New Books in the Arts & Sciences

Celebrating Recent Work by Beth Berkowitz

Thursday, April 11, 2019  6:15pm The Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies at Columbia University

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The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities

Office of the Divisional Deans in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies

New Books in the Arts & Sciences:
Celebrating Recent Work by Beth Berkowitz

Animals and Animality in the Babylonian Talmud
By: Beth Berkowitz

Animals and Animality in the Babylonian Talmud selects key themes in animal studies - animal intelligence, morality, sexuality, suffering, danger, personhood - and explores their development in the Babylonian Talmud. Beth A. Berkowitz demonstrates that distinctive features of the Talmud - the new literary genre, the convergence of Jewish, Christian, and Zoroastrian cultures, the Talmud's remove from Temple-centered biblical Israel - led to unprecedented possibilities within Jewish culture for conceptualizing animals and animality. She explores their development in the Babylonian Talmud, showing how it is ripe for reading with a critical animal studies perspective. When we do, we find waiting for us a multi-layered, surprisingly self-aware discourse about animals as well as about the anthropocentrism that infuses human relationships with them. For readers of religion, Judaism, and animal studies, her book offers new perspectives on animals from the vantage point of the ancient rabbis.

About the Author:

Beth Berkowitz is a scholar of Jewish and Religious Studies with a specialization in classical rabbinic literature at Barnard College. She is the author of Execution and Invention: Death Penalty Discourse in Early Rabbinic and Christian Cultures (Oxford University Press, 2006); Defining Jewish Difference: From Antiquity to the Present (Cambridge University Press, 2012); and Animals and Animality in the Babylonian Talmud (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming). She is co-editor with Elizabeth Shanks Alexander of Religious Studies and Rabbinics: A Conversation (Routledge, forthcoming). Her current writing is on the experience of pleasure in animals as the Babylonian Talmud conceives it, and her next book project will be a “biblical bestiary” that profiles the reception history of various animal characters in the Hebrew Bible. She has published articles in the Journal for the American Academy of Religion, the Journal of Jewish Studies, Jewish Quarterly Review, the Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities, the Journal for Ancient Judaism, AJS Review, and Biblical Interpretation. She was a professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America from 2004-2012 and has held post-doctoral fellowships in Yale University's Program in Judaic Studies, University of Pennsylvania’s Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, and New York University Law School's Tikvah Center for Law and Jewish Civilization.

About the Speakers:

Elisheva Carlebach, Salo Wittmayer Baron Professor of Jewish History, Culture, and Society, specializes in the cultural, intellectual, and religious history of the Jews in Early Modern Europe. Areas of particular interest include the intersection of Jewish and Christian culture and its effect on notions of tolerance, religious dissent, conversion, messianism, and communal governance. Her books include The Pursuit of Heresy (1990), awarded the National Jewish Book Award, Divided Souls: Converts from Judaism in Early Modern Germany (2000) and Palaces of Time: Jewish Calendar and Culture in Early Modern Europe (2011), winner of the Association for Jewish Studies Schnitzer Prize. She has twice held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities. She was a Fellow at the New York Public Library Center for Scholars and Writers, Tikvah Fellow at NYU Law School, and Fellow at the Katz Center, University of Penn. She served as Editor of the Association for Jewish Studies Review and chaired the Academic Advisory Council of the Center for Jewish History. She has served as President of the American Academy for Jewish Research and is currently Director, Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies at Columbia. In 2017 she was awarded the Lenfest Distinguished Columbia Faculty Award.

Naama Harel, lecturer in Hebrew Language, specializes in Modern Hebrew literature, Modern Jewish literature, and Israeli culture, as well as Human/Animal Studies, ecocriticism, and posthumanism. She holds a PhD in Hebrew and Comparative Literature from the University of Haifa (2010). Her book Kafka’s Zoopoetics: Beyond the Human/Animal Barrier is forthcoming with the University of Michigan Press. In her current book project, The Jew, the Beauty, and the Beast, she explores the triangular interplay between Jewishness, gender, and animality in Modern Hebrew literature. She has published various scholarly articles on related themes, including compassion for animals (Tza’ar ba’alei chayim) in the Hebrew revival literature, metamorphosis narratives, animal fables, anthropomorphism, de-allegorization, humanimal hybridity and liminality, post-speciesist utopias, and species fluidity.

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