Featured in this Issue
Blumenthal Awards Go to Three Students
The David R. Blumenthal Award in Jewish Studies and the Humanities was established in 1999 by Professor Blumenthal's friends and colleagues in his honor. The award is given to Emory students (graduate and undergraduate) who submit excellent papers, written in the past year, on any topic related to Jewish studies. This year, the Blumenthal Award Committee (Ofra Yeglin, chair, Michael Broyde, William Gilders, and Gordon Newby) awarded the prizes as follows:
Ofra Yeglin, Aubrey Buster, Robert Cooper, David Blumenthal, Mark Goldfeder
Mark Goldfeder, graduate student winner
Course: Modern Jewish Law (Independent Study)
Instructor: Michael Broyde
Paper Title: "Rights, Reservations, and Religion; International Human Rights Law and the Status of Women"
Whilehuman rights law in its current form is less than 50 years old, the issues that it grapples with are much, much older. People oftentimes dismiss religion or religious norms as being out of date, close minded, or old fashioned, and label religious views as discriminatory in theory or even in practice. In reality, religions have been dealing with human rights issues since ancient times, and in some ways have laid the groundwork for the very modern discussions that have supplanted them. The answers that religions give, therefore, deserve at the very least a careful and respectful analysis before they are callously or carelessly cast aside or labeled as one dimensional and discriminatory towards any particular group. As an example, this article examines the State of Israel's controversial and oft-challenged qualifications to CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women), and attempts to cast them in a new light of understanding, i.e. in light of feminist critiques of the very structure of CEDAW itself.
The argument proceeds on three fronts; first, it appeals to the notion that human rights themselves are ineliminably religious in nature, since the idea of the human person as "sacred" is itself inescapably religiously based. Next it provides a brief history of the human rights of women in religion, particularly in rabbinic Jewish thought, noting that despite its proud history religious discourse cannot currently be considered at the forefront of the academic, advocacy, and policy discussions of women's rights. At the same time, however, it acknowledges that without the tremendous groundwork that religion laid it is very possible that these debates would not exist at all, and so any conflicts between religious practice and women's human rights should be approached with a sense of humility, giving the benefit of the doubt to the ultimately progressive nature of religious morality instead of immediately labeling particular practices discriminatory.
The article then turns to an analysis of CEDAW, and in particular focuses on the concerns of feminist scholars who claim that the convention takes the easy way out in defining the equality it strives for by simply requiring the removal of barriers to the rise of women to the same status as men, ignoring the social and legal structures that have given rise to those barriers in the first place. In this sense CEDAW accepts the general applicability of a male standard and promises a very limited form of equality; the right for women to be just like men. Having opened this discussion, the article looks closely at Israel's published reservations to CEDAW in light of these critiques. It argues that the rationale behind them, based in Jewish law, is not at all an attempt to discriminate against women but rather an effort to take seriously the above-mentioned concerns and ensure that in being handed their equality woman are being valued as women, not simply given the permission and ability to go out and act like men. They stem from a legitimate and particular religious vision of separate but equal gender norms—a vision that allows women the freedom to be fully effeminate and not just occupy male space with identical male communal responsibilities. The article concludes that simply labeling God, religion, or particular reservations as automatically discriminatory towards women may miss the subtleties of well-reasoned religious analysis and important alternate visions of equality.
Aubrey Buster, graduate student honorable mention
Course: Judah During the Persian Period (Hebrew Bible Seminar)
Instructor: Jacob Wright
Paper Title: "Written Record and Membership in Persian Period Judah and Classical Athens"
In the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, we witness a drama of identity negotiation. As the returnees to Jerusalem seek to establish themselves in the land, anxiety concerning the defilement of the "holy seed" by the people of the land leads to drastic measures, including strict prohibitions on intermarriage, and the expulsion of foreign wives. The question of "who is in" and "who is out" brings with it the corresponding question of authority: by what means are such boundaries determined? Who (or what) is responsible to create and maintain the distinction between insider and outsider? From the 6th to the 4th centuries BCE, roughly contemporaneously with Ezra and Nehemiah's missions, Athens also underwent a reconsideration of its membership. A series of civic reforms increased the stringency of citizenship requirements and installed prohibitions against intermarriage. Extant records of several "trials of identity," in which the validity of a person's right to citizenship was challenged, provide us with dramatic accounts of the evaluation of related evidence. An individual's ability to produce societally endorsed proof of their membership determined whether they were permitted to remain within the community.
In both societies, we witness the explicit negotiation of communal boundaries. In both societies, the ability to prove one's place in the community rested on the ability to present proof. Authoritative proof of who is in and who is out, however, is defined very differently in Athens and Jerusalem. These two societies provide insight into the comparative technology of cultural memory. In my essay, I specifically analyze the use of textual records as proof of membership in the Athenian and Judean communities. In so doing, I hope to shed light both on the continuing discussion surrounding the relative "textuality" of these societies. Both of these cultures stand as historical representatives of the written word: In Ezra-Nehemiah, we see the continuing transformation of the Judean returnees into a text-centered community, the "people of the book," where the unifying authority of the written word becomes central; Classical Athens not only produced a remarkable number of texts, but also produced many of the literary achievements that form the canon of Western civilization. Yet what role did texts play in the initial formation of these communities as they sought to define themselves explicitly against the surrounding cultures? In order to more clearly define the distinction that I explore in these case studies, I interact with the work of two scholars in particular who have defined categories of the use of writing in the formation of cultural memory: Aleida Assmann and M. T. Clanchy. Their distinctions provide the interpretive lens through which I analyze the relative use of textual records in determining communal membership in both Persian Period Judea as represented in the books of Ezra-Nehemiah and Athens.
Robert Cooper, undergraduate student winner
Course: Jewish Modernities
Instructors: Peter Höyng, Kevin Karnes
Paper Title: "Marcel Prawy and the Jewish Encounter within Pre- and Post-World War II Vienna"
This paper uses Marcel Prawy as a lens with which to examine the conditions faced by Vienna Jews who were forced to emigrate from Austria after the Nazi rise to power during the 1930s. The timeframe of the paper begins with fin de Siecle and ends with the Waldheim Affair, with the intent to highlight the fact that anti-Semitism existed and remained in Vienna during this entire period of time.
Marcel Prawy represents one of the very few Jews who entered into exile during World War II, but returned to his country of exile. In addition, his success in the United States and his continued success in Vienna was uncommon for the majority of Jewish exiles and can be attributed to the fact that Prawy shrouded his Jewish identity upon his return to Vienna in 1955. This paper aims to examine a seldom-discussed topic in the field of Jewish studies because Germany's role in the persecution of Jews during World War II often supersedes and conceals that of Austria's.
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