Where The Rabbinate And Academia Meet

Each year, a group of the world’s leading scholars of Judaic studies and beyond gathers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies to study a shared topic at the forefront of the field of Jewish studies. Their research on Jewish civilization, past and present, has the potential to enhance Jewish life and shape Jewish culture beyond academic borders. While scholars have opened up vast unexplored areas of knowledge, the task of translating this knowledge for the Jewish community is best achieved by rabbis, who are expert in translating relatively complex data and research into increasingly accessible, meaningful and usable wisdom.

This Year’s Themes

Nature Between Science And Religion

During its 2017–2018 fellowship year, scholars at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies will ask new questions about the history of science, medicine and technology from the perspective of Jewish culture. This year will explore the theories, institutions, and paradigms that shaped how Jews have studied nature, and the ideas, applications, and cultural and religious consequences that emerged from such study.

Darwin’s Jews: Judaism And Evolutionary Theory

Darwinism is one of the most influential – and disturbing – ideas of the nineteenth century. It has been, and remains, the focus of major culture wars. This session will provide an historical overview of the ways in which Jews have engaged with the idea of evolution by natural selection and other species of evolutionary theory, often in stark contrast to Christian approaches. Along the way, we will explore its usefulness for Jewish discussions of the problem of evil, natural disasters, and what it means to be human.

Jewish Culture And The Natural World

The Center embraces an interdisciplinary and comparative approach, seeking to better understand how Jews have understood, interacted with, or sought to intervene into nature.
Some questions we will discuss: How have Jews conceived, studied, and talked about nature and the natural world in different historical periods? In what ways has Jewish scientific engagement in nature been shaped by religious belief and practice? What is the relationship between science and Halakhah, or between science and Jewish religious thought?

Rabbinic Responses To Drought And Environmental Crisis

Underscoring the profound connection between rain and life, rabbinic Jewish texts acknowledge the stark dangers of drought, the preeminent climate crisis of the ancient world. Rabbinic legal texts emphasize fasting as a ritual response to environmental crisis, a religious practice designed to forge a potent correspondence between the human body, the earth, and God. Yet rabbinic stories often take a different approach, recounting the daring boldness of rabbis and charismatic holy men who pray and protest for rain.

Through these tales, the rabbis grapple with profound questions about the power and frailty of the human body, communal responsibility in times of disaster and distress, and the importance of ethical self-critique—questions that remain relevant for environmental ethics today.

This Year’s Fellows

Katz Family Fellows

Steven Exler
Hebrew Institute of Riverdale
Riverdale, NY

Asher Lopatin
Yeshivat Chovevei Torah
Riverdale, NY

Geoff Mitelman
Sinai and Synapses
New York, NY

Rabbi Samuel T. Lachs Fellows

David Ackerman
Beth Am Israel
Penn Valley, PA

Helaine Ettinger
New York, NY

Karen Perolman
Temple B’nai Jeshurun
Short Hills, NJ

Jeff Fox
Yeshivat Maharat
Riverdale, NY

Corkin Family Fellows

Julie Hilton Danan
Pleasantville Community Synagogue
Westchester, NY

Shoshana Mitrani Knapp
Rav Shoshana – A Joyful Judaism

Benjamin Spratt
Congregation Rodeph Shalom
New York, NY


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