Thursday, July 23, 2009

World Congress of Jewish Studies

The Congress starts in a little more than a week. Some highlights (besides what I noted here):

Session 213, on 13th century Ashkenaz. Ephraim Kanarfogel will discuss attitudes towards apostates and ramifications for the requirement of levirate marriage. Elisheva Baumgarten will discuss time-bound commandments, which women are exempt from according to Talmudic law, but which made a comeback in Northern France during this period. Yehuda Galinsky is suggesting a framework for considering the halakhic works that were composed in Northern France in the 13th century (possibly developing a theme of Simcha Emanuel's at the Rashi conference of 2005). And Simcha Emanuel is pondering the question of continuity in Germany in the 13th century.

Session 214 is also on Ashkenaz - wider time range and different themes. Jeffrey Woolf on the Shechinah in Ashkenaz. Matania Ben Gedaliah, who completed his dissertation last year under Woolf's guidance, will reopen the question of Haside Ashkenaz and martyrdom. Knowing Matania, it is sure to be lively. Simcha Goldin on Piyut-commentary and its sociological significance - he's the only one in the lot that I have never met, but it sounds interesting. And Anat Kutner, who wrote her dissertation on the night in Ashkenaz, with Elliott Horowitz and Elisheva Baumgarten, will speak about night-spirits and ghosts.

Session 311 will be about literary readings of legal sugyot in the Talmud. All the speeches sound interesting - Mira Balberg from Stanford will plunge into corpses and bodily fluids.

In session 340, Gideon Bohak will discuss a manuscript at the NYPL. Session 341 includes Ofer Elior attempting to identify the author of Ruah Hen. Udi Abramowitz will talk about censorship in Rav Kook's writings in session 352. Session 402 will be devoted to double themes in piyutim - the speakers are Shulamit Elitsur, Avi Shmidman, Michael Rand and Peter Lehnardt.

Several academic projects will be showcased at the Congress. One of the major ones is the Friedberg Genizah Project. Here is a description of their session:

On Wednesday, August 5, 2009, 17:30 - 19:30, at the upcoming Fifteenth World Congress of Jewish Studies, there will be a session devoted to "The Friedberg Genizah Project: Objectives and Accomplishments". The congress takes place at the Hebrew University, on Mt. Scopus in Jerusalem.

Director of the Friedberg Genizah Project (FGP), Menahem Ben-Sasson, Professor of History and President of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, will lead off the session.

Yaacov Choueka, Chief Computerization Scientist of FGP and Professor Emeritus at Bar-Ilan University, will speak on "The Computerization of the Genizah World and its Impact on Genizah Research: A Vision and its Implementation". Several exciting developments will be described (see below).

Haggai Ben-Shammai, Professor of Arabic at Hebrew University, will speak on “Judaeo-Arabic Bible Exegesis: Preliminary Mapping”.

Discovered in 1896 in the attic of a synagogue in the old quarter of Cairo, the Genizah is a large collection of discarded codices, scrolls, and documents. These were written mainly in the 10th to 15th centuries, and mainly in Hebrew and Arabic (usually in Hebrew characters). The documents and fragments are now dispersed in over fifty libraries and collections around the world.

The philanthropically-funded Friedberg Genizah Project is in the midst of a multi-year process of digitally photographing (in full color, at 600dpi) most of the extant manuscripts. The entire collections of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, the Alliance Israelite Universelle in Paris, the recently rediscovered collection in Geneva, and many other collections from Strasbourg, Vienna, Budapest, and elsewhere have already been digitized. They comprise about 90,000 images (recto and verso of each fragment).

All the images are being made available to researchers online at That site provides a very convenient web interface, with zoomable images, bibliographic and catalogue data, transcriptions and translations, search facilities, and discussion forums.

In his talk, Choueka will announce three recent achievements of the project:

1. A few months ago, FGP signed an agreement with Cambridge University Library, for a joint three-year project, funded by FGP, during the course of which Cambridge will digitize their entire Genizah collection. This will result in some 400,000 additional images, to be delivered at the rate of 10,000 per month (starting soon), in what is probably one of the largest ever digitization efforts attempted in the world of manuscripts.

2. FGP has begun applying computerized image processing to the digital photographs. This effort -- directed by Dr. Roni Shweka and realized by Rotem Littman -- includes separating the document from its background, segmenting the image into written areas and blank space, straightening the image, and automatically inferring the dimensions of the fragment, the written area, and the individual lines.

3. Because of the unique circumstances of the Cairo Genizah, the leaves of most of the original documents were recovered unbound and are to be found today dispersed among different libraries. Over the past century, scholars have expended a great deal of time and effort on identifying such pages and rejoining them. Despite the few thousands of such joins that have been found by researchers, very much more remains to be done. In this regard, FGP has embarked on an ambitious project -- in collaboration with Professor Nachum Dershowitz and Dr. Lior Wolf of Tel Aviv University and their students -- to use modern machine-learning techniques in a bold computer-aided effort to identify new joins. A highlight of the talk will be a sampling of the hundreds of new joins discovered by the computer in this fashion, based solely on image similarity, including several joins of noteworthy interest.


Anonymous Hebrew Student said...

Thanks for your link to This is a very interesting site for viewing these Hebrew images. However, it says the digitized images are all available online. Apart from a few samples, I didn't see anywhere that all the Hebrew digitized images could be viewed or downloaded from.

10:42 PM  
Anonymous Simon Holloway said...

I was a little disappointed to note that the session on projects was not graced with anything concerning the Hebrew University Bible Project. Might be able to find out more about it while I'm there anyway. Good luck getting to all of yours! I'm already spotting clashes within my own selection of favourites, which is unavoidable given the tremendous range of papers and the sad brevity of the conference.

3:21 AM  
Blogger Gabriel Wasserman said...

Please send me your notes on sessions 213 and 214, if you take any. Thank you.

6:21 AM  

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