Research Groups

Human Paleoecology in the Levantine Corridor

[RG #87] Human Paleoecology in the Levantine Corridor

March 1, 2002 – August 31, 2002

Organizer:

Naama Goren-Inbar (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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Few areas of the world have played as prominent a role in human evolution as the Levantine Corridor, a comparatively narrow strip of land sandwiched between the Mediterranean Sea on the west and the expanse of inhospitable desert to the east. The first hominids to leave Africa, over 1.5 million years ago, first entered the Levant before spreading into what is now Europe and Asia. About 100,000 years ago another African exodus, this time of anatomically modern humans, colonized the Levant before expanding into Eurasia. Toward the end of the Pleistocene, this Corridor also witnessed some of the earliest steps toward economic and social intensification, perhaps the most radical change in hominid lifestyle that ultimately paved the way for sedentary communities wholly dependent on domestic animals and cultivated plants.

 

 

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Biblical Hebrew in its Northwest Semitic Setting: Typological and Historical Perspectives

[RG #86] Biblical Hebrew in its Northwest Semitic Setting: Typological and Historical Perspectives

October 1, 2001 – September 30, 2002

Organizers:

Steven Fassberg (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Avi Hurvitz (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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In 1961 William L. Moran published “The Hebrew Language in Its Northwest Semitic Background” (The Bible and the Ancient Near East: Essays in Honor of William Foxwell Albright, ed. G. Ernest Wright). In it, Moran presented a state-of-the-art description of the linguistic milieu out of which Biblical Hebrew developed. He stressed the features found in earlier Northwest Semitic languages that are similar to Hebrew, and he demonstrated how the study of those languages sheds light on Biblical Hebrew. More than forty years have passed since the publication of William L. Moran’s now classic description of Hebrew in the light of its Northwest Semitic background. Since the late 1950’s, when the article was written, our knowledge of both Northwest Semitic and the Hebrew of the biblical period has increased considerably.

Our research group will convene to undertake research in the light of the significant advances in the study of Biblical Hebrew and Northwest Semitic in the past four decades.

 

 

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The Foundations of Physics

[RG #71] The Foundations of Physics

February - August 1998

Organizers:

Yakir Aharonov (Tel Aviv University)

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Two major revolutions in physics took place at the beginning of twentieth century: the discoveries of quantum theory and general relativity. Both theories are extremely successful in their domains of applicability, and yet they are incompatible. Therefore, a deeper theory which would give quantum theory and general relativity as suitable approximations is needed. But attempts to obtain this deeper theory, called quantum gravity, which we hope would also unify all the fundamental interactions, have so far not been successful, despite the work of many brilliant physicists for more than seven decades.

While there are no conceptual problems in understanding general relativity, this is not true of quantum theory. The real difficulty in understanding and interpreting quantum theory may be the reason why we have not yet obtained the deeper theory. One of the first conceptual problems to arise during the creation of quantum theory was the wave/particle duality of light and matter. For example, when a photon strikes a photographic plate, it creates a localized spot as if it were a particle. Yet the same photon when it is constituent of a light wave has a wave aspect. All other particles, such as the electron, neutron and proton, exhibit this wave/particle duality as well.

 

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The Historicity of Emotions

[RG #72] The Historicity of Emotions

February - August 1998

Organizers:

Michael Heyd (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Yosef Kaplan (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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Can emotions be historicized? Are they universal and biologically determined or socially determined, culturally dependent and varying through history? What is the role of emotions and their changing character in the course of history? Is there a history of emotions just as there is a history of ideas, of manners, of political institutions or social movements? More specifically, to what extent can love, fear or hate be historicized? Do they change through history, and if so, in what senses? Is it in the objects they relate to? (Fear of what? Hate – towards whom?) In the means and legitimacy of expressing them? In the ways they are institutionalized (families, churches, political parties)? Can emotions themselves be separated from these social and cultural means of expressing and legitimizing them?

Though some historians have posed these questions earlier, it is only recently, in the 1970s and especially since the early 1980s, that historians have begun to address these questions directly. Interestingly enough, the early 1980s were also the time when psychologists, especially social psychologists, became increasingly aware not only of the issues of affects and emotions in general, but of their historical dimension, namely their possibly changing nature, as well.

Our group will try to deal with some of these questions, focusing mostly on the late medieval and early modern period, both in Christian Europe and in Jewish communities in Europe at that time. The comparison between Jewish and Christian societies will add an important dimension to the research.

 

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Semantics

[RG #69] Semantics

August 1997 - February 1998

Organizers:

Edit Doron (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Fred Landman (Tel Aviv University)

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Semantics, the study of semantic competence, is that part of linguistic theory that deals with the interpretation of natural language expressions. Semantics is a theory of the faculty of native speakers to interpret their language.

Semantic competence is a highly structured system, and research in semantics over the last twenty years has made progress in trying to uncover this structure and its general principles. The foundational principles of semantic theory, first formulated a century ago by the German mathematician and philosopher of language Frege, are aboutness and compositionality. Aboutness means that semantics studies the relations between linguistics expressions and the world as structured by our cognitive system, and, as part of this, the context of use for each expression. Compositionality means that the semantic interpretation of a complex expression – for example, a sentence – is determined by interpretation of its parts and by the operations that put those parts together. While semantics is popularly thought of as the study of the meanings of words, in fact semantic theory mostly focuses on the semantic operations that combine words into sentences and sentences into discourse.

In the last fifteen years, five areas of research have been exceptionally prominent. First, with the advent of the theory of discourse representation (initiated by Hans Kamp and Irene Heim), much work has been done on quantificational and anaphoric phenomena beyond the sentence level. Simultaneously, Mats Rooth initiated the systematic study of the semantic effects of the discourse notion of focus, and Martin Stokhof and Jeroen Groenendijk developed the study of the semantics of questions. Second, the theory of generalized quantifiers (initiated by Jon Barwise, Robin Cooper and Edward Keenan) has uncovered a wealth of systematic constraints in the determiner system of natural language. Third, the theory of singular and plural individuals (initiated by Godehard Link) has considerably deepened our understanding of the semantics of plurality, in particular with respect to distributive, collective and cumulative interpretations of noun phrases. The theory of kinds developed by Gregory Carlson has contributed to the understanding of the semantics of mass terms and other kind-denoting expressions. Fourth, the theory of events (originating in the work of Donald Davidson in the sixties) has simulated research on a variety of topics, in particular in the study of aspect, such as the semantics of the progressive and perfective. Fifth, theory of Logical Form, initiated by the work of Noam Chomsky, has contributed to research on the syntax-semantics interface.

Most importantly, these areas do not develop in isolation from each other: cross-fertilization between them has been, and continues to be highly successful and promising. Our group will concentrate precisely on the areas of cross-fertilization.

 

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Orthodoxy Through the 19th Century

[RG #70] Orthodoxy Through the 19th Century

September 1997 - February 1998 

Organizer:

Yosef Salmon (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)

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During the nineteenth century, Ashkenazi Jewish society in Europe underwent a radical transformation. Until this point, the Jews had constituted a religious-national minority, divided into local communities with more or less homogenous social and religious institutions. Now, large sectors of the Jewish public reorganized themselves into new social frameworks and divided into religious streams. The beginnings of this process can be seen already in the second half of the eighteenth century with the rise of Hasidism, but it was only during the next hundred years that the trend became more institutionalized and variegated. The main currents that crystallized included Reform, Orthodox and Conservative Judaism. Each current encompassed sub-groups which resulted from the various social and historical contexts in which these streams developed. The process included internal splits and competition as well as independent developments within each movement. Beginning in Germany at the start of the nineteenth century, the phenomenon spread to Bohemia, Hungary, England and the United States, reaching Eastern Europe toward the end of the century.

Whereas the Reform and Conservative movements have basked in the historiographical limelight for decades, Orthodoxy has received serious attention as a subject worthy of historical research only during the last twenty years. The late Prof. Jacob Katz defined the phenomenon and encouraged his students to investigate it. In his opinion, Jewish Orthodoxy emerged at the end of the eighteenth century as a response to the challenges of modernity in general, and to the other Jewish religious currents in particular. The strengthening of Orthodoxy in recent years has stimulated research into its historical roots.

Over the years, Orthodoxy itself evolved and became more diversified in its responses to the challenges presented by other Jewish religious trends (Reform and Positive-Historical Judaism in Germany, Neologism in Hungary) and Jewish social movements, especially in Eastern Europe (Zionism and Jewish Socialism). Zionism added a new aspect to the problem of modernity: the question of how to relate to Zionist activity in the Land of Israel and specifically whether to cooperate with “errant” Jews in this regard. In addition, Zionism invested messianic aspirations with new meaning. At the same time, Orthodoxy was essentially a reaction to the secularization of Jewish society, a subject which has not yet been sufficiently analysed and evaluated in historical research.

 

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The Interaction of Nomadic Conquerors with Sedentary Peoples: Turco-Mongolian Nomads in China and the Middle East

[RG #80] The Interaction of Nomadic Conquerors with Sedentary Peoples: Turco-Mongolian Nomads in China and the Middle East

February - August 2000

Organizers:

Reuven Amitai (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Michal Biran (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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The encounter between "barbarian" conquerors with sedentary peoples possessing sophisticated cultural and political traditions is one of profound historical importance. The interaction has resulted in great cultural, religious, political, linguistic and demographic changes, in which inter alia whole previously distinct groups can disappear, not so much through physical destruction, but rather through assimilation and absorption. One such meeting of enormous dimensions was that of the Roman world with the various Germanic invaders. Another would be that of the Byzantine and Persian territories overrun by the Arab Muslim armies of the 7th century. While there is still much debate among historians about the exact nature of these encounters, there is no doubt that the resulting influence was not in one direction, but both sides were greatly affected by this experience. It is also clear that these meetings left an indelible impact on the further development of these two regions.

A different set of encounters is that of the nomadic peoples of the Eurasian steppe with their sedentary neighbours in the later Middle Ages, i.e. the Turkish and Mongol invasions of the Middle East in the 11th-14th centuries and the Khitan, Jurchen and Mongol invasions of China in the late 10th to mid-14th centuries. In the aftermath of all these instances, nomadic elites established long-term control over large swathes of the territory of sedentary society. Our research group seeks to examine the effects of this encounter in a comparative way, diachronically in the same territory and synchronically between the Islamic Middle East and China.

 

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