Naomi Seidman (Ph.D. Berkeley 1993) has joined the University of Toronto as the newest Chancellor Jackman Professor in the Arts. Prof. Seidman is a major and unique voice within several discourses in the humanities, combining her deep knowledge of Jewish religion, culture, history, and literature with a mastery of concepts and methods central to gender and queer studies, critical theory, psychoanalysis, and translation studies. She has served as the Koret Professor of Jewish Culture and the Director of the Richard S. Dinner Center for Jewish Studies at the Graduate Theological Union (Berkeley). Her scholarship focuses on contemporary Jewish thought, gender and sexuality, and modern Jewish literature and literary theory. Her current research and teaching interests include translation studies, translating the bible, the sexual transformation of the Ashkenaz, and Haskalah literature. Her impressive résumé demonstrates excellence in research and teaching, as well as leadership both at the institutional level and globally in her primary field, Jewish studies.
Seidman’s publications include two, highly-regarded monographs, more than 30 articles and essays, and four co-edited books, including the translation of an important volume of stories by Dvora Baron. In addition, she has two more monographs due in the near future, showing clearly how productive a scholar she continues to be.
Her research is distinguished by a rare ability to employ the methods of gender, literary and critical theory in a compelling and jargon-free way to important and fraught topics such as Jewish-Christian relations from the Septuagint to today; the politics of love and sexuality identity in modern Jewish life; cleavages between Hebrew and Yiddish in modern Eastern European culture and literature; representations of the Holocaust in different languages; and the place and role of women in modern Judaism.
Her first book, A Marriage Made in Heaven: The Sexual Politics of Hebrew and Yiddish (University of California Press, 1997) analyzed the gendered nature of the relations between Hebrew and Yiddish, as holy or secular languages, as viable modern literary traditions, and as linguistic means of defining identities within the world of Eastern Europeans Jewry. The book, according Anita Norich, “is certainly the most comprehensive and intriguing analysis of this gendered dynamic to have appeared in English, and it will set the standard for future work.”
Seidman’s second book, Faithful Renderings: Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of Translation (University of Chicago Press, 2006), is, as the title suggests, not so much interested in translation as a linguistic performance, but as an act that cannot be separated from its religious, cultural and political contexts. Engaging post-colonial theory, queer theory, and sexual politics in sociolinguistics, she investigates the impact that converts from Judaism to Christianity had as translators in the Middle Ages, and Protestant and Jewish translations of the Bible into German – in order to show occluded dimensions of the religious rivalry over literary and historical sources shared and contested by Judaism and Christianity. It is difficult to imagine many other scholars today capable of producing this work, which melds so impeccably and so fruitfully an incredible theoretical sophistication with a profound understanding of diverse historical texts, contexts, and subtexts.
Seidman’s most recent book, The Marriage Plot, or How Jews Fell in Love with Love, and with Literature (Stanford University Press, 2016), explores the role played by literature in the modernization of Jewish marriage practices, their conversion to what Ian Watt calls “the sex religion” of the romantic sublime. The book looks at both how Jewish novels taught modernizing Jews the “choreography of courtship” and how Jews quickly became heretics to the sex religion since they lacked the Christian and chivalric forerunners of modern romance. But, while this story begins with Jew’s eager and difficult adoption of European romantic ideologies, it ends with the western world’s adoption of Jewish variants on it, in the overthrow of the romantic sublime by Jews like Freud, Lenny Bruce, Erica Jong, Philip Roth, and others.
Her soon to appear book, A Revolution in the Name of Tradition (Littman Library, 2018), is a history of the founding of the Bais Yaakov system of educating Orthodox girls in interwar Poland. Seidman argues for two main conclusions. First, Bais Yaakov, while established as a bulwark against modernity, succeeded only by incorporating elements of modernity (socialism, feminism, professionalism, and radical pedagogy). Second, it borrowed heavily from the model of German neo-Orthodoxy, but also changed it: whereas the German model was denominational (and co-ed), the peculiar conditions of Eastern Europe allowed for this revolution to be accomplished only within the women’s space of a sexually-segregated society.
She was the Shier Distinguished Visiting Professor at UofT in Fall 2013, and the evaluations from students in her courses in the DTS and the CJS were outstanding.