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NEJS profs. win Jewish book award

Published: Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Updated: Tuesday, May 31, 2011 23:05

Professors Jonathan Sarna '75 and Marc Brettler '78, both of the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies department, recently received the prestigious National Jewish Book Award, which recognizes excellence in Jewish scholarship. "I think that the whole University should be thrilled that two Brandeis faculty won these awards," Sarna wrote in an e-mail to the Justice. "Clearly the award underscores the significance of our department-one of the most respected and renowned departments of Jewish Studies in the world."

Sponsored by the Jewish Book Council, this is the 54th year the award has been given, making it the oldest laurel of its kind in North America.

According to Jewish Book Council Award Director Carolyn Hessel, publications are judged on their Jewish content and interest to the American Jewish community and must "meet certain standards of good literature." Hessel said the award is given in several yearly changing categories and this year, there were 13 winners out of 400 submissions.

Sarna said that his publication, American Judaism History, which won the "Book of the Year Award," provided an entirely new interpretation of American Judaism and "incorporated all the different branches of American Judaism in the context of other religions."

According to Brettler, his book, the Jewish Study Bible, co-edited by Prof. Edele Berlin of the University of Maryland, contains the complete one-volume text of the Hebrew Bible in English along with commentary to every book and an essay that deals with interpretations of the Bible and its role in Jewish life. The book received the "Best Book on Scholarship Award."

"This is the first time that such a thing has been put together that specifically uses only the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament that attempts to understand it from a Jewishly-sensitive perspective and all the authors are Jewish," Brettler said.

Brettler said that the awards emphasize the "continual centrality of the NEJS department to the Brandeis community" especially in light of recent proposals to restructure the department as part of larger University curricular changes.

Sarna received his B.A. and M.A. from Brandeis and his Ph.D. from Yale University. He specializes in American Jewish history.

Brettler received his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. from Brandeis and is a specialist in Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies.

According to Sarna, he began his book in the 1990s and was aided by the contributions and edits of several generations of Brandeis students.

Sarna is currently on sabbatical for one semester publicizing his book on a nationwide tour organized by the Jewish Book Council which, according to Hessel, is celebrating the 350th anniversary of Jews in America.

"In my personal opinion, I believe that [Sarna's book] is the definitive book of American Jewish history," Hessel said.

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