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Between Written and Oral Traditions: Revealing the Literary Tradition of the Spoken Voice

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Organizer: Michal Peles Almagor

Co-Organizer: Ghilad H. Shenhav

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This seminar aims to offer new perspectives on the relations and tensions between oral and written traditions in Jewish modernity and beyond. In studying modern Jewish literature and thought, scholars often attend to reading practices of the written texts, considering literary genres such as novels, short stories, poetry, diaries, and correspondences. The written text, however, stands almost always in some relation to oral traditions and the voices that speak it. For example, the Hebrew Bible is read aloud by the community; the Babylonian Talmud emerged from oral discussions between the Rabbis; Jewish fables and folk stories were transmitted from one generation to the other for centuries before reemerging in Hebrew and Yiddish literature (and additional languages); Hebrew literature was recited and performed in Muslim Medival Spain and Jedeo-Arabic culture; and in the early twentieth century, texts often emerged in the face of public readings in Cafés and literary salons. How, then, does the transmission of texts, narratives, and literary genres impact the reception, production, and interpretation of the written text? Given that women’s voices were often prohibited in Jewish and non-Jewish public spheres, how should we understand the role of the transmitting voice? Whose voice is silenced or ignored over time? And finally, How do practices of the oral realm such as speech, sounds, and recitation affect the inclusion and exclusion of literary voices and texts from the canon of Jewish and World Literature? At the center of this seminar, we place the assumption that the close scrutiny of the ties and tensions between the written and the oral will trace the representation and misrepresentation of specific voices within these traditions. We wish to uncover which voices have been represented in the oral tradition and which have been systematically silenced and should be amplified by current scholarship. We invite papers that examine the transition between the written and the oral and explore the participation of voice, sound, and accents in the making of the modern Jewish canon. The proposed papers could focus on one of the following questions but are not limited to them: s there a poetics of voice that is particular to Jewish writing in the twentieth century? What are the limitations of an oral text, and can an oral text be canonized without transitioning into a written form? How do public readings, accents, and performative sounds that are embedded in texts shape perceptions of past and present canonical processes? Is gender represented differently when a text is delivered orally? And Is the oral tradition more inclusive than the written one? In what ways can the speaking voice reappropriate or challenges the traditional hegemonic text? How do ideological voices within the text impact its performative standing in the public sphere?

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