5778 / 2017-18 PROGRAMME

Below, we give a preview of the upcoming Lit season, for which we are planning eleven meetings.

Unless stated otherwise, all meetings start at 8.00pm with tea served at the end of the meeting. The venue is the Marian Oppenheim Hall, Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation, 4 Salisbury Road.


Opening of the Season: 22 October: Daniel Sinclair, ‘Jews and Bioethics: how do Israeli and UK law deal with bioethical problems?’

Medical advances mean that treatments which pose complex ethical questions are being developed all the time, and the law is often required to provide solutions that are both legally sound and morally and ethically sensitive. Different legal systems deal with these questions in different ways and, in this talk, Danny Sinclair will discuss how Israeli Law and the Israeli Supreme Court have addressed such sensitive issues as patient autonomy, the medical treatment of the terminally ill, assisted reproduction and the separation of conjoined twins when only one can live. The focus of the talk will be on the way the Court’s deliberations and Knesset legislation seek to combine both traditional Halakhah and secular liberalism. He will also comment on the approach taken by the United Kingdom courts to the dilemma of the conjoined twins from the perspective of Jewish Law.

Danny Sinclair is an ordained rabbi and was appointed Minister of Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation for three years in the 1980s, where he and his wife Debbie made an enormous impact on the community, particularly on its younger members. He subsequently became Principal of Jews’ College, London before returning to Israel to pursue an academic career. Danny specialises in Jewish Law and Bio-Medical Law and is Professor Emeritus of Law at the CMAS Law School, Rishon Lezion.

26 November: Caroline Moorehead, ‘An Italian Jewish family who fought fascism’

 Untitled sponsored by the Italian Cultural Institute & the Edinburgh Jewish Literary Society

VENUE: Italian Cultural Institute, 82 Nicolson Street, EH8 9EW

Drawing on a cache of untranslated letters and diaries in her recently-published book A Bold and Dangerous Family, Caroline Moorehead tells the story of an Italian-Jewish family from Florence – Amelia (the mother), Carlo and Neto (two of her sons) − who were prominent anti-Fascists during the inter-war period. It is an amazing story of courage and tenacity that ends in tragedy when Carlo and Neto are assassinated on Mussolini’s orders in Normandy in 1938.

Caroline Moorehead is a biographer and human rights journalist. Among her many books, she is the author of A Train in Winter, which tells the story of 230 women in the French Resistance who were sent to Auschwitz, and Village of Secrets, which tells the story of how, during the Second World War, several thousand victims of Nazi persecution were hidden in mountain villages in the Massif Central and saved from deportation and certain death through the actions of a number of heroic individuals.

3 December: Eva Fox-Gál, ‘Hans Gál in Edinburgh, 1938-1987: Hans Gál’s contribution to the musical life of his adopted city’

Hans Gál involved himself in music-making from the moment he arrived in Edinburgh. Eva Fox-Gál, daughter of Viennese refugees Hans and Hanna Gál, will reflect on her father’s life and work in Edinburgh, particularly focusing on his immersion in the musical life of his adopted city. As a conductor, performer, teacher, scholar and composer, he touched countless lives. He was, moreover, instrumental in the founding of the Edinburgh International Festival and served on the Festival Committee for decades, as well as serving as Honorary President of the Society of Musicians and of the Edinburgh Society of Recorder Players.

Eva Fox-Gál is the Vice-President of the Hans Gál Society. She was born and educated in Edinburgh. From 1971-2001 she was lecturer in German literature at the University of York. For over 20 years she has been a professional homeopath and nutritionist. She is an active musician, playing piano and violin. She is married with two grown-up children, who share her commitment to the musical legacy of Hans Gál.

10 December: Christina Lodder, ‘Jewish artists in the Russian Revolution’

In her illustrated talk on ‘Jewish Artists in the Russian Revolution’, Christina Lodder will be looking at famous figures like Marc Chagall and El Lissitzky, who not only created a revolutionary art but also actively supported the political events that changed the face of their homeland. The talk will focus on the crucial years of 1917-1922 and the city of Vitebsk in Belorussia (now known as Belarus), where both artists were living. In the midst of the uncertainties, hunger and shortages of the Revolution and the Civil War, they produced some of their most compelling images while running an art school, designing propaganda, and decorating the city for the revolutionary festivals. Their activities demonstrate a profound commitment to art, religion and politics.

Christina Lodder is Professor in the History and Philosophy of Art at the University of Kent, and is President of the Malevich Society. She is a leading specialist on 20th century Russian art, especially on art and artists before, during and after the Russian Revolution, and is the author of several books and numerous articles.


4 February: Avery Meiksin, ‘The luckless Jew? Jewish responses to Astrology’

Astrology was a subject of study long before it developed into the science of astronomy, and it was a thorny subject in Judaism. The talk looks at Jewish responses to astrology from ancient times to the present. (This is an expanded version of a study session the speaker led for last Shavuot.)

Avery Meiksin is Professor of Theoretical and Computational Astrophysics in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh, where he has engaged in cosmological research and taught Physics and Astronomy for the past 20 years.

11 February: Deborah Kahn-Harris, ‘Let us Return’ [Lam 5:21]: Thinking about Prayer, Bible, and Theology

What happens when biblical verses are removed from their original context and used to construct liturgy? How does context serve to create a theological turn? What happens if we are not knowledgeable enough to know that this change has even happened? Using the example of Lam 5:21, we will examine these questions and consider afresh the meaning of both the biblical text and our liturgy.

Deborah Kahn-Harris is the Principal of Leo Baeck College (LBC), the rabbinical seminary for Progressive Judaism. She holds a PhD in Bible from the University of Sheffield entitled ‘Like a Hammer for Shattering Rock: Employing Classical Rabbinic Hermeneutics to Fashion Contemporary Feminist Commentary on the Bible’.  Prior to her appointment to LBC in 2011, she was a congregational rabbi as well as a teaching fellow in Judaism at the School for Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

4 March: Ilan Baron, ‘Obligation in Exile: The Jewish Diaspora, Israel and critique’ (This talk was postponed until May 27th)

Why is debate about Israel often so contentious? What explains Diaspora Jews’ non-religious attachments to Israel? What does Israel provide ideationally for Diaspora Jews? How are we to understand Diaspora Jews’ relationship with Israel? In this talk, Dr Baron will explore the findings from his book, Obligation in Exile: The Jewish Diaspora, Israel and Critique, and will suggest a different way to think about and debate Israel and its role for Diaspora Jews.

Ilan Zvi Baron is Associate Professor in the School of Government and International Affairs at Durham University, where he is also the Co-Director of the Centre for the Study of Jewish Culture, Society and Politics. He has published on International Relations theory, identity and security, the Jewish Diaspora’s relationship with Israel and the international cultural politics of Israeli cuisine. His recent books include Obligation in Exile: The Jewish Diaspora, Israel and Critique, published by Edinburgh University Press, and with Manchester University Press, How to Save Politics in a Post-Truth Era.

11 March: Sybil Sheridan, ‘There are still Jews in Ethiopia’

Many know of Israel’s dramatic rescue of the Jews of Ethiopia during operations Moses and Solomon. Fewer know of the operations since then, involving thousands of Jews who have gone to Israel from all over the north of Ethiopia.  However, there are still 9,000 in Gondar and Addis Ababa who are waiting to go. Their aliyah is controversial. What their lives are like, and why they are still there will be the subject of this talk.

Sybil Sheridan is a rabbi at the West London Synagogue and rabbi at Newcastle Reform Synagogue. She is founder of the charity ‘Meketa’ which supports Jews still living in Ethiopia.

Thursday 22 March 5:30pm: James Renton, ‘Fanaticism and the Balfour Declaration: From Luther to the Great War’

 Untitled sponsored by the University of Edinburgh & the Edinburgh Jewish Literary Society

VENUE: Martin Hall, New College, Mound Place, EH1 2LX

The centenary of the Balfour Declaration coincided with the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s initiation of his rebellion against the Papacy. James Renton will argue that these two events are not just connected by a coincidence of the calendar. Luther, he contends, began a political theological frame of thinking about fanaticism in reference to Jews, Christians and Muslims that was absolutely central to the publication of the Declaration four centuries later.

James Renton is Reader in History and Chair of the Ethnicity, Race, and Racism Seminar at Edge Hill University. Currently he is a Jean Monnet Fellow at the European University in Florence. He is interested in the history of race, particularly antisemitism and Islamophobia, empire, and in the intellectual history of global politics. His first book was a new history of the Balfour Declaration: The Zionist Masquerade: The Birth of the Anglo-Zionist Alliance, 1914-1918 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). He is currently writing a monograph on the British imperial idea of the Middle East and its consequences.

29 April: Carol Seigel, ‘How Jewish was Sigmund Freud?’

Sigmund Freud was born into a Jewish family, married the granddaughter of the Chief Rabbi of Hamburg, and suffered from antisemitism all his life, culminating in his flight from Nazi-occupied Vienna. Psychoanalysis was often referred to as the ‘Jewish science’. Yet Freud maintained a deep ambivalence to religion and to his own Jewish inheritance, and this has been the subject of much debate in recent years. This talk explores how being Jewish profoundly influenced Sigmund Freud, and his complex attitude towards his Jewish identity.

Carol Seigel has been Director of the Freud Museum London since 2009. She is a historian by training, and has worked in different London museums for over twenty years, including the Jewish Museum and the Museum of London.

6 May: Jane Goldman, ‘Philip Roth’s The Human Stain: identity politics and categories of the human’

This novel about identity politics on an American university campus asks important questions about the intersection of competing concepts of race, class, gender, and sexuality in American culture more widely. Jane suggests that discussion at the meeting will be enhanced if those attending read Philip Roth’s novel beforehand.

Jane Goldman is Reader in English Literature at the University of Glasgow. She is a General Co-Editor of the Cambridge University Press Edition of The Writings of Virginia Woolf, and author of The Feminist Aesthetics of Virginia Woolf: Modernism, Post-Impressionism; The Politics of the Visual, and a number of other books and publications on Virginia Woolf. As well as her long-standing interest in American literature, Jane is also a poet and her works have been published in a number of magazines and journals. Border Thoughts (Sufficient Place, 2014) is her first slim volume.