From Ashes to Ashes: Death in the Jewish Imagination (Zoom)

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Course description

Term:  First Semester 

Lecturer: Prof. Maya Balakirsky Katz

Type:  Online (zoom) lecture accompanied by power point presentations; the course site available on moodle

Language of instruction: English

Time: Tuesday 10:00-11:30 IST (Israeli Time) - 09:00 - 10:30 (CET)


Death is definitive. In very practical terms, death defines life. But however real, death is also mythical, inspiring an entire culture around it. However inevitable, death is, by definition, an imaginary experience for the living. Representations of immortality shape mortality. While death is constant, it is reimagined anew in every generation. And, while death is universal, different cultures and sub-strata within a given culture generate unique customs and images surrounding the passage of life. Jewish attitudes towards death provides an understudied lens for studying the constitution of identity, selfhood, and collective memory across various periods of Jewish history. Artistic themes and visual practices surrounding the spectacle of death, necro-politics, celebrity funerals, and different modes of death by execution, suicide and martyrdom, reflect and indelibly mark Jewish history.

The course is thematic and does not attempt to present an uninterrupted timeline of Jewish history but it is organized chronologically. Each class explores the meanings of an astounding range of artistic and functional objects, rituals and customs related to dying and death, such as warding off the Angel of Death, the preparation of the body and the grave, funerals, the rituals of mourning, and artistic representations of the return of the dead through gilgul, dybbuk, the Undead, the Afterlife, and the anticipation of the Messianic Rising of the Dead.

Requirements: Written Assignment 4-5 pages; Attendance and participation required and 50% of grade, Written assignment—50% of grade

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