This Year at the Centre for Jewish Studies
By Tim Langille
The 2009-10 academic year has been an eventful one for the Centre for Jewish Studies. The first event of the year was the orientation and student awards night. The development and growth of what is now a more robust and thriving program was evident at this event, which seemed to set the tone for the remainder of the year. In addition to opening remarks from Director Hindy Najman and Associate Director Leo Livak, Vice-dean Baker and Vice-dean Klausner also spoke about the growth and direction of CJS. Not only did 09-10 mark a year of exponential growth in CJS, with a significant increase in students and course offerings, but it was also a year with a great line-up of distinguished guests and speakers, many of whom were drawn to Toronto by the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum. For a student working in the area of Second Temple Judaism, this year has been full of opportunity and intellectual stimulation.
Our first guest of the academic year was Israel Knohl, who is best known for his work on the Gabriel Revelation. In addition to hearing him lecture twice, I had the opportunity to escort him to the ROM to view the Dead Sea Scrolls. I was honoured to see the exhibit with Knohl. It was an informative and invaluable experience to have such a prominent scholar explain the significance of what was on display. Perhaps most interesting was Knohl’s incredible interest in the Egyptian Book of the Dead exhibit. What a challenge it was to pull him away from the exhibit that morning! Another notable moment with Knohl was the chance meeting with one of the producers of Naked Archaeologist on the corner of St. George and Bloor – she called out to him, and after a brief conversation he explained that he had worked with her in Jordan when the Naked Archaeologist devoted an episode on the Gabriel Revelation. My experience with Knohl was the first of many tours of the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition with world-renowned scholars.
The exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls brought excitement to many people in the city, the university, CSR, and CJS. CSR and CJS played a role in the organization of a world-class conference on the Dead Sea Scrolls entitled “Dead Sea Scrolls: Transmission of Traditions and the Production of Texts.” Hindy Najman and Eva Mroczek of CSR, Sarianna Metso and Chad Stauber of NMC, and Eileen Schuller of McMaster University organized the event, which featured leading scholars in the field: James VanderKam, Carol Newsom, George Brooke, Eibert Tigchelaar, Eugene Ulrich, Charlotte Hempel, James Kugel, Pnina Shor, Emmanuel Tov, Florentino García Martínez, Mladen Popovic, and John J. Collins.
On the eve of the conference, participants and guests broke into groups mixing prominent scholars and graduate students for a visit to the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit. Students not only had the opportunity to hear papers given by luminaries in the field and take part in discussions, but also the chance to eat and socialize with these guests. It was an intimate setting and the visiting scholars were accessible and congenial. One of the main highlights of the event for me was the dinner on the last day when I sat at a table with John J. Collins, whose work on Hellenistic Judaism initially drew me to my current area of research. Collins led a graduate seminar the next morning, a truly invaluable experience for many. The graduate seminar was followed by the graduate student section of the conference at Brennan Hall. Personally, at first, I felt intimidated when presenting my paper, but the experts in the audience were gracious and encouraging and provided all of us with valuable feedback. Another highlight for me was receiving an email a week after the conference from George Brooke, who gave me additional feedback on my work. We exchanged a few emails, and Brooke gave me insight and direction for future drafts of my paper. Many of the sources he recommended have been added to my comprehensive exams reading list.
Other notable scholars who visited us this year include Jodi Magness, Ross Kraemer, David Nirenberg, Michael L. Morgan, Allan Nadler, and Omer Bartov. The Seminar for Culture and Religion in Antiquity (SCRA), which is funded by CJS and co-sponsored by CSR and Classics, brings many of distinguished speakers to Toronto. On top of all of that, the Shoshana Shier visiting scholar this year was Daniel Schwartz from Hebrew University; his presence at the U of T has been amazing for me, given my interests in Josephus and historio-graphy. I heard several of his public lectures, attended his Josephus course, and worked as his research assistant.
The academic year will conclude with the graduate student conference and lecture by Maren Niehoff, a Philo scholar with cutting-edge methodology. Overall, the year has provided students with many opportunities to meet leading scholars, share in their wealth of expertise, and become more inspired to pursue our own scholarly paths.[About the author: Tim Langille is a 3rd-year doctoral student at CSR and CJS working on research about collective memory, mnemonic communities, memories of trauma, and identity formation in Post-Destruction Jewish Diaspora.]