Event: Evening Lecture Series on “Jews and Health: Tradition, History, and Practice,” Centre for Jewish Studies at SOAS (online)

The Centre for Jewish Studies at SOAS, University of London is hosting an evening lecture series for 2020-21 on ‘Jews and Health: Tradition, History, and Practice’. All are welcome, but advance registration is required via eventbrite.

The programme is provided in full below. Please note that all times are in GMT.

SOAS, University of London

Centre for Jewish Studies


Evening Lecture Series

Chair: Prof. Catherine Hezser (HRP)

Jews and Health: Tradition, History, and Practice

In the time of Coronavirus, the preservation of health, the prevention of infection, and the healing of the sick have become our foremost concerns. The topics of health and illness play a prominent role in the Jewish tradition from the Hebrew Bible onwards. In the Book of Job, the protagonist is given advice by his friends on how to deal with the disease that afflicts him. In the Babylonian Talmud, rabbis provide medical advice in the context of Hellenistic and Persian medicine. Jewish physicians were present at the Ottoman sultan’s court. Jews also experienced epidemics such as the plague in earlier periods already and understood the need for social distancing and adjustments in religious law. This lecture series looks at health, illness, and medicine amongst Jews from antiquity until today.

The lectures will take place on Zoom on Wednesdays from 18:00-19:00h. Attendance is free of charge. Advance registration on Eventbrite (at the links provided below) is required separately for each lecture. Places are limited to 50 for each lecture. Those who have registered will receive a Zoom link a few days before the event takes place. For questions please contact the organiser at ch12@soas.ac.uk.

Wednesday 18 November 2020, 18:00-19:00h GMT: 

Prof. Katherine E. Southwood, St John’s College, University of Oxford:

“Illness in the Book of Job and the Health Advice of Job’s Friends”:

The lecture launches her recently published book, Job’s Body and the Dramatised Comedy of Moralising (London: Routledge, 2020). The book highlights the key role Job’s body plays in undermining the idea of illness as divine retribution. Job’s friends provide a wealth of moralising advice in response to his own body-centred language. In Job, the juxtaposition of bodily experience and traditional wisdom is explored in a light-hearted way, shifting from tragedy to comedy, similar to Aristophanes and Athenian theatre plays. In the dialogues, the self-righteous Job becomes ever more frustrated and this change is expressed in body-centred language.  Exaggerated metaphors of divine attack and surveillance reflect Job’s symbolic protest against retribution language. In response, his friends increase their moralising talk until the comic character Elihu suggests that the wind within constrains Job. As all the characters become increasingly vexed, the audience follows the windy discussion, knowing all along that Job is blameless.  

Katherine E. Southwood is Associate Professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible at the University of Oxford since 2013, after an appointment as University Lecturer at St Mary’s University College, Twickenham. Her research is interdisciplinary, using insights from Anthropology and Classical Studies. She has published three monographs and numerous articles. She is currently program unit chair of the Society for Biblical Literature’s “Social Sciences and the Interpretation of Hebrew Scriptures” unit.

Register for the lecture on Eventbrite:

Wednesday 13 January 2021, 18:00-19:00h GMT:

Prof. Mark Geller, University College London and Paris Institute of Advanced Studies:

“Forget about Galen?  Talmudic Medicine in Context”

The lecture will investigate to what extent rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud were familiar with the medicine of their era, as a reflection of larger questions regarding the extent of penetration of Hellenistic science into Babylonia.  Medicine serves as a useful barometer for the level of general scientific knowledge. Talmudic medicine can be used as a test to determine whether Babylonian rabbis were influenced by the medical writings of authorities such as Hippocrates or Galen, as is often assumed to be the case, or whether Talmudic medicine reflects other inspirations.

Mark Geller is Jewish Chronicle Professor of Jewish Studies at University College London since 1976. He is an expert on Semitic languages, including Aramaic, Akkadian, Sumerian, Ugaritic, and Arabic, and on the Babylonian Talmud. In 2005-6 he received a grant from the Wellcome Trust to work on ancient Babylonian medicine and is now working on a book on Ancient Jewish Medicine.

Register for the lecture on Eventbrite:

Wednesday 10 February 2021, 18:00-19:00h GMT:

Prof. Miriam Shefer Mossensohn, Tel Aviv University:

“Medical Reform and Jewish Reform: Two Ottoman-Jewish Physicians Around 1700”

The lecture will focus on two Jewish physicians of the Ottoman period. Refael Mordekhai Malki (d. 1702), a rabbi and physician in Ottoman Jerusalem, composed in the 1690s a vast Torah commentary in Hebrew, calling for medical reform. Tobias Cohen (d. 1729), a physician at the Ottoman Sultan’s court, published his Ma’aseh Tuviyya, “The Work of Tobias”, in Venice in 1708. It is a medical compendium with a new mechanical understanding of the human body.The lecture will investigate the mind-set of these two rather conservative and cautious scholars who, on the threshold of modernity, advocated profound changes along two axes, the Jewish-communal and medical-universal realms.

Miriam Shefer Mossensohn is Professor of Middle Eastern and African History at Tel Aviv University and Head of the Zvi Yavetz School of Historical Studies. She is an early-modern Ottomanist, focusing on Islamicate medicine, health and wellbeing. Her publications include  After Ottoman Medicine: Healing and Medical Institutions 1500-1700 (State University of New York Press, 2009) and Science among the Ottomans: The Cultural Creation and Exchange of Knowledge (the University of Texas Press, 2015). Her current research explores how medicine was managed, organized, and supervised in the Ottoman Empire of the early modern period. 

Register for the lecture on Eventbrite:

Wednesday 24 February 2021, 18:00-19:00h GMT: 

Prof. Susan L. Einbinder, University of Connecticut:

“Writing Plague: Jewish Accounts of the Great Italian Plague (1630-31)”

Lecture summary: Historians have long noted the abundance of literary responses to the Great Italian Plague of 1630-31, but little attention has been paid to Jewish sources. Nonetheless, Hebrew narrative, poetic, homiletical, and liturgical testimony exists and is important.  These texts document efforts – administrative, medical, spiritual, practical – to meet the challenge of a pandemic. But pandemic also created a textual challenge, exposing conventions of self-representation under extraordinary stress.  This talk examines several examples, asking how their authors met the challenge of “writing plague,” and how those challenges echo in our writing, too.    

Susan L. Einbinder is Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Connecticut. Among her publications are After the Black Death: Commemoration and Plague among Iberian Jews(Philadelpha: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018) and “Prayer and Plague: Jewish Plague Liturgy from Medieval and Early Modern Italy” in: Death and Disease, ed. Lori Jones and Nükhet Varlik (York Medieval Press; forthcoming). She is currently working on a book entitled, Writing Plague: Jewish Responses to the Great Italian Plague (1630-31).

Register for this lecture on Eventbrite:

Wednesday 3 March 2021, 18:00-19:00h GMT:

Dr. Daniel Staetsky, Woolf Institute, Cambridge:

“Jews and Coronavirus: The Global View of Phase 1 of the Pandemic”

The lecture surveys the impact of the first phase (March to May 2020) of the Coronavirus pandemic on Jews worldwide, comparing statistics about infection and mortality rates amongst Jews in different countries. Religious, socio-economic, and other factors that stand behind the statistics will be evaluated.

Daniel Staetsky is Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR). He specialises in Jewish, Middle Eastern, and European demography and social statistics, especially with regard to religious and ethnic minorities. His publications include “Jewish Mortality Reconsidered” (Journal of Biosocial Science 2015), “Jews and Coronavirus in England and Wales: What the ONS Study of Covid-19 Mortality Comparing Different Religious Groups in England and Wales Tells Us About British Jewish Mortality” (JPS 2020).

Register for the lecture on Eventbrite:

Wednesday 17 March 2021, 18:00-19:00h GMT:

Prof. Joshua Teplitsky, Stony Brook University:

“Dilemmas of Disease: Jews and the Plague in Prague in the Eighteenth Century”

The lecture will examine competing pressures on Jews at the time of the plague, such as health policy, economic pressure, and the impulse to conceal disease from the civic authorities. These competing pressures appear in a variety of instances during the early modern period, and invite an investigation into the spaces of both Jewish commonality and distinctiveness, as well as Jewish self-perception during the plague, and questions of compliance vis-a-vis the state and social norms — issues that are exceedingly relevant again nowadays.

Joshua Teplitsky is Associate Professor of History at Stony Brook University, New York. His work focuses on Jewish life in the Habsburg Empire in the early modern period (16th–18th centuries), with an emphasis on the city of Prague. His publications include “Plague, Passover, and Perspectives on Social Distancing”, Magazine of the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies Spring 2020; “A Conversation Between Joshua Teplitsky and Magda Teter about Epidemics, Disease and Plagues in Jewish History & Memory” (April 22, 2020).

Register for this lecture on Eventbrite:

The Nordic Network for Jewish Studies was founded and is run by Dr Katharina Keim and Dr Karin Zetterholm at the Centre for Theology and Religious Studies at Lund University.

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