Event—Center for Renaissance Studies

Cosmic Ecologies: Animalities in Premodern Jewish Culture

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The vision of Ezekiel. The Ambrosian Tanakh, Germany, ca. 1236-38. Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, MS B. 32 INF, fol. 135v


Held in conjunction with the Medieval Academy of America’s Centennial, this symposium addresses a plethora of topics: cosmic ecologies and their continuities across the animal-human-divine-demonic spectrum; visual and textual collisions between humanities and animalities; bestialization as a heuristic; animalization of Jews in Jewish and Christian discourses; zoocephaly in material and literary sources; and monstrosities and hybridities as sites of wonder and liminality. Speakers come from a variety of fields, and the program includes established scholars as well as the new voices in art history and religious studies.


Click here for full abstracts of the papers listed below.

Monday, May 13

At Northwestern University (Harris Hall 108)

9:30 am Coffee and Light Breakfast

Welcome and Opening Remarks by David Shyovitz

10:00 am-12:00 pm Session 1: Animal Capacities

Beth Berkowitz (Barnard College), “The Families of the Fauna: Medieval Jewish Perspectives on Animal Kinship”

Diane Wolfthal (Rice University), “From Weapons of War to Signs of Spring: Animals in Yiddish Manuscripts”

Ilia Rodov (Bar-Ilan University), “Animal Proxies of a Human Anima in Medieval and Early Modern Jewish Art”

Response: Margaret Graves (Brown University)

12:00-1:30 pm Lunch

1:30-3:30 pm Session 2: Beastly Hybrids
Note: The papers in this session will be delivered on Zoom.

David Rotman (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), “The Mule and the Kilkul: An Analysis of a Beastly Symbol in Medieval Jewish Folk Discourse”

Sara Offenberg (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev), “'Until a Donkey Will Go Up the Ladder': The Meaning of Animals in the Micrography of Bible, MS. Paris, BnF héb. 8-9-10"

Rafe Neis (University of Michigan),The Rabbinic Kil’ayim: When a Mule is Not a Metaphor”

Response: Elizabeth Morrison (The Getty Museum)

3:30-4:00 pm Coffee break

4:00-5:30 pm Session 3: Mystic Fauna

Jonnie Schnytzer (Ben Gurion University of the Negev), “On The (Marginal) Medieval Kabbalistic Animal Turn”

Anna Sierka (Tel Aviv University), “Barking Dogs and Black Ravens: Animalized Evil in Jewish Mystical Traditions”

Response: Pamela Patton (Princeton University)

Tuesday, May 14

At the Newberry

9:30 am Coffee and Light Breakfast

Welcome and Opening Remarks by Lia Markey (Newberry Library)

9:45 am-12:15 pm Session 4: Bodies and Animalities

Marc Michael Epstein (Vassar College), “‘The Hebrew women are animals’ (Exodus 1:19): Gender and Animality in the Tripartite Mahzor”

Abby Kornfeld (City College of New York, CUNY), “Entanglements: Bodies and Texts in the Sassoon Haggadah”

Coffee Break

Reed O’Mara (Case Western Reserve University), “Human, Animal, or Something in Between: Adam and Eve in the Ambrosian Tanakh”

James Robinson (University of Chicago), “Humans Becoming Animal Becoming Human in Medieval Jewish Thought”

Response: Asa Simon Mittman (California State University, Chico)

12:15-1:15 pm Lunch

1:15-2:15 pm Rare Book Session

2:30-3:30 pm Roundtable

Led by Elina Gertsman, Julie Harris, and David Shyovitz

3:30 pm Closing Remarks by Elina Gertsman

A reception will follow the conclusion of these remarks.


This event will be free and open to the public, but registration in advance is required. Please note in your registration whether you will be attending on only May 13 (at Northwestern), only May 14 (at the Newberry), or both. Please direct all logistical questions to renaissance@newberry.org

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