Jewish Studies in Europe
Jewish studies as an academic discipline covers the full range of Jewish history, literature, languages, and culture. Practitioners of the discipline are those involved in teaching, researching, publishing, or curating museum exhibitions. Jewish studies includes a very wide range of subjects including, for example, Jews in the Graeco-Roman period, Jewish-Muslim relations, medieval Bible exegesis, Hebrew and Yiddish, modern Jewish thought and history, and the Holocaust.
During the Holocaust about 750 institutions of European Jewish learning were lost forever. Many cities which were the main centres for Jewish studies before the Second World War were destroyed by the Germans and experienced the near-total devastation of their Jewish studies resources. Jewish studies never properly recovered from the Holocaust, and reconstruction has taken place on a country-by-country basis. The rebuilding of a pan-European field in Jewish studies and the promotion of European cooperation has been particularly haphazard and slow.
The position today is one of a new sense of departure. Attempts are being made now to reconstruct and consolidate the field – partly because of the new spirit of European cooperation fostered by the European Union, and partly because of the new impetus provided by contacts since 1989 with eastern Europe, where teaching and research in Jewish studies was prohibited by law after the Second World War. Reconstruction of the field is proceeding here (e.g. Jewish studies was officially restarted in Slovakia only in May 1996). There is enormous interest, with a marked wave of new publications, cultural festivals, and student demand for teaching in a subject which until recently was taboo, although it is now coming to be seen once again as part of the history of many national cultures.
Aims and Activities of the European Association for Jewish Studies
The European Association for Jewish Studies (EAJS) is the sole umbrella organisation for Europe representing the academic field of Jewish Studies. Its primary aim is to encourage and support the research and teaching of Jewish studies at university level in Europe, and other places of higher education and learning.
The EAJS was founded as a voluntary academic association in 1981. Among its activities are the administration of a Conference Grant Programme, the support and organisation of congresses and colloquia, the publication of the European Journal of Jewish Studies (EJJS), and the hosting of the Online Directory of Jewish Studies in Europe.
Membership of the Association is open to all with an active scholarly interest in Jewish studies.
A Short History of the EAJS
Early in the summer of 1980 Professor Jacob Neusner, then of Brown University, sent out a ‘Proposal for a European Consultative conference on Judaic Studies’, which began as follows: “My recent trip to lecture at a number of universities in Germany, France, The Netherlands, and Britain, left the impression that Judaic studies in Europe are now poised for an important step of stabilisation and consolidation. The purpose of this letter is briefly to describe the situation as I see it and to propose a modest but concrete act to improve that situation.” After some months of energetic correspondence Professor Neusner sent out a letter of invitation to some 25 European Judaic scholars to attend the first meeting of an organising committee, to be held at the Oriental Institute in Oxford from 11th to 13th May 1981 and chaired by Dr. Geza Vermes, who by then had taken over all preliminary responsibilities. The meeting was held, with the participants from abroad lodged in the Randolph Hotel; the participants also attended the Sacks Lecture given by Professor Neusner at Yarnton Manor. The organising committee agreed that periodic conferences, inventories of research, a newsletter, and a journal, would be the proper means to promote research in Jewish studies, and immediately started to implement these resolves. A conference was announced for July of the following year, a bulletin was planned, and membership solicitation was undertaken. Professor Neusner took leave of the enterprise with a final report dated 21 May, which, among other matters, thanked The Max Richter Foundation for its support.
In 1982 the first Congress was held in Hertford College Oxford, 18–21 July, with an attendance of around 100, and at its business meeting Dr. Geza Vermes was elected as president and the first Constitution of the EAJS was discussed and accepted. The next Congress was planned for 1984, and was held again in Hertford College, 22–26 July, under the presidency of Geza Vermes. During these years the EAJS Newsletter, edited by Harry E. Gaylord, appeared regularly, though in diminishing frequency. In 1987 (26–31 July), under the presidency of Professor Arnold Goldberg and organised by Professor Peter Schäfer and the Institut für Judaistik in Berlin, the third Congress took place there in Schloss Glienicke, practically on the border between West and East Germany; it had an attendance of around 150. The 950th anniversary of the birth of Rashi offered the setting for the fourth Congress, held 8–13 July 1990 in Troyes under the presidency of Dr. Gabrielle Sed-Rajna, with an opening session in the Institut de France in Paris and an attendance of around 100. The fifth Congress was held in Copenhagen, 14–18 August 1994, under the presidency of Dr. Ulf Haxen, with an attendance of around 150. In 1998 the sixth Congress was held in Toledo, 19–23 July, under the presidency of Professor Angel Sáenz Badillos, with an attendance of around 400. In 2002 the seventh Congress took place in Amsterdam, 21–25 July, under the presidency of Professor Albert van der Heide, with an attendance of around 350. In 2006, the eighth Congress was held in Moscow under the presidency of Professor Rashid Kaplanov, with an attendance of around 480. In 2010, the ninth Congress was held in Ravenna, 25-29 July, under the presidency of Professor Mauro Perani, with an attendance of around 400.
Through the generosity of an anonymous benefactor, a permanent secretariat was established in November 1995 at Yarnton Manor, the home of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, the largest centre for Jewish studies in Europe, and in 1996 a new start with the Newsletter was made after an interval of six years. From this date business meetings of the Executive Committee were held annually, and in this context the production of the first Directory of Jewish Studies in Europe was realised in 1998, with support, amongst others, of the European Union. A new online Directory, to replace the directory published in 1998, was launched in 2006. That same year, the Newsletter was transformed, after 17 issues, into the European Journal of Jewish Studies (EJJS), edited by Professor Giuseppe Veltri. The Directory website was augmented in 2009 with a website database of Jewish Studies Funders, and in 2010 with a general website that would greatly enhance networking within the association, and which featured news of events, lists of available positions, scholarships and fellowships, conferences and calls for papers, and other resources for Jewish Studies. It was also in 2010 that the Association became a charitable company.
In 1995 an affiliation with the Jerusalem-based Centre for the University Teaching of Jewish Civilisation (henceforth ECUTJC) had been established which lasted until 2006, resulting in a series of seven EAJS/ECUTJC Summer Colloquia held at Yarnton Manor in the years between congresses. After 2006, the Colloquia continued to be hosted by the EAJS.
1996: Medieval Jewish Bible Exegesis (15–19 July)
1997: Early Rabbinic Judaism (22–26 September)
2000: Medieval Hebrew Poetry in its Religious and Secular Context (24–27 July)
2001: Issues in Jewish Philosophy (23–25 July)
2003: Teaching the Holocaust in Higher Education in Europe (30 June–2 July)
2004: Epigonism and the Dynamics of Jewish Culture (5–8 July)
2005: The Teaching of Hebrew in European Universities (18–21 July)
2007: The Cultures of Maimonideanism: New Approaches to the History of Jewish Thought (16-19 June)
2008: Hebrew Linguistic Thought and its Transmission in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Times (7-9 July)
2009: Manuscripts and History in the Jewish Middle Ages (6-9 July)
2011: Books within Books: New Discoveries in Old Book Bindings (18-20 July)
2012: Wissenschaft des Judentums in Europe: Comparative Perspectives (23-26 July)
2013: Jewish Theological Seminary at Breslau (22-25 July)
Other events that have been organised under the auspices of the EAJS include the six bi-annual Medieval Hebrew Poetry colloquia (since 2000).
We hope and believe that the Association is now well placed to thrive and grow. There is much evidence that conditions are favourable for the study and teaching of Jewish languages, culture and history to flourish in Europe to an extent not seen since 1939. It is the duty and privilege of the EAJS to ensure that those engaged in this field do not do so in isolation from each other, so that through the Association Europe may again be recognized worldwide as a great centre of scholarship throughout the range of Jewish Studies.
Albert van der Heide, November 2008
Daniel Langton, May 2013