Scholarly Duo Lectures

Thursday evenings, March 11 and 18, at 7:30 pm on Zoom

On two Thursday evenings in March, we will have the opportunity to convene again as a Zoom learning community for successive lectures by (married) professors Jessica Cooperman and Hartley Lachter. Joining us from the beautiful Lehigh Valley, Drs. Cooperman and Lachter will reexamine historical strategies of expressing and navigating Jewishness in challenging settings, both medieval and modern.

Dr. Hartley Lachter, March 11
Dr. Hartley Lachter, Chair of the Department of Religion Studies, Philip and Muriel Berman Chair in Jewish Studies, and director of the Berman Center for Jewish Studies at Lehigh University, whose scholarly focus is medieval Jewish mysticism, will give a lecture entitled What Can Kabbalah Teach Us About Jewish History? Kabbalah in the Middle Ages is often imagined as Judaism’s best kept secret, known only to a small elite. But an examination of kabbalistic sources reveals that Kabbalah was a very public form of Jewish knowledge. In fact, kabbalistic texts, including the famous Sefer ha-Zohar, addressed all of the pressing social and political issues facing Jews in their daily lives. In particular, Kabbalah provided medieval Jews with a way of understanding national trauma and historical misfortune as, secretly, steps on the path to Jewish redemption. Most importantly for Jews in Western Europe, Kabbalah responded to negative Christian depictions of Jews and Jewish disempowerment. The creativity of medieval kabbalists became a vital part of the legacy of how Jews have created their own historical narrative.

Dr. Lachter’s scholarly work explores how medieval Jewish-Christian debates, as well as disruptive moments of violence and forced conversion, shaped Jewish mystical literature. He is the author of Kabbalistic Revolution: Reimagining Judaism in Medieval Spain (Rutgers University Press 2014). His lecture will explore what kabbalistic texts can teach us about how Jews understood Jewish history—especially moments of crisis and setback—and how Kabbalah served as a form of resistance literature for many pre-modern Jews.

Dr. Jessica Cooperman, March 18
As we approach and prepare for Pesah, Dr. Jessica Cooperman, Associate Professor of Religion Studies and Director of Jewish Studies at Muhlenberg College, whose scholarship focuses on 20th-century American Judaism and Jewish culture, and on connections between religion and state policy, will give a lecture entitled Passover Seders and Jewish-Christian Engagement in Postwar America. Passover is often described as the quintessential American Jewish holiday, celebrated by more American Jews than any other religious ritual. Since the mid-20th century, however, seders have also been reinterpreted as auspicious sites for Jewish-Christian engagement. While early modern European Christian writing about Jews often depicted the seder as a mysterious, secretive Jewish domestic ritual with sinister associations with murder and blood libel, contemporary American engagements with Passover have radically altered this depiction. The seder has been moved out of an exclusively Jewish realm and reconceived as an opportunity for genuine connection between Jews and Christians through the celebration of a ritual that an increasing number of Christians have come to regard as an important part of their own heritage.

Dr. Cooperman’s book, Making Judaism Safe for America: World War I and the Origins of Religious Pluralism (NYU Press 2018), received an honorable mention for the bi-annual Saul Viener Book Prize in American Jewish History. Her current research explores sites of Jewish- Christian dialogue and engagement in the post-World War II period. This lecture will examine some of the ways American Jews and Christians have reimagined their engagement with the Passover seder, both together and separately, and consider how Jewish texts and practices associated with Passover have been reinterpreted in order to serve new purposes and communities. An exploration of these different approaches to the seder will offer us a window into the multiple and shifting dynamics of Jewish-Christian relations in the post-World War II United States.

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Meeting ID: 821 9601 0875
Passcode: 613
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