Celebrating Israel – a learning platform

The discussion was about to start, but the student organizers kept looking nervously out the window. One explained her distracted glances by saying that she really hoped that the people outside would come in and participate in the discussion. She continued her audible stream of consciousness, noting that they were, in fact, the reason why the organizers had decided to… Read more →

On Art and Learning / Unlearning

I just got finished teaching a course that I love — “Curating Experience: Learning in Museums.”  It has nothing to do, explicitly, with Jewish education, but it is an extended examination of the ways in which people learn in the structured but informal spaces of museums, with an emphasis on art and history museums.  There are a number of art… Read more →

Cantors and “performativity”

In the kabbalistic teachings of Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572) mystical adepts are described as having theurgic powers; prayers function in a way that has an external impact in the non-earthly spiritual dimension. In Luria’s mystical reinterpretation of Jewish ritual life, prayer is imagined as a system of powerfully efficacious formulas that enact change in the divine realm. Luria’s doctrine concerning… Read more →

The fluidity of Jewishness

“This is Rebecca. She’s Jewish.” This was often how Rebecca’s high-school friend introduced her to new people in their small New York town where few Jews lived. In these brief encounters with others, Rebecca’s Jewishness made her different. It made her uncomfortable. Self-conscious. Teens usually want to blend in, not stand out. Now, in her twenties, Rebecca remembers those moments… Read more →

Opposite Sides of the Street—locations in the “field” of Jewish ethnography

On opposite sides of the street on the corner of 54th Street and 13th Avenue in Borough Park are two very different kinds of eateries. On one side of the street is a “hip” café called 1982, and on the other is an unassuming-looking kosher take-out place, Shem Tov Catering. I spent some time in each of these establishments last… Read more →

Entexualization and Orality in 19th Century Jewish Music

The 19th century saw a proliferation of transcription of Jewish sacred music using the tools of western musical notation. This process of entextualization of oral music traditions has been understood in different ways by the major commentators on Jewish music and by the collectors themselves. The founders of the Jewish Folk Music Society in St. Petersburg, operating in the first… Read more →

Thinking Twice about Jewish Identity

For much of the latter 20th and early 21st century, the field of Jewish education has developed an almost obsessive focus on identity. Jewish educational endeavors have been variously committed to building it, strengthening it, enriching it — whatever “it” might be. But, if the purpose of Jewish education is to foment the creation of Jewish identity, then how conscious… Read more →

The Framing of Religious Experiences

This quarter I’m auditing a philosophy course, Science, Religion and Democracy, which aims to address some of the tensions between science-based and religion-based beliefs and methodologies (not that the two are mutually exclusive). During the introductory session, the difference between testimony and evidence was highlighted, and a question arising out of that was whether religious experience could be considered as… Read more →

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