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A Public Dialogue with Jean Baumgarten and Nathaniel Deutsch
November 16, 2011 @ 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm | Humanities 1, Room 202
One of the most important—and least appreciated—categories that Jews have employed to experience the world Jewishly is minhag, a Hebrew word typically translated into English as “custom.” Historically, minhag enabled Jews to transform practically every event and action into something with Jewish meaning; it also enabled Jews to differentiate themselves from non-Jews, as well as from Jews from other places or backgrounds (e.g., Ashkenazi vs. Sephardi). Significantly, some Jewish sources went so far as to define minhag as a form of Torah and stressed the importance of maintaining minhagim (the plural form of minhag), while other sources cautioned against the dangers of blindly following minhagim. For centuries, Jews learned minhagim mimetically, that is, by imitating other members of their community or family and through oral transmission. In the early modern period, however, Jews also began to publish printed collections of minhagim, eventually creating a literary genre that exists to this day among Ultra-Orthodox Jews. In the twentieth century, the collection and study of minhagim became one of the central interests of the first ethnographers of Jewish life in Eastern Europe.
In this public dialogue, Professor Jean Baumgarten, a world-renowned expert on Yiddish minhag literature and Professor Nathaniel Deutsch, whose recently published book The Jewish Dark Continent: Life and Death in the Russian Pale of Settlement (Harvard University Press) explores the groundbreaking ethnographic work of S. An-sky, will discuss the history and significance of minhag in its many facets.
Jean Baumgarten, is Professor and Directeur de Recherche (CNRS), Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Centre des Hautes Etudes Juives, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, in France.
Generous support provided by the David B. Gold Foundation.