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Modern Jewish Culture

A History of the Modern Hebrew Novel - Dr Yaron Peleg

This study looks at the peculiar absence of romance in the modern Hebrew novel for the first one hundred years since its emergence in the mid-nineteenth century.

The development of modern European literature, especially the English novel, is strongly linked to the secularization of Christian ideals of love from the devotion to God to the devotion between men and women. As demonstrated by many nineteenth century novels, love, especially erotically focused love, was often portrayed as bearing meaning, value, hope, and even transcendence in an increasingly secular, bourgeois, and capitalist age.

But not so for Jews. Modern Jewish literature from the same period was curiously different in that erotic faith played marginal role in it. This despite the fact that Hebrew and Yiddish were as European as their Slavic, Germanic, and Romance sister literatures, and were shaped by similar forces. The absence of love as a redemptive force in Hebrew literature becomes even more peculiar if we consider the instrumental role literature played in the Hebrew enlightenment and the pivotal role it had in acculturating Jews to modernity. The study examines this paradox and tries to suggest some ways to understand why Hebrew writers under-used a fundamental literary device that was not only artistically viable and commercially successful, but also ideologically central to European modernism. 

Religion and Film in Israel - Dr Yaron Peleg

This study looks at the changing place of religion in Israeli culture by following the changes in the representation of religious references and imagery in Israeli films from the 1960s to the present.

The study examines the metamorphosis in the cinematic representation of  religious Jews and their way of life in Israeli films over a period of five decades. The study's underlying premise is that religion in Israeli culture has undergone a major change since the country's independence, and has moved from the margins of culture and politics to the center of both.

The study deals with the way this process is articulated in Israeli cinema by focusing on three social groups: Mizrahi Jews, national religious Jews, and orthodox Jews. During the period examined, the cinematic portrayal of each of these groups has evolved in significant ways that point to some of the most fundamental changes in Israeli society in the previous century.

The study is also framed within a larger historical context to examine the case of Zionism as a Jewish-cultural phenomenon. 


Hebrew Literature in a Neo-National Age - Dr Yaron Peleg

This study examines the role which Hebrew, Israeli literature plays today in the life of the country after the postmodern or post-national age in what can perhaps be termed a neo-national age.

The study is a continuation of previous work that Dr Peleg published on Israeli literature and culture between the two intifadas, 1987-2000. The study focuses on a group of writers who grapple with their roles as so-called prophets in new and different ways in the twenty first century.

On the one hand, these writers do not assume the traditional role of the author as a self appointed and self-aware social critic, that has signaled modern Hebrew literature from its inception. They do not relate directly to questions of national import and do not engage directly with what has been called the Zionist meta-narrative.

On the other hand, they are reluctant to focus on western-style individualism as a solution to some of the complexities of life in Israel, as many of their predecessors from the 1990s did. Their attempt to renegotiate collective and individual concerns are the focus of this project.



Hebrew Biblical Scholarship from the Enlightenment to the Discovery of the Cairo Geniza - Dr Theodor Dunkelgrün

Dr Dunkelgrün's  research concentrates on Hebrew biblical scholarship during the long century that stretches from the collations of Kennicott to the first edition of Kittel, a neglected but pivotal period in the history of the study of the Hebrew Bible. Focusing on Germany and Britain, and on such scholars as Kennicott, Delitzsch, Wellhausen, Strack, Ginsburg, Blau and Kahle, he explores the ways in which, in the course of the nineteenth century, historical and textual critics of the Hebrew Bible both built on and departed from the early modern scholarly traditions of Humanist philology and antiquarianism, and how those traditions disintegrated into disciplines such as Altertumswissenschaft, classics, archeology, and Morgenländische Wissenschaft.

Dr Dunkelgrün is particularly interested in the confrontation between and cross-fertilization of the study Greco-Roman and biblical antiquity and of Christian and Jewish traditions of textual criticism, as well as in the problem of historicism, the history of libraries, the development of technical, auxiliary disciplines such as paleography and diplomatic, and such wider intellectual contexts as the emergence of the Wissenschaft des Judentums, the impact on academic Hebrew scholarship of the emancipation of European Jewry, and the study by Jewish and Christian scholars of each other’s antiquity.

Bible & Antiquity in 19th-Century Culture - Prof. Simon Goldhill

This project investigates the interface between the study of the bible and the study of antiquity in the nineteenth century. These two areas – the bible and classics – are central to the intellectual world of the nineteenth century, a source of knowledge, contention, and authority both as discrete topics, and, more importantly, in relation to and in competition with one another. It is impossible to understand Victorian society without appreciating the intellectual, social and institutional force of these concerns with the past. Yet modern disciplinary formation has not only separated them in the academy, but also marginalized both subject areas -- which has deeply attenuated comprehension of this foundational era. Our project brings together scholars working on a range of fields including classics, history of education, cultural history, art history, and literary history. It brings back into view a fundamental but deeply misunderstood and under-explored aspect of the nineteenth century, which continues to have a significant impact on the contemporary world.

Cambridge Project in Modern Jewish Thought - Dr Daniel H. Weiss

The Project in Modern Jewish Thought is a initiative bringing together the wealth of expertise in modern Jewish thought at Cambridge. Cambridge University has a long history in the field of Jewish Studies, housing the Taylor-Schechter Geniza Research Unit and the Centre for Hebrew and Semitic Studies established by Henry VIII in 1540. This new research project in Modern Jewish Thought focuses on the study of Jewish philosophy, theology and political thought in the modern period.

Through the organisation of conferences, reading groups and other events, the MJT Project hopes to stimulate discussion in the field of Modern Jewish Thought and to bring it into conversation with academics from around the world. MJT is an inter-disciplinary research project bringing together scholars with an interest in Modern Jewish Thought from the fields of Theology, Philosophy, Intellectual History, Political Science, Literature and Sociology. 


The detailed description of the project can be found on


Research and teaching in the field of Jewish Studies take place in a variety of faculties and departments across the University of Cambridge. The Cambridge Forum for Jewish Studies is an initiative whose objective is to join up this activity and communicate the range of expertise and wealth of research in the field that currently exists in the university. The Forum meets once a term to exchange information and ideas. It is hoped that it will encourage wider participation and a variety of perspectives.

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