Berkowitz Fellowship

General Information

The Berkowitz Fellowship was created thanks to a generous gift by Mr. Ivan Berkowitz. The Berkowitz Fellow is typically awarded to a more senior scholar. The area of research addresses issues from a broad spectrum of Jewish learning and civilization. The Fellowship will facilitate research and scholarship into areas that examine the historical, cultural and political forces that helped shape the intellectual atmosphere in which the integration of varying traditions of law into an operative jurisprudential system was affected.

The Fellow will become fully integrated with the intellectual community of the Law School, regularly attending events at NYU School of Law, including the faculty colloquia and other similar events. The Berkowitz Fellow will present his research in progress once in the Fall semester and once in the Spring at a Workshop, which will be open to the intellectual community of the Law School, the University as a whole and other interested individuals by invitation.

Current Berkowitz Fellow - AY 2023-2024

Marjorie Lehman

Dr. Marjorie Lehman is professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at The Jewish Theological Seminary and the Area Coordinator of Rabbinic Literatures and Cultures. Dr. Lehman’s first book, The En Yaaqov: Jacob ibn Habib’s Search for Faith in the Talmudic Corpus (Wayne State University Press, 2012) reflects her interest both in the study of Talmudic aggadah and also in the concept of studying a complete literary work—in this case the early sixteenth century collection, the En Yaaqov. Building on this interest and integrating it with her interest in gender in rabbinic literature, she explored the Babylonian tractate, Yoma, as one cultural unit of study. Her book, Bringing Down the Temple House: Engendering Tractate Yoma was published in 2022 (Brandeis University Press). With a staunch commitment to collaborative work, Dr. Lehman has co-edited two books, Mothers in the Jewish Cultural Imagination (Liverpool: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization at Liverpool University Press, 2017) and Learning to Read Talmud: What it Looks Like and How It Happens.

As co-director of an internationally renowned digital humanities project in Jewish Studies called Footprints: Jewish Books through Time and Place (https://footprints.ctl.columbia.edu/). Dr. Lehman has dedicated herself to tracking and analyzing the global movement of copies of Jewish books since the inception of print. As a provenance project, Footprints offers scholars the opportunity to think about the way a book becomes personalized by paying careful attention to the marks individuals leave on its physical form including its owners’ signatures, censors’ marks, marginalia, and the mementoes pasted between its leaves. It brings to the humanities a new approach to studying history that considers book ownership as able to offer insight into the complexity of Jewish life and culture. In 2022 Footprints received the Digital Innovation Award from the Renaissance Society of America.


Research Title

Exploring Women’s Use of Self-incriminating Legal Categories

Research Synopsis

In BT Gittin 45a the story is told of Rav Nachman’s daughters who would stir a pot with their hands. The story intimates that such behavior is unusual, so much so, that they are taken captive. Found within a larger legal discussion about the redemption of captives, these daughters escape straightforward legal categorization in the sense that they appear to be abducted unwillingly, but also favor their captors. They are overheard discussing their preference to remain with their abductors rather than returning home to their husbands and father. By the story’s end, we also learn that while they are eventually released from captivity, their pot-stirring is deemed an act of sorcery, inviting possible punishment. 

My interest in this story emerges from a project I am working on to gather sources on women who rely on self-incriminating or self-negating categories of law as a means of agency. In fact, the Talmudim are rife with discussions about adductions where women figure prominently, and I am left with many questions about how to read these sources. Some women can return to their husbands; others cannot. Some can offer testimony as to what occurred to them in captivity and be believed, while the testimony of others is dismissed. That said, these sources clash with the story of Rav Nachman’s daughters who do not want their husbands to redeem them; they do not want to return. Therefore, I have begun to wonder whether some wives preferred “captivity” to their own marriages and remaining in their households? Although they risked being labeled as adulteresses, was this a way (possibly the only way) to effectuate divorce knowing that adultery ended their marriages? Were there cases where women were trying to escape from poverty and/or marital abuse, or from procreating or mothering and preferred the category of adulteress, for example, to remaining in a marriage? Much feminist scholarship works to expose rabbinic empowerment and authority. However, we have not done enough to explore legal categories that while self-incriminating or self-negating, grant women a form of legal agency.

While enmeshed in my research on this topic, I hope to be in dialogue with legal scholars thinking about cases where opting to take on a stigmatized legal category oddly offers greater protections. At the same time, I will be searching for ways to access more of these cases in rabbinic literature and/or in legal responsa literature of the early modern and modern periods. Knowing full well that women were not engaged in recording their own legal questions and answers, I am looking for ways to read male-authored sources in search of examples.

Previous Berkowitz Fellows

  • Hanan Mazeh
  • Tamara Morsel_Eisenberg
  • Shulamit Furstenberg-Levi
  • Yosef Sharabi
  • Yuval Blankovsky
  • Yobu (Job) Jindo
  • Eli Schonfeld
  • Jonathan Yovel
  • Shai Wozner
  • Marc Hirshman
  • Gabriella Blum
  • Rabbi Saul J. Berman
  • Joseph David
  • Leora Batnitzky
  • Shahar Lifshitz