What development in Jewish studies over the last twenty years has most excited you?

Liliane Weissberg

University of Pennsylvania

Would I have been asked this question twenty years ago? Probably not. For one, I was not a member of any Jewish studies organization at that time. Jewish studies seemed to me a field largely populated by men who were focusing on matters of religious studies, textual exegesis, Hebrew philology (and, to a lesser degree, Yiddish language), historical questions predominantly focusing on ancient or early modern Jewry, and very rarely, modern-day Israel. As a woman whose scholarship was impressed by the study of philosophy, literature, critical theory, and gender, I was not sure whether my academic work or I would be able to find a place in such an organization or field, and whether even the subjects of my research would be welcome. After all, I study mostly acculturating German Jews from the Enlightenment period, or early twentieth-century German philosophers who regarded themselves as "secular."

In the past twenty years, the parameters of Jewish studies have changed and expanded, however, incorporating approaches already tried in other fields, and thereby inventing itself anew. Could one describe the work of Walter Benjamin or Max Horkheimer as Jewish philosophy? I have been asking this question in my own academic work, which tries to return Jewish culture and thought to German studies. Today, questions of this kind have finally been made part of the field of Jewish studies as well.