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Professor lectures on similarities between Christians and Jews

Staff Writer

Published: Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, April 3, 2012 02:04

This past Wednesday, Prof. Israel Yuval of the Mandel Institute of Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem gave a lecture entitled, “The Organization of Sacred Time Among Jews and Christians” in Rapaporte Treasure Hall. The lecture focused on some significant rituals of both faiths, highlighting the similarities and differences between the two.

The lecture, which was sponsored by the Tauber Institute for the Study of European Jewry, the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies department, and the Mandel Center for the Humanities, was part of the Simon Rawidowicz Memorial lecture series. Approximately 100 people were in attendance.

Yuval, who was invited this year to give the 49th annual Simon Rawidowicz Memorial Lecture, spoke on various festivals and rituals that consecrate a specific time of year, principally focusing on the Jewish holiday of Hannukah.

Prof. Jonathan Decter (NEJS) described Yuval as “an erudite and innovative expert in medieval Jewish history, especially in the area of how Jews and Christians perceived each other, and a leader in the Israeli academy,” in an email to the Justice.

Yuval opened his speech with a quote from the Haggadah, the Jewish text that sets the format for the Passover seder, and unveiled a common theme of the Passover holiday: Doom and salvation always seem to follow one another. Hannukah and Purim follow this trend as well.

“This concept stands at the basis of the Jewish winter and spring holiday cycle: Hannukah, Purim, and Passover,” Yuval said.

Christianity, on the other hand, as Yuval pointed out, does not consecrate national salvation. The holidays and rituals of the Christian faith focus mainly on one individual, not on the nation as a whole.

Yuval’s lecture discussed and explored rituals of Christianity, including the festival of David and Jacob and the Enkaineah. These rituals were both centered on the consecration of a church; the former related to the Church of Zion, and the latter to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

“We examine different strategies from the Jewish side of how to grapple with the challenge posed by three Christian festivals of dedication: Christmas, the David and Jacob Festival, and the Enkaineah,” said Yuval.

Yuval posed an important question in the context of his lecture. Why do we remember Hannukah at all? If the political accomplishments of the story have been forgotten, and emphasis is only placed on the fact that it is a festival of lights, it does not seem logical that such a holiday be remembered.

Yuval answered his own question by discussing the difference between the sacred and the profane.

“The only way to maintain such a difference is to be aware of the holiness in the light,” said Yuval.

According to Yuval, the candles that are lit on Hannukah essentially serve as a reenactment of the holiness and mystery of the Oral Rabbinic Law.

“It represents another example of competition with Christianity and of the strong impact that Christianity has on the formation of the sacred time in Rabbinic Judaism,” Yuval said.

Yuval also discussed the evolution of Judaic Rabbinic law and the different texts, primarily the Midrash, that helped shape Rabbinic Law in its entirety.

A formal question-and-answer session followed Yuval’s lecture.

In an interview with the Justice, Adena Morgan ’14 said she had read some of Yuval’s work in class. “In one of my classes, we read a book by Professor Yuval, and it was really interesting to hear him and his development on Christianity and Judaism, especially to have it explained on a new holiday, Hannukah.”

“I also really like hearing about obscure, random stuff that happened in history that isn’t really remembered anymore,” Adena continued.

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