the field of Jewish Studies. When I moved from Israel to the US, this was precisely the academic environment that I envisioned myself working in. Thus, joining the IJTH is a fulfillment of a long-awaited dream.”

Emina Melonic Selected for Ruth and Isadore Bob Fellowship in Jewish Studies for 2014-2015

UB graduate student in the Department of Comparative Literature, Emina Melonic, has been selected to receive the Ruth and Isadore Bob Fellowship in Jewish Studies, a stipend of $5000.00, for the 2014-2015 academic year providing financial assistance toward the writing of her doctoral dissertation. Originally from Bosnia, a survivor of the Bosnian war and its aftermath of refugee camps, Emina is writing a dissertation on “Sacred and Profane Encounter: Desire in the ‘Song of Songs’.”  Utilizing both Jewish and Christian traditional commentaries, the dissertation will focus primarily on the encounter of sacred and profane in the biblical “Song of Songs” deploying the modern outlooks of Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929) in his magnum opus, The Star of Redemption (1921), where the “Song of Songs” takes a central place, and in the ethical-metaphysical philosophy of the Lithuanian-French-Jewish thinker Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995), for whom desire – erotic, everyday, and metaphysical – is also central. The IJTH is grateful especially to UB alumnus Sharon H. Bob, PhD, for her generous donation which makes this fellowship possible.

Louis Eisenhauer and Stephen LaMarco Receive the Dr. Harold Levy and Mrs. Arlyne Levy Award in Jewish Studies for 2014-2015

                          Louis Eisenhauer                 Stephen LaMarco

The Institute of Jewish Thought and Heritage is pleased to announce that the annual Dr. Harold Levy and Mrs. Arlyne Levy Award in Jewish Studies is being given to University at Buffalo Jewish Studies majors Stephen LaMarco and Louis J. Eisenhauer to aid in their studies for the 2014-2105 acaademic year.   The award of $1000.00 is usually given to one student, but this year the IJTH Levy Search Committee decided that these two recipients were equally deserving, so the award will be split between them.   The IJTH thanks Dr. Harold Levy and Mrs. Arlyne Levy for their generosity in establishing this award for Jewish Study majors, and for their broader and continued support of the IJTH at UB.


Richard A. Cohen, Director of IJTH, has been re-appointed acting Gordon and Gretchen Gross Professor of Jewish Studies for the 2014-2015 academic year. 

Recommended by College of Arts and Sciences Dean E. Bruce Pitman, and approved by UB President Satish K. Tripathi, Richard A. Cohen, director of the IJTH since 2008, has recently been appointed for one year on an acting basis to the Gordon and Gretchen Gross Professorship of Jewish Studies, a professorship endowed by a generous donation by Gordon and Gretchen Gross of Buffalo, New York.


The years 2012 and 2013 saw the publication of three innovative and distinguished academic volumes by faculty of the IJTH:

January 2013

The IJTH is pleased to announce the publication of a new book coedited by Professor Marla Segol, with Professor Jennifer Brown: Sexuality, Sociality, and Cosmology in Medieval Literary Texts (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).  Of this volume Professor Steven Kruger (Queens College, CUNY) has written: “Brown and Segol bring together an impressive body of scholarship on Latin, Hebrew, Spanish, and English/Scots materials in which sexuality, both chivalric and mystical, is represented and explored .  The volume is impressive both for its range … and for its recognition that sexuality in medieval texts is as likely to resonate with ideas about the structure of the cosmos as it is to elucidate the ways in which medieval social relations are cemented and undermined.”  For more information, see: http://us.macmillan.com/author/marlasegol


December 2012

The IJTH is pleased to announce the publication of a new book by Professor Sergey Dolgopolski: The Open Past: Subjectivity and Remembering in the Talmud (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013).  Of this book, Professor Bruce Rosenstock (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) has written: “A brilliant and innovative study of how the work of memory can transform identity, weaving the speech and thought of the single person into the fabric of an ongoing transmissions of sayings.” Professor Jonathan Boyarin (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), has written: “Sergey Dolgopolski’s project here should not be underestimated: It is nothing else than ‘undo[ing] the erasure of the thought processes in the Talmud from the intellectual map of the West,’ and Dolgopolski is up to the task.”   For more information see: http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/Philosophy/Religion/?view=usa&ci=9780823244928

October 2012

The IJTH is pleased to announce the publication of a new book by Professor Marla Segol: Word and Image in Medieval Kabbalah: The Texts, Commentaries, and Diagrams of the ‘Sever Yetsirah’ (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).  The Sefer Yetsirah (the Book of Creation) is a core text of the early kabbalah, yet has remained something of a mystery. Scholars have struggled to establish the most basic facts about the work: its dating, its place of origin, and especially its meaning. The words and images of Sefer Yetsirah raise crucial questions about the history of kabbalah, and about scholarly categories for understanding it. This project attempts to discover the ways in which diagrams accompanying the text and its commentaries show trends in the development of the kabbalistic tradition as a whole. Ultimately, Marla Segol sheds new light on structure, context, use, and meaning in the obscure text and shows that the relation between religion and magic is closer than we think.  For more information see: http://www.amazon.com/Word-Image-Medieval-Kabbalah-Commentaries/dp/1403969744

BA in Jewish Studies Begins Fall 2012

Jewish Studies — Major

Acceptance Criteria

Minimum GPA of 2.0 overall.

Minimum grade of C+ in JDS 103, Introduction to Judaism

Two other courses in Jewish Studies  (may include Hebrew) with a grade of C or better.

I. Required Courses =  12 credit hours

  • JDS 103, Introduction to Judaism
  • JDS 229, Medieval Judaism
  • One course in area of Bible and Talmud
  • One course in area of Ethics
  • Students must earn a 2.5 (C+) in JDS 103 and a 2.0 (C) or better in each of the three additional required courses.

II. Five JDS electives = 15 credit hours

Five additional Jewish Studies courses, including a 400-level Special Topics seminar that will serve as a “Capstone Seminar.”

III.  Foreign Language Courses 0-20 credit hours

Two years of Hebrew language; or one year of Hebrew language and one year of either French, German, Italian, Arabic, Aramaic or Yiddish.  See advisor for waivers of this requirement.  If the language requirement is waived because of proven proficiency, the student will be required to take 6 additional credit hours of electives in Jewish Studies.   Total Jewish Studies Credits = 33 – 47 credit hours

Jewish Studies – Minor

Acceptance Criteria

Minimum GPA of 2.0

Required Courses

18 credits that must include the following:

JDS 103 Introduction to Judaism

JDS 229 Medieval Judaism

4 other JDS courses or courses from other departments with approved Jewish Studies content (may include 2 Hebrew language courses)

IJTH Welcomes New Full Time Faculty Member: Marla Segol

The JTH is happy to welcome new full time faulty member Marla Segol for Fall 2012, serving as the program’s Undergraduate Director.  Marla received her BA from SUNY at New Paltz in 1991, her MA at SUNY at Buffalo in 1994, and her Ph.D. from Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, in 2001. She has taught at Cornell University, Ithaca College, Carleton University, and was Assistant Professor of Religion at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York, for six years prior to coming to UB.



Samuel Friedman Library inaugurated on June 6, 2011, in UB’s Institute for Jewish Thought and Heritage

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A generous gift from the foundation of a late Western New York businessman has established the Samuel Friedman Library in the Institute for Jewish Thought and Heritage (IJTH), in room 704 Clemens Hall at the University at Buffalo. Samuel Friedman, who owned several restaurants in Niagara Falls, was very dedicated to his Jewish faith, according to his attorney, Don Day. He established the Samuel Friedman Foundation to support and strengthen Jewish educational initiatives and programs. “Samuel was extremely generous, but shied away from publicity,” Day recalled. “He would be absolutely thrilled to know of this gift to UB because he believed very strongly in supporting educational causes.” The foundation has given $100,000 to name the library, as well as purchase books, journals, electronic media and other materials, and to equip workspaces, storage and archival areas. Day said the foundation hopes to promote awareness of Jewish history and perspective through its gift, and hopes the initial funding of the library will help encourage continued growth and enrichment of this scholarly collection in years to come. “We are giving to support UB’s excellence in research, teaching and outreach that will result in the IJTH becoming a world-class center of scholarly activity,” Day said. “Books and exegesis are central to Judaism, from its sacred texts to commentaries to contemporary academic scholarship,” said Richard Cohen, IJTH director. “We are very grateful for the Friedman Foundation grant and welcome additional contributions and library donations to strengthen our Judaica collection.” The Samuel Friedman Library collection will add to the UB Libraries’ already impressive collection of materials that are of value to institute scholars and visitors. For example, Special Collections houses the Jewish Archives of Greater Buffalo, containing synagogue records, local community records and the personal papers of notable leaders of the Buffalo Jewish community, including Donald S. Day, Dorothy Goldberg, Bernard Mandelkern, Morton Merowitz, Haskell Penn and Milton Plesur. This material is being collected and organized by the Jewish Buffalo Archives Project, a collaborative effort of the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Buffalo and UB Libraries. The UB Libraries also house several Jewish book collections of note, among them a 1,800-item Holocaust collection. Donations of books, new and/or used, are most welcome! Please contact Valerie Bailoni at jewish-thought@buffalo.edu.