May 2015 , No.2 


The 2nd Annual International Conference


The Center held its second international conference entitled Converting Wor(l)ds at Ben-Gurion University from the 18th-21st May 2015. Ram ben Shalom and Effi Shoham-Steiner were the organizing committee and the invitees came from Europe and the USA. We decided to change the format to one based on the study of texts rather than formal lectures. All the participants were asked to submit a text (or texts), in the original language and in English translation, which they considered seminal to their research interests. These texts were sent to two respondents who were asked to give their take on the text(s). Each session was of two hours duration, opening with the text presenter talking about the context and main points that emerge from the texts and followed by short responses by the two discussants. The floor was then opened for discussion which was lively, interesting and engaging. On the third day of the conference, the participants went on a field trip to Nabatean sites in the Negev and we discussed the conversion of wor(l)ds in the field. Though extremely hot, the trip was a huge success.
One of the goals of the Center is to prepare a handbook containing seminal texts on conversion, and the conference provided many primary sources that will become part of the handbook. This is an ongoing process and will continue with a conference on conversion in the Islamic world in January 2016.
For more information on the conference, see the following link









Convert of the Month


Giliu Ferrante – a Sicilian convert
The orders of expulsion issued by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492 applied also to the Jews living in the Kingdom of Sicily. A certain number of Jews converted to Christianity in order to avoid the expulsion, but many converted two or three years later while living in the Kingdom of Naples. Those who returned asked to be given back the property they had left in Sicily, but in certain cases they needed a royal safeguard to protect them from debtors or harassment by their neighbours. Only a few explained the reasons that had led them to convert. Giliu Ferrante,formerly the Jew Elia Balam, left Sicily at the time of the expulsion and returned two years later as a convert to Christianity. Before his conversion he had been a dayyan (judge) of the community of Sciacca, in south-western Sicily. In November 1494, after his return, he petitioned the authorities to grant him a safeguard to recover his property, as had been promised to all Jews who converted to the Catholic faith. The official letter granting him permission to recover his goods, dated February1495, quotes a statement he gave regarding his conversion. Giliu Ferrante, the neophyte, while he was still living as a Jew named Elia Balam, even before the expulsion of the Jews from the kingdom, and also after the said expulsion, had had the intention of abandoning Jewish perfidy and had wanted to embrace the Catholic faith and convert, coming to it as a Christian. Yet, he did not choose to be baptized before the expulsion because of his respect for certain Jews, namely his close relatives, and particularly his wife and sons (in Sicilian Latin: haviri havuto firmo propositu et deliberata intencioni di lassari et abandunari la Iudaica perfidia et recanuxendu la catholica fide christiana si convertiri, in quilla viniri comu christianu, non prisi lo dicto baptismo ante dictum recessum iudeorum  per respectu chi intendia certi autri iudei, soi astricti parenti et premaxime sua mugleri et figli). At the time he could not convince them to follow his wish and be baptized together with him in order to live as Christians. Nevertheless, he had now fulfilled his wish and had already received the said baptism and was made a Christian. Giliu Ferrante returned to Sicily and lived in the town of Giuliana until his death. He earned his living as a merchant, apparently a wealthy one, as demonstrated by several notarial deeds which mention various transactions. Despite his seemingly sincere conversion, the inquisition had him executed in effigy during an Auto de Fé celebrated in Palermo on the 11 of July 1511.

Nadia Zeldes


Recent Events




April 28, 2015
 Prof. David Wasserstein
Vanderblit University
April 14,2015
Prof. Yosef Kaplan
The Hebrew University
March 10, 2015
Dr. Noa Sophie Kohler
 Ben-Gurion University


International Conference


Abraham Zacut 
 International Conference to Mark the 500th Anniversary of his Death, May 4th, 2015. Organized by Hispania Judaica at the Hebrew University in Collaboration with CSOC, CSIC (Madrid), and the Spanish Embassy in Israel


Faculty Activities


Alexander Van der Haven:
Co-organizer: Leipzig University. Religionswissenschaftliches Institut. Crisis and Religious Madness. Madness and Religion in Daniel Paul Schreber's Revelations (February 23).


Daniel  J. Lasker  
“Jewish Anti-Christian Polemics in Light of Mass Conversion to Christianity,” Polemical Encounters. Polemics between Christians, Jews and Muslims in Iberia and Beyond, Madrid, September 29, 2014

“Unapproved Cognitive Methodologies and the Mistakes They Generate in Judah Halevi's Kuzari,” Annual Conference, Association for Jewish Studies, Baltimore, December, 2014 


Dov Stuczynski:
Organizer: The Political Dimensions of the Converso Phenomenon in Portugal and Beyond, an
International Conference, May 26-28, 2015, Bar-Ilan University and the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute.

"Making War in the Name of Christian Humanism: Juan Gines de Sepulveda, the "Turks" and the "Indians" (in Hebrew). כנס לכבוד פרופ' איוון פרידמן, מלחמה, שלום ומה שביניהם, 14.5.14


Ephraim Shoham-Steiner:
The London Symposium by the Berman Center for Jewish Studies at Lehigh University: Medieval Jewish Life in Word & Image, March 9-10th 2015 at the British Library in London.
"Lions Snakes a Rabbi and a "Parnas": A New Look at the Debate about the Art Work in the Medieval Synagogue in Cologne”, Goldstein-Goren Diaspora Research Center at Tel Aviv University : The Jewish Neighborhood, April 12-14, 2015, An international conference in memory of Lt. Hadar Goldin.


Keren Abbou-Hershkovits:
“Ze’ev Rubin Forum”, “Abbasid Ladies and the Formation of Galenic Medical Circle”, May 2015, Tel Aviv University.


Nadia Zeldes:
“Abraham Zacut in Tunis: A Refuge for Those Expelled from Spain and a Center of Return to Judaism”, Abraham Zacut. Science, Historiography, Talmud and Polemics. International Conference to Mark the 500th Anniversary of his Death, May 4th, 2015. Organized by Hispania Judaica at the Hebrew University in Collaboration with CSOC, CSIC (Madrid), and the Spanish Embassy in Israel.
“Conversos, Finance, and Military Campaigns in the Reign of Ferdinand the Catholic: a View from Sicily”, The Political Dimensions of the Converso Phenomenon in Portugal and Beyond, Van Leer and Bar Ilan, 26-28 May, 2015. 


Yaniv Fox:
"Ego, Bar-Iona: Jews and the Language of Forced Conversion in Columbanian Circles", Medieval Academy of America meeting, University of Notre Dame, Indiana, March 2015.
"Religious Patronage as a Means of Constructing Identity in Elite Frankish Families in the Merovingian Period" [in Hebrew], The Family in Late Antiquity: Challenges and Changes, Haifa University, April 2015.


Future Events


 Amir Ashur:
"‘Seeing is owning’, Veiling and its Implications in the Jewish Community of Medieval Cairo," Workshop: Language, Gender and Law in the Judaeo-Islamic milieu, 13–15 July 2015, Cambridge University Library.

"Medical Recipe by Maimonides from Medieval Egypt" (together with Prof. Efraim Lev, Haifa University),  Knowledge Transfer and Cultural Exchanges: II CHAM International Conference, FCSH/Universidade NOVA de Lisboa, 15-18 July 2015.


Keren Abbou-Hershkovits:
"‘Seeing is owning’, Veiling and its Implications in the Jewish Community of Medieval Cairo," Workshop: Language, Gender and Law in the Judaeo-Islamic milieu, 13–15 July 2015, Cambridge University Library.


Nadia Zeldes:
“The Account-books of the Spanish Inquisition in Sicily: a source for understanding inquisitorial
strategies and practices”, for  the Simposio de Estudios Inquisitoriales: Nuevas Fronteras, Alcalá de Henares (Spain), 10-11-12 June, 2015.


Ora Limor:
"Sharing the Holy Land - Perceptions of Shared Sacred Space in the  Medieval and Early Modern Eastern Mediterranean", (London, the Warburg Institute, 12-13 June, 2015).


Yaniv Fox:
Austrasia and the Columbanians: the Complicated Nature of Early Pippinid Monastic Patronage’, L’Austrasie: pouvoirs, espaces et identités à la charnière de l’Antiquité et du Moyen Âge, St-Dizier- Reims, September 2015


New Publications


:Alexander Van der Haven  
 “The War and Transcendental Order: Critique of Violence in Benjamin, Canetti and Daniel Paul Schreber.” Tel Aviver Jahrbuch für deutsche Geschichte. Texturen des Krieges: Körper, Schrift und der Erste Weltkrieg 43 (Summer 2015). 


Daniel J. Lasker:

The Sage Simhah Isaac Lutski. An Eighteenth-Century Karaite Rabbi. Selected Writings, Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute, 2015 (Hebrew).

“The Importance of Manuscripts for the Study of Early Modern Eastern European Karaism,” in Judith Olszowy-Schlanger and Nicholas de Lange, eds., Manuscrits hébreux et arabes. Mélanges en l'honneur de Colette Sirat (Bibliologia 38), Turnhout, 2014, pp. 403-412.

“Joseph ben Nathan’s Sefer Yosef Ha-Mekanné and the Medieval Jewish Critique of Christianity,” in Judah D. Galinsky and Elisheva Baumgarten, eds., Jews and Christians in Thirteenth Century France, New York, 2015, pp. 113-122.


 Nadia Zeldes: 
‘Offering economic and social benefits as incentives for conversion – the case of Sicily and Southern Italy (12th -15th centuries)’ Atti del convegno internazionale Ravenna 30 settembre – 2 ottobre 2013: Strategie e normative per la conversione degli ebrei dal medio evo all’età contemporanea, ed M. Perani, Materia Giudaica, 19 (2014), pp. 55-62.

Articles in Press: “The Case of Colau Aragones: The Mediterranean Itinerary of a Sefardic Exile in the Aftermath of the Expulsion, ” Hispania Judaica Bulletin, Studies in Memory of Yom Tov Assis, eds. A. Quintana, R. Ibáñez-Sperber, Ram ben Shalom, Part II


Ora Limor:  
Article in press: Ora Limor, "Jerusalem", in: Europe: a Literary History, 1348-1418, edited by David Wallace, Oxford: Oxford University Press (forthcoming 2015). 


Future Seminar


                                                                  June 16, 2015    
Prof. Brian A. Catlos
Colorado University 


Future International Conference


January 4-7, 2016



"Readings into Islamization"
                                Ben Gurion University                                 
                                                                     Details T.B.A