Visiting Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies
Ph.D., Jewish Theological Seminary of America

Contact

302 Faulkner House
Telephone: (973) 408-3812
Email: jlabendz@drew.edu

Biography

(B.A. Barnard College; M.A. Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Ph.D. Jewish Theological Seminary), Visiting Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies for the 2013 calendar year.  Professor Labendz previously taught both history and Talmud at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and she taught for two years in Barnard College’s Department of Religion.  She has also taught at City College of New York and at Drisha Institute for Jewish Studies.   

Professor Labendz’s research focuses on ancient rabbinic discourse about non-Jews and the rabbis’ position within the broader Greco-Roman and Persian worlds they inhabited.  Her teaching includes not only ancient rabbinics, but also Jewish history and literature, Hebrew Bible and biblical interpretation, and various introductory and thematic courses. 

 Upon arriving at Drew in January 2013, Professor Labendz instituted the Monthly Jewish Studies Pizza Lunch and Learn, a Common Hour event that includes free pizza and a lively presentation on a different topic each month.  Topics have included: “Comedy in Jewish History and Culture: From Purim to Paul Rudd,” “Jews and Slavery: Ancient Egypt and Modern America,” and “Judaism and Wilderness: Nature and the Wild in Ancient and Modern Traditions.”

Publications

Labendz Socratic Torah: Non-Jews in Rabbinic Intellectual Culture, Oxford University Press, 2013.

The relationship of the rabbis of Late Antique Palestine to their non-Jewish neighbors, rulers, and interlocutors was complex and often fraught. Jenny R. Labendz investigates the rabbis’ self-perception and their self-fashioning within this non-Jewish social and intellectual world, answering a fundamental question: Was the rabbinic participation in Greco-Roman society a begrudging concession or a principled choice?

 Labendz shows that despite the highly insular and self-referential nature of rabbinic Torah study, some rabbis believed that the involvement of non-Jews in rabbinic intellectual culture enriched the rabbis’ own learning and teaching. Labendz identifies a sub-genre of rabbinic texts that she terms “Socratic Torah,” in which rabbis engage in productive dialogue with non-Jews about biblical and rabbinic law and narrative. In these texts, rabbinic epistemology expands to include reliance not only upon Scripture and rabbinic tradition, but upon intuitions and life experiences common to Jews and non-Jews. While most scholarly readings of rabbinic dialogues with non-Jews have focused on the polemical, hostile, or anxiety-ridden nature of the interactions, Socratic Torah reveals that the presence of non-Jews was at times a welcome opportunity for the rabbis to think and speak differently about Torah.

 Labendz contextualizes her explication of Socratic Torah within rabbinic literature at large, including other passages and statements about non-Jews as well as general intellectual trends in rabbinic literature, and also within cognate literatures, including Plato’s dialogues, Jewish texts of the Second Temple period, and the New Testament. Thus the passages that make up the sub-genre of Socratic Torah serve as the entryway for a much broader understanding of rabbinic literature and rabbinic intellectual culture.

Articles:

“Aquila’s Bible Translation in Late Antiquity: Jewish and Christian Perspectives,” Harvard Theological Review 102:3 (2009), 353-88.

“The Book of Ben Sira in Rabbinic Literature,” AJS Review 30:2 (2006), 1-45.

“‘Know What to Answer the Epicurean’: A Diachronic Study of the Apiqorus in Rabbinic Literature,” Hebrew Union College Annual 74 (2003), 175-214.