The Jews between Minority and Majority cultures: The Case of Byzantium



The aim of our research is at least threefold:

We intend, first, to launch an interdisciplinary research project on the cultural history of the Jews of Byzantium, along a millennium of continuous, rich and complex creativity in all fields. For various reasons, which cannot be analyzed here, Byzantine Jewry in all its aspects is suffering today from a dramatic lack of significant and sustained study. A collective effort in order to change this state of affairs is an urgent and widely recognized desideratum. We propose to put Byzantium on the map of Jewish studies, as it were, both in itself and as the obvious though too often ignored link between the other great blocs of cultural Jewish identity until the contemporary world, those of Europe and of the Islamic lands. To a significant extent, indeed, both the Jews of Eastern Europe, in lands of Orthodox Christianity, and those communities in the former Ottoman Empire, are the heirs of the Jewish communities in the Byzantine Empire.

The second purpose of our research is to develop a method permitting a better, more precise understanding of the mechanisms of communication and transmission of knowledge between minority and majority cultures. Studies on the transmission of knowledge, nowadays a blooming field, have yet to tackle the passage between cultures and languages. Our work, here, will be a case study in the historical sociology of knowledge, in the longue durée. Hopefully, the model we seek to build should also help us understand the complex and dialectical cultural relationships between majority and minorities in other cultural contexts, such as between Jews and Muslims, and also Jews and Christians, in the Islamic lands, as well as between Orthodox and heterodox Christians in Byzantium. The mechanisms of these relationships have not so far been properly analyzed. There is no need to spell out the obvious implications of the proposed research for the various communities of the contemporary Middle East, including Israel (for instance, the cases of diglossia, translation, literature, representation and (mis)perception of the other, law, religion, science, folklore, art and architecture, etc…)

Our third, and perhaps main goal, is to generate a momentum of interdisciplinary research and study which will continue after the three years of the Project, and will transform the Hebrew University into a significant center for Byzantine studies at the international level. It has been recognized for a long time, despite Dr. Herbst, the hero of Agnon’s Shira, that Byzantine studies are almost absent at the Hebrew University. This is absolutely unjustified, due to both the very location of our university in the Holy City of the Byzantine Empire, and to the pivotal importance of Byzantine studies for Middle Eastern history. Even in “normal” times, the establishment of a new field of study in a university is at best a highly complex affair, all the more so in periods of stress. The unique opportunity offered by Scholion permits the realization of a dream, essential for the intellectual dynamism of our Faculty. Putting the Jews at the “center” of Byzantium would permit us to reach fast the international academic community with substantial contributions.

   We hope to achieve these three goals through a concerted interdisciplinary and multi-layered effort. The main ongoing public activity of the group will be the bi-monthly Research Seminar, where we will present work in progress and discuss the contributions to the central themes of the research from various viewpoints. The Research Seminar will be open to graduate students, in order to encourage vocations. A weekly meeting, with participation limited to the members of the group, will seek to strengthen close contacts between the us, including a small nucleus of advanced graduate students. We shall seek to invite at least one Byzantinist each term, for a shorter of longer period. The three years will be devoted to six semesters, dealing with different topics. At the end of each of the first two years, a workshop will test the results and work in progress, also of the graduate students. An international Conference will be convened at the end of the third year. Various publications of texts and studies, also on the internet, as well as, perhaps, a new periodical, and an multi-volume Cultural History of the Jews in Byzantium, would make sure that the effort will bear substantial fruit.


Group Members:

Prof. Robert Bonfil -

Dr.  Rina Talgam

Prof. Guy Stroumsa -

Dr. Oded Irshai -

Dr. Ophir Mintz-Manor -

Yossi Soffer -

Dr. Roni Amir -

Dr. Micha Perry -

Dr.  Roly Silberstein  -