A Positively Diverse JLA Conference – Guest Post by Sara Ronis
Three weeks ago, I set out for Antwerp, Belgium for the Jewish Law Association international conference. The Jewish Law Association brings together academics, lawyers, dayyanim and ethicists from Israel, Europe and North and South America to have conversations about Jewish law in a variety of historical time periods, locations, and contexts.
The theme for this year’s four-day conference was Judaism, Law and Literature, and consciously drew from a wide range of sources and approaches. Diversity was very much in view in Antwerp this year, particularly regarding the genre of papers presented. I heard papers that were social-historical accounts of particular legal techniques or bodies, literary and rhetorical critiques of narrative accounts of trials, positivist perspectives on what Jewish law should be, and constructivist theological readings of what Jewish law must be in conversation with a wide range of Jewish sources. Having a diversity of methodological orientations and historical specialties in the audience led to productive questioning of generic conventions, while highlighting the unique contributions of particular approaches. (Anecdotally, several participants noted that a greater diversity had also been achieved in seeing larger numbers of graduate students and women participate in the conference.)
Hosted by the University of Antwerp, the conference engaged explicitly with the local environment through a tour of Jewish Antwerp, and a visit to the Holocaust Museum in nearby Mechelen, Belgium, timed to coincide with the Fast of 17th of Tammuz. These tours created space for smaller-scale conversations and reflections over the course of the week.
This year’s JLA was also a transitional year, bidding goodbye and saying thank you to the leadership of Prof. Bernard Jackson, past president and outgoing Chairman of the JLA, and welcoming a new board headed by Amos Israel-Vleeschhouwer and Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman. Their closing remarks focused on collaboration, cooperation, cross-disciplinary interaction, increasing the JLA’s online profile, and creating a space in which researchers at all stages of work can give and receive feedback on their work. I am sure all participants look forward to seeing their vision realized at the next international conference in 2016.
[Attached are summaries of some of the various papers that I and some of my colleagues heard over the course of the conference. The papers have been summarized by Elisha Anscelovits, Shira Weiss, and me]