“Shared local languages of religious imagination”

Marina Mayorski, PhD Candidate and GSI, Frankel Center for Judaic Studies

This year’s Padnos Public Engagement on Jewish Learning Event takes place on October 17 at 7 p.m. and features Dr. Rebecca Scharbach Wollenberg, Assistant Professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan. Wollenberg will present a lecture entitled “Abrahamic Vernaculars: Rivals Thinking Together” at the Hager Auditorium (Room 119) in the Cook-Devos Center for Health Sciences on Grand Valley State University’s Campus. The event will also be available via Zoom. Following the lecture, at approximately 8:30 p.m., there will be a light reception outside the Hager Auditorium.

In this lecture, Dr. Wollenberg explains that while on paper the Abraham of the Quran is very different from the Abraham of the Hebrew Bible or Paul’s Abraham in the New Testament, when it came to the vernacular spoken scripture of everyday life, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim neighbors often created little pockets of local religious common sense. They came to share basic preconceptions about these scriptural figures, concepts, or rituals, even when they engaged in strong debate. Over the years, these shared religious vernaculars were often folded back into the broader religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The so-called Abrahamic traditions are subtly knit together by a thousand tiny threads of spoken scripture that popped up here and there over the centuries. In a time of increasing polarization and religiously based conflict, Dr. Wollenberg seeks to uncover the other side of the Abrahamic coin, and explore historical moments when Jews, Christians, and Muslims have done their religious thinking together.

Rebecca Scharbach Wollenberg arrived at U-M as a postdoctoral fellow at the Michigan Society of Fellows and has been teaching at the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies since 2018. Her courses introduce students to the Bible and Judaism through experiential learning and hands-on engagement. Her pedagogical initiative, in collaboration with Dr. Yasmin Moll, “The Abrahamic Sensorium: An Experiential Learning Series” was recognized this year with The Provost Teaching Innovation Prize. Dr. Wollenberg has recently published The Closed Book: How the Rabbis Taught the Jews (Not) to Read the Bible (Princeton University Press). Examining the development of Jewish attitudes toward the Bible, Wollenberg contests the perception of Judaism as the religion of the book par excellence. The Closed Book argues that Jews didn’t truly embrace the biblical text until nearly a thousand years after the Bible was first canonized. She tells the story of the intervening centuries during which even rabbis seldom opened a Bible and many rabbinic authorities remained deeply ambivalent about the biblical text as a source of sacred knowledge.

In 2020, the Stuart and Barbara Padnos Foundation provided a generous gift to the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies to establish the Padnos Public Engagement on Jewish Learning fund. This initiative facilitates annual public educational activities in Jewish Studies throughout the State of Michigan, with a focus on the western part of the state. The Padnos Public Engagement on Jewish Learning Event is organized in partnership with the Kaufman Interfaith Institute at Grand Valley State University.

Please register here: http://www.gvsu.edu/interfaith/padnos.

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