Friday, April 09, 2010


The week before Pesah, I participated in an academic conference on the Jews of medieval England. It was held in the city of York, in commemoration of the Jews of York who died in the city on Shabbat ha-Gadol 1190. The details of the conference can be found here and ongoing discussions flowing from the conference can be found here.

It was an amazing experience for me (though somewhat nerve-wracking, being so far from my kitchen that was still in need of Pesach cleaning). Among the highlights for me was Nicholas Vincent's lecture the first evening, on the portrayal of Richard I in William of Newburgh. Not that I know much about Richard I, or even about William, the unrivaled star of the conference. But Prof Vincent's lecture made such beautiful use of medieval manuscripts that I was deeply moved (really!). Utilizing information like the literary sources that William used, the distribution of the Latin versions of Josephus in English manuscripts, and an intimate familiarity with the language of the Vulgate, and incredible knowledge in the historiography of English monarchy, he suggested that William modeled his portrayal of King Richard on Josephus's portrayal of Titus (ha-rasha).

Several speakers, who were also a lively audience, displayed tremendous knowledge of archival sources - in one memorable exchange, someone recited the years of each visit that King Richard made to York. Quite a few. I hope to someday know the primary materials that I study the way these academics know theirs.

Something that emerged for me on the third and last day of the conference, was the significance of scholarship in Jewish studies that is published in English. Books published in recent years in English on the (perennial) topic of Jewish martyrdom, even books that I would not necessarily have considered to be particularly crucial, have become part of a common discourse among medieval historians and the names of their authors are on everyone's lips. But important Israeli scholars who have published extensively in Hebrew and only rarely in English remain anonymous in these wider circles. Obviously a natural result, but one that gave me pause when I caught a glimpse of it.

So I hope it was a good thing that I delivered a paper on Halakhah. I hope to publish it in a form that is meaningful and convincing for both the larger circle of historians and the smaller circle of Talmudists.


Blogger Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

Did you stay in York over night? Because supposedly there is a cherem which prohibits sleeping in York overnight because of the York massacre...

6:47 PM  
Blogger ADDeRabbi said...

Your post explains why translation matters; see also:

10:14 AM  

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