Society of Jewish Ethics 2018 Annual Meeting

January 4-7, 2018

Portland, Oregon

Schedule Draft

Thursday, January 4, 2018

7:30am-10:00pm Conference Desk Open Lobby/Hamilton

11:00am Tour: Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, Japanese American History Offsite  Offsite     

Museum, Japanese American Historical Plaza (Meet in Lobby)

     Japanese American History Museum Information

12-6:00pm Tour: Eloheh Farm: Native American Spirituality & Environmental Ethics  Offsite

  Eloheh Farm Tour Information


This pre-trip visit to Eloheh Farm will focus on the intersection of Native American spirituality and the land. The farm’s founders, Edith and Randy Woodley, will give participants a tour of the farm and also lead a session on earth and spirituality and environmental activism. The cost for the pre-trip will be $35 which will include lunch and transportation to and from the farm. For more information contact: Melissa Browning, (770-568-7318)

6:00-9:00pm      Exhibits Open Multnomah/Holladay

Friday, January 5, 2018

7:00am-6:00pm Conference Desk Open Lobby/Hamilton

7:15-8:45am Breakfast with an Author Cascade Ballroom

    Buffet opens at 7:15; Discussion 7:45-8:45 

            (Pre-registration/payment is required. Meal is not Kosher.)

  Breakfast with an Author List

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

8:00am-7:15pm Exhibits Open      Multnomah/Holladay

9:00-10:30am SCE Presidential Plenary I     Exhibit Hall

Topic: "Working Groups report on the 'State of the Question' in Their Scholarship"

African/African-American Working Group: Eboni Marshall Turman and Reggie Williams
Asian/Asian-American Working Group: Ki Joo (KC) Choi
Latino/a: Rubén Rosario Rodríguez, MT Dávila, Teresa Delgado, and Victor Carmona

Convener: David P. Gushee, Mercer University

10:30-11:00am Break         Multnomah/Holladay

11:00am-12:30 pm Concurrent Session I      Halsey

Topic: Human, Animal, Nature: Ethics of and Beyond the Human Being

Jewish Ethics and Plant-Based Diets

Convener: Rebecca Epstein-Levi, Washington University in St. Louis

Presenter: Dustin Atlas, University of Dayton

Title: “Buber and the Ethics of Singular Perfection”

Abstract: The basic claim of this paper is that Martin Buber’s later writings provide us with the means to develop his ethical thinking beyond the anthropocentrism that haunts his dialogical work, and take account of (some) of our relationships to non-human animals. By focusing on the philosophy of relation that I claim undergirds his dialogical works, we can broaden the reach of his project to engage scholarship in environmental ethics. In this paper, Hans Jonas will act as a primary (if eccentric) representative of this field.

Presenter: Mira Wasserman, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Title: “Noahide Law, Ethics, and Narrative”

Abstract: Can the particularistic orientation of talmudic literature generate an ethics that is universalist? Recently, Christine Hayes challenged David Novak’s characterization of the Noahide commandments as a rabbinic doctrine of natural law, making the problem of the Talmud’s particularism even more acute. I argue that the talmudic discussion of Noahide law (b. Sanhedrin 56a-57b) can generate a universalist ethics when it is read within the horizon of narrative rather than as legal doctrine. The talmudic discussion offers a glimpse of robust intra-rabbinic debates about why and how law enters the world, and about what it means to be human.

Respondent: Lisa Portilla, Emory University

12:30-2:00pm Lunch

12:45-1:45pm SJE Board Meeting Lincoln

12:45-2:00pm Student Caucus  Mt. Bachelor

(Pre-registration needed for lunch.) 

Conveners: Leonard Curry, Vanderbilt University Divinity School

       Sara Wilhelm Garbers, Loyola University Chicago

12:45-2:00pm Junior Faculty Caucus  Mt. Hood

(Pre-registration needed for lunch.) 

Conveners: Elizabeth Sweeny Block, Saint Louis University

       Thomas Bushlack, Aquinas Institute of Theology, St. Louis

2:00-3:30pm Concurrent Session II       Jackson

Topic: Interpreting Human Suffering: Biblical, Rabbinic, Modern 

Convener: Amanda Mbuvi, High Point University

Presenter: Keenan Davis, Emory University

Title: “Suffering, Useless and Useful: Reading Berakhot 5a-b through a Levinasian Lens”

Abstract: Levinas’s notion of “useless suffering” provides a powerful lens through which to analyze the theological and ethical complexities of Berakhot 5a-b. With his exploration of the radical difference between “suffering in the other” and “suffering in me,” Levinas can guide us in thinking through the Talmudic cases that seem to depict suffering as quite useful, particularly those termed “afflictions of love.” Reading the sugya in conversation with the thought of Levinas can also shed practical light on the roles, responsibilities, and expectations that we might have of those suffering and of those who encounter suffering others, such as physicians and others in the health professions.

Presenter: Alex Green, SUNY Buffalo

Title: “Levi Gersonides on Job’s Ethical Error”

Abstract: The Book of Job attempts to answer the problem of how a God who is omniscient, omnipotent and good can allow evil to happen to a righteous person, Job. Maimonides’ solution is that Job attained moral perfection, but lacked intellectual perfection. Gersonides challenges this: Job may have achieved intellectual perfection in the natural sciences, but he lacked knowledge of astronomy and astrology. This deficiency led him to not fully understand the random effects of the stars on human life, an ethical mistake. Job misses an important part of ethics: cultivating the proper virtues that are necessary for preserving one’s physical self against the decrees of the stars as a means to achieve eudaimonia.

Respondent: Claire Sufrin, Northwestern University

3:30-4:00pm Break Multnomah/Holladay

4:00-5:30pm Concurrent Session III  Jackson

Topic: Jewish Political Ethics Inside and Outside the State

Convener: Julie Cooper, Tel Aviv University

Presenter: Shaul Magid, Indiana University Bloomington

Title: “A Jewish Theology of the Anti-Christ: The Political Theology of Yoel Teitelbaum of Satmar”

Abstract: It is well-known that after the establishment of the state of Israel, Yoel Teitelbaum became the most prominent spokesperson for ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionism. Few, however, have carefully scrutinized his voluminous writings on the subject. In this lecture I argue that Teitelbaum was actually a pre-millennial messianist and had a well-developed political theology that placed Zionism as the final test for Jews to overcome in order for messiah to arrive. Zionism was, for him, an anti-Christ. I distinguish between his two major works on the subject: Vayoel Moshe, a halakhic work written in the 1950s and ‘Al Ha-Geulah ve ‘al ha-Temura (On Redemption and Exchange) written in response to the Six-Day War.

Presenter: Daniel May, Princeton University

Title: “The Jewish Question as the Human Question: The Political Ethics of Isaiah Berlin and Leo Strauss”

Abstract: Isaiah Berlin and Leo Strauss are generally thought to offer opposing approaches to the collapse of European liberalism. Despite their many differences, however, both shared a life-long preoccupation with “the Jewish question” and Zionism. An attention to the shared concerns that drove their respective intellectual projects illuminates surprising resonance between the two thinkers, in particular regarding their approach towards the appropriate relationship of philosophy to political action and political ethics. In this paper, I will explore this shared terrain, in order to suggest some ways that their respective philosophical frameworks continue to shape and trouble American Jewish political thought.

Respondent: Randi Rashkover, George Mason University

4:24pm Shabbat candle-lighting  (on your own)

5:45-6:00pm  Lifetime Achievement Award Exhibit Hall

      Recipient: John C. Raines

Presenter: Miguel De La Torre, Iliff School of Theology, University of Denver

6:00-7:00pm  SCE Presidential Address Exhibit Hall

         President: David Gushee

7:00-7:45pm  SCE Presidential Reception Multnomah/Holladay

(SJE members must Pre-register for reception.) 

7:00-7:45pm Kabbalat Shabbat Services Mt. St. Helens

           (Please bring your own siddur.)

          Service is in Hebrew: all are welcome.

7:45-9:15pm     Shabbat Dinner Mt. Hood

SJE Presidential Greetings: Aaron Gross, University of San Diego

(Pre-registration required for dinner. Meal is kosher vegetarian.)

Saturday, January 6, 2018

7:15-8:45am Breakfast with an Author Cascade Ballroom

          Buffet opens at 7:15; Discussion 7:45-8:45 

(Pre-registration/payment is required. Meal is not kosher)

    Breakfast with an Author List

7:15-8:45am Caucus for Contingent Faculty Concerns Mt. St. Helens

Conveners: Matthew Gaudet, University of San Francisco

   Lincoln Rice, Marquette University

12:45-2:00pm  Caucus for Contingent Faculty Concerns  Mt. St. Helens

Conveners: Matthew Gaudet, University of San Francisco

       Lincoln Rice, Marquette University

8:15am-6pm  Exhibits Open Multnomah/Holladay

8:15am-6:00pm Conference Desk Open Hamilton

9:00-10:30am Shabbat Services Mt. St. Helens

D'var Torah: Rabbi Lila Kagedan

    Service is in Hebrew; all are welcome. (Please bring your own siddur.)

9:00-10:30am     SCE Plenary: Best First Books Exhibit Hall

Brocker, Mark, Coming Home to Earth. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2016

Moses, Sarah M., Ethics and the Elderly, The Challenge of Long-term Care. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2015

Scheid, Daniel P., The Cosmic Common Good: Religious Grounds for Ecological Ethics. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Convener: David Gushee, Mercer University

10:30-11:00am Break Multnomah/Holladay

11:00am-12:30pm         Book Session        Hawthorne

Author 1: TBD

Author 2: Sarah Imhoff, University of Indiana Bloomington

Respondent: Elias Sacks, University of Colorado

12:30-2:00pm Shabbat Lunch  Mt. Hood

                               (Pre-registration required for the kosher vegetarian meal.)

12:30-2:00pm  Women's Caucus 3 Sisters/Mt. Bachelor

           (Pre-registration required for lunch.)

Conveners: Amy Levad, University of St. Thomas

        Nikki Young, Bucknell University

2:00-3pm   SJE Plenary        Exhibit Hall

Presenter: Julie Cooper, Tel Aviv University

Title: "Politics without Sovereignty? Exile, State, and Territory in Jewish Thought"

Respondent: TBD

3:30-4pm Break       Multnomah/Holladay

4:00-5:30pm Concurrent Session IV        Broadway

Topic: Laws in Ethics, Ethics in Law

Convener: Shira Billet, Princeton University

Presenter: Deborah Barer, Towson University

Title: "Ethics and Halakhah: Reframing the Question"


This paper explores recent debates about Jewish ethics, Jewish law and the Talmudic idea of lifnim mi-shurat ha-din. Based on a close reading of several sugyot, it argues that the phrase lifnim mi-shurat ha-din (lit. “within the line of the law”) marks cases in which rabbis rely on their discretionary judgment, rather than on explicit rules or principles, to determine the best course of action. Building upon this new understanding of lifnim mi-shurat ha-din, it examines how a focus on decision-making might productively reframe discussions of Jewish law, ethics and normativity.

Presenter: Jason Rubenstein, Yeshivat Hadar

Title: "What Are Mitzvot? Insights from the Ethics of Care"


An often-unspoken assumption is that law and/or classical Western ethics are adequate frameworks for conceptualizing Jewish normativity. But when applied to the Jewish tradition, the law/ethics framework come up short, unable to make sense of important passages and ideas. Tracing the usage of the word mitzvah in the Bible and Rabbinic literature, we’ll develop the idea that Jewish normativity has important and underappreciated points of contact with feminist care ethics. This realization has the power to reframe which subjects, reasons, and values can and should be valorized in Torah study and Jewish life.

Respondent: Jeffrey Rubenstein, New York University

5:33 pm Havdalah (on your own)

8-9:30 pm  Pedagogy Interest Group: Joint SCE-SSME-SJE  Roosevelt

Topic: "Can Ethics be Taught Online? A Panel Discussion"

Convener: Victor McCracken, Abilene Christian University

Panelists: Elizabeth (Betsy) Barre, Rice University (SSME)

                  Victor McCracken, Abilene Christian University (SCE)

                  Jennifer Thompson, California State University, Northridge (SJE)

Summary: This panel brings together Society of Jewish Ethics, Society of Christian Ethics, and the Society for the Study of Muslim Ethics members for a discussion of teaching ethics in an online-only format. The goal of this panel is to generate productive discussion among teachers of ethics about the pedagogical challenges of teaching ethics online, and to share any solutions and resources they’ve found particularly helpful.

8-9:30pm      Roundtable      Weidler

Title: Gender in Jewish Institutions: Activism, Academic, Congregation

Convener: Aryeh Cohen, American Jewish University

Presenter: Adrienne Krone, Allegheny College

Title: Feminism in the Fields: Gender Dynamics in the Jewish Community Farming Movement

Abstract: The Jewish Community Farming (JCF) movement is grounded in an ethic of environmentalism and social justice but gender imbalances and issues persist within the movement. I will utilize ethnographic interviews and participant observation at all of the JCF organizations to explore the gender dynamics at the individual farms, especially those led by women, to consider the presence of gender inequities in the movement. I will also discuss the work that movement leaders are doing to incorporate feminism into their individual and collective visions in a continued effort to move North American Jews toward a more equitable and sustainable future.

Presenter: Lila Kagedan, New York Medical College and Walnut St. Synagogue



Presenter: Laurie Zoloth, University of Chicago Divinity School



8-9:30pm     Workshop: Research in Progress Hawthorne

Presenter: Matthew Goldstone, Jewish Theological Seminary

Title: Competing Religious Perspectives on the Ideal Ethical Individual and Community

Abstract: In this paper I examine the tension between the desire to correct others and the aspiration to cultivate a humble self in rabbinic and monastic sources. Analyzing two texts from each tradition, one promoting humility over rebuke and the other extolling rebuke, I demonstrate how these corpora both engaged in a similar discourse. I argue that the parallels point to a shared debate over the proper form of the ethical self while the differences reflect disparate conceptions of community.

Presenter: Benjamin Ricciardi, Northwestern University

Title: Joseph Soloveitchik’s Jewish Answer to the Problem of Sin in Kant’s Philosophical Anthropology

Abstract: The question of whether one can really will to do evil becomes especially acute with Kant. On Kant’s account, morality and freedom of the will are actually the same thing. Unethical acts, since they are heteronomous, are not really free at all. Yet if this is so, how can one be responsible for any unethical action, if no unethical action is free? It would seem to be no different than holding someone responsible for something done with their body by force. I suggest that Joseph Soloveitchik gives us a Jewish Kantian alternative to Kant’s own, Christian solution to this problem.

Respondent: TBD

9:30-11:30pm University of Chicago Reception Mt. Hood/St. Helens

Sunday, January 7, 2018

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

     Open to all SJE Members

8-8:45am   Ecumenical Worship Service Morrison

7:30am-12:30pm   Conference Desk Open Hamilton

8:30-11:15am   Exhibits Open Multnomah/Holladay

9:00-10:30am   Concurrent Session V Jackson

Topic: The Meaning and End of Work: Jewish Perspectives on the 21st Century Economy

Convener: Martin Kavka, Florida State University

Presenter: Sam Brody, University of Kansas

Title: “Contemporary Jewish Economic Thought between ‘Business Ethics’ and ‘Social Justice’”

Abstract: This paper will survey recent Jewish economic literature in English and make some preliminary observations. Confining itself to works that self-consciously present themselves as articulating Jewish values and approaches to economic issues, it explores the way in which contemporary disciplinary boundaries have led these works to classify themselves primarily according to two rubrics: “Business Ethics” and “Social Justice.” These categories roughly map onto the range of mainstream political-economic opinion, a fact that authors must strive against in their endeavor to present what they view as authentic Jewish teaching. The paper will analyze and compare several recent examples from each category.

Presenter: Zalman Rothschild, Harvard Law

Title: “The Jewish Ethic of Teaching Children a Trade and Hasidic Schooling”

Abstract: This presentation provides an analysis of Hasidism’s opposition to secular knowledge, which, despite state compulsory education laws, results in a near total lack of secular studies in Hasidic schools. Hasidism disdains secularism and all knowledge that is not “holy,” i.e., whatever is not the Torah or its commentary. According to Hasidic teachings, not only is secular knowledge useless, but it is seen as harmful to an authentic Jewish life and, according to some, originates from, and therefore itself is, “evil.”

Respondent: Emily Filler, Earlham College

10:30-11:00am      Break         Multnomah/Holladay

11 am-12:30pm      Concurrent Session VI         Morrison

Topic: Charity and Responsibility: Classical and Contemporary Approaches

Convener: Joshua Schwartz, New York University

Presenter: Gregg Gardner, University of British Columbia

Title: “Heavenly Riches and Motivations to Give to the Poor in Early Rabbinic Judaism”

Abstract: This paper examines the role of wealth and money in the earliest discussions of care for the poor in rabbinic Judaism. It focuses on how early rabbinic texts (Mishnah, Tosefta, and Tannaitic Midrashim) promise financial and material rewards (such as “treasures” and “profits”) for giving charity. Rather than appealing to altruism, the rabbis encourage their audience to capitalize on opportunities to increase one’s otherworldly holdings – a kind of personal investment strategy. More broadly, this paper will demonstrate how wealth influenced the shape, texture, and direction of what would become rabbinic Judaism’s foundational laws on poverty relief.

Presenter: Elliot Ratzman, Lawrence University

Title: “The Limits and Logistics of Infinite Responsibility: Global Tzedaka after Peter Singer”

Abstract: Since the 70s, ethicists have argued for radical responsibility for distant suffering strangers. Once again the international community faces devastating refugee crises. This paper revisits these arguments for “distance responsibility” from within Jewish ethical discourse. Some have argued that Jewish ethics makes a “precedence for proximity” for the local “Jewish poor.” In response, I consider the example and practices of 20th century transnational philanthropy for war refugees and at-risk Jewish communities and recent mobilization against genocide in Darfur. I suggest that communal privilege and the need to reproduce communal resources are indispensable elements to work into moral calculations and practical strategies.

Respondent: Gail Labovitz, American Jewish University

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