The ninth Congress of the European Association for Jewish Studies was held in Ravenna, Italy, from 25th to 29th July, 2010.
Organized by Professor Mauro Perani, President of the European Association for Jewish Studies and, at the same time, of the Italian Association for Jewish Studies (Associazione Italiana per lo Studio del Giudaismo, AISG), the congress convened on the premises of the Ravenna branch of the University of Bologna, and welcomed more than 400 scholars and students from all over Europe, Israel and the USA. The general title of the congress, “Judaism in the Mediterranean Context,” was chosen so as to allow the utmost freedom as far as the presentations, the panels and the single papers are concerned, but also to show how the roots of Jewish experience are deeply connected with the Mediterranean space or, conversely, how the political, geographical and cultural framework called the Mediterranean provided the main context for the expansion and development of Jewish history over the centuries. A historical basis was unmistakably at the centre of the concept of the ninth congress, perhaps due to the historical background of Jewish studies in Italy, where history forms the core of classical curricula and the goal of many case studies and specialized disciplines dealing with the Jews and Judaism. Therefore, the Congress received its shape from the three keynote lectures which structured the plenary session on the three days (July 27th, 28th and 29th) in which the congress fully developed.
The first plenary lecture, concerning antiquity, was presented by Professor Martin Goodman (Oxford) on the morning of 27th July. Under the title “Titus, Berenice and Agrippa: the Last Days of the Temple in Jerusalem,” Professor Goodman offered a novel perspective on these events by posing the question of the attitude of Berenice and Agrippa to the Temple at the moment of its destruction. The demise of the Temple shaped the subsequent history of Judaism and of the West in a profound way, but at the time of Agrippa and Berenice, other possibilities were still open. Historical knowledge can only progress by asking whether the fatal rupture between Roman Empire and Jewish insurgents was really inevitable. Thus, right at the beginning of the congress the capacity of historical questioning for opening a fruitful debate was masterfully exhibited.
The second plenary lecture, in the morning session of Tuesday 28th July, concerned the Middle Ages and, similarly, it questioned a key concept, in this case the existence of a “Jewish Middle Ages”. Historian Kenneth Stow of the University of Haifa presented, in his lecture “Was there a Jewish Middle Ages?”, the evidence and the problematic aspects of the very notion of a “Jewish” Medieval experience. Not only the periodization, the well known problems of setting the boundaries of a historical period conceptualized for the general, that is Christian, society came to the fore but especially the question of the institutional framework within which the Jewish communities and individuals could exist and, even more, the self-perception of the Jews within a Medieval society. A lively debate followed the presentation, a further proof that the presentation by Professor Stow stimulated further discussion and contributed to problematie historical wisdom by showing its ideological ingredients.
The third plenary lecture, presented on Wednesday 29th July by the doyen of Jewish History Professor Shlomo Simonsohn of Tel Aviv, concentrated on the host country of the congress, that is Italy, in his brilliant and rich overview: “Jewish Italy: the melting pot of Mediterranean Jews.” Simonsohn’s perspective, focused as it was on a single country, provided a notable picture, from antiquity to modern times, concerning the peculiar structure of Italian Jewry: not only is the historian confronted with an enduring pattern of plurality among the Jews in Italy, where Old-Italian, Sephardic, Ashkenazi and Levantine groups lived side by side for centuries, but also the relationship with the Pagan and Christian environment was, most of the time, one of integration and of mutual interchange. Italy functioned for centuries as an advanced workshop were multiple identities were confronted and moulded, where the boundaries between competing communities were constantly reshaped. Simonsohn’s presentation offered a further chance to reflect on the “Italian case” in its specific traits, suggesting a framework in which the discussions of the last day of the congress could be placed.
The congress programme contained sixteen thematic sections reflecting the variety and richness of the approaches to Jewish studies in present academic life. The sections too followed an historic scheme, ranging from biblical times to contemporary Jewish experience, and included specific sections on the Jewish book (from manuscripts to printed books), Jewish languages, Art, philosophy and the ever blossoming field of Jewish mysticism, encompassing Kabbala and Jewish magic.
The complete congress programme and an exhaustive collection of the abstracts may be found in the volume Judaism in the Mediterranean Context, Program and Abstracts of the IX Congress of the European Association for Jewish Studies, Ravenna 25th – 29th July, 2010, edited by Mauro Perani, Marta Porcedda and Enrica Sagradini, Ravenna 2010 (available upon request at email@example.com). Rather than report in a detailed way on every single contribution to the congress, we will list the section titles and their relative figures:
- Biblical History and Archaeology: 6 papers;
- Biblical Literature and Language: 8 papers;
- Second Temple Judaism: 22 papers;
- Jews and Judaism in Late Antiquity: 14 papers;
- Rabbinic Literature: 21 papers;
- Medieval Jewish History: 16 papers;
- Medieval Jewish Literature: 27 papers;
- Manuscripts, Codices and Books: 21 papers;
- Early Modern History (1492-1600): 18 papers;
- Modern Jewish History (1600-1933): 58 papers;
- Modern Jewish Literature: 31 papers;
- Jewish Languages: 15 papers;
- Jewish Arts: 29 papers;
- Contemporary Jewish History (after 1933): 22 papers;
- Jewish Philosophy: 16 papers;
- Jewish Mysticism, Kabbala, Magic: 17 papers.
Leading scholars and PhD students, established researchers and beginners shared a forum for discussion, exchange of information, networking and fostering new plans for research across the borders of national academic institutions, languages and disciplines.
The general assembly of the association took place on 27th July and acclaimed the new President of the Association, Judith Olszowy-Schlanger, who will prepare the next quadriennial congress to be held in Paris in 2014. Some members of the previous Executive Committee stepped down after a period of service: Sacha Stern, secretary of the association (whose role has been undertaken by Daniel Langton, previously secretary of the British Association for Jewish Studies); Stefan Schreiner, Lola Cano Ferre, and the treasurer Saverio Campanini (whose function is now performed by Gad Freudenthal). The assembly also elected the future president, Edward Dabrowa, who will have the responsibility of organising the quadriennial Congress of the Association in Krakow in 2018. The new Executive Committee has been elected in the same evening and comprises the following members: Judith Olszowy-Schlanger (President); Gad Freudenthal (Treasurer); Daniel Langton (Secretary); Martin Goodman; Andreas Lehnardt; Mauro Perani (Past President); Javier Castaño; Alberdina Houtman; Edward Dabrowa (President-elect).
The Congress was accompanied by musical and cultural events including, to name only the highlights: a concert by a local group, the Siman Tov Ensemble, performing klezmer music; Sephardic songs performed by EAJS member Judith R. Cohen; and a performance of moving songs by celebrated Italian performer Miriam Meghnagi. Moreover, an exhibition of Hebrew manuscripts was organized by the Biblioteca Classense in Ravenna and excursions to Jewish Venice (on 25th July) and to Bertinoro and Ancona (on 30th July) were organized and many Congress participants took advantage of this unique occasion for visiting some of the most interesting sites of Jewish history in the North-Eastern part of the Peninsula.
Saverio Campanini (former Treasurer).