The Halpern Center for the Study of Jewish Self-Perception
About the Center
The Halpern Center was funded by a gift donated by the estate of the late Professor Mordechai Yosef Halpern of blessed memory. The center’s programs focus on self-perception and consciousness within Jewish tradition and society intersection. The Halpern Center is housed in the Department of Jewish History, and its programs adopt interdisciplinary approach.
Publication Grants and Workshops
In an attempt to further the study of society and the Jewish tradition, the center offers grants to outstanding students and graduates of the Israel and Golda Koschitzky Department of Jewish History, to cover costs associated with publications. To learn more and apply
The Center supports postdoctoral fellows in the Koschitzky Department of Jewish History. Fellows participate in the center’s programming and are invited to present their work in additional departmental forums. In order to apply, candidates must first secure a potential advisor within the Jewish history department.
Read more about the 2021-2022 Fellows
Dr. Sivan Gottlieb, Advisor: Prof. David Malkiel
My main interests include illuminated Hebrew manuscripts from the late Middle Ages and their connections to non- Jewish cultures. My research focuses on the visual language, mostly in the form of diagrams, involved in the production of scientific and philosophical manuscripts. My aim is to contribute to the current understanding of the transfer and sharing of knowledge between different cultures; the collaboration and integration between Jews, Christians, and Muslims; and the adjustments that Jews made to both the texts and the images. In September 2021, I received my PhD in the Department of Art History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. My dissertation topic was ‘The Art of Medicine: Illuminated Hebrew Medical Manuscripts from the Late Middle Ages’ under the guidance of Prof. Sarit Shalev-Eyni.
Dr. Yael Levi, Advisor: Prof. Kimmy Caplan
Yael Levi completed her Ph. D. in Jewish History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and her MA degree in Yiddish literature at Tel Aviv University. Her dissertation focused on the emergence of the Hebrew and Yiddish press in the United States, 1870--1900, from a cultural, political, and legal perspective. Her current depicts the phenomenon of suicide among East European Jewish immigrants in the United States in the turn of the twentieth century. Based on archival evidence, American Yiddish press, and rabbinic literature, the project scrutinizes the meanings and implications of Jewish self-violence on the self-perception of immigrant and native-born Jews in the United States during the era of mass migration.
The Center offers support to research groups for postdoctoral students, each of whom is granted a stipend. The topic of the research groups is announced in a formal Call for Applications, and an official vetting process.
Read more about the 2020-2021 Research Group on Rituals and Spaces in Jewish Communities, 1200-1900
Research Fellows from left to right: Hadar Feldman-Samet, Yakov Mayer, Tzafrir Barzilay, Ahuva Liberles-Noiman, Moshe Yagur.
Dr. Tzafrir Barzilay is interested in the development of the common perceptions of Jews and Christians, and how these evolved throughout the Middle Ages, in particular around the subject of water. In 2016, he received a PhD from Columbia University in New York. He is the author of Poisoned Wells: Accusation, Persecution and Minorities in Medieval Europe, 1321-1422 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2022). Barzilay is currently investigating lay beliefs and practices pertaining to water in Jewish and Christian life from 1050 to 1450 in Europe, focusing on the tensions between the different meanings attributed to water by Jews and Christians in the context of its wide range of practical and ritual uses. He is also studying the roles that rivers played in shaping the history of medieval European Jews.
Dr. Moshe Yagur: During the 2020-2021 academic year, as a fellow at the Halpern Center, I studied the issue of Jewish dwelling options and choices in the urban centers of the medieval Islamic Middle East. I used Cairo Geniza documents alongside contemporaneous sources and archaeological information. Specifically, I questioned the concept of 'Jewish neighborhood' in the Middle Eastern context. What made a neighborhood 'Jewish' – the percentage of Jews in it? The distribution of Jews between it and other parts of the city? The location of Jewish institutions in it? Why in some cities do we find a neighborhood which is identified by the residents as 'Jewish', while in other cities we can't find such a description? And how should we, as modern historians, use the term 'Jewish neighborhood' in an accurate and useful manner, in light of these questions?
Dr. Ahuva Liberles Noiman received her Ph.D. from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Her research at the Halpern Center was entitled “Making Jewish law accessible to the physically impaired: Adele's journey to the 15th-century Bavarian Mikveh. Her project examins the religious actions of a medieval Jewish woman from Bavaria, who was paralyzed from the spine down - probably as a result of an illness. By joining forces with local rabbinic leadership in the 15th century, they uncovered a path to allow her to fulfill her religious obligations despite her physical dissabilities. Drawing on archival and responsa literature, this study uncovers the medieval roots of the struggle to make Jewish law accessible and highlights the "bottom up" agency, giving voice to women of the past.
Dr. Yakov Z. Mayer worked on MS Oppenheim 726 and the Temple in Medieval Ashkenaz.
MS Oppenheim 726 (Neubauer 370) - today part of the Oppenheim collection in the Bodleian library in Oxford - contains a unique collection of medieval compositions that deal with different legal aspects of the temple in Jerusalem, and its sacrificing ceremonies. Among them are miscellanea of paragraphs of Mishnah and Talmud, their medieval commentators, and various legal decisions of medieval halakhic rulers. The manuscript was circulated probably among Hasidei Ashkenaz, whose political and theological point of view was built upon an intensive studying of the temple and its rituals. This study aims to create a biography of the manuscript, including full codicological and paleographical analysis, and historical contextualization. I wish to build a profile of its creators and readers, and to understand what was the role of this book on the book shelf.
My argument is that this manuscript reflects a medieval perception of the “holy place” and the rituals surrounding it. Unlike medieval handbooks for pilgrims, or memoirs of pilgrims, which are documenting physical movement in space towards the holy place, this manuscript was used as a mental guide. Its purpose was to set an emotional, intellectual and mental connection with the holy place, while the physical spatial aspects of the place remained far from reach.
Dr. Hadar Feldman Samet studies the cultural and social history of Jews in Islamic contexts, especially that of the Sephardi Jews of the Eastern Mediterranean basin and the Ottoman Empire. After completing her doctoral research at the Hebrew University, which explored the Sabbatian movement in the Ottoman context in the nineteenth century, Her project as a Halpern Center fellow (2020-2021) reflects her broader interest in intercultural and interreligious encounters, and the affinities between elite and popular cultures, and between social revolutionism and everyday life. The project examines the ways in which emotional expressions and musical traditions, which were widespread in the Ottoman culture in 17th-19th centuries, shaped ritual practices in the Sabbatian movement, in particular, and in the surrounding Jewish and Muslim societies, in general. This study seeks to show that ritual sources can serve as a unique – and at times exclusive – source for exposing significant aspects of commoners’ daily culture, while concurrently shedding light on various cultural exchanges between ethnic groups.
Annual Workshop on Jewish Social History
The Center holds an annual conference in partnership with Tel-Aviv University, in which graduate and postdoctoral students are invited to present drafts of chapters from their thesis or doctorate or of forthcoming articles. The workshop fosters an environment in which presenters can receive critical feedback and allows for an in-depth discussion of the different methodologies utilized in writing Jewish social history. The workshops are international and are held in English. Read more
Program for Outstanding Undergraduate Students in Jewish History
This program is designed for a cohort of outstanding undergraduate students, who are awarded a modest stipend. The program exposes them to new methodologies and approaches, in order to encourage them to continue with their own research. The group meets several times per semester, each time with a different scholars who presents new and interdisciplinary tools for studying Jewish history, society, and perception.
What Are Students Saying?
- Shirel: The program at the Halpern Center allowed me access to research that is beyond the standard undergraduate curriculum; it was pure pleasure. During the meetings, we attained a behind-the-scenes view of scholarship; we were exposed to different fields and to scholars who inspired us. On a personal level, the program motivated me to continue and pursue a masters’ degree.
- Arava: The program at the Halpern Center offers everything that one could wish for when seeking to study history at a high level. It comprised a small and intimate group that met to explore history and historical thinking in depth, and it allowed us to cultivate our creativity and even our imagination. I am thankful for each and every moment of the program.
- Shira: The program offered me a window into the fascinating world of research, a behind the scenes glimpse of the research process, captivating stories and discoveries. As a lover of history, I enjoyed participating with a small group of students who shared my interest, to explore exciting sources, enriching article, and meetings with excellent scholars together. Debra led the program superbly and was open to our requests and interests. She allowed each of the students to express themselves and created a comfortable atmosphere for learning and growth. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in such a unique program, which was well-constructed to furnish us with knowledge, skills, curiosity, and connections.
- Lihi: The program afforded us with the opportunity to access the world of research: its dilemmas, challenges, and difficulties. Meetings with a range of scholars and a variety of sources and methodologies provided us with access to and appetite for the world of academia.
- Yonatan: Participating in the program was an enriching experience for me. I was exposed to fascinating historical sources, gained rich methodological tools; I learned to explore new research subjects and improved my critical thinking skills. This was due to the close guidance of the professor, the various wonderful lecturers, the brainstorming with my fellow participants and the deep learning that took place. I was exposed to different academic approaches of my fellow participants as well.
The Center offers a yearly seminar open to students from different departments. The course deals with a specific topic relating to Jewish society and tradition and fosters interdisciplinary dialogue.