PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] —Nearly 200 scholars, teachers and graduate students working in fields related to the study of Hebrew gathered at Brown last week for the 2016 International Conference on Hebrew Language, Literature and Culture. Over three days, from June 21 to June 23, participants immersed themselves in a lively and wide-ranging series of lectures, panels, events and scholarly exchange.
The event marked the first time the annual conference, which brings together members of the National Association of Professors of Hebrew (NAPH), was held at Brown. Conference co-chairs and Brown faculty members Ruth Adler Ben-Yehuda and David C. Jacobson said the University is particularly well-suited to host the event, both because of its long engagement with biblical Hebrew — which was part of the curriculum at the institution’s founding in 1764 — and because the Program in Judaic Studies offers an interdisciplinary undergraduate concentration that encourages study across many areas and ages, a diversity of subject matter that the conference embraces.
Conducted in Hebrew and English, the conference “is unique in its scope and depth,” said Ben Yehuda, senior lecturer in Judaic studies. It gathered scholars and participants from around the world to “present and interact with research from a wide variety of fields — the Bible, post-biblical literature, Hebrew language and linguistics, modern Hebrew literature, and Hebrew pedagogy.”
While members of the NAPH attend and deliver papers at conferences organized by other associations, this conference is distinctive because “it attracts scholars who teach in the fields of Hebrew literature and language, including the cultural context of the Hebrew language in Israel and other countries,” said Jacobson, professor of Judaic studies.
The conference’s breadth was demonstrated by both the range of its sponsors — which included Brown’s Scheuer Fund for Judaic Studies, the Office of Global Engagement, the Center for Language Studies and the Department of Comparative Literature — and by the signs on the University’s Pembroke campus with multiple arrows pointing to the many venues hosting simultaneous sessions.
Sessions were largely thematic in nature, like the panel “Back to the Beginning: Beginnings in/of Hebrew Literature,” in which three Columbia University graduate students presented papers about the pioneer of modern Hebrew literature Yosef Chayim Brenner’s short fiction; where the literary act begins in Hebrew writer S.Y. Agnon’s “The Tale of the Scribe;” and the structure of the stories of Rabbi Nachman of Braslav, considered the first modern Hebrew author. A dynamic discussion in Hebrew followed the linked presentations.
In other sessions, presentations ranged from a discussion of female Israeli poets from the 1960s and 1970s, to the role and perception of Moses in Hasidic literature, to methods of teaching Hebrew vocabulary and grammar, among other subjects.
Additionally, the conference included a plenary session on the work of Amos Oz with moderators Yigal Schwartz of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Smadar Shiffman of Tel Aviv University, as well as “hands-on workshops related to Hebrew pedagogy in institutions of higher learning,” Ben Yehuda said. “These workshops facilitate the practical application of tested pedagogical insights and give teachers greater skill in their own classrooms.”