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Current Newsletter


The Orion Center Newsletter

November 2002

Letter from the Director

I have the pleasure of inviting you, our colleagues, students, and friends, to the spacious new Orion offices in the recently opened Rabin building, which houses the World Center of Jewish Studies. The Scholars’ Room and Library, now double in size and equipped with two work stations, electronic reference libraries, editions of the Dead Sea Scrolls and their original photographic plates, along with other academic publications, makes it possible for Orion staff, visiting scholars, and Hebrew University faculty and students to carry out more extensive research on our premises. The library has space for many more volumes, and we have begun an acquisitions program for basic research tools and scholarly works in the field. We welcome contributions to the library as well as newspaper clippings about the Scrolls for the archive recently donated by Prof. Emanuel Tov. With our new and improved facilities, we look forward to further advancing research and to better serving the scholarly community and the interested public.

We hope you will take an active part in this endeavor, and join us as we redouble our efforts and commitment to academic excellence and public outreach in the wake of this summer’s tragic terrorist attack on campus.

With best wishes for peace to all,
Dr. Esther Chazon

Orion Center on the Move

By Mayaan Pase-Jaffe
In June 2002, the Orion Center offices, formerly scattered throughout the HU Humanities building, moved to the third floor of the brand new, state-of-the-art Rabin World Center of Jewish Studies building. A large stone structure, with marble floors, spiral staircases and a prominent dome roof, the edifice is home to the World Union of Jewish Studies, the Chais Center for Jewish Studies in Russia, the Ben-Zion Dinur Research Center for Jewish History, and many other important scholarly projects.

Next to the main office (Rm. 3102), are Orion Center Director Esther Chazon’s office, staff offices, a conference room, and the now increasingly valuable Scholars’ Room/Library. Dr. Chazon reports that the new location allows the staff to work as a research team and provides new opportunities for students and scholars to further their knowledge of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Second Temple period in a user-friendly environment.

The Scholars’ Room/Library (3101) is a pleasant space to delve into the Dead Sea Scrolls; its wide desks and comfortable chairs make it inviting even to the most intimidated of students. It is open to University students and faculty every Sunday from 12:00–14:00 and by appointment.

A new and exciting addition is the comprehensive newspaper archive dating from the 1950s to the present, donated by Prof. Emanuel Tov. The clippings come from Israel and abroad, the dailies range from The New York Times to The Kansas City Star. The articles trace the 1947 discovery of the first scrolls by a Bedouin shepherd, the original debate over whether the scrolls were produced by a Christian or Jewish sect, the later dispute over continuing delays in publication, and finally last year’s completion of the Discoveries in the Judaean Desert (DJD) series, for which Prof. Tov serves as the editor-in-chief. One article, “Dead Sea Scrolls Come to Life in Infrared,” (1987) discusses the then new technologies that helped make the scrolls more accessible. “Scientists at the Rochester Institute of Technology have found a way to decipher unreadable fragments… Under infrared light, the original writing is revealed—and even when it isn’t, a computer can often fill in what’s missing. RIT is storing the reconstructed images on CD-ROM disks for remote retrieval.”

Today, this information seems far less startling. From 1991–2001, the best photographs of each manuscript fragment became available to scholars worldwide through the DJD volumes. According to Dr. Chazon, often the best photographs are the earliest taken before the scroll further deteriorated in the last few decades. In other cases, the best are those most recently taken, using infrared photography and other special techniques. Prof. Tov has donated many of the DJD photographic plates to the Center as well.

With the move, the Center has acquired new computers and advanced electronic reference tools. The Center’s immediate goal is to obtain the remaining DJD volumes and additional reference books in order to give scholars and university students even greater research opportunities. The Center would appreciate donations of books and monetary gifts towards this goal.

Workshop Offers Look at Jewish-Christian Connection in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls

By Mayaan Pase-Jaffe
As part of the annual meeting of the Hebrew University Board of Governors in June, the Orion Center gave a workshop entitled “How the Dead Sea Scrolls affect our understanding of Judaism and Christianity.”

This past year, the publication of the more than 900 scrolls from the Qumran caves was completed, significantly advancing scholars’ comprehension of the Second Temple and Rabbinic periods, as well as the study of early Christianity. Workshop talks explored the Scrolls’ influence on understanding the Bible and its interpretations, ancient religious literature and ideologies, and points of contact between Judaism and Christianity.

Dr. Esther Chazon, Orion Center director, introduced the subject through her talk, “The Dead Sea Scrolls: What are they and why do they matter?” David Emanuel, Center Webmaster and HU doctoral student in bible, spoke on “Applying techniques in biblical criticism to the Dead Sea Scrolls.” Noam Mizrahi, HU bible instructor and researcher, followed with, “Misunderstanding the Scrolls in light of the Jewish Bible.” Prof. Betsy Halpern-Amaru, Orion Visiting Scholar (2001–2002) from Vassar College (NY), presented the topic, “Verifying ancient Jewish literature via the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

Mr. Michael Dunkel (pictured above) of Australia, a member of the Hebrew University Board of Governors, the Orion Foundation and the Zelman Cowen Universities Fund, chaired the session; Prof. Haim Rabinowitch, HU Rector, participated.

David Emanuel, who took the novel approach of illustrating complex methods of biblical criticism by applying them to the popular story of Little Red Riding Hood, summed up his experience: “It was a great challenge to try and relate technical biblical concepts to an audience that was by and large unfamiliar with biblical criticism.”

Center News

Congratulations to Dr. Esther Chazon, Orion Center Director, on her promotion to tenured Senior Lecturer in Hebrew Literature and Liturgy at HU. The Center also congratulates Noam Mizrahi on earning the Center’s M.A. award for his thesis, “The ‘Son of God’ Scroll from Qumran: Exegetical Problems in Linguistic Perspective.” Orion Center Grant Recipients for this year are Hanan Birenboym (“Sin, Impurity and the Body in the Qumran Scrolls,”) and Sara Oren (“Microscopic and Forensic Analysis of the Scrolls”) And finally—applications for 2002–2003 Orion Center Research Grants are due by December 31, 2002. Call, e-mail us, or stop by for an application.

Desecration of Sacred Ground

By David Emanuel
Some thought that it would never happen, that in some way the Hebrew University was on sacred ground; though many people knew it could happen, everybody was deeply shocked when it did. On the 31st July, 2002 at 12:40 p.m. the Hebrew University became the victim of a terrorist attack. However, perhaps the most shocking statistic is that many of those killed and injured in the attack were overseas students from the Rothberg International School. Though nobody from the Orion Center was injured in the attack, we were particularly horrified to hear of the impact this act of violence had on the Rothberg School because of our close relationship with them. All of our interns have been students at Rothberg (I myself studied there for two years) and we actively collaborate with the School in the Pontifical Biblical Institute (PBI) lecture series.

Prof. Steven Kaplan (pictured above), the newly appointed provost of the Rothberg School, hadn’t quite begun his tenure when the horrifying attack occurred at the Frank Sinatra Cafeteria, less than fifty yards from the School. Though Prof. Kaplan did not believe that the Hebrew University had been granted any special immunity with respect to terrorist attacks, it was, nevertheless, a shock for him to hear about it. Prof. Kaplan compares the university to any other public place where innocent people congregate, restaurants, markets, bus stations etc., and in this light he does not see why terrorists would have excluded it from their list of targets.

The incident has had a surprisingly lower impact on enrollment than one would expect. When questioned about this somewhat unexpected result Prof. Kaplan states: “The two years of the intifada had already reduced our numbers, especially among the undergraduates. There does not seem to have been any further reduction. On the other hand, I think that the bombing has made us appreciate more those who have come: their diversity, their courage, their seriousness.”

It is difficult to measure accurately the attack’s effect on the Rothberg School, but Prof. Kaplan estimates a period of about two to four years before the enrollment level returns to normal. This is admittedly a tentative estimation because in this part of the world it is difficult to define what constitutes “normal.”

Surprisingly, not all of the effects of the bombing have been negative. Prof. Kaplan describes a student who, before the incident, was afraid of venturing into the city center for fear of terrorist attacks; however, after the incident, he now feels that the university is no safer than the city and regularly frequents town. Perhaps most impressive of all, says Prof. Kaplan, is the general character of the current group of students enrolled at the Rothberg School. “I think there has been a process of self-selection. The quality, seriousness, and dedication of the students is remarkable. These days nobody comes for a year or semester without thinking seriously about the implications.”

When Prof. Kaplan was asked if he would still advise students to come and study at the Rothberg School he maintains: “Definitely, we still have enormous resources in terms of faculty, libraries and staff. We are offering 30 courses and tutorials for undergraduates, a similar number of courses and even more tutorials for the 250 graduate students.”

Concerning the Rothberg School’s fruitful relationship with the Orion Center, Prof. Kaplan says that he is sure that the new physical proximity of the Orion Center to the Rothberg School, due to the Center’s recent move to the Rabin Center of World Jewish Studies, will certainly augment the relationship between the two institutions.