Course of Specialization
VISUAL CULTURE AND MODERN JEWISH SOCIETY
Richard I. Cohen
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
April, 25 – May, 26. 2017
These lectures will focus on several major issues of modern Jewish society and culture from the eighteenth century to the present, bringing to bear a wide range of visual material. The opening lecture (“A Visual Perspective on Modern Jewish History”) will offer a broad introduction into the ways various themes and problems have been given a visual interpretation. The second lecture (“Imagining Moses Mendelssohn over Time”) treats the ways in which the eighteenth-century philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, was shaped and imagined during his lifetime and over the past centuries since his death in 1786. Mendelssohn commanded much attention long after he died, and thus his image continued to attract attention by artists of non-Jewish and Jewish origin, who creatively fashioned him in various settings and contexts.
During Mendelssohn’s lifetime the argument was often made that Jews could not be fully integrated into society as they lacked the ability or desire to engage in military battle. These claims found visual depictions and persisted long after Jews joined various national armies and participated in military battles. The interplay between these virtual portrayals of Jews as weak and reluctant military figures and later their depiction as dedicated soldiers to their national countries offers a fascinating entrée into questions of Jewish integration into modern society. These concerns and the changing image of the Jew (“From Powerlessness to Power”) will be the basis to the third lecture.
In contrast to the growing sense of identification with a country, the Jewish experience has often been identified with the phenomenon of wandering. Thus, the fourth lecture will offer a window into the world of myth and its visual imagination, but also into its sense of reality. Lecture title: “The Wandering Jew from Christian Myth to Jewish Self-Representation.”
The final lecture will treat aspects of Jewish self-representation by looking at the growing presence of Jewish museums in the post-Holocaust period in Europe and the United States. Clearly, Jewish museums have become an accepted aspect of the public space in many countries and cities, and as such have become important interpreters of Jewish life, past and present, and a major medium for transmitting knowledge on Jewish existence, past and present. The lecture will place the phenomenon of Jewish museums in context with other “minority” museums, or “special issues” museums, the struggles to build them in places where Jewish communities are non-existent, the narratives that guide the museums, the controversies that have surrounded some of them, and the social and ideological agendas that have accompanied them in past generations. Lecture title: “Visualizing and Exhibiting Jewish Space and History – Jewish Museums in Transition.”