« Older Entries

Evening in memory of Rabbi David Hartman

On Thursday, March 13th, 2014,  the Department of  Jewish Studies  of McGill University hosted an event entitled “Politics, Religion, Jewish Law and Philosophy: An Evening in Memory of David Hartman,” in order to memorialize the aforementioned American-Israeli rabbi and philosopher who passed away in February 2013. A prominent Jewish scholar and intellectual, builder and visionary, Rabbi Professor David Hartman z”l was the founder of the Shalom Hartman Institute, a Jerusalem-based research and education center devoted to developing diversity within Jewish communal thought. Hartman’s studies allowed him to bridge both religious and secular knowledge and sensibilities, as he was both a student of the revered Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and the philosophers Robert C. Pollack and Raymond Klibansky at various times throughout his life. He also maintained a close connection with the city of Montreal and McGill’s Department of Jewish Studies, serving as rabbi of the prominent Orthodox synagogue Tiferet Beit David Jerusalem in Cote St-Luc from 1960 to 1971 and, as well,  teaching Jewish philosophy from 1969-1971 in McGill’s then fledgling Jewish Studies Program.


The evening consisted of two major lectures by distinguished visiting scholars, with responses offered by two eminent scholars with ties to McGill. The  influential political theorist and currently Senior Fellow of the Brookings Institution,  Dr. William Galston spoke first in an incisive attempt to answer the question “Do Religion and Conscience Limit Political Authority?” The response to Dr. Galston’s talk was made by none other than prominent Montreal-born McGill professor emeritus, Dr. Charles Taylor, who is internationally  renowned for his seminal contributions to political philosophy. The first part of the program concluded with a short refreshment break, and the second half of the evening proceeded with the second guest speaker, Rabbi Asher Lopatin. With the second half, a new theme commenced: “Subject to the Law, Without being Trapped by the Law.” As the President of the Open Orthodox Yeshiva Chovevei Torah and a prominent advocate of engaging with Halakhah (Jewish Law) in order to address the challenges that the contemporary world poses to observant Jews, Rabbi Lopatin is no stranger to both the topic itself and to Rabbi Hartman’s own active role in confronting these challenges. He spoke especially memorably about Rabbi Soloveitchik’s influence on Hartman, and about their overlapping yet differing approaches  to the question  of finding creative solutions to Jewish social and communal issues within a halakhic framework.  This notion was then elaborated upon by McGill’s own Dr. Lawrence Kaplan, one of the world’s  leading scholars of the work of Rabbi Soloveitchik. The evening concluded with a lively question-and-answer period which allowed members of the audience to address question or comments to any of the four speakers.


The evening can be viewed in its entirety here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwwqAd3rCh8&list=UUM_1hHnVuecgZ7WCjly7tbw and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-SpMBzOYUSI

McGill Course at KlezKanada

If you haven’t heard about the McGill Course at KlezKanada, or have heard about it and want to learn more, we urge you to check out this video, which features interviews with several students who have taken the course about their experiences:

The McGill Course at KlezKanada

Other Events

Though we have written about some of the events held by the Jewish Studies department this year already, several more have passed unmentioned. Here is a quick recount of the various ones we have missed.

The department co-sponsored not one, but two book launches.

Poster for book launch

Poster for book launch

On January 28 we co-hosted with the Department of History and the McGill Bookstore the launch event for McGill professor Gil Troy’s book Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight against Zionism as Racism on campus. The book deals with the American efforts to prevent the 1975 U.N. resolution that equated Zionism with racism. The event included a short lecture from Prof. Troy and a book signing.

On February 21, we co-sponsored an event at the Jewish Public Library for Pierre Anctil’s book, Jacob Isaac Segal 1896 – 1954: un poète Yiddish de Montréal et son milieu, on the Montreal Yiddish poet Jacob-Isaac Segal. The event included poetry readings, an introductory talk, a book signing and a wine and cheese reception.


Josh Lambert lecturing

Josh Lambert lecturing

 Additionally, our department hosted Josh Lambert for his lecture “Vulgar Words and Belles Lettres: Yiddish Literature and American Obscenity” on the unmatched freedom which American Yiddish writers had in the early 20th century compared to English writers in writing on sex. The lecture took place on October 25th, 2012.

Two classes also featured particularly noteworthy guest lecturers. 
Arthur Green lecturing

Arthur Green lecturing

On October 17th, 2012 Rabbi Arthur Green, PhD was a guest speaker in Eric Caplan’s class, Denominations in North American Judaism. Rabbi Green, a nationally recognized historian of Jewish religion and a theologian, is the founding dean of Hebrew College’s non denominational Rabbinical School. Green described his spiritual development and presented his personal understandings of Judaism which are equally inspired by Hasidic writings and by liberal Jewish thought. Students were impressed by his heartfelt embrace of pluralism within Judaism, his provocative analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Renewal and Orthodox Judaisms, and by his description of how Hebrew College prepares rabbis to deal with the variety of challenges that they will encounter in their congregations.


Liane Altowski’s Sephardic Footprints in World Music class featured Orel Gozlan in a performance and a lecture on March 12, 2013. Orel is currently enrolled at the University of Montreal where he is studying to become a high school French teacher. He also currently works as a chazzan at the synagogue Or Shalom, on the West Island. Orel spoke about “The Art of the Piyut,” regarding the unique elements that pertain to Sephardic religious music from his own deep interest and personal history with this rich musical heritage. With poise and humor Orel gave a lively explanation on the various elements that pertain to Sephardic liturgical music for students coming from both Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions. He discussed the distinct roles of the Paytan and the Chazzan and he also elaborated on the musical properties of the Maqam and the Muwal. Orel’s lecture was multidimensional as he effortlessly weaved in melodic fragments of Bakashot as examples of piyutim with Spanish and Andalusian influences. Orel Gozlan proved that he is not only a gifted chazzan, but also a gifted and inspiring educator – someone to watch!
Our table at the McGill Open House, Oct. 28, 2012. Pictured: Mikey Schwartz, JSSA President.

Our table at the McGill Open House, Oct. 28, 2012. Pictured: Mikey Schwartz, JSSA President.

We wish all our readers a good summer, and hope to see you at some of the various events we will undoubtedly hold next year.

The Publication of Vol. 13 of Dorot

This past year, the Jewish Studies Students’ Association successfully launched the 13th volume of its undergraduate journal, Dorot. This issue was edited

Artwork by Eduard Grossman; Basha Art Gallery of Jerusalem

Artwork by Eduard Grossman; Basha Art Gallery of Jerusalem

by Ricky Kreitner, Michael Schwartz, Lauren Silver, and Ellie Wall, and features articles on a wide variety of topics, all written by students in McGill’s Department of Jewish studies. The subjects include the figure of Ibn Falaquera and his philosophy, a study on the exemption of Ultra-Orthodox Jews from Israeli military service, a comparative analysis of two Yiddish short-stories, Jewish-American sexuality, and Walter Lippmann and his relationship to the broader Jewish community. The entire issue is currently available to read and download online here. We would also hope you check in with our blog regularly in the future for when this year’s volume is published as well, which took submissions recently.

- Elay Kornecki


Student and faculty celebrating the Launch of the 2012 volume.

Student and faculty celebrating the Launch of the 2012 volume.

New Faculty Member: Dan Heller

A recent graduate of Stanford University’s doctoral program in History, Daniel joins us from the University of Washington, where he was awarded the prestigious Hazel D. Cole Fellowship in Jewish Studies for the 2012-2013 academic year. His dissertation, “The Rise of the Zionist Right: Polish Jews and the Betar Youth Movement, 1922-1935,” explored the history of one of the largest and most influential Jewish youth movements to emerge in interwar Europe, and drew upon archival research across Poland, Israel and the United States. His current research interests include the role of youth in modern Jewish politics, the influence of Polish political culture on the development of Zionism in Mandate Palestine, and Jewish political activism in small-towns across Poland between the two world wars.

Daniel Heller

Daniel Heller

Daniel’s award-winning research and writing have received recognition from the Mellon Foundation, the YIVO institute for Jewish Research, and the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture. While at Stanford, Daniel was also recognized for his teaching, where he he received the History Department’s award for best new course in 2011. Daniel is delighted to join McGill’s Department of Jewish Studies, and looks forward to teaching a range of courses on the history of Jews worldwide—from introductory surveys on modern Jewish politics, culture and society to seminars on Polish-Jewish Relations, the Holocaust and the history of Israel. Daniel will be teaching “Jewish History: 1000-2000” (HIST219) and the “History of Zionism” (JWST366) during the 2013-2014 academic year.

— Eric Caplan

Royal Society of Canada – Jewish Studies Conference

As you may remember, last year, three Jewish Studies scholars were inducted into the Royal Society of Canada (one of which was our own Prof. Gershon Hundert).

The three agreed to hold a conference on the state of Jewish Studies today in McGill, which Prof. Eric Caplan moderated. Here are some of the highlights of that conference. Enjoy.





Discussing Baruch Spinoza

Last year, Mcgill hosted a panel with Allan Nadler,  Carlos Fraenkel and Steve Nadler about Baruch Spinoza. After the panel, the three professors agreed to film a brief extension of their discussion and we now have a brief video showcasing some of the highlights of that discussion.

We hope you enjoy!





Yearning to Belong: The North American Jewish Story Through Cinema


The examination of the Jew as creator, producer and subject of cinema provides a most intriguing perspective on North American Jewry. How are North American Jews presented, and by whom?

On March 22, the McGill Department of Jewish Studies had the pleasure and privilege of welcoming Dr. Eric Goldman, a distinguished expert and lecturer on Yiddish, Israeli, and Jewish film. Dr. Goldman has written extensively on the Jewish experience in film and has just completed a book about the American Jewish encounter with cinema, “The North American Jewish Story Through Cinema,” slated for publication in the coming months by the University of Texas Press.

Dr. Goldman’s fascinating lecture covered a diverse range of topics, such as the historical background of early Hollywood, early movies depicting the North American Jewish experience, and the willingness or (more often than not) unwillingness of film company executives of the period to produce material with explicitly Jewish content. Such a stance was even taken by executives who were themselves Jewish.

The reluctance on the part of the early 20th century American film industry to depict the experience of the American Jew changed as Hollywood grew, and American Jews rose in the social milieu. At a certain point in time during the development of American film, Dr. Goldman noted, film producers (both Jewish and non-Jewish) became more comfortable with portraying and “coding” the American Jewish experience.

Dr. Goldman

Such a development can be traced through some key films, and Dr. Goldman’s lecture focused on “The Jazz Singer” (1927), “Gentleman’s Agreement” (1947), “The Young Lions” (1958), “Avalon” (1990), and “Barney’s Version” (2011). All of these films depict the North American Jewish experience in unique ways, and the selection spoke to the great diversity of representational experience inherent in the vast corpus of North American film.

What a fantastic lecture and discussion! The McGill Jewish Studies Department would like to thank Dr. Goldman for his wealth of scholarly knowledge and graciousness.


for information on upcoming events in McGill’s Department of Jewish Studies, visit us on Facebook!

for information on the work of Dr. Goldman, visit his website.

Baruch de Spinoza: Heretic or Hero?


Spinoza (1632-1677)


Religious Jews revile him as the arch-heretic while secular Jews, from Yiddish Socialists and Bundists to liberal Zionists have celebrated him for more than a century as a precursor and hero. Was he a heretic, a revolutionary, or simply trying to reform European Christendom?


On March 15, McGill professors Carlos Fraenkel, Allan Nadler, and Professor Steven Nadler (visiting for the weekend from the University of Wisconsin at Madison), staged an open debate on the topic, putting forth three very distinct understandings of Spinoza’s ultimate role in Jewish history.

* * *

For Professor Steven Nadler – the author of the recently published book “A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza’s Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age” – Spinoza was the progenitor of secular modernity, and as such, can be said to be the first true secular Jew.

"A Book Forged in Hell"

For Professor Allan Nadler, Spinoza’s place in the history of Judaism is very different. Citing various parts of Spinoza’s writings, Allan contended that Spinoza rejected Judaism entirely, and may have actually converted to Christianity. For Allan, Spinoza was assuredly not the first secular Jew, but rather a heretic who came to despise the religion of the Jewish community from which he was expelled.

Allan gives his part of the lecture as Carlos and Steven observe.

Professor Fraenkel, in a stark split from his colleagues, argued that Spinoza’s philosophy actually relies heavily on Medieval Jewish philosophy, and particularly the writings of Moses Maimonides (Rambam).

Carlos speaks on Spinoza's Medieval influences.


THE EVENT REMAINED PEACEFUL. No charems were issued.  Attendants left with a strong desire to read Spinoza.

But the debate continued the next day! Stay tuned for a filmed panel discussion in which Professors Nadler, Nadler, and Fraenkel provide summations of their various perspectives and argue their points further for the viewing public.

The Struggle for Memory: Documenting the Holocaust

At a time when chronicling the Holocaust could not be a more pressing endeavor, when those concerned with cementing the history of such inconceivable atrocities are fully cognizant of the reality, fast approaching, in which the world will be bereft of witnesses and survivors able and willing to give first-hand accounts, it is hard to believe that the creation of the concept of the Holocaust was not concurrent with the Holocaust itself. In fact, the arduous, determined struggle on the part of those determined to impart the memory of the Holocaust to posterity took decades, and continues to this day.

On March 14, Toronto-based filmmaker David Kaufman came to McGill and spoke about the many moral issues and creative challenges filmmakers face when they charge themselves with the task of the documenting the Holocaust. Mr. Kaufman began his lecture by giving a brief history of the Jewish cultural climate of Canada just before WWII and the reasons behind Canada’s involvement in the war. Mr. Kaufman also provided the attendees a background on Canada’s restrictionist immigration policies towards Jews during the war, and how such policies affected the discussion of the Holocaust in years directly following the end of WWII.

David Kaufman explains a film clip.


Mr. Kaufman explained that the narrative of the Holocaust emerged only gradually, through memoirs, artistic representation, and events such as the Eichmann trial. Slowly, Jews began to believe that they could safely discuss their personal traumas and tragedies, and much of this harrowing discourse took the form of literature, theatre, music, and other artistic media. Mr. Kaufman recounted his engagement as a young man with the theme of the Holocaust in various artistic forms, and his belief that much of the content was presented too much as “entertainment,” and that tragically, in the first decades following the Holocaust, the direct voice of the survivor was muted or sometimes even completely absent from such works.

As the Holocaust receded from the immediate past, however, the tone and techniques of many works addressing the theme of the Holocaust changed. Mr. Kaufman spoke, for instance, about the 1955 documentary “Night and Fog,” by Alain Resnais, which contains graphic imagery of corpses and the interiors of Nazi death camps. The footage within this film, at the time of its release, was the dominant visual representation of the Holocaust. Yet, in Mr. Kaufman’s opinion, the film has very little to do with the actual experience of victims of these death camps, and seriously lacks political and historical content. Essentially, works like “Night and Fog,” while successful in making the public aware of the nature of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis, very much lacked the voices and perspectives of actual victims.

Since the 1950’s, many films on the subject of the Holocaust have been made (Kaufman estimates the number at around 400), but unfortunately, many of these films similarly focus on horrific imagery, and not the experiences of survivors and affected communities. Over the past decade, Kaufman has labored to correct this unfortunate circumstance through a number of films, including “Night of the Reich’s Pogrom” (2001), “From Despair to Defiance: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising” (2003), and “Song of the Lodz Ghetto” (2009). Kaufman described the difficulty he faced in finding much of the material for the films, as well as the intriguing origins of much of the footage.

"Song of the Lodz Ghetto"

Some footage in “Night of the Reich’s Pogrom,” for example, was shot by a German firefighter – also an amateur filmmaker – who shot footage of burning synagogues that his brigade was prevented from extinguishing. The footage was shot during Kristallnacht. In fact, Kaufman said, a lot of accessible film footage and photographs actually come from Nazi photographers, a testament to the terrifying efficiency with which the gradual emptying of towns, cities, and ghettos was documented. Such documentation is integral for historians and artists attempting to build upon the unfinished record of the Holocaust. However, the origins of a lot of unearthed material remains unknown. Photographs taken by Nazis sometimes look no different from photographs taken by civilian Jews.

Kaufman finished his lecture by describing the difficulty a documentary filmmaker faces when confronted with the question of what material to ultimately include in the final cut. To Kaufman, what matters above all else are the descriptions and memories of the actual survivors. In fact, he identifies this as his obligation to his films and his work in general. What one always must remember, Kaufman said, is that the Nazis believed that the awareness of their crimes would be kept with their victims. One of the great ironies of the era is that their own fastidious documentation of the events provides us with our basis for an increasingly true understanding of what transpired. Kaufman expressed that the attempt to chronicle the Holocaust is far from complete, and that now it is imperative that we do what we can to continue the effort. What drives him is the obligation that he feels to survivors and their families, and the immense gratitude of these people who have shared their pain and stories so that we may remember.

McGill Jewish Studies would like to thank Mr. Kaufman for such an enthralling and thought-provoking lecture. We look forward to his forthcoming work!

for more information on Mr. David Kaufman, visit his website.

for more information regarding upcoming events at McGill’s Department of Jewish Studies, visit us on Facebook!

« Older Entries
Blog authors are solely responsible for the content of the blogs listed in the directory. Neither the content of these blogs, nor the links to other web sites, are screened, approved, reviewed or endorsed by McGill University. The text and other material on these blogs are the opinion of the specific author and are not statements of advice, opinion, or information of McGill.