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Interrupting Kafka: Research Laboratory for Scholarship and Artistic Creativity

Interrupting Kafka

[RG # 160] Interrupting Kafka: Research Laboratory for Scholarship and Artistic Creativity 

October 22, 2019 – January 21, 2020


Ruth Kanner (Tel Aviv University),
Freddie Rokem (Tel Aviv University)

Research assistant: Adi Havin

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The aim of the Interrupting Kafka Research Group (RG) is to create a research laboratory where artistic creativity and academic research can interact with each other as complementary forms of thought and action, sharing the same physical and conceptual spaces. This approach reflects recent developments in the study and research of the humanities and the arts, recognizing that a direct dialogue between ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ is crucial for both. The RG will consist of scholars in literary studies, theatre and performance studies, the history of ideas and philosophy as well as artists of theatre, performance and the visual arts.

Franz Kafka’s writings will serve as the point of departure for this collaborative investigation. The theoretical framework is based on Walter Benjamin’s observation in his 1934 landmark essay on the tenth anniversary of Kafka’s death, where he maintains that Kafka’s entire oeuvre “constitutes a code of gestures” for which the theatre, Benjamin emphatically added, is the given place of investigation. Benjamin also provides the basic methodological tools for this investigation by expanding the concept of the caesura, which originally refers to a break or pause in a verse, to include the comprehensive poetic, dramatic and performative principles based on the ‘Interruption’ (die Unterbrechung).

According to Benjamin, the Interruption is one of the constitutive features of Bertolt Brecht’s epic theatre, creating gestures on which the principles of estrangement (verfremdung) are based. The RG will open up a new field of study to explore innovative forms of collaborative research by devising and examining a broad range of interruptive interactions and interferences both within and between such gestural codes as well as in the flow of thought and action themselves. These interruptive codes are the intermediate expressions of space/time Benjamin termed the ‘standstill’ (the pause or the break) through which it is possible to perceive, enact and even bring forth a radical change in the order of things.

Additional members of the group were actors from the Ruth Kanner Theater Group: Tali Kark, Shirley Gal, Adi Meirovich, Ronen Babluki, Ebaa Monder, Siwar Awwad, Arnon Rosenthal.




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Deconstructing and Reconstructing Consciousness: an Interdisciplinary Approach to a Perennial Puzzle


[RG # 159]  Deconstructing and Reconstructing Consciousness: an Interdisciplinary Approach to a Perennial Puzzle

September 1, 2019 - January 31, 2020


Leon Y. Deouell (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem),
Daphna Shohamy (Columbia University, New York)

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Consciousness is one of the most fascinating and least understood parts of human nature, and arguably, of nature at large. There is nothing we know more intimately than our conscious experiences – where we love and admire, hate and despise, plan ahead, reflect back, and decide. Yet, we know very little about how these subjective experiences come about; we know very little about the mechanics of what may be the most precious aspect of our mental life: conscious experience.

Understanding consciousness is crucial for modern theories of human cognition.  Without understanding consciousness’ antecedents, functions, and consequences, we cannot understand homo sapiens. Understanding consciousness is also crucial if we want to improve theories of functions that might seem to be especially human such as planning, holding long-term goals, empathizing, and acting according to moral beliefs.

The research group will address consciousness from interdisciplinary perspectives, including social sciences (psychology, cognitive and decision sciences), life sciences (neuroscience), and the humanities (philosophy). It brings together a diverse and extraordinary group of scientists, junior and senior, female and male, from European, American, and Israeli institutions.


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Re-theorizing the Architecture of Housing as Grounds for Research and Practice

Re-theorizing the Architecture

[RG # 158] Re-theorizing the Architecture of Housing as Grounds for Research and Practice

September 1, 2019 - June 30, 2020


Yael Allweil (Technion Institute of Technology),
Gaia Caramellino (Politecnico di Milano)

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Humanity is facing an ongoing, global housing crisis with major consequences for social stability in cities and nations, and by implication for the lives and health of millions. Theorization of the crisis in housing studies points to neo-liberalisation processes which have since the 1980s transferred responsibility for housing provision from the state to global markets, corporate monopolies, and the dwellers themselves, assigning architects little agency to develop new methodologies for housing as a cultural product. ‘Architecture’ as a cultural product is thus often seen as distinct from ‘housing’ as a socio-economic need.

The vision of this Research Group is therefore a new outlook on the development of the housing crisis and on architecture’s role in addressing it, by rethinking the terminology used to discuss housing, and by developing anew the vocabulary for researching and designing housing for the general public.


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Research Groups:Jewish Women’s Cultural Capital from the Late Middle Ages Through the Early Twentieth Century


[RG # 158]  Jewish Women’s Cultural Capital from the Late Middle Ages Through the Early Twentieth Century

September 1, 2016- July 1, 2017

Moshe Rosman (Bar Ilan University)

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Throughout Western history women have been assigned a status as cultural observers and social facilitators to men's roles as cultural performers and social actors. This status however, was not fixed, and cultural-social gender barriers could be crossed. Authority in the family, responsibilities in the public sphere, communal activism, economic productivity, education, ritual religious roles, literary and artistic creativity were all forms of cultural capital which could position women at intersections of power and privilege and challenge gender hierarchies. Recent decades have witnessed a revolution in the scholarship of women's history, uncovering trends that complicate accounts of the possibilities for women. However, these investigations into women’s social and cultural roles have been based predominantly on the lives of Christian women, in Europe west of the Oder, and in North America. A primary research objective of our group is to turn to communities that, both geographically and culturally, have not been properly attended to by the existing scholarship. By bringing together a group of scholars who specialize in a range of periods and locations, our research will create a framework for exploring these issues in Jewish history and their implications for other histories of women.


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Research Groups:From Creation to Sinai - Jewish, Christian, and Qur'anic Traditions in Interaction


[RG # 149]  From Creation to Sinai: Jewish, Christian, and Qur'anic Traditions in Interaction

September 1, 2016- July 1, 2017

Esther Eshel (Bar-Ilan University)
Menahem Kister (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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The Book of Genesis and the beginning of the Book of Exodus are of utmost importance for many fundamental issues in the study of Judaism, Christianity, and nascent Islam. The traditions related to the narrative passages of these books refer, inter alia, to the Creation of the World, Adam as bearer of God's image, angels and demons, Enoch, Divine election, the covenants with the patriarchs prior to Sinai, the establishment of monotheism, the formation of Israel as a nation, and the Exodus. These themes were highly significant in the formulation of the competing religious worldviews and self-understanding of Second Temple and rabbinic Judaism, early Christianity, Gnosticism, and eventually early Islam. It should be emphasized that the relevant material is not confined to works dedicated expressly to the exegesis of these biblical books; rather, themes of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus are part and parcel of the religious messages of Jewish, Christian and nascent Islamic thought.

Themes and traditions from Genesis and Exodus may be found in a vast array of sources in Antiquity. The Qur'an – unlike medieval Islamic traditions – is one of the latest products of Late Antiquity. While scholarship by and large has tended toward the study of the relevant biblical themes in each religion unto itself, comparative studies transcending the boundaries between the corpora of varying religious traditions are often mutually illuminating. The group’s purpose is not merely to map and compare divergent traditions, but also to elucidate the dynamics of transformation among them, considering the relationships (including polemics and influence) among the religious groups of Antiquity. The anticipated collaboration of scholars from diverse backgrounds in the proposed Research Group will be a rare opportunity for productive synergy.


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Research Groups:Stochasticity and Control in the Dynamics and Diversity of Immune Repertoires: an Example of Multi-Cellular Co-Operation

[RG # 150]  Stochasticity and Control in the Dynamics and Diversity of Immune Repertoires: an Example of Multi-Cellular Co-Operation

March 26- June 30, 2017

Uri Hershberg  (Drexel University)
Gur Yaari (Bar-Ilan University)

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We propose to study the general problems of functionality and robustness in complex biological systems, through a focus on the adaptive immune response as a model system. The adaptive immune response is a complex system, which comprises many interacting cells that are subject to various sources of stochasticity. We will address fundamental questions in the field such as how B and T cell repertoires collectively go through a process of stochastic diversity generation and clonal selection, and consistently yield functional controlled immune responses in a noisy environment. This understanding will be important in developing control strategies to modulate the immune response (e.g., with vaccinations or immune therapies) since, while predictable in the aggregate, human immune responses can display marked variability. For example, a small fraction of individuals do not raise antibodies following influenza vaccination, and efficacy rates for vaccination in older individuals are generally under 30%. Infections with West Nile virus are usually asymptomatic, but some patients experience severe neurological disease and even death. The potential role of stochasticity at different spatial and temporal scales in driving these diverse yet robus responses will be a main focus of our research group.


Mini Symposium Series

1st Mini Symposium Series on Stochasticity and Control in Biological Systems> 

2nd Mini Symposium Series on Stochasticity and Control in Biological Systems>



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Research Groups:The Legitimization of Modern Criminal Law


[RG # 146]  The Legitimization of Modern Criminal Law

March 1 - July 31, 2016

Alon Harel (The Hebrew University)

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It is often said that criminal law faces a crisis of legitimacy: a crisis of perceived legitimacy, in that many of those who are subject to it do not regard it as author- itative; a crisis of normative legitimacy, insofar as it cannot plausibly claim the authority that it needs.

This Research Group will pursue five lines of research aimed at understanding and finding ways of responding to it. First, we take seriously the fact that criminal law is a political institution, whose legitimation must be grounded in political theory. Second, we will explore the ways in which criminal law can be differentiated from other legal and extra-legal mechanisms for regulating behavior. Third, we will examine the scope of activities that can legitimately be criminalized, since a failure to honor appropriate limitations on that scope is another source of the crisis of legitimacy. Fourth, we will examine the procedural features that are necessary for strengthening the legitimacy of criminal law. Finally, we will attend to criminal punishment, in particular the question of what modes of criminal punishment can play a legitimate role in a democratic polity. 


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Research Groups:Health and the Environment: A Unifying Framework from Individual Stress to Ecosystem Functioning


[RG # 147]   Health and the Environment: A Unifying Framework from Individual Stress to Ecosystem Functioning

June 1 - August 31, 2016

Dror Hawlena (The Hebrew University)

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Our Research Group aims to develop a general theory that provides novel, mechanistic understandings of the ways in which environmental changes regulate ecosystem processes via alteration of an animal's trophic functions.

We suggest using stress physiology as a common mechanism to scale plasticity in energy and elemental budgets at the individual level to processes occurring at the population, community and ecosystem levels. Trait expressions are shaped by evolution and are constrained by conservative biological processes. Thus, this evolutionary-based framework has much potential to reveal how ecological interactions emerge across levels of biological organization, and may assist in unifying existing, currently separated theories. Such an understanding is also crucial to better predict how human-induced rapid environmental changes will affect life-supporting ecosystem services. 


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Research Group: Big Data and Planets

big data

[RG # 157] Big Data and Planets

May 1, 2019 – July 31, 2019


Tsevi Mazeh (Tel Aviv University)

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Astronomy is in the midst of a transformation brought on by exponentially progressing technological advances in the information age. New detector capabilities and faster computation have created a new era in which the use of advanced data mining and inference methods could bring new answers to long-standing scientific questions. The proposed research group, which includes leading figures in data analysis of exo-planets will 

• prepare algorithms for analysis of data from the forthcoming TESS space mission, 

• apply Gaussian Processes and machine learning algorithms to model stellar variability in transit and radial-velocity studies of exo-planets, and 

• study exo-planetary system architectures by developing population models and confront them with the accumulating data, using new statistical tools. 

We expect the research group to provide a better understanding of the exo-planetary population via advanced statistical tools — a giant leap in one of the most exciting fields of present science. 


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Research Group: The Reception and Impact of Aristotelian Logic in Medieval Jewish Culture

medieval jewish

[RG # 156]  The Reception and Impact of Aristotelian Logic in Medieval Jewish Culture

Sept. 1, 2018 - July 1, 2019

Charles Manekin (University of Maryland),
Yehuda Halper (Bar-Ilan University)

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The purpose of the research group is to investigate: the reception, followed by the naturalization, of Aristotelian logic into medieval Jewish cultures in Europe; and the repercussions of the introduction of logic into the Jewish intellectual matrix in numerous other areas of Jewish thought, beyond the field of logic itself. The proposed group will bring together scholars from various corners of medieval intellectual history: two historians of logic (specializing in the history of logic in Hebrew and Arabic); historians of medieval science, medicine, and philosophy; and scholars who study medieval religious polemic and Biblical exegesis, with an emphasis on the use of logic therein. Among the questions to be considered will be: What was the place of logic in the overall transfer of rationalist philosophical/scientific culture to European Jews in the Middle Ages (12th-15th centuries)? How did the study of logic affect intellectual activity in various areas, including traditional Jewish subjects (e.g. religious polemics; medicine; biblical exegesis; Talmud study).

By highlighting the interdisciplinary importance of medieval logic in Hebrew, we anticipate that the impact of this group will extend beyond the history of medieval philosophy, into the fields of general European medieval culture and history, Christian intellectual history, history of philosophy and logic, history of medicine, kabbalah, etc. We hope to bring to the attention of scholars of Jewish intellectual history and historians of logic just how widespread the study of logic by Jews in the Middle Ages was, and how it impacted their other intellectual endeavors.


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Research Group: The Day Unit in Antiquity and the Middle Ages


[RG # 151]  The Day Unit in Antiquity and the Middle Ages

Mar 1, 2018 - Aug 1, 2018


Jonathan Ben-Dov (University of Haifa) 
Sacha Stern (University College London)

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This project aims to shed light on a dark corner in history, which was surprisingly very little investigated until now: how was it that the unit of ‘day’ and its primary division into 12 ‘hours’ came to ne conceived in human culture? The division seems to have been gradually developed in ancient Egypt and then migrated also to cuneiform sources from Mesopotamia. It then circulated, not quite smoothly, into the Greek world and subsequently into western late antique and medieval culture. This account remains vague because there is no comprehensive and solid research that could clarify it more pointedly.

New concepts of the division of the day required proper technological means to express them. After tracing this historical riddle, however, a lot remains to be explored for subsequent periods in history. We ask how the science and technologies of time measurement determined the structure and division of the day unit, conceptually as well as in practice, and conversely, to what extent did conceptual and practical divisions of the day unit underpin and influence the development of time measurement technologies. Time is in many ways a human construction, which requires a set of rituals and cultural agents in order to reinforce it. We aim to study these various mechanisms.

The suggested team is a unique combination of experts for the history of time in their respective fields. Such a group has never before been assembled to study this type of question. The group consists of historians of science and technology as well as of law and of religious and cultural institutions. The historical periods and geographical spread covered by the group is exceptionally wide: from ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, to ancient Jewish culture (Second Temple, rabbinic) and into Medieval Judaism, Greek and Roman history, Islamic culture, and the literature of medieval Ethiopia.



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Research Group: Geometric,Topological and Computational Aspects of High-Dimensional Combinatorics

[RG # 153]  Geometric, Topological and Computational Aspects of High-Dimensional Combinatorics

Sep 1, 2017 - Jul 1, 2018


Alexander Lubotzky (The Hebrew University) 
Tali Kaufman (Bar-Ilan University) 

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Combinatorics in general and the theory of expander graphs, in particular, have been fruitful areas of  interaction of pure and applied mathematics. In recent years a "high dimensional" theory has been emerged. This theory beside its intellectual interest has also a great potential for various applications in mathematics and computer science. This theory calls for a cooperation of experts in combinatorics, topology, geometry, group theory and computer science. We propose to organize a program that will bring together people from these areas in order to create a community of scholars who can cooperate on these new challenges.



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Research Group: New Directions in the Study of Javanese Literature


[RG # 155] New Directions in the Study of Javanese Literature

September 1, 2018 - June 30, 2019


Ronit Ricci (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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Javanese literature is among the world’s richest and most unusual literary traditions yet it is currently little known outside of Java, Indonesia. The vast majority of Javanese texts, in manuscript and print form, remain untouched by scholars.

The Javanese are the largest Muslim ethno-linguistic group in the world and the largest ethnic group in Indonesia, with their language spoken today by approximately 100 million people. Beginning in the ninth century and into the present they have produced a complex, diverse and intricate literary corpus that is a gateway to understanding Javanese writing practices, approaches to language, poetics, and translation strategies. Through its narrative histories, theological and legal treatises and interlinear translations from Arabic to Javanese, this literature also offers insights on Java’s remarkable transition to Islam, half a world away - geographically, culturally and linguistically - from Islam’s birthplace in the Middle East.

The study of Javanese in western universities has declined dramatically and it is currently on the verge of disappearance. The research group aims to revitalize this important humanistic field by:

  1. creating a rare opportunity for scholars to read, study and discuss Javanese texts collaboratively

  2. examining and analyzing yet unstudied Javanese works, thus broadening the basis of Javanese texts on which to generalize and theorize

  3. exploring anew previously studied texts, employing innovative methodological and theoretical perspectives from Comparative Literature, Islamic Studies, Cultural Studies and Performance Studies, and

  4. in light of the above, reconceptualizing and remapping major dimensions of the field of Javanese literature including periodization, contextualization, literary categorizations, and interpretive methods.

Mindful of the newness of Indonesian and Javanese Studies within Israeli academia, group members also aim to contribute (individually and collectively) to the expansion and strengthening of these fields in Israel. 


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Research Group: The Subject of Antiquity: Contours and Expressions of the Self in Ancient Mediterranean Culture


[RG # 152]  The Subject of Antiquity: Contours and Expressions of the Self in Ancient Mediterranean Culture

Sept. 1, 2017 - July 1, 2018


Ishay Rosen-Zvi (Tel Aviv University) 
Maren Niehoff (The Hebrew University)

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There is a growing scholarly consensus that new notions of the self emerged in Greco-Roman Antiquity, which prompted philosophers, artists, law-makers and biographers to conceive of human beings as individuated selves, situated in specific cultural and historical contexts. We wish to examine these emerging discourses of the self, their interaction and expressions in the material and textual culture of Greeks and Romans, Jews and Christians.

While such an intellectual project seems very much a scholarly desideratum, it is also a complex challenge, since its successful achievement is contingent upon bringing together scholars from disparate disciplines. The constraints imposed by existing academic frameworks are thus often an impediment to its realization. We believe that the Institute provides the most suitable venue for a joint venture to explore the potential of combining various areas of research in order to achieve new understandings of this phenomenon.

The proposed research group consists of leading experts and one young scholar in the fields of Greek philosophy, Roman law and literature, Early Christianity, Jewish Hellenism and rabbinics. Most of us are in the process of embarking on book projects in new areas, which require intensive collaboration with colleagues in adjacent fields. Working closely together for a period of a year will enable us to shed new light on areas and genres which have regularly been studied in isolation. We hope to highlight both shared understandings across religious boundaries as well as culturally distinct types of self-fashioning.


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Research Group: Rethinking Early Modern Jewish Legal Culture: New Sources, Methodologies and Paradigms

legal culture

[RG # 154] Rethinking Early Modern Jewish Legal Culture: New Sources, Methodologies and Paradigms

September 1, 2018 - June 30, 2019


Jay Berkovitz (University of Massachusetts Amherst),
Arye Edrei (Tel Aviv University)

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A substantial number of new sources for the study of Jewish history and law have come to the attention of scholars during the past fifteen years. Only recently, rabbinic and lay court records from Jewish communities in early modern Europe and the Mediterranean world have begun to be inspected, though very few systematic studies of these sources have yet been undertaken. Rabbinic and community court records are fundamental not only to our understanding of Jewish autonomy and politics. They also represent a basic tool for discovering how Jewish law functioned in practice. Our goal is to incorporate these sources into the historical narrative so that we can better understand the role that Jewish and general law played in the life of individuals and their communities.

The following questions are central to the year-long investigations that are planned:

  1. Did Jews engage in forum shopping between Jewish and non-Jewish courts, how was this viewed by rabbinic and lay authorities, and where there was opposition, what were the steps taken to prevent this?

  2. Were adjustments in Jewish law (halakhah) among these steps, how familiar were Jews with general law, and did Jewish jurists incorporate aspects of general law, such as the ius commune, into their decisions?

The proposed Research Group intends to use rabbinic and lay court records to (re)define the place of Jewish law in daily life through modern legal theory and historical investigation.

Toward this end, we will place historians and legal scholars in dialogue on the substance and ramifications of these recently rediscovered sources. 


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