Fifth International Spring School in Jewish Studies

The Fifth Edition of the International School in Jewish Studies “Home, Belonging and Exile: Sepharad and Beyond”, jointly organized by the Hebrew and Jewish Studies Department, University of Amsterdam; King’s College London; The Open University of Israel; J-Med (CSIC-UCM); and the Sephardic Museum, Toledo, took place in Madrid and Toledo between May 27 and June 3.

On the first day of the program, the students and teachers travelled to Toledo. There, they visited the Old Synagogue Santa María la Blanca, Taller del Moro and Salón Rico. The visit finished at Samuel haLevi/Tránsito Synagogue, where Prof. Maurice Kriegel (EHESS) gave the opening lecture. The event was hosted by Carmen Álvarez, director of the Sephardic Museum, and attended by Dan Poraz, Israel’s Deputy Ambassador to Spain; Carolina Aisen, director of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain (FCJE); and Francisco Rueda, on behalf of Toledo City Council.

On the second day, at the University Complutense, the participants were greeted by the ambassador of the Netherlands, Dr. Jan Versteeg, and by Prof. Pablo Torijano (UCM). Then, they attended the classes by Javier Castaño (CSIC), Gadi Sagiv (Open University of Israel), and Maite Ojeda (University of Valencia), to learn about the history of the Jewish Diaspora, the approach by modern Hasidic masters toward Jewish medieval Iberian philosophers, and finally they were presented a comparative overview of Turkish Jews in Barcelona and Sephardic Jews in the Spanish Protectorate in Morocco in the early twentieth century.

The third day was the turn of Avriel Bar-Levav (OU) and David Torollo (UCM)’s classes, which focused on philosophical and Kabbalistic ideas in Spain, and on the concepts of exile and belonging through the analysis of literary texts. In the afternoon, students and teachers enjoyed a visit to the Historical Library of the University Complutense, in the very center of Madrid, where they received very detailed explanations concerning some Hebrew manuscripts and printed books, related to Alonso de Zamora’s activities.

On the fourth day of the School, the group visited the Library of the Monastery/Palace of El Escorial. Father Jaime Sepulcre provided a detailed explanation of the sixteenth-century origins of the Habsburg royal library (together with the previous library established by the dynasty in Brussels). Then, he continued with an illuminating description of the narrative plan of the content of the frescoes decorating the ceilings of the library hall. Finally, the participants were able to check several Hebrew manuscripts containing works of rabbinical genres and related to medieval Spain. These manuscripts came into the El Escorial collection from two private libraries, the collection of Ambassador Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, a key figure in the Spanish sixteenth-century Renaissance, an erudite intellectual interested in classical languages and in Hebrew, and the author of the Alpujarras Granadan wars history, that he modeled after Josephus’ The Jewish War. The second collection was that of Conde-Duque de Olivares, the early seventeenth-century royal favourite and prime minister under King Felipe IV, who designed in 1633 a(n aborted) plan to re-establish a group of Jews back in Madrid.

After a short lunch in town, the School returned to the University Complutense for the afternoon classes. Andrea Schatz (KCL) fostered debate among students about the different ways to approach “exile and belonging”, especially by using examples taken from Abraham Zacut’s texts. And last, but not least, Ophir Müntz-Manor (OUI) addressed a hot subject, Digital Humanities, and how it can be applied to Jewish studies in his class “everything they wanted to know about Digital Humanities (“but were afraid to ask”)”.

In the evening, all members of the School met at Barganzo, a (Tel-Aviv style) kosher restaurant for enjoying a final meal.

On the last day, the students and teachers visited the Center of Human and Social Sciences (CCHS) of the CSIC (Spanish Research Council), in Madrid, so they could learn more about the Spanish institutional research framework. There, Mariano Gómez Aranda (CSIC) gave a presentation of Abraham Ibn Ezra’s Biblical commentaries and his scientific interests, against the backdrop of Jewish western societies in the twelfth- and thirteenth-century, as well as the later fortune of this Sephardic polymath.

After it, the director of the ILC, Prof. Inmaculada Pérez Martin, a Bizantinist scholar, explained the organization of the humanities at the CSIC, greeted the participants and also shared the visit to the Tomás Navarro Tomás library, where had been prepared a selection of early modern and modern Sephardic Hebrew manuscripts, some of them from the Michael Molho Collection.

Aharon, aharon haviv, Katja Šmid (CSIC) gave the last class of the School, introduced by a short workshop about Rashi and Solitreo writing. Once put into context, she connected the different ways how “belonging” was expressed in Judeo-Spanish genres throughout the Balkan and Eastern Mediterranean Diasporas. Final remarks were made by Bart, Avri, Andrea, and Javier on behalf of the coordinators of the school.

We thank all teachers as well as the institutions (Sephardic Museum and its Friends’ Association, the CCHS of the CSIC, Escorial, Complutense and CSIC libraries, and the Toledo municipal council) for their generous contribution to this success.