July 2016 , No.5 


Convers(at)ion- June 2016


CSOC - 4th Annual Conference


For the most part, conversion is the ultimate outcome of  conversations about matters of faith, political status and religion.  In this annual conference, held by the Center for the Study of Conversion and Inter-Religious Encounters, we set out to explore the connection between  a wide range of conversations  and subsequent conversions both on the individual and  group levels. We  explored the two concepts as part of the same continuum, and paid special attention when they lead one into the other, and when they do not.  This is the reason that we chose the title Conversation, in an attempt to encapsulate this spectrum between the performative act of verbal sharing and the eventual possibility of a religious conversion.
Unlike the previous annual conferences that sought to bring in discussants from both the Center and our local and international partners, this conference showcased the work of the Center’s researchers.  As a result, most of the texts presented at the workshop as well as the lectures delivered stemmed directly from the current work of the researchers at the center, from the graduate student level through post-doctoral fellows and senior researchers.
The four-day intensive workshop organized by Dr. Nimrod Hurvitz, Dr. Ephraim (Effie) Shoham, Prof. Ram Ben-Shalom and Prof. Dov (Claude) Stuczynski, took place at The Center for the Study of Conversion and Inter-Religious Encounters, Ben-Gurion University  20-23/6/2016. It brought together more than 30 scholars from within the center, with a number of selected respondents of diverse disciplinary backgrounds to discuss the texts and lectures presented by the Center’s scholars, touching  on the different aspects of conversations and conversion to and from the three Abrahamic religions. Aiming to add  a contemporary perspective, the workshop held a session about  conversions to Judaism in present-day Israel centered on a lecture by Tel-Aviv University anthropologist Dr. Michal Kravel-Tovi and a response by Dr. Tomer Persico, of Alma Institute and The Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.    
For the Conference's website, press here.

Dr. Ephraim (Effie) Shoham and Dr. Nimrod Hurvitz


















Convert of the Month


"I was born a Hindu, but I solemnly assure you that I will not die as a Hindu” B. R. Ambedkar, 1936
(Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, 14 April 1891 – 6 December 1956)
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar (popularly known as Babasaheb Ambedkar), was the first Minister of Law in India and one of the architects of the Indian Constitution, while serving as a Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee. He was a political leader, jurist, scholar and a writer. He graduated in Political Science and Economics from the Bombay University in 1912; and continued to study Law and Economics abroad in London and the USA (Colombia University, PhD, 1927). 
Upon his return to India, Dr. Ambedkar became involved in campaigning and negotiations for India's independence. He further fought to eradicate the caste-based discriminations in India, as well as struggled to terminate ‘untouchability’. He fiercely fought for the rights of the Dalits/Untouchables and other socially backward classes throughout his life. 
For Ambedkar, who was born as an ‘untouchable’ Hindu, religious conversion was a political, social, and spiritual move. At first, he struggled to change Hinduism from within. He succeeded in constituting several laws and articles in the Indian legal system that prohibit discrimination based on caste, prohibit any discrimination against Dalits/untouchables, as well as affirmative action to the Backward Classes/Untouchables; but he did not succeed in convincing Gandhi and Nehru and the Hindu-dominated Indian leadership to abolish the caste system altogether. 
Ambedkar process of religious conversion is intriguing. After a decade of political negotiations and non-violent protests, he decided to abandon Hinduism. He declared, at the Yeola conference in 1936, in a daring speech, that one may choose his/her religious identity - “I was born a Hindu, but I solemnly assure you that I will not die as a Hindu.” He was consequently searching the right path, and the ‘right faith’. Ambedkar’s move at the Yeola conference, initiated many conversions in India. Subsequent to his declaration about his intention to convert, thousands of lower caste and untouchable Hindus left Hinduism behind, and converted to various religions – Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Sikhism. His declaration sparked years of debate among untouchable/Dalit communities in that regard. 
Ambedkar himself was not quite sure what the right path is, and which religion to choose. It took him several years to decide. In a later speech, delivered to the Bombay Presidency Mahar Conference, 31st May 1936, Bombay, (Translated from the Marathi), he said:
Since the time of the declaration of Conversion, our men have conducted several meetings at various places and expressed their views and opinions, which I hope must have reached you… You will all agree that planning is very necessary for making the movement of Conversion a success. Conversion is not a children's game. It is not a subject of entertainment. It deals with how to make man's life successful. Just as a boatman has to make all necessary preparation before he starts on a voyage, so also we have to make such preparation. Without preparation, it will be impossible to reach the other shore.
He went on to conduct his mission of selecting a new faith for him and his followers, as a research project, exploring the various potential faiths that will enable social emancipation. During this so-called 'market survey' – the leaders of the various religious communities were courting and wooing him, trying to convince him to choose their own faith, their own ‘goods’, and not the others. While various Hindu politicians tried to persuade him to remain a Hindu, A Christian Methodist bishop indicates that true conversion requires an individual change of heart, but in these unusual circumstances, their church will agree to welcome all untouchables as en mass, with the approval of Ambedkar - their leader. An Islamic Nizam offered 50 million rupees - about a rupee per head – for the wholesale ‘delivery of untouchables’ to Islam; many of the Muslim leaders offered that former untouchable will not have to wear veils, or to be circumcised, in order to ease to process of conversion to Islam. A leader of the Sikh community indicated that the Sikh faith is suitable for the untouchable requirements since all Sikhs are equal before god. The Buddhists did not stay behind, and claimed that the entire community of the untouchables is cordially welcome to join their faith. Dr. Ambedkar had sympathy towards the Jewish people and especially to the bible and to Moses as a religious and a political leader, but no evidence is found that he considered converting to Judaism.
Ambedkar sent delegations to the various religious communities in order to study thoroughly the nature of the various faiths. Every few weeks he published a commentary, praising one of the religions for its quality and advantages. The religious communities continued to offer their goods. However, after Ambedkar weighed up carefully the possibilities; during the 1940s, the various religions were eliminated one by one, while Buddhism remained his favorite option. During the 1950s, he studied Buddhism thoroughly and had written a book about the Buddhist religion and its merits - The Buddha and His Dharma. The actual conversion ceremony (diksha) took place later - on October 1956 in Nagpur. Ambedkar was not converting by himself; He was escorted by his wife – a (formerly) Brahmin Hindu, and by 380,000 untouchables, who took part in this ceremony of mass conversion and followed his footsteps. 
Ambedkar died on December 1956. He remained an important symbol for equality and social justice. In fact, even right wing Hindu public figures, including Narendra Modi, praise him until this date for not choosing Islam and Christianity, but rather an Indian ‘local’ religion. Thousands of people from different castes have converted to Buddhism in public ceremonies - the most recent being part of 50th year celebrations of Ambedkar's diksha.  Nowadays, Ambedkar’s birthdate is celebrated as a public holiday in India known as Ambedkar Jayanti or Bhim Jayanti.  
Ayelet Harel-Shalev


Public Lectures


Prof. Chaim Hames joined a BGU delegation that met Pope Francis in Vatican City on June 15th, 2016.
As part of this visit, the delegation's members met senior cardinals who are in charge of relations between the Vatican and the Jews and Muslims.
At these meetings, Prof. Hames introduced the cardinals to our Center's aims and activities.
For the full article, press here


Prof. Daniel J. Lasker was the Horace W. Goldsmith Visiting Professor of Judaic Studies at Yale University, spring semester, 2016. While at Yale, he taught a course entitled: "Medieval Jewish Thought in Islamic Lands," and he conducted the faculty-graduate student seminar devoted to twelfth-century Jewish philosophy. He also continued his research on a commentary on Judah Halevi's Kuzari, and a partial edition and translation of the twelfth-century Karaite Judah Hadassi's Eshkol ha-kofer.


A series of 3 public lectures in Hebrew (given by members of the Center) discussing different cases of inter-religious encounters.
Held at "Ashan Hazman", a local pub in Beersheba, in cooperation with The Center for the Study of Conversion and Inter-Religious Encounters.


Future Events


International Conference


"CSOC- 5th Annual International Conference"
Ben Gurion University 
May 22nd-25th, 2017 
Details T.B.A 


Faculty Activities


Alexander Van der Haven: 
Lecture: Zalman Shazar Center Jerusalem. Public Lecture Series "Conversion: Religious Encounters and Border Crossings." Christian Mission in the New World and in the Catholic Empires in the Beginning of the Modern Era: Between Catholicism and Protestantism (Hebrew).
Together with Prof. Dov (Claude) Stuczynski, March 3, 2016


Cynthia Gabbay: 
Homage to Gabriela Mistral on her 70th Nobel anniversary at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Lecture: "Divagaciones de la mano de Gabriela Mistral: Una lectura memoriosa de Chile". January 20th, 2016
Presentation of the book  Los ríos metafísicos de Julio Cortázar by Dr. Cynthia Gabbay, with Prof. Saúl Sosnowski and Florinda Goldberg at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. March, 16th, 2016  
Conference "40 Years Since Argentina's Coup d'Etat: History, Cultural Representation and Discourses on Memory" at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University.  Lecture: "Visual Artivism Practices in pursuit of Human Rights during the Transition from Dictatorship to the Neoliberal Democracy". March 21-22th, 2016
Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Course by Dr. Diego Rotman "Art, Activism and Public Spaces". Lecture: "40 years of Political Performance and Street Art in Argentina". April 13th, 2016
Conference:"Transgression and Conformism in Jewish Latin America: Culture, Art, Literature, Demography and Society" at Latin American Jewish Studies Association, 4th Regional Interdisciplinary Conference, New York. Lecture: "Cartografía de la Utopía de El Paraíso en el Nuevo Mundo de Antonio León Pinelo". May, 26th, 2016 


Daniel J. Lasker:
"Polemics, Religion and Skepticism in Judah Halevi’s Book of Kuzari," Maimonides Centre for Advanced Studies, Jewish Scepticism, University of Hamburg, June 15, 2016 


Ehud Krinis: 
Participation in one of the sessions of 'Night of Philosophy' event, organized by Institut Français de Tel-Aviv, May 26, 2016


Gideon El'azar: 
״הסדנה המתודולוגית הראשונה של תלמידי מחקר בתחום סין בישראל: מפגש בין מרצים לתלמידים״, כותרת ההרצאה: ״המיסיונרים חוזרים ליונאן: דת, אתניות ושליטה בסין הגלובלית״. 24 ינואר, 2016.

כנס לימודי אסיה ה-13 בישראל, תל חי. כותרת ההרצאה: "גילוי אלוהי התנ"ך בעבר הסיני: עיצובה של הזהות הנוצרית-סינית בסין העכשווית". 18-19 מאי, 2016.

הכנס האנתרופולוגי הישראלי ה-44. כותרת ההרצאה: "היסטוריה של עוינות: מיסיונרים וטיבטים". 8-9 יוני, 2016.


Keren Abbou Hershkovits:
"The Things We Do for Love", Interfaith Love, Leiden University, June 24, 2016


Moshe Yagur:
"The Boundaries of the Jewish Community in Fatimid Egypt",   National conference for PhD candidates of Middle Eastern Studies (Held in the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus), June 2, 2016
“Conversion between Judaism and Christianity in the Cairo Geniza Classical Period", in a joint workshop of the Open University, the Ben Zvi Institute and Ruehr University in Bochum dedicated to Jews and Christians Under Islamic rule in the pre-modern Middle East and India, June 22-23, 2016 


Pnina Arad:
“Cultural Landscape in Early Modern Jewish and Christian Maps of the Holy Land” Maps and Society Lectures, The Warburg Institute, London, April 14, 2016 


Ronit Ricci:
Organizer of the panel, “Reading Between the Lines: Islamic Interlinear Translation in Indonesia,” and presenter of the paper, “Sound Across Languages,” Association of Asian Studies, Seattle, March 2016
“Ramayana and the Exilic Imagination,” presented at the University of Toronto and at SOAS, London, April 2016


Uriel Simonsohn: 
“Cultural Brokerage between Muslims and non-Muslims: The Passage of Religious and Cultural Commodities among Religious Communities.” Drawing Relations among Religious Groups, Ruhr University in Bochum (RUB), February 2016
“Kinship and Community: The Social Subversiveness of Religiously-Mixed Families in the Early Islamic Period.” Faith and Community around the Mediterranean. 300-1500, International Conferences, The New Europe College (Institute for Advanced Studies), Bucharest, March 2016
“Conversion, Manipulation, and Legal Exemption: A Few Case Studies from the Early Islamic Period.” Religious Exemption and the State 400 –1300, International Conferences, The University of Sheffield, April 2016
“Family does matter: Muslim – non-Muslim kinship ties in the early and Classical Islamic periods.” Guest Speaker, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim Christian Understanding, Georgetown University, April 2016


Yaniv Fox: 
׳סמיך ממים׳: נקמת הדם בחברה המרובינגית, סמינר המחלקה להיסטוריה כללית, אונ׳ בר-אילן, ינואר 2016
היסטוריוגרפיה ולקח בצדה: ידע ומוסר אצל גרגוריוס מטור, ימי הביניים, עכשיו! אונ׳ תל אביב, אפריל 2016

‪Damnatio memoriae כאמצעי לשרטוט מחדש של גבולות הקהילה הפוליטית בגליה המרובינגית, העצמי והאחר בשלהי העת העתיקה, אונ׳ חיפה, מאי 2016‬


Yosi Yisraeli: 
'מי הוא נוצרי? אידיאלוגיה ״מומרית״ והיווצרותו של ידע נוצרי חדש במאה ה-15', > הרצאת ארן, בית-הספר להיסטוריה של אוניברסיטת תל-אביב, 31.5.16 


Future Events


Amir Ashur:
Catalogue of Maimonides and Maimonidean related documents in the Taylor-Schechter Genizah collections in Cambridge University Library – an up-to-date report, Society for Judeo-Arabic Studies conference, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, August 15-18, 2016


Daniel J. Lasker:
What did the King of the Khazars Know and When Did He Know It?, Society for Judeo-Arabic Studies conference,  Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, 15-18 August 2016


Ehud Krinis:
A Shii Passage in the Duties of the Heart – Bahya ibn Paquda's Adaptation of the Shii Principle of Continuity, Society for Judeo-Arabic Studies conference, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, 15-18 August 2016


Moshe Yagur:
Social Bonds between Jews and Apostates in the Geniza Society, Society for Judeo-Arabic Studies conference, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, August 15-18, 2016 


New Publications


Cynthia Gabbay:
"Worlds of Libraries: Metafictional Works by Arlt, Borges, Bermani and De Santis" in Canadian Review of Comparative Literature,  June 2016 (43.2), pp. 241-262.
"Com/posiciones:  los poemas de Eliezer Ben Jonon: heteronimia, simbolismo y exilio” (revised version), in Juan Gelman. La palabra calcinada: Veinte ensayos de lectura, ( (eds.) Jorge Boccanera and María A. Semilla Durán, Buenos Aires: Universidad Nacional de San Martín, 2016, pp. 109-120.


Daniel J. Lasker: 
"Controversy and Collegiality: A Look at Provence," Medieval Encounters, 22 (2016): 13–24.
Hebrew versions of  “Proselyte Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the Thought of Judah Halevi,” and “Judah Halevi as a Philosopher – Some Preliminary Comments,” in Ephraim Hazan and Dov Schwartz, eds., The Poetry of Philosophy. Studies on the Thought of R. Yehuda Halevi, Ramat-Gan, 2016, pp. 220-229.
“The Karaite Reception of David Gans' Work,” Judaica Bohemiae, 51:1 (2016): 149-159. 
Karaite Texts and Studies, Brill Publishers, Pe’amim, 144 (2015): 153-161 (Hebrew).
Mikhail Kizilov, The Sons of Scripture. The Karaites in Poland and Lithuania in the Twentieth Century, Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, 69:1 (2016): 110-112.


Ehud Krinis:
“Cyclical Time in the Ismācīlī Circle of Ikhwān al-ṣafā’ (tenth century) and in Early Jewish Kabbalists Circles (thirteenth and fourteenth centuries),” Studia Islamica 111.1 (2016), pp. 20-108.


Nadia Zeldes:
"גלגוליה של קהילת אנוסים – הנוצרים החדשים בדרום איטליה מן המאה השלוש-עשרה עד המאה השש-עשרה", בתוך סתרי נדחים. יהודים עם זהויות חבויות. ערכו אבי אלקיים ויוסף קפלן, מכון בן צבי, ירושלים תשע"ו, עמ' 9–31.
‘Evolution and Survival of Convert Community: The New Christians of South Italy from the 13th to the 16th Centuries,’ in Conceal the Outcasts. Jewish with Hidden Identities, eds. Avi Elqayam and Yosef Kaplan, Ben Zvi Institute, Jerusalem, 2016, pp. 9-31. 


Ora Limor:
"Jerusalem", in David Wallace (ed.), Europe: A Literary History 1348-1418, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), Vol. 2, pp. 217-243. 


Ronit Ricci:
Ricci, Ronit, ed. Exile in Colonial Asia: Kings, Convicts, Commemoration (Honolulu:
University of Hawai’i Press, 2016).
“Soldier and Son in Law, Spreader of the Faith and Scribe: ‘Ali’s representations in Javanese Literature.” In Shi’ism in Southeast Asia: ‘Alid Piety and Sectarian Constructions, ed. R. Michael Feener and Chiara Formicchi (London: Hurst, 2016) 51-62.
“Reading between the Lines: A World of Interlinear Translation.” Journal of World Literature 1.1 (March 2016) 68-80


Uriel Simonsohn:
"Justice.” In Guy Stroumsa and Adam Silverstein (eds.), The Oxford Handbook for Abrahamic
Religions, 137-165. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.
“The Legal and Social Bonds of Jewish Apostates and Their Spouses according to Gaonic Responsa,” Jewish Quarterly Review 105.4 (2015): 417-39.
Review of Christine Caldwell Ames, Medieval Heresies: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), Speculum: 354-56. 


Yaniv Fox:
‘New honores for a Region Transformed: The Burgundian Patriciate in Post-Roman Gaul’, Revue Belge de Philologie et d’Histoire 91,2 (2015), pp. 249-286.