SJE Conference 2019




7:00-8:30pm                  SJE Session I: Environmental Ethics and Jewish Filly I       Thought: Theory & Practice                        


Convener: Aaron Gross (University of San Diego)

Adrienne Krone (Allegheny College), “Taking Students in to the Field(s): Teaching Jewish Environmental Ethics through Co-Curricular Programs”


Teaching Jewish environmental ethics in the classroom can be difficult. In this paper, I will discuss how I have created opportunities for my students to experience Jewish environmental ethics outside the classroom through co-curricular programing including weekend trips, student-faculty research experiences, and an Alternative Spring Break trip. Co-curricular programming allows students to see how Jewish ethical principles are interpreted and implemented to address modern environmental issues. Students also gain an understanding of the limitations of enacting Jewish ethics in a non-Jewish context and the tensions that arise between Jewish ethics and environmental science and activism.

Alex Weisberg (New York University), “Jewish Environmental Ethics Reconsidered”


In this paper, I argue for an entangled biblical environmental ethic. In this ethic, God provides a ground for valuing the creation through His care for its integrity. Humanity is both given influence over non-humans and is charged with maintaining the stability of the creation of which they are part. The narratives of Genesis greatly qualify humanity’s rulership presented in Genesis 1, placing humanity in a nuanced, entangled, and precarious position in the world. We should understand this influence, charge, and entanglement along with Elizabeth Grosz’s suggestion that humanity is the immanent emergence of the self-reflection of matter (Grosz 2005).


Respondent: Laurie Zoloth (University of Chicago)




7:45-8:45am          Journal of Jewish Ethics Board Meeting        Skybox


9:00-10:30am        SCE Plenary I                                              Marriott V 


10:30-11:00am       Break                                                        Marriott VI


11:00am-12:30pm SJE Session II: Jewish Ethics and Modern      

                             Philosophy                                                  Grandstand



Convener: Joel Gereboff (Arizona State University)


Vincent Calabrese (University of Toronto), “Kantian Themes in the Work of Michael Wyschogrod”


This paper examines the role played by Kantian ethical doctrines in the thought of Michael Wyschogrod. Wyschogrod’s writings on ethics constitute an assault on what he takes to be the most central of these doctrines — the elevation of morality over religion, the role of autonomy, and the universality and ahistoricality of ethics — arguing that all are incompatible with Judaism. Also considered are the ways in which Wyschogrod connects his reading of Kant to the history and theology of German Jewry, and the possibility that Wyschogrod evinces Kantian influence, in spite of himself, in his treatment of conscience.


Benjamin Ricciardi (Northwestern University), “Playing Video Games with Hermann Cohen: The Judeo-Kantian Moral Aesthetics of Dishonored


Hermann Cohen suggests that art is simultaneously an ethical project and one hazardous to ethics, in that the completion of an ideal accomplished in a successful work of art may be mistaken for an ethical completion. He further suggests that the highest form of art is drama, since its nature mitigates this danger. I will argue that, by his criteria, the narrative video game constitutes an even higher form of art than drama: the protagonist of the story is inhabited by the spectator and it is the actions directed by that spectator that themselves drive the story.


Respondent: Stephanie Brenzel (Northwestern University)


12:30-2:00pm                Lunch


12:45-1:45pm                SJE Board Meeting                    Jockey Club                     


2:00-3:30pm                  SSME Plenary                             Marriott VII                                


3:30-4:00pm                  Break                                       Marriott VI                                                           


4:00-5:30pm  SJE Session III: Reading #MeToo in Classical Texts and            Rose         Contemporary Discourses                                   


Convener: Aviva Richman (New York University)


Ari Ballaban (Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion), “The #MeToo Movement and “Your Momma” Jokes in the Babylonian Talmud: Studying b. Sotah 42b in Light of Rabbinic Masculinity”


So-called locker-room talk is not merely a feature of contemporary Western discourse; men in late antiquity also engaged in it, and the Rabbis depicted in classic rabbinic literature are no exception to this rule. Though locker-room talk may be crude, it remains important to study the specific social reasons why men of a given society use it. To that end, this paper analyzes one strand of locker-room talk—the maternal insult (i.e., the “your momma joke”)—that appears in Bavli Sotah 42b. In particular, it will explore how such humor played a role in the construction and maintenance of masculine identity in rabbinic society.


Mira Wasserman (Reconstructionist Rabbinical College), “#MeToo, the Jews, and the Ethics and Politics of Public Disclosures”


The #Metoo movement has demonstrated that public disclosures of allegations of abuse are critical for the pursuit of justice. As we have seen in case after case, after one brave victim speaks out, others are emboldened to come forward with evidence. But the moral imperative to disclose accusations of abuse conflicts with other ethical concerns. I will explicate this problem through a close reading of a talmudic narrative from B. Mo’ed Katan 17a, proposing that the concept of Hillul Ha-Shem can ground a victim-centered Jewish ethical response to abuses of power.


Respondent:  David Brodsky (Brooklyn College)


5:18pm              Shabbat Candle Lighting


7:00-7:45pm      Kabbalat Shabbat Services                                     Filly


7:45-9:15pm      Shabbat Dinner                                         Thoroughbred




6:45-7:15am    Contemplative Prayer                                       Clubhouse

Silent, contemplative prayer presents opportunities for solidarity in worship, spiritual practice, and ethical witness across ecumenical and interfaith/interspiritual traditions. And many scholars and members of our societies (SCE, SJE, and SSME) engage in meditation or contemplation as part of both their personal spiritual practice and their scholarly work in teaching and research. This contemplative prayer service is open to all, and will include a brief meditation from the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Scriptures, followed by 20 minutes for silent contemplation, concluding with a brief prayer. No prior experience necessary - please join us!


9:00-10:30am     Shabbat Services                                                Place


10:30-11:00am   Break                                                          Marriott VI


11:00am-12:30pm   SJE Session IV: What is the Opposite of Law? Perspectives on  Marriott IV              the Relationship between Halakhah, Personal Narrative, and         Spirituality                                           


Convener: Deborah Barer (Towson University)

Sarah Zager (Yale University), “Mushrooms and Lullabies: Caregiving, Child-rearing and Public Halakhic Roles”


This paper brings together rabbinic texts that make having children a prerequisite for holding leadership roles in rabbinic society, including serving as a judge and witness in rabbinic court and as the prayer leader on a fast day. Together, these texts constitute a strand of rabbinic thinking in which experiences of caregiving that we often think of as traditionally gendered female are understood to inform male halakhic roles. While contemporary political theorists have identified the public self as being characterized by his separation from family ties and personal interests, this picture of leadership emphasizes the importance of particular familial bonds.

Shira Billet (Princeton University), “Between Legal Epistemology and Feminist Epistemology: Halakhic and Ethnographic Descriptions of Abortion”


Drawing upon halakhic decisions regarding abortion, ethnographic data from interviews with halakhically-observant women who have terminated pregnancies, as well as insights from feminist epistemology and disability studies, this paper calls attention to the differing legal and epistemological frameworks at play in the respective perceptions of abortion in halakha and “lived experience.” This study shows that mere halakhic permission to engage in certain acts can be insufficient in complex cases that have bearing on one’s identity, reflecting, more broadly, an important aspect of how thinkers representing marginalized groups approach halakha more broadly: seeking not only inclusion, but also for affirmation of identity.

Zalman Rothschild (Harvard University), “Law and Spirituality: A False Dichotomy”


A close look at the legal teachings of Habad provides an opportunity to challenge the binary framework and perceived tension between spiritualism and law in Hasidism. Through its teachings, law not only does not impinge on spirituality but is conceived by them as its culmination and greatest expression. According to Habad thought, spirituality leads to law. In addition to problematizing the spirituality/legality dichotomy, an exposition of Habad’s will-based legal philosophy, which has to date received little scholarly attention, contributes in important ways to discussions of ta’amei hamitzvot in Jewish legal thought more broadly.


12:30-2:00pm            Shabbat Lunch and Text Study: Jeffrey Rubenstein (New York Marriott X          University), “The Emotion of Disgust in Jewish Law and  Ethics”                                                                                                                              


2:00-3:30pm               SJE Session V: Rabbinic Texts and Marginal                      Paddock                    Bodies                                                                                                             


Convener: Jonathan K. Crane (Emory University)

Wendy Love Anderson (Washington University), “Women and Angels: An Ethical Counterhistory of ‘Non-Traditional’ Mikveh Practice”


While Jewish men “traditionally” immerse in mikvehs for everything from scribal work to holiday preparation to welcoming the Sabbath, Jewish women “traditionally” immerse for a different and much more limited set of purposes relating to menstruation and/or pregnancy. Unless they are converting to Judaism, women and men seem to be doing entirely different things with the same body of water. In this paper, I will use primarily medieval texts to challenge the assumed gendering of mikveh use and to propose a counterhistory and accompanying ethical intervention into women's use of mikvehs for so-called "non-traditional" or "non-halakhic" purposes.

Alyssa Henning (Luther College), “Jewish Ethics and Medical Research with Human Subjects”


This paper argues that religious ethics offers important contributions to enrich the discussion of ethical issues raised by medical research on human subjects by broadening the scope of analysis beyond questions about regulatory compliance and informed consent. To illustrate religious ethics’ contributions to this discourse, this paper suggests and analyzes key contributions that Jewish texts and Jewish ethics offer to this endeavor. Specifically, this paper suggests the Talmudic concept of lifnim mishurat hadin and the text of Mishnah Bava Kama 8:7 as foundational sources for a Jewish ethic of medical research on human subjects.

Respondent: Rebecca Epstein-Levi (Washington University)


3:30-4:00pm               Break                                                    Marriott VI


4:00-5:30pm               SJE Session VI:  Imperfection and Responsibility                                                                 Marriott III


Convener: Elliot A. Ratzman (St. Norbert College)


Dustin N. Atlas (University of Dayton), “Ethics of Imperfection: Mendelssohn and Modern Jewish Thought”


I will argue that Modern Jewish philosophy, exemplified by Moses Mendelssohn, is epitomized by an attentiveness to imperfection—meaning: it takes as given that thought is incomplete and compromised. Any relationship to ethics must not seek to overcome imperfection and compromise, but proceed through them. The commonplace that Mendelssohn is an unprincipled compromiser seeking to save liberal individualist ethics will be challenged by this paper, and it will be seen that Mendelssohn is a principled compromiser. This because we are all, literally, compromised: imperfect composites entangled with each other, and in an erotically charged relationship with perfection (God).


Alex Ozar (Yale University), “Some are Guilty, but All are Responsible: A Heschelian Ethic of Prophetic Citizenship”


Heschel often remarked that when it comes to societal injustices in free societies, “Some are guilty, but all are responsible.” I argue for an account of responsibility on which Heschel’s aphorism comes out true, and then spell out that account’s implications for the responsibilities of citizens participating in social systems featuring structural injustice. What emerges is that we meet our responsibilities on this score to the extent that we fulfill the role Heschel explicates as that exemplified by the biblical prophet – as well as the correlative role of contemporary prophets’ faithful audience. We are then further responsible, on that basis, for sustaining a personal openness to the possibility of prophecy and for helping to cultivate a culture in which prophecy is legible as such. 


Respondent: Randi Rashkover (George Mason University)


5:45-7:15pm  SJE Session VII: Death and Violence             

Marriott II


Convener: Aryeh Cohen (American Jewish University)


Yitzchak Schwartz (New York University), “Mystery and the Gift of Death: From the Binding of Isaac to the Crusade Chronicles”


This paper seeks to understand the ethics of self-sacrifice in the Talmud, medieval midrashic and medieval chronicle literature, especially in texts dealing with the Binding of Isaac. Jewish historians modern thinkers mostly downplay the notions of martyrdom and self-sacrifice in historical Jewish thought. They have often dismissed medieval chronicles that document Jews’ self-sacrifice during persecutions as ahistorical. Most medieval Jewish writers and various Talmudic narratives of martyrdom celebrate the notion of self-sacrifice in all its gory detail. How can we reconcile and understand these narratives, the ecstasy they inspire in their authors and the discomfort they provoke in modern philosophers?


Adam T. Strater (Emory University), “Rabbinic Sublimation of Violence and Jewish Extremist Rhetoric: The Legacy of Amalek and Esau”


This paper uses a modified discourse methodology based on contemporary variations of Aristotle’s On Rhetoric to analyze the way religious leaders on the Jewish radical right have altered biblical motifs, specifically Esau and Amalek, since the Holocaust. Using an interdisciplinary approach grounded in biblical studies and peace and conflict studies, I will analyze rhetorical elements of Jewish extremist speech in which Israel’s enemies par excellence are used as proxies for perceived inimical Others. The paper will ultimately show how religious extremists connect hateful ideas to inherited Jewish tradition using biblical motifs, but reject rabbinic precedent by advocating for real violence.


Respondent: Emily Filler (Earlham College)


6:27pm              Havdalah


8:00-9:30pm               SJE Works-in-Progress                        



Convener: Elias Sacks (University of Colorado-Boulder)


Amanda Mbuvi (High Point University), “Rebecca’s Journey: Transracial Adoption as a Window into the Construction of Jewish Families”


The children’s book Rebecca’s Journey Home chronicles the very specific experience of a Jewish-American family participating in international adoption, but it has much broader relevance. Through descriptions of family life, intergenerational dialogues, and rituals, the book provides a detailed window into the construction of identity and the processes by which is it created, perceived, maintained, and transformed. The family’s experience navigating issues of race, religion, and nationality illuminates each of those modes of identity, as well as Jewish identity’s distinctive relationship to them.


Respondent: Martin Kavka (Florida State University)




7:00-8:45am               SJE General Business Meeting               

Marriott I


9:00-10:30am             SJE Session VIII: Maternal Experience as Resource and    Challenge to Religious Ethics               

Marriott X


Convener: Irene Oh, George Washington University


Panelists: Mara Benjamin, Mt. Holyoke College (SJE)

               Michal Raucher, Rutgers University (SJE)

               Sandra J. Sullivan-Dunbar, Loyola University Chicago (SCE)

               Cristina Traina, Northwestern University (SCE)


Recent feminist work in Jewish and Christian ethics shows that careful attention to maternal experience uncovers dimensions of moral experience that have been obscured within religious ethics. Each of the proposed panelists draws on maternal experience--in the form of the authors' own experiences, narrative accounts of other experiences, social scientific research, and ethnographic research—to illuminate and reinterpret foundational categories in religious ethics: obligation, love, nature, agency, power, justice. These experiential accounts often challenge, nuance, or transform previous understandings of these categories.   

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