History of the World Union of Jewish Studies

 

The World Union of Jewish Studies and the World Congress of Jewish Studies

The World Union of Jewish Studies (WUJS) was established in 1957, at the Second World Congress of Jewish Studies. WUJS was given the Dual mandate of of developing the Congress into a permanent institution for the progress of Jewish Studies, and promoting cooperation and academic exchange.

The first World Congress of Jewish Studies was held in 1947 at the Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus. Since 1957, it has been held every four years. Today, the Congress is the largest event in the field of Jewish Studies worldwide, and the largest conference in the humanities in Israel; it brings together thousands of participants, including scholars, teachers, students, intellectuals, and anyone interested in learning about the latest research in the field of Jewish Studies.

WUJS publishes the academic, peer-reviewed journal, Jewish Studies, along with monographs in the various disciplines of Jewish Studies.

The World Union of Jewish Studies is a non-profit organization, sustained by annual membership fees and by the support of public bodies and foundations, including the Israeli Ministry of Science, Culture, & Sport, and various academic institutions.


The President of the World Union of Jewish Studies is Prof. Moshe Idel (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem) and the Executive Director is Dr. Sara Yanovsky.

 

Past Presidents of the World Union of Jewish Studies and the World Congress of Jewish Studies

Prof. Yosef Kaplan (2009-2013; 16th Congress)

Prof. Sarah Yefet (2005-2009; 15th Congress)

Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson (2005-2006)

Prof. Menachem Elon (1993-2005; 12th, 13th, and 14th Congress)

Prof. Ezra Fleischer (1989-1993; 11th Congress)

Prof. Ephraim Elimelech Urbach (1969-1989; President of the Union 6th-10th Congress, Chairman of the Organizing Committee - 3rd Congress)

Prof. Ben-Zion Dinur (Chairman of the World Union of Jewish Studies - 5th Congress, Congress Chairman - 4th Congress, Chairman of the Organizing Committee - 2nd Congress)

Prof. Naftali Herz Tur-Sinai (Congress Chairman - 3rd Congress)

Yitzhak Ben-Zvi (Honorary Congress President - 2nd and 3rd Congress)

 

 

The World Congress of Jewish Studies - A Brief History

 

The First World Congress of Jewish Studies

"With pride and hesitation, in holy awe and happiness that a cornerstone was laid here for the building of the culture of our nation and our land, we hereby open the First World Congress of Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as a foundation stone for a future tradition."

Naftali Herz Torczyner (Tur-Sinai), Head of the Institute of Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, 1947

 

The First World Congress of Jewish Studies was held in July 1947 at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Mt. Scopus, organized by the University with the help of the Jewish Agency. Speakers at the opening session on July 6 included N. H. Torczyner (Tur-Sinai), Head of the Institute of Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University, Yehuda Leib Magnes, President of the University, Leon Simon, Executive Director of the Hebrew University, and David Ben-Gurion, Director of the Jewish Agency.

The papers presented at the Congress were published almost five years later, in 1952. In the intervening years, the State of Israel had been established; following the 1948 Arab–Israeli war, Mt. Scopus had become a demilitarized zone and no-man's land, and was inaccessible to lecturers and students. Some of the scholars who had lectured at the first World Congress of Jewish Studies in 1947 had fallen victim to that "war of life or death," as it was described by Ben Zion Dinur (Dinaburg) and Naftali Herz Tur-Sinai (Torczyner) in their foreword to the publication of the Congress proceedings.

Seventy-five papers presented at the Congress, in the fields of Hebrew Language, Bible, Hebrew Literature, and Hebrew History, were published in the volume of Congress proceedings.

 

The Second World Congress of Jewish Studies

The Second World Congress of Jewish Studies was held at the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem from July 27 to August 4, 1957. This time, it was organized jointly by the Hebrew University and the Israel Ministry of Education and Culture, with the assistance of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

The opening session of the Congress was held in the Binyanei HaʾUmah Conference Centre in Jerusalem. The President of the State of Israel, Yitzhak Ben Zvi, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, and members of the cabinet attended the event. Opening addresses were given by the Prime Minister, as well as by Prof. Ben-Zion Dinur. President Ben-Zvi opened the Congress program proper with his lecture, "Research on the Jewish Communities of the Near and Middle East."

Over three hundred and fifty scholars and guests from Israel, and nearly one hundred from abroad, attended the Second World Congress. Two hundred and thirty lectures were held—in Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, Spanish, and German. The program was organized under the topics of Bible, Hebrew Language, History of the Jewish People, Talmud and Rabbinics, Jewish Thought (encompassing Kabbalah, philosophy, and religion), Hebrew Literature, Archaeology and Palestinography, Yiddish Language and Literature, Jewish Ethnic Groups and their Languages, and Demography of the Jewish People. 

Fourteen special exhibitions were organized, among them results of recent excavations (Hazor, Caesarea, Masada, Beth Sheʾarim); the Dead-Sea Scrolls; historical documents from various archives and from the National Library; demography of the Jewish People; Jewish coins; rare books and manuscripts; and Yemenite arts and crafts.

The motives which guided the Conference organizers were described in the introduction to the Congress Report:

(1) The development of Jewish Studies resulted in the division and specialization of research. Nowadays it is rather difficult to keep abreast of progress in Jewish Studies in their entirety, particularly in those branches which are outside the individual scholar's exclusive field of study. Yet the ever-increasing number of discoveries and their great and continuous influence on research methods in Jewish Studies require permanent bodies for the exchange of opinion among scholars of Jewish Studies, in all their ramifications.

(2) This progress made in Jewish Studies, and the abundance of new sources concerning the past, as well as the quest for new research methods and their organization in all fields of study—confronted scholars with great tasks, which demand organized planning of cooperation between individuals and institutions.

(3) The changes and transformations in the situation of the Jews during the last generation; their resettlement in their homeland and the beginning of the ingathering of the exiles; the Nazi catastrophe and the destruction of Jewish centres in Eastern Europe; the Jewish war of independence and rebirth of statehood; the revival of the Hebrew language and Hebrew science in Israel; and the shaping of a new Israel society—all these created in the homeland of Judaism a new "public climate" for Jewish Studies and their progress.

The organizers set the Congress four tasks:

(1) To turn the "Congress of Jewish Studies" into the principal institution for "spiritual contact" between students and scholars of Jewish Studies from all over the world.

(2) To establish a "World Union of Jewish Studies" to deal with the organization of the "World Congress of Jewish Studies" and its development into a permanent institution for the progress of Jewish Studies.

(3) To formulate guiding principles for the planning of scientific projects in the field of Jewish Studies, on a scale beyond the competence of individuals or single institutions; to find means and ways for cooperation and mutual assistance for the promotion of such projects and their execution.

(4) To promote close contact between scholars of Jewish Studies and the "cultural climate" of Israel.

During the Congress, the projects committee adopted the resolution to hold the World Congress of Jewish Studies every four years in Jerusalem. Another resolution dealt with the establishment of the World Union of Jewish Studies as a permanent body and the election of a Union Council of thirty-five members, the majority of whom were elected during the Congress. 

Honorary Congress President: Mr. Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, President of the State of Israel.

Chairman of the Organizing Committee: Prof. Ben-Zion Dinur

Ministers and Ministry representatives who served on the organizing committee: Mr. Zalman Aranne, Minister of Education and Culture; Dr. Yosef Burg, Minister of Posts; Mr. Israel Bar-Yehuda, Minister of the Interior; Mr. Israel Barzilai, Minister of Health; Mr. Pinhas Rosen, Minister of Justice; and Dr. Moshe Avidor, Director General of the Ministry of Education and Culture.

Representatives of the Hebrew University on the organizing committee: Prof. Benjamin Mazar, President of the University; Prof. Naftali Herz Tur-Sinai, President of the Academy of the Hebrew Language; Prof. Gershom Scholem; Prof. Ephraim Elimelech Urbach, Director of the Institute of Jewish Studies at the University; Prof. Shelomo Dov Goitein, Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies at the University; Prof. Israel Halpern, Department of Jewish History; and Prof. Isac Leo Seeligmann, Department of Bible.

Representative of the Jewish Agency on the organizing committee: Mr. Zalman Shazar, Acting Chairman of the Jewish Agency.

Executive Committee: Dr. Shemaryahu Talmon, Congress Secretary; Prof. Ben-Zion Dinur; Prof. Ephraim Elimelech Urbach; and Dr. M. Ish-Shalom, Ministry of Education.

Two subcommittees planned the scientific projects and exhibitions associated with the Congress. The projects committee drew on additional University faculty; the exhibitions committee involved representatives from other cultural institutions as well, including the National and University Library, the Institute of Hebrew manuscripts, and Yad va-Shem.

 

The Third World Congress of Jewish Studies

The Third World Congress of Jewish Studies was held July 25 to August 1, 1961 at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. For the first time since its establishment at the Second World Congress of Jewish Studies in 1957, the organizing body was the World Union of Jewish Studies, supported by the Hebrew University, the Ministry of Education and Culture, and the Jewish Agency. About 500 members attended the Congress, 100 of them from abroad, as well as 200 guests from Israel and abroad. Around 260 papers were presented within the fourteen divisions of the Congress, and abstracts were published in fifteen booklets.

Prof. Naftali Herz Tur-Sinai, the president of the Academy of the Hebrew Language, greeted the participants at the opening session. Prof. Ben-Zion Dinur, who had worked on the organization of the Congress, could not attend because of health problems.

Prof. Tur-Sinai pointed out that the original idea for a World Congress in Jewish Studies had already been suggested by Polish rabbi and scholar Prof. Moses Schorr in Berlin in the 1920s, which at the time had been an important center and meeting point in the field. But only decades later did this idea become a reality; and now, in 1961, the Congress was already celebrating its third gathering of experts. 

In his greetings, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion particularly emphasized his satisfaction that Iranian Prof. Poure-Daoud from the University of Teheran was about to present his paper “The Messiah in the Zoroastrian religion, and Cyrus, the Messiah in the Bible.” Ben-Gurion expressed his hope that more scholars from Asia and also from Africa would join the World Congress of Jewish Studies in the future, including scholars in the fields of Arabic and Islamic Studies. In his speech Ben-Gurion asserted: "As a consumer of research in Jewish Studies, I am full of heartfelt appreciation for its creators, whether they come from my people or from other nations." He suggested that research on visions of redemption throughout the ages, both the redemption of the Jewish people, and that of humanity as a whole, should play a more central role in Jewish Studies.

The Third World Congress featured a general meeting of the World Union of Jewish Studies, at which it was decided that the World Union would establish a center for the registration of research conducted in Jewish Studies worldwide and forward information to its members; contact Jewish institutions worldwide to photograph their important document; and keep copies of those documents in the Union's centers in Israel, along with two other centers to be established in Europe and the United States.

Honorary Congress President: Mr. Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, President of the State of Israel.

Congress Chairman: Prof. Naftali Herz Tur-Sinai

Chairman of the Organizing Committee: Prof. Ephraim Elimelech Urbach

Ministers and Ministry representatives who served on the organizing committee: Mr. Abba Even, Minister of Education and Culture; I. Melkman, Ministry of Education and Culture

Representatives of the Hebrew University on the organizing committee: Prof. Martin Buber, President of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities; Prof. Ben-Zion Dinur, Chairman of the Council - World Union of Jewish Studies; Prof. Hayyim Schirmann, Head of the Institute of Jewish Studies; Dr. Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson, Prof. Israel Halpern, Dr. Zwi Werblowsky, Dr. Shemaryahu Talmon, Prof. Yigael Yadin, Prof. Benjamin Mazar, Prof. Chaim Menachem Rabin, Prof. Gerschom Scholem

Representative of the Jewish Agency on the organizing committee: Dr. Moshe Avidor, Director General; Mr. Zalman Shazar, Head of the Department for Education and Culture in the Diaspora

Executive Committee:  Prof. E.E. Urbach, Chairman; Prof. Hayyim Schirmann, Dr. Shemaryahu Talmon, Prof. Chaim Rabin, Mr. B. Shahevitch

 

The Fourth to Sixteenth World Congress of Jewish Studies

Coming soon