Research Groups

Asymptotic Group Theory

[RG #79] Asymptotic Group Theory

February 15 - August 15, 2000


Avinoam Mann (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Aner Shalev (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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This research group will explore the following topics:

Infinite groups:
- Branch groups and automata groups, their subgroups, representations, presentations, and subgroup growth
- Zeta functions of nilpotent groups
- Rigid groups
- Redidual properties of the modular group

Finite groups:
- Asymptotic aspects of finite simple groups, and probabilistic aspects in particular
- Generation, and random generation, of finite simple groups
- Algorithms for matrix groups


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Mechanisms of Canon-Making in Ancient Societies

[RG #78] Mechanisms of Canon-Making in Ancient Societies

August 1999 - January 2000


Margalit Finkelberg (Tel Aviv University)
Guy G. Stroumsa (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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Our group will examine the mechanisms by which cultural and religious canons were formed, functioned and went through radical transformations in various societies of the ancient world. We hope that a better understanding of these processes, arising from such juxtaposing of diverse cultural models of canonization, has shed a new light upon the fundamental structures of religious and cultural canons adopted in different civilizations.

Odd as it may appear, there seems to have been no single comparative study of canons. This was not what could be expected at the dawn of the historical scholarship two hundred years ago. When Friedrich August Wolf, with his Prolegomena ad Homerum, opened the era of Homeric scholarship in 1795, he used a model which was being developed at the time for the study of the Old Testament. The fact that the two main constituents of the Western Canon, the ancient Israelite canonical text as represented by the Hebrew Bible, and the ancient Greek canonical text as represented by the Homeric poems, were being studied side by side was seen as only too natural at the time. This fruitful collaboration was interrupted, never to be revived again, in the first half of the 19th century, when the “discovery” of Sanskrit, instead of stimulating a pluralistic approach to the widening spectrum of ancient civilizations, gave rise to the idea of an Indo-European cultural unity exclusive to the world of the Old Testament and if the ancient Near East in general. To resume the process at the point where it stopped, and thus to supersede the mutual isolation between civilizations of the ancient world which was artificially created thereby, is one of our objectives.

Similarly, the study of the other canonization processes in the ancient world, and in particular in late antiquity, seems to be in need of fresh approaches. While in the last fifty years, since the discoveries of Qumran and Nag Hammadi, dramatic new insights into the canonization processes of these texts have been provided, relatively little has been done in terms of comparison. Moreover, and perhaps

more importantly, very little attention has been paid to the fact that various canonization processes in late antiquity did not develop independently of one another, but are linked in dialectical relationships. The canonization of the Mishna, for instance, should be seen in parallel to that of the contemporary canonization of the New Testament: both were meant to provide a key to the correct understanding of the Old Testament, which both the Jewish and Christian communities claimed as their own.

The main question which brought about the establishment of the research group was the perceived chasm between the “Greek” (and the Latin) and the “Hebrew” (i.e. the Jewish-Christian) traditions. The first is usually perceived to be more “literary” by nature, while the second would be essentially “religious”. We will attempt to develop a coherent and precise language that will permit us to use the same tools in order to analyse together these rather different traditions.


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Law and the State in Classical Islam

[RG #77] Law and the State in Classical Islam

September 1999 - February 2000


Yohanan Friedmann (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Nurit Tsafrir (Tel Aviv University)

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The study of Islam has been at the cutting edge of Islamic studies in recent years. The development of Islamic law beyond the Qur’ānic stage, the rise of the schools of law (madhābib) and their geographic spread, the relationship between the rulers and the jurists, the amount of freedom enjoyed by the jurists in the development of the law – all these are being subjected to intensive scrutiny.

An important question is the development of Islamic law from the Qur’ānic layer in early Islamic history, through the books of the 8th and 9th centuries, to the great compendia of later periods. It was accepted until recently that the early Muslim jurists derived the law from the Qur’ān and the prophetic tradition (hadith) during the first 250 years of Islamic history by way of individual reasoning. According to this view, the freedom to exercise individual reasoning gradually shrank and the jurists relied more and more on the decisions of the predecessors. These decisions were collected in large compendia and gradually acquired unquestionable authority. At the end of this process, in the 10th century CE, the right of individual reasoning disappeared totally and Islamic law lost its ability to adapt itself to the changing historical circumstances. If this theory is correct, a book of law written, for instance, in the 12th century cannot be used as a document reflecting the social and legal situation in the period in which it was written, but rather the legal tradition which prevailed in the 9th century and has remained stagnant ever since.

Recently, various scholars began to question the validity of this description and to argue that the “gates of individual reasoning” never closed and Islamic law has never lost its flexibility or ability to develop. The study of this question is a challenge for scholars of Islam. Islamic law is perceived as immutable because it is believed to represent the divine will. It therefore stands to reason that later jurists, even if they wanted to introduce changes into the law, invested much effort to present their views as identical with those of their forebears, or, at least, as derived from them. This is the reason why books of law from different periods appear very similar to each other. In order to discern changes which may have occurred in a certain field of law, it is imperative to examine numerous sources from different periods and compare them to the compendia of tradition and law from the 8th and 9th centuries. If we learn that Islamic law continued to develop throughout Islamic history, then books of law written in later centuries are of much greater value than that ascribed to them so far: they constitute historical documents which can shed new light not only on the development of law, but also on the social situation of the areas and periods in which these books were written.

This is one of the fields in which we will conduct research. Another is the study of the development of Islamic law in various areas of the Islamic world in different periods, as well as in the differences between the various schools of law on specific issues.



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From Hellenistic Judaism to Christian Hellenism

[RG #81] From Hellenistic Judaism to Christian Hellenism

September 1, 2000 - June 30, 2001


David Satran (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Daniel R. Schwartz (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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No problem has so stubbornly accompanied the investigation of Second Temple period Judaism and of early Christianity -- and the nature of the relationship between the two -- as that of "Hellenism". How deeply were both Judaism and Christianity in their formative stages influenced by the larger cultural and religious streams of the Greco-Roman age? To what extent did the phenomenon of "Hellenism" -- in its varied literary, social and political expression -- shape the defining characteristics of Jewish and Christian belief and practice in the period between Alexander and Constantine? What role did the medium of the Greek language and of Hellenistic cultural forms play in the translation of ideas and allegiances from Judaism to Christianity during the early centuries of the Common Era?

Our group will focus on precisely this problem and these questions, addressing the pendular tendency of modern scholarship to wholeheartedly affirm or passionately deny the hellenization of early Judaism and Christianity. The general orientation of recent research has been toward the Palestinian Jewish background of the early Church, with a clear proclivity for sources preserved in either Hebrew or Aramaic. In light of this trend, we will attempt to reassess the role of Greek-speaking, Hellenistic Judaism as a fertile context for Christian origins.


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Molecular Medicine in the Service of Mankind: Towards the 2000s

[RG #82] Molecular Medicine in the Service of Mankind: Towards the 2000s

November 1, 2000 - January 31, 2001


Alexander Levitzki (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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The group on molecular medicine focused on the role of the new developments in molecular biology and biochemistry in the revolution in medicine which is now taking place. These new developments, including the publication of the human genome, create new opportunities for the improvement of human health. The group's work will concentrate on the ramifications of these technological revolutions for new approaches to the treatment of various cancers and other diseases in which cellular communications fail. 

The group will focus primarily on the molecular mechanisms of cell signaling, that is, how cells communicate between themselves and how cells transmit information into the cell. The group will also explore ways to remedy the aberrations in these communication networks which occur in the course of disease. The knowledge of how cell communication works will allow the development of novel therapies.


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Millennial Pursuits - Apocalyptic Traditions and Expectations of the End among Medieval Jews and their Neighbors

[RG #83] Millennial Pursuits - Apocalyptic Traditions and Expectations of the End among Medieval Jews and their Neighbors

November 2000 - February 2001


Jeremy Cohen (Tel Aviv University)
Ora Limor (The Open University of Israel)

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Our group originated in the conviction that a community's expectations of the end constitute a vital sign -- perhaps one of its most potent agents of social change -- and that the continuing role of religious tradition in nourishing those beliefs warrants scholarly attention. We took our point of departure from the premise that the history of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam from late antiquity until the end of the Middle Ages affords a singularly instructive context for the study of eschatology and its socio-cultural significance. This period is proverbially known as the "age of faith" in the annals of Western and Mediterranean civilization, when membership in society was defined first and foremost by one's religious affiliation, and when the prophetic ideals pervading the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Quran undergirded virtually all expressions of cultural creativity. Talmudic and medieval Jews, perennially obsessed with their displacement in galut, diaspora, cultivated numerous permutations of the messianic idea as a basis for persevering in Christian and Muslim societies; as Gershom Scholem aptly noted, they lived their lives largely "in deferment", finding fulfillment in hope for the future rather than in the realities of the present.

Eschatological creativity, however, was not limited to an alienated Jewish minority. Apocalyptic literature and spirituality flowered in patristic and medieval Christianity, among the empowered and the orthodox who identified with the prevailing establishments, as well as among the disenchanted who could not find a satisfying niche in prevailing social structures and institutions. Though often overlooked in recent scholarship, Muslim apocalyptic proved consequential, as well, and eschatological differences highlighted the rift between Sunni and Shi'ite communities. In the worldview shared by the Jews with the Christian and Muslim majorities around them, eschatology provided the basis for a comprehensive reading of history; in its longing for future, it imbued both past and present with significance. So deeply embedded was messianic expectation in the fabric of medieval experience that cultural historian Georges Duby, in his provocative book, An 1000, An 2000, 1995, has sought to unravel our modern premillennial predicament in the terms of its medieval precedents.

Our research will study the messianic expectations of Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Europe and the Middle East from the conversion of Constantine to the Sabbatean messianic movement (4th-17th centuries). While the modern study of eschatology and millennialism has progressed fruitfully within numerous academic disciplines, our group will provide a forum for historical research and conversation, incorporating historians of religion, ideas, and art.


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On the Nature of Jewish Belonging in Contemporary Times: New Trends in the Study of American and Israeli Jewry

[RG #96] On the Nature of Jewish Belonging in Contemporary Times: New Trends in the Study of American and Israeli Jewry

March 1 - June 30, 2004


Steven Cohen (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Harvey Goldberg (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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The aim of our research group is to analyze new trends in the study of American and Israeli Jewry. This task will involve the documentation and intepretation of recent emerging trends in how people choose to express Jewish life and affiliate with other Jews, as well as thinking about familiar forms of Jewish diversity in new ways. We will explore the processes of historical development, as well as dynamic negotiation and choices made by Jews as individuals and as groups in forming the striking range of forms that characterize contemporary Jewish "belonging".


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Law and Pluralism

[RG #97] Law and Pluralism

March 1 - August 31, 2004


Alon Harel (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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Our research group will explore the following topics:

  • The religious aspects of legal systems.
  • Conceptions of secularism, the specificity of Indian secularism, and the extent to which secularism might be considered a Western, Christian doctrine.
  • Global justice, and caution in the attempts to extend the principles of distributive justice to the global sphere.
  • Establishing universal features of criminal law that would be applied in the International Criminal Court and other international tribunals.
  • Issues of political import and relevance to Israeli society.
  • The relations between values and rights in the constitutional context.
  • An analysis of the later drafts of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, drafted over the months April and May of 1948.


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Toward a History of Sanskrit Poetry: Innovations and Turning Points

[RG #94] Toward a History of Sanskrit Poetry: Innovations and Turning Points

September 1, 2003 - August 31, 2004


Yigal Bronner (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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It is quite amazing that no proper history exists for Sanskrit belles lettres, one of the world's richest and longest literary traditions. The scholarship of the last two and a half centuries yielded, for the most part, a vast body of data on authors and their putative dates. But it failed to produce a narrative explaining developments in their poetic practice and, quite often, denied outright the very possibility of change. Indeed, the number of serious and analytical essays on representative works from the Sanskritic canon is unbelievably small. The main purpose of our research group is to begin to emend this state of affairs and produce a history of Sanskrit literature, one that, contrary to the antihistorical notion of it as monolithic and immune to change, would concentrate on innovations and turning points.


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A Study of Palestinian Arabic Dialects

[RG #95] A Study of Palestinian Arabic Dialects

September 1, 2003 - February 29, 2004


Rafi Talmon (University of Haifa)

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The group's work will concentrate on compiling a representative corpus of texts from the various geographical areas of northern and central Israel -- namely, Upper and Lower Galilee, the northern coast, the Jordan Valley, Emeq Yizree, the Carmel Mount and Carmel coast, the Triangle, Jaffa, and the Central Plains -- as well as from the Samaritans and the rural population around Jerusalem. 


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One People, Scattered: The Role of Communication in Holding the Jewish Diaspora Together, 200-2000 AD

[RG #98] One People, Scattered: The Role of Communication in Holding the Jewish Diaspora Together, 200-2000 AD

September 1, 2004 - August 31, 2005


Menahem Blondheim (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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Our group sets out to address an ancient problem from a new perspective. The problem, which has intrigued and been debated for centuries, is Jewish survival as a people in exile, dispersed over the four corners of the earth since antiquity. The proposition we set out to explore is that effective communication, over time and across space, was key to the survival of Jews as "one people, scattered" (Book of Esther, 3:8), forming what many consider "the mother of all diasporas".

Beyond approaching a major hisorical quantary in a new way, we are also developing a novel scholarly agenda. This agenda is the re-understanding of Jewish civilization from a communications perspective and, more generally, proposing that history and communications be studied jointly. History, after all, aspires to trace all aspects of human life and understand it in all its complexity. Communication is one significant, albeit neglected, aspect of human history; but in addition, it is a potential key to grasping and untangling historical complexity. For by its nature, communication is the story of linkages, of interconnections and interrelations. It may therefore serve as a central site, anchoring a multifaceted perspective on historical development in all its richness. At the same time history, which is the great warehouse of human experience, can serve as the ultimate database, and a giant multifunction laboratory for testing, fine-tuning and even generating ideas and theories about communication.


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Foundations of Technology-Assisted Trading

[RG #99] Foundations of Technology-Assisted Trading

September 1, 2004 - August 31, 2004


Daniel Lehmann (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Motty Perry (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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The emergence of the Internet, about half a decade ago, is causing significant changes to society at large and to several academic disciplines in particular. Technologically-Assisted Trading (known colloquially as e-commerce) is now becoming a focus of increasing research interest at the boundary between Economics and Computer Science. While the first boom-and-bust cycle of these changes has passed, it is clear that profound changes still await us and that it will take society some time to fully develop all the consequences as well as adopt many of the new technical possibilities.

The group will conduct a program of interdisciplinary research on one of the most important new possibilities opened up by the internet: electronic commerce. Which much practical work has been done on the "mechanics" of electronic conmmerce (communication protocols, security, software tools, cash transfers, etc.), less attention has been paid to understand the nature of the content that is is supposed to be delivered by these "mechanics". In other words, what are the economic mechanisms that will or should be implemented by such "mechanics"?

We believe that there are theoretical foundations for electronic commerce and that the time is ripe to start formulating them.


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Literary Dimensions of Medieval Jewish Religious Discourse

[RG #100] Literary Dimensions of Medieval Jewish Religious Discourse

September 1, 2004 - February 28, 2005


Ronit Meroz (Tel Aviv University)

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The goal of this study group is to explore religious systems by scrutinizing the meeting point -- within the cultural context -- of the religious discourse and the literary means chosen to express it; to raise such questions as the relations between different genres and their religious or ideational system, or their social, historical and cultural context.


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Occult Powers and Officiants in Non-official Cults within Near Eastern Cultures

[RG #104] Occult Powers and Officiants in Non-official Cults within Near Eastern Cultures

March 1 - August 31, 2006

Gideon Bohak (Tel Aviv University)
Yuval Harari (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)
Shaul Shaked (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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Magic is a notoriously ambiguous term to define and set apart, but magical texts seem to display a remarkable degree of similarlity in different cultures, languages and historical periods. If the study of Babylonian, Greek, Jewish and Muslim magical texts raises many recurrent problems, the solutions offered in one discipline can often prove worthwhile in other disciplines as well. By focusing on cultures that are geographically related, and between which there existed some channels of cross-cultural transmission, we can trace not only phenomenological similaries, but also geographical and historical continuities and transformations over long periods of time.

One thing shared by all the cultures covered by members of our group is the assumption that there are many occult powers out there (be they demonds, angels, gods, natural forces etc.)|, and that some men and women are better equipped than others to approach these forces and use them for their own aims. Moreover, members of all these cultures took it for granted that there is a body of knowledge (of special rituals, powerful incantations and so on) that can be mastered by competent individuals and that enable them to use these occult forces more effectively. This body of knowledge, and the social tensions involved in using it, are the main focus of all the group's members and the basis of our comparative efforts.


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Ethnography and Literature: Theory, History and Interdisciplinary Practice

[RG #103] Ethnography and Literature: Theory, History and Interdisciplinary Practice

September 1, 2005 - February 28, 2006


Galit Hasan-Rokem (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Carola Hilfrich (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Ilana Pardes (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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Our research group aims to contribute to the growing body of research on the nexus of ethnography and literature.


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