This year all presenters will pre-circulate their work and the virtual sessions will be centered on discussion. Each session will begin with brief overviews from the presenters and respondents and and then there will be plenty of time for questions and conversation. The schedule also includes time for socializing and networking.
2021 Conference Co-Chairs
Left: Dr. Amanda Mbuvi, Assistant Professor of Religion at High Point University; Right: Dr. Adrienne Krone, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Allegheny College.
Thursday, January 7
A drop-in session to socialize and chat about logistical questions.
Danielle Drori (University of Oxford): “Zionism and Cultural Transfer: The Ethics of Translating Yosef Klausner’s Jesus of Nazareth from Hebrew to English”
In Jerusalem in the early 1920s, the Hebrew writer Yosef Klausner and the Anglican priest Herbert Danby worked together on an English translation of Klausner’s Hebrew book Jesus of Nazareth. A biography of Christ (adapted from Klausner’s German doctoral dissertation), the book inevitably applied a heightened pressure on Danby as its translator. Yet it seemed to Danby like a step in the potential reforming of Jewish-Christian relations. What were the ethical stakes of Danby’s translation and did they reflect longstanding tensions between Jews and Christians over the biblical text? Should translation in general and this translation in particular be construed in moral terms?
Rose Stair (University of Oxford): “From Poetic Philosemitism to Zionist Iconography: Juda (1900) as a Site of Double Translation”
Juda (1900) was an illustrated volume of biblical poetry born of a collaboration between Börries von Münchhausen, a philosemitic German nationalist poet and later Nazi apologist, and E.M. Lilien, a Jewish artist and emergent cultural Zionist. This paper examines the multiple translations that occurred as Münchhausen and Lilien gave different articulation to the same biblical themes, in their self-proclaimed Hebrew-style German verse and decadent Jugendstil drawings, respectively. What it was about this moment in time that made their diverse ideological commitments mutually intelligible, and why was this unexpected collaboration the cause for such celebration in the Zionist press?
Daniel Herskowitz (University of Oxford): “From Divine Love to Human Love: Martin Luther in Franz Rosenzweig’s The Star of Redemption“
This paper discusses the idea of ‘reception’ as ‘translation’ by arguing that Rosenzweig’s The Star of Redemption is an unacknowledged Jewish moment in the reception history of Martin Luther’s thought. Contextualizing it within the explicit effort to enact a ‘Luther renaissance’ in contemporary German theology, I demonstrate how a specific theological structure formulated by Luther, whereby the vertical love of God to the human being translates itself into the horizontal love of human to fellow human so that divine and interhuman love are one and the same, is put into use as a Jewish modality in Rosenzweig’s The Star.
Convener: Yoni Brafman (Jewish Theological Seminary)
David Cohen (University of Chicago): “Jewish Barthianism as Dialectic Ethics in modern Jewish Neo-orthodox thought”
Widespread enlightenment values in modernity brought on a crisis for the modern homo religiosus. The modern faith catechism became a quandary for Jewish and Christian leaders alike during the 20th-century. This paper examines the relations between the thinkers of the Dialectic Theology movement, Emil Brunner and Karl Barth, and their influence on Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, showing how this influence takes a distinct Jewish ethical form. In his attempt to reconcile the dissent for Jewish philosophical inclined characters, Soloveitchik employed Christian-philosophical language to bridge the gap between the modern-dissented persona and conflicted homo religiosus. This paper proposes a reading of Soloveitchik’s writings in light of the Dialectic Theology movement. It draws ethical distinctions between shared usages of dialectics in Judaism and Christianity to solve religious dissent.
Ranana Dine (University of Chicago): “A Chosen Love: Troubling Kierkegaard’s Neighbor Love with Wyschograd’s Theology of Election”
Is it possible as Jewish ethicists to hold both a strong universal ethic of neighbor love and a theology of particularistic chosenness? A comparison between Soren Kierkegaard’s conception of love in the Works of Love, and Michael Wyschogrod’s conception of love and election in The Body of Faith proves illuminating on this question. Kierkegaard emphasizes command, obligation, and the scriptural verse “to love your neighbor as yourself,” themes that resonate with Jewish ethics. Michael Wyschograd, despite his profound admiration and knowledge of Kierkegaard’s thought, develops a contradictory theological notion of love. Wyschograd’s emphasis on God’s corporeal preferential election of the embodied Jewish people appears to be irreconcilable with Kierkegaard’s radically equalizing neighbor love. With this dilemma in mind, it becomes possible to seek a new set of insights by turning to Emmanuel Levinas, whose framing of Jewish election within his larger relational ethics offers a narrow path between particularistic chosenness and universalistic obligation to the neighbor.
Convener: Mira Wasserman (Reconstructionist Rabbinical College)
Respondent: David Orenstein (Duke University)
Shlomo Zuckier (McGill University): “Triaging Medical Treatment Under COVID: Four Recent Views on Halakhah and Medical Ethics”
The novel Coronavirus that emerged in late 2019 has had massive global fallout, with a rising death toll and entire regions shutting themselves down. Possibly the most poignant of these issues is the question of triaging limited medical resources, which emerged acutely in the New York Metropolitan area during April 2020, when hospitals were overextended and there were shortages of personnel, PPE, and, most specifically, insufficient ventilators to treat patients. Responsa were produced in short order by Rabbis Herschel Schachter and Jason Weiner of the Orthodox community and Rabbis Elliot Dorff and Daniel Nevins of the Conservative movement. The paper considers both the way that these decisors read prior halakhic sources, how they respond to pressures stemming from hospital procedure, and how they understand the various ethical issues at stake.
Keenan Davis (Emory University): “Big-Tent Bioethics: Turning to the Rabbinic Tradition for a Better Pluralism”
The discipline of bioethics originated in the 1960s and 1970s primarily in response to major public scandals in medical research. In these early years, theologians and scholars of religion played a prominent role, not only pushing for regulatory measures but also publicly demanding thoughtful engagement with ethically fraught issues, ranging from end-of-life care to genetic screening and organ transplantation. It was not long, though, before these central theological voices were displaced by interlocutors using more philosophical and legalistic vocabularies. With increasing public interest came increased pressure to frame issues in a shared secular manner. Bioethical questions were soon largely discussed in terms of public policy, with particular focus on individual rights, patient autonomy, and procedural or legal details, deemphasizing questions of moral value and meaning. Liberal individualism became the dominant paradigm, effectively excluding approaches that openly relied on metaphysical or theological language. This paper argues for a partial reversal of course. In an effort to promote a more pluralistic and theologically engaged public bioethics, it is worth considering the “big-tent” approach to decision-making exemplified by the rabbinic tradition. Not only providing for a richer exchange of ideas, this approach will also better account for the complexities of human experience in the face of charged bioethical dilemmas.
Convener: Jonathan Crane (Emory University)
Respondent: Yoelit Lipinsky (Duquesne University)
A forthcoming volume titled Jewish Virtue Ethics (SUNY Press) explores diverse approaches to virtue throughout Jewish intellectual history. Its chapters include studies of virtue and virtues found in large collections of Jewish literature: biblical literature (Amanda Mbuvi), Jewish feminist literature (Rebecca Epstein-Levi), and Jewish environmental ethics literature (Hava Tirosh-Samuelson). The participants in this panel discussion, the authors of these three chapters, will discuss how they have approached thinking about virtues and virtue ethics within these bodies of literature.
- Amanda Mbuvi (High Point University)
- Rebecca Epstein-Levi (Vanderbilt University)
- Hava Tirosh-Samuelson (Arizona State University)
Convener: Geoffrey Claussen (Elon University)
Drop in social time.
Friday, January 8
Drop in social time.
Jonathan Tran, Baylor University
John Bowlin, Princeton Theological Seminary
Victor Carmona, University of San Diego
Convener: Grace Kao, Claremont School of Theology
Sarah Zager (Yale University): “The Pain of Imagining Others: Caring for the Abstract and the Particular in Jewish Thought”
Recent work in both philosophical and Jewish ethics has challenged the role of abstraction in ethical thinking, with philosophers arguing that ethical theory has ignored the lived realities of individuals in favor of an abstract, and often male, subject. In this paper, I suggest that, despite these critiques, abstraction can play an important role in an ethics of care—to do this, I consider the experiences of those dealing with infertility and pregnancy loss as sites of ethical knowledge. I argue that these experiences can help us craft a care ethics that recognizes that abstraction can play a significant and productive role in ethical theory.
Miriam Attia (University of Chicago): “Like the Beasts that Speak Not: Soloveitchik and the Testimony of Women”
When the OU rejected women clergy, but affirmed men’s and women’s equal spiritual value despite their distinct roles, it relied upon language in Soloveitchik’s Family Redeemed. But I argue that Family Redeemed implicitly rejects that affirmation of equality, especially when read alongside Halakhic Man: masculinity resembles the man of God while femininity resembles species man. I find that the “distinct roles” claim is used to devalue women’s public religious acts, while the “spiritual equality” claim justifies that devaluation. Since “spiritual equality” is not well-supported in Family Redeemed, it does not help the OU affirm men’s and women’s equal spiritual value.
Convener: Gail Labovitz (American Jewish University)
Respondent: Michal Raucher (Rutgers University)
Armin Langer (Reconstructionist Rabbinical College): “Beyond Jewish Racial Justice Activism: Can Jewish Tradition Guide Us in Times of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter?”
The novel coronavirus crisis exposed deep racial inequalities in the United States. People of color are disproportionately affected by the pandemic and its economic impact. These social inequalities, paired with anti-Black racist violence by the police, led to a series of racial justice protests under the umbrella of Black Lives Matter. Many Jews participated and supported these anti-racist efforts. But can Jewish tradition guide us in tackling racist injustices in the twenty-first century? At the Center for Jewish Ethics, we have created the guide Jewish Values and the Coronavirus to help frame values-based decision making in this time. This web-based resource collects and curates Biblical and rabbinic sources alongside insights from leading ethical thinkers from across the Jewish world and beyond. This paper will introduce the guide and present some dilemmas surrounding traditional Jewish teachings and whether they can help address racial justice today.
Elizabeth Shanks Alexander (University of Virginia): “The Ethics of Teaching Unfolding Events Live: RELJ 2030 in Spring 2020”
In March 2020, college instructors received one week’s notice to transition their courses to an online format. It was a period of anxiety and uncertainty on many levels as people worried about health, economic instability and social isolation. College instructors had to master an unfamiliar medium of course delivery (Zoom) with students newly flung around the country, and sometimes even the world, often with unreliable internet access. This paper examines the ethical implications of pedagogical choices made in this time of unfolding uncertainty. It argues that a transparent pedagogy turned towards, rather than away from, the dramatic upheavals brought about by the pandemic supported the students’ formation as ethical agents. This paper outlines the pedagogical adaptations that I implemented in the early weeks of the pandemic in my writing intensive introductory course and the unexpected ethical developments the adaptations promoted.
Convener: Adrienne Krone (Allegheny College)
Respondent: David Freidenreich (Colby College)
Drop in social time.
Sunday, January 10
Drop in social time.
Blossom Stefaniw (Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg): “Everything Will Invariably be Inadequate: feminist actions in the face of exacerbated inequality”
Existing inequality in the fields of biblical studies, religious studies and theology has been exacerbated by the impact of the pandemic. Women have lost privacy, resources, and time of which we already had too little, and face increased household, caregiving, relational and emotional labor, of which we already had too much. This escalation of inequality is compounded even further by race and economic status. It has a very marked result on knowledge production: the total number of articles submitted remains steady, but submissions by women have almost disappeared. This in turn will have a material effect on the careers, status, and economic welfare of academic women, especially those in precarious career phases. This paper collects input from dialogue with colleagues in the early summer of 2020 to propose concrete and systemic measures which men and others less impacted by the pandemic should be taking.
Randall Bailey (Interdenominational Theological Center, retired): “Black Lives Matter in Biblical Studies”
While there were rabbis and Jewish laity who were active in the Civil Rights Movement, there also were Jewish slave holders in the US. While there have been assaults on Brooklyn Hasidic Jews by black individuals, there have been alliances across both groups to promote fair housing. How much has European over African/white over black been carried out, not only in the ways our communities have engaged each other, but also how does our intellectual discourse support supremacist ideologies? More importantly, how do we construct processes which eradicate these toxic supremacist ideologies?
Convener: David Seidenberg (Neohasid.org)
William Plevan (Gratz College): “Love, Hope, and Community in Buber, King and Baldwin”
This paper explores the intersecting ideals of community, hope, and love in the thought of Martin Buber, Martin Luther King Jr., and James Baldwin. In Buber’s writings on Judaism and Zionism, the ideal of community is tied to the aspiration for redemption, an ideal that must be nurtured by cultivating love and hope. To further explicate the role of love and hope in realizing community, I discuss King’s notion of the beloved community and the themes of love and hope both in King’s vision of community and in Baldwin’s reflections on fighting racial injustice in America.
Ethan Schwartz (Villanova University): “Grappling with Personal Implication in Systemic Wrongs: The Cases of Josiah in Kings and Chronicles”
In the wake of the mid-2020 protests of racial injustice and police brutality in America, many white American Jews are grappling with their implication in systemic racism. This paper explores two biblical models for Jews to do so: the differing accounts of Josiah’s response to systemic apostasy in Kings and Chronicles. I argue that the story in Kings, in which Josiah learns of his implication in this apostasy and only then takes action in response, presents a more ethically sophisticated model of conceptualizing implication in systemic wrongs as the ground for subsequent positive action.
Matthew Goldstone (Academy for Jewish Religion): “Balancing Conflicting Needs in Times of Exigent Circumstances”
In this paper I explore the category of “exigent circumstances” in the Talmud. I argue that the legal decisions proffered in these situations maintain a balance between conflicting psychosocial and religious needs that arise in such moments. On the one hand, exigent circumstances can create a mental block against engaging in everyday behaviors. On the other hand, people crave a sense of continuity and structure in a chaotic world. This clash between anxiety induced immobilization and the psychological benefit of routinized normalcy drives the rabbinic discussions that offer solutions for coping with exigent circumstances.
Convener: Alyssa Henning (Independent Scholar)
Respondent: Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster (T’ruah)
- Elizabeth Bucar (SSME), Northeastern University
- Aaron Gross (SJE), University of San Diego
- Charles Matthewes (SCE), University of Virginia
- Laurie Zoloth (SJE), University of Chicago School of Divinity
- Emily Reimer-Barry (SCE), University of San Diego
Convener: Laurie Johnston, Emmanuel College
We invite all SJE members and potential members to join the business meeting, where we will be electing officers and discussing next year’s conference.