Vienna Jewish Studies Colloquium

VJSC | The Vienna Jewish Studies Colloquium is an informal forum for Jewish Studies scholars in Vienna and its environs to come together, share their research and exchange ideas.  Founded in 2020, the VJSC has five member institutions: Jewish Studies Program at Central European University (CEU); Department of Jewish Studies at the University of Vienna; Department of Legal and Constitutional History at the University of Vienna; Institute for Jewish History in Austria, St. Pölten; and Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies (VWI).

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Past Events


May 9, 2022, 6 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Ines Koeltzsch (Independent historian, Vienna)

"Early Kafka Commemoration and the Question of Belonging in post-WWI Central Europe"

ABSTRACT |  When Franz Kafka died on June 3, 1924, in Kierling near Vienna, the writer was known to only a smaller literary audience in Central Europe.  His friends and colleagues commemorated his life, publishing numerous death notices and obituaries and organizing solemn memorial evenings in Prague, Vienna, and Berlin. My lecture will examine these early memorial practices as testimonies of cultural belonging in post-WWI Central Europe less of Kafka himself than of his commemorators

Hosted by the Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies, VWI


March 28, 2022, 6 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Carsten Wilke (Central European University)

“Approaching the Manuscript Heritage of Western Ashkenazi Yeshiva Scholarship”

ABSTRACT | Talmudic academies reached a late bloom in the Germanic lands during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The numerous and mobile Jewish student community practiced an educational culture that was distinct from Christian universities and Haskalah education, yet included moments of convergence. Based on literary and archival studies on the last generation of Western Ashkenazi yeshivot, I will in this lecture present its manuscript legacy as a source for further research on Jewish higher learning. The lecture notes, student essays, responsa, and memoirs add up to a plentiful and attractive corpus in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Yiddish, whose access is, however, largely foreclosed due to its linguistic and palaeographic challenges. In this lecture, I will discuss strategies of gathering and exploring this dispersed material in collaboration between academic historians and present-day yeshiva scholars.

Hosted by University of Vienna, Department of Legal and Constitutional History


March 7, 2022, 6 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Benjamin Grilj (Institute for Jewish History in Austria, St. Pölten)

“Kossow – Wien – Shanghai: The Abraham Family on the Run”

ABSTRACT | This lecture will examine the political, legal, and historical dimensions of "ostjüdisch" refugees during World War I, who ended up in Vienna and then later escaped from the Shoah.  The focus of the lecture will be the Abraham family from Kossow, Galicia, which found refuge in Vienna during the First World War I and then found refuge in Shanghai during the Second World War.

Hosted by University of Vienna, Department of Jewish Studies


January 24, 2022, 6 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Elana Shapira (University of Applied Arts Vienna)

“The Austrian Profile of the Salon Hostess Berta Zuckerkandl”

ABSTRACT | Berta Zuckerkandl, writer, cultural critic, and literary salon hostess, was a loyal supporter of Viennese modernism and leading protagonists of the Secessionist movement. Zuckerkandl’s cultural and political engagements follow the tradition set by her father, publisher Moritz Szeps, and her women predecessors, the Jewish salon women Fanny von Arnstein and Josephine von Wertheimstein, who were involved in backstage politics. Zuckerkandl's promotion of modernist Austrian art was integral part of her ideological interventions, engaging national and European professionals and politicians through skilled networking, aimed to co-shape and secure “liberal Austrianism.” My lecture examines the durable and the fragile features of Zuckerkandl’s Austrian profile in relation to her cultural networks and her aim to secure Jewish integration within a new “liberal Austria.”

Hosted by the Institute for Jewish History in Austria, St. Pölten


November 29, 2021, 6 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Stephan Wendehorst (University of Vienna, Law Faculty, Institute for Legal and Constitutional History) 

“Jews and Their Law in the Holy Roman Empire”

ABSTRACT | To this day our understanding of the legal condition of the Jews in early modern Europe rests on two basic assumptions. First, the legal condition of the Jews in Christian polities was more or less unilaterally determined by the latter. Second, Jewish law was separate from non-Jewish law. This understanding is the result of an interpretation of law as “law in the books”, i.e. statutory law and legal doctrine, rather than of „law in action“, i.e. law applied by the courts and the administration. Based on systematic large-scale archival research, in particular on the Jewish cases of the Imperial Aulic Council, one of the two supreme courts of the Holy Roman Empire and on older layer of scholarship from the inter-war period, this paper suggests a new approach, placing greater weight on the Jews as active participants in the premodern legal order and acknowledging the role of Jewish law as one of the many particular laws in the legal pluriverse of the trans-European Ius Commune.

Hosted by the Jewish Studies Program at Central European University


May 10, 2021, 6 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Olaf Terpitz (University of Graz)

“From the Margins? Challenges to and Perspectives of European Jewish Literature Studies”

ABSTRACT | This lecture focuses on the condition of contemporary European Jewish literature studies – its current academic position and scope, its epistemological challenges and its societal relevance. In an exemplary survey of the 20th and 21st centuries, concentrating on authors such as Adriana Altaras, born in Zagreb in 1960 and succeeding as author and actress since the 1990s in Germany, or Sasha Marianna Salzmann who was born in the Soviet Union and immigrated with her parents to Germany, or, finally, Sh. An-Ski, who documented in his Yiddish World War I diary the atrocities committed against the Jewish population, the talk will touch upon issues of migration, antisemitism, memory/remembrance. It will address forms of Jewish experiences in Modernity, and thus the relation between Jewish literature and world literature, as well as the potential of Jewish literature(s) to take part in public discourse and mirror it.

Hosted by the Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies, VWI


April 19, 2021, 6 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Gerhard Langer (University of Vienna)

“A Song, a Midrash, a Commentary. On Song of Songs (Rabbah)”

ABSTRACT | The Book of Canticles, Song of Songs, is one of the most fascinating books of the Bible. In the last 200 years it was interpreted as a collection of ancient love songs, but recent research reflects the allegorical interpretation of former times, both in Jewish and in Christian tradition. The Rabbis in the first century C.E. interpreted Song of Songs as an allegory for the love between God and His People throughout history. The talk will explain rabbinic hermeneutics, theology and ideology on some examples from the interpretation of Song of Songs 5. The examples are taken from the Pesiqta de Rav Kahana from the 5th century C.E. and from Song of Songs Rabbah from the 6th century C.E. In the last part of the talk I will concentrate on some examples of medieval poetry (Jehuda ha-Levi and Shlomo Ibn Gabirol).

Hosted by the Institute for Jewish History in Austria, St. Pölten


March 15, 2021, 6 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Sonia Gollance (University of Vienna)

“Dangerous Attractions: Mixed-Sex Dancing and Jewish Modernity”

ABSTRACT | Contemporary popular culture often portrays Jewish mixed-sex dancing as either absolutely forbidden or as the punch line of a dirty joke. Fictional representations of women who leave the Hasidic world sometimes use transgressive dancing to underscore the seductive freedoms of secular society – and gentile men. Yet long before the Netflix miniseries Unorthodox, Jewish writers used partner dance as a powerful metaphor for social changes that transformed Jewish communities between the Enlightenment and the Holocaust. Literary texts such as Marcus Lehmann’s novella Elvire (1868), serialized in the German Orthodox journal Der Israelit, depict dance scenes as part of a larger conversation about acculturation and courtship norms. In these works, young people challenge the social order through their partner choices on the dance floor, and frequently suffer tragic consequences for their rebellious behavior. Indeed, at a time when social dancing was a nearly universal leisure pursuit across class lines, readers were trained to interpret dances as texts and even to expect momentous dance scenes, which were crucial for plot and character development. Scandalous dance scenes in German, Yiddish, and other literatures allowed writers to convey their concerns with Jewish modernity while simultaneously entertaining their readers.

Hosted by the Jewish Studies Program at Central European University, the Zentrum für Jüdische Kulturgeschichte at the University of Salzburg and the Vienna Wiesenthal Institute


January 18, 2021, 6 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Eveline Brugger, Martha Keil, and Birgit Wiedl (Institute for Jewish History in Austria, St. Pölten)     

“Jews and the City – the Example of Medieval Austria”

ABSTRACT | Jews in medieval Austrian cities lived their lives as part of a small minority surrounded by Christians and subject to Christian authorities. Yet, the city also formed a sphere for interaction and exchange, for everyday life within the immediate neighbourhood and for transfers in the areas of law, language, religious concepts, ethic values, culture and taste. Based on Christian and Jewish Austrian sources, Eveline Brugger, Birgit Wiedl and Martha Keil will provide insights into the legal, social and economic situation of Jews in medieval Austrian cities with a particular focus on shared spaces and spheres.

Hosted by University of Vienna, Department of Legal and Constitutional History


November 16, 2020, 6 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Michael L. Miller (CEU, Nationalism Studies Program and Jewish Studies Program)

“Parachuted into Oblivion?  The Forgetting of Hanna Szenes in Hungary, 1945-1989”

ABSTRACT | Known as the Jewish Joan of Arc, Hanna Szenes was parachuted into Yugoslavia in 1944 on a mission to establish contact with the partisans and help rescue the remaining Jews in her native Hungary.  Captured, tortured and executed, Hanna Szenes is revered in Israel today as a Zionist hero and martyr, but in Hungary, until recently, her memory was almost totally forgotten.  This talk will examine the politics of memory in Hungary, examining fledgling efforts to commemorate Szenes in the 1940s and the more successful efforts to erase her memory under communism.    

Hosted by University of Vienna, Department of Jewish Studies