Category Archives: Researcher of the Week

Researcher of the Week

Amir Mazor, PhD

The Department of Israel Studies

The University of Haifa

(English/עברית)

“I am a historian of the medieval Middle East and the Jewish people under Islam. My postdoctoral project deals with how medieval Muslims perceived the image and the writings of Maimonides (Moses ben Maimon, 1138-1204). There are numerous studies on Maimonides’ attitude to Islam and the influence of Muslim philosophers and theological movements on his thought. However, there is no comprehensive study that discusses Muslim views of and attitudes towards Maimonides.

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Researcher of the Week

Nureet Dermer

PhD Candidate
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Supervisor: Prof. Elisheva Baumgarten

“In my Ph.D. project, entitled “Between Expulsions: Daily Encounters between Jews and Christians in Northern France, 1285-1394,” I examine notions of “foreignness” attributed to northern French Jews throughout the events of the crisis-ridden 14th century, focusing precisely between expulsions. In that century, France (i.e., the northern French realms) experienced political, economic, social, and environmental upheavals, e.g., the Great Famine (1315-1317), the Shepherds’ Crusade (1320), many local uprisings, the beginning of the Hundred Years’ war (1337), the Black Death (1348-1351), and more. Beyond these calamitous and disastrous events, the Jews of France also faced three expulsions – the first and most comprehensive expulsion executed in 1306, another (either official or consequential) in 1322, and a final banishment in 1394. The lives of medieval French Jews during this period of crisis and instability and changing economic and political circumstances are at the heart of my research.

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Researcher of the Week

Friederike Schmidt

PhD candidate
LMU Munich

“When I embarked on my path in academia as a student with a major in Arabic and Islamic studies, and minors in religious studies and political science, I soon developed an interest in different (religious) worldviews and how some ideas succeeded in becoming the dominant interpretation of authoritative texts while others survived only at the margins or disappeared altogether. Furthermore, I was especially intrigued by the study of manuscripts. It was only after the completion of my first MA that I got in touch with the world of Jewish studies in general and the Karaites in particular, who have become my primary research focus. However, before starting my PhD studies, I completed another MA in conference interpreting (Arabic, German). What seemed at first as a “detour” in terms of my academic career eventually proved to have been the right choice since this intensive language training also improved my philological skills a lot – the main skills needed for my current work: the edition and translation of (the remaining parts of) Sahl ben Maṣliaḥ’s commentary of the book of Genesis (written in Judeo-Arabic).

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Researcher of the Week

Sarah Ifft Decker, PhD

Assistant Professor
Department of History
Rhodes College, TN

“My research explores the intersections between gender and religious identity in the medieval Western Mediterranean. How did gender, socio-economic status, and the experience of belonging to a minority community shape the lives of medieval Jewish women? In my first book, The Fruit of Her Hands: Jewish and Christian Women’s Work in Medieval Catalan Cities (forthcoming from Pennsylvania State University Press), I employ notarial documentation alongside legal codes and Hebrew responsa literature to identify the labor options available to Jewish and Christian women in three Catalan cities—Barcelona, Girona, and Vic—between 1250 and 1350. One of the biggest surprises when I first began research for this project was that Jewish women appear to have played a far more circumscribed role than their Christian counterparts in most economic sectors. Women of both faiths worked in credit, real estate, artisanal production, and waged domestic labor to support themselves and ensure the solvency of their households. However, Jewish women maneuvered within a much more restrictive set of marriage and inheritance practices; Christian women confronted fewer challenges in their efforts to exercise control over family assets. Despite the cultural connections between Jews and Christians in Catalan cities, the two groups still used legal culture as a way of defining difference.

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Researcher of the Week

Annika Funke

Doctoral Candidate
University of Trier
Supervisor: Prof. Lukas Clemens

“In the 15th century a series of expulsions drove out the Jews from most of the free and imperial cities in the German territories. Complying with the restricting settlement policies of the surrounding small towns and villages, Jewish communities reorganized as a rural settlement network with often no more than two families living in close proximity. Religious and communal life was subject to fundamental changes. To visit communal institutions or events, to conduct business and to perform acts of political participation and representation, Jews had to travel on a daily basis. In my PhD project, I investigate the interactions of small-town Jews with civic authorities, differentiating between institutionalized diplomatic actions and the scope of individual agency.

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Researcher of the Week

Rahel Fronda, PhD

Hebrew and Judaica Deputy Curator, Bodleian Library
Hebrew and Judaica Antiquarian Cataloguer, College libraries
University of Oxford

“Hebrew micrography in medieval Ashkenazi Bibles is my area of expertise since my doctoral studies. Micrography as a scribal art includes both text and image, and the study of medieval micrographic codices involves the disciplines of Hebrew palaeography, codicology and art. My research has identified the development of micrographic art in Ashkenaz, and I have discussed the considerable manuscript corpus that has survived. I have been interested in the existence of this unique form of Jewish art in Ashkenaz despite the disapproval of it by contemporary pietistic circles, and its similarities and differences from Hebrew manuscripts with painted illumination of the same period and environment.

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Researcher of the Week

Sivan Gottlieb, PhD


Halpern Center for the Study of Jewish Self-Perception
Bar-Ilan University

(English/עברית)

“I am an art historian focusing on illuminated Hebrew manuscripts from the late Middle Ages. In my dissertation, The Art of Medicine: Illuminated Hebrew Medical Manuscripts from the Late Middle Ages (approve recently), I collected seventy-nine illuminated Hebrew medical manuscripts from fourteenth to sixteenth-century Europe. I studied the ways in which these manuscripts employed visual languages, some professional in appearance and some less so, analysing the use and meaning of these images.

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Researcher of the Week

Ortal-Paz Saar, PhD

Utrecht University
The Netherlands

“I am a cultural historian focusing on Judaic Studies, especially during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. My research covers two main fields: the first is magic and rituals, and the second is funerary culture. Both fields, although distinct in the nature of their sources and themes, share an interest in questions of identity and interreligious contacts.

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Researcher of the Week

Miri Fenton

PhD Candidate
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Supervisor: Prof. Elisheva Baumgarten

“My PhD explores the ways in which communal identity was built through complex, nuanced social and legal practices of affiliation. Drawing on my background in philosophy and social theory, I look at medieval everyday life through the prism of collective identity and affiliation and study the variegated ways in which Jewish communities were instantiated in practice. I do this by focusing on non-elite practices rather than institutions or legal mandates for establishing communities.

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Researchers of the Week

Alexandra Guerson, PhD

Assistant Professor
Teaching Stream, New College
University of Toronto

Dana Wessell Lightfoot, PhD

Associate Professor
Department of History
University of Northern British Columbia

“Our research focuses on exploring Jewish women’s agency in late medieval Girona as their community faced the systemic violence of 1391 and its aftermath. Using notarial records, municipal documents, and royal letters, we investigate the ways that Jewish women worked to protect their families over several generations. We are particularly interested in the experiences of mixed families, where some members of kin groups converted to Christianity, both in 1391 and in the early decades of the fifteenth century. Following these families through the notarial records from 1391 to the early 1420s, we’ve been able to consider the factors that led to conversion and the longer term impacts that it had on family and communal life. This research has highlighted tensions present between local municipal and ecclesiastical officials and the Crown as they fought for jurisdiction over these mixed family groups.

While much has been written about the Jewish community of Girona, very little has been done to shed light on the history of its women. Part of the challenge is methodological since the notarial collection available in Girona is so vast few scholars have been able to undertake such a project. What makes this project possible for us is our collaborative approach. Both of us received similar training as medievalists in the PhD program at the University of Toronto and thus do all our archival research together, inputting our findings in a shared relational database. We then use those findings to co-write our presentations, articles, and now a book, combining our expertise in Christian-Jewish relations (Alexandra) and the history of women and the family (Dana).

We have published articles on our collaborative research method in Early Modern Women: An Interdisciplinary Journal (Fall 2018) and forthcoming in Medieval People. Our article “A Tale of Two Tolranas: Jewish Women’s Agency and Conversion in late medieval Girona” in the Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies 12.3 (2020) co-won the Association of Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies Bishko Prize in 2021. Our work has also led us to think more broadly about the meaning of community, which led us to collaborate with Michelle Armstrong-Partida in editing a collection of essays entitled Women and Community in Medieval and Early Modern Iberia (University of Nebraska Press, 2020), which was awarded the Best Collaborative Project of 2020 by the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women and Gender.”