History, Jews, News and Events

2017 Undergraduate Judaic Studies Conference

The Undergraduate Judaic Studies Conference brings together qualified undergraduate students to present and discuss papers on topics in Judaic Studies. The conference aims to foster intercollegiate conversations among undergraduates pursuing research in Judaic Studies, as well as to provide accomplished undergraduates with the opportunity to present their research and receive feedback from peers.
Having had the third conference the 18th of February we look back at last years event where at the second annual Undergraduate Judaic Studies Conference at Yale University, three Yeshiva College students presented their research.
“Our students have excellent skills, and high interest, in Jewish thought and texts,”
said Dr. Aaron Koller, associate professor of Near Eastern and Jewish studies and chair of the Robert M. Beren Department of Jewish Studies at Yeshiva College.
“The conference was an excellent opportunity for them to meet other students from top universities around the country who are doing high-quality Jewish studies work, and it’s also wonderful that the broader academic community had the chance to see some of the work being produced in YU.”
 Yakov Ellenbogen — a senior from Sharon, Massachusetts, majoring in history and minoring in Jewish studies — shared a paper about medieval Kabbalistic views of people with physical disabilities.
“I became interested in this when I was introduced to a very rich excerpt from the Zohar, which discusses priests with physical impairments that disqualify them from service in Temple ritual,”
said Ellenbogen, who also presented at the conference last year.
“For my term paper in a class on Kabbalah I took with Professor Jonathan Dauber, I delved further into this passage as well as the writings of Rabbi Moshe Cordovero regarding people with disabilities.”
Ellenbogen discovered that for Kabbalists, Kabbalah was a method of understanding and processing the world around them, including their encounters with disabled people. But their approach stood out in many ways from those of their medieval Christian and Ashkenazic counterparts.
“I think that this type of research can further the dialogue surrounding disabilities in the Jewish community, exposing biases and uncovering the lives of their premodern Jewish predecessors,”
he said.
Senior Tzvi Aryeh Benoff from Bergenfield, New Jersey, discussed how various social, political and religious institutions in the Spanish Portuguese Jewish community in early 17th-century Amsterdam facilitated the education and integration of Jews who had recently immigrated from Spanish-controlled lands and had been living outwardly as Christians while secretly remaining Jews.
“Having lived this way their entire life, they lacked a basic familiarity with Jewish law and Jewish thought, and I wanted to learn how the Amsterdam community helped them adjust,”
Benoff said. Benoff, who is majoring in mathematical economics and double minoring in history and American studies, initially conducted the research as part of a course on conversions to and from Judaism, taught by Dr. Chaviva Levin, visiting assistant professor of Jewish history. He plans to explore a similar topic for his senior thesis, focusing on the Young Israel of Parkchester and how the rabbi and lay leadership worked to inspire the congregation during the post–World War II era.
“I see this project as part of a larger question in understanding how religious revival movements develop in the Jewish community: What factors and dynamics inspire, catalyze and effectuate a large-scale recommitment to Jewish observance and tradition, and have those factors changed throughout history?”
Yehuda headshot
Yehuda Fogel, senior in Yeshiva University from Long Island, NY,

 Yehuda Fogel — a junior from Wood-mere, New York, studying psychology and Jewish philosophy — a senior in Yeshiva University from Long Island, NY, who is currently studying psychology and Jewish Studies. His areas of interest are Jewish philosophy, gender studies, Hassidut, and Kabbalah, with a particular emphasis on the interplay between these disciplines. His current studies look at shared resonance in the works of Rabindranath Tagore and Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. It was Yehuda’s second UJSC. He presented a paper titled, “Ayzehu Gever: Haredi Draft Aversion and the War for Jewish Masculinity.” His studies focus on gender descriptions in Jewish philosophy, an idea he first discovered in Professor Daniel Kimmel’s Interrogating Masculinities class.

“The conference was a nice exposure to the interests of others studying Judaism with a variety of bright, driven students from colleges across the world,”
Fogel said
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