CJS announces recipients of 2022 Harry and Cecile Starr Prizes in Jewish Studies

The Center for Jewish Studies at Harvard University is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2022 Harry and Cecile Starr Prizes in Jewish Studies. Shoshana F. Boardman ’22, a senior in Winthrop House, and Jonathan Louis Katzman ’22, a senior in Dunster House, won the Starr Prize for their exceptional senior theses. Shoshana, a joint concentrator in History and Literature; Mathematics; with a secondary field in Language and Linguistic Theory, was nominated by Professor David Stern for her dissertation entitled “Babylonian Incantation Bowl Onomastics.” Jonathan’s senior thesis entitled “A Dependent ‘Special Relationship’: Jewish American Economists and the Liberalization of the Israeli Economy” was submitted by Professor Derek Penslar. Jonathan is graduating with a concentration in History. Starr Prizes are awarded in each of the following categories: the best doctoral dissertation in Jewish and Hebrew Studies and the best dissertation in the field of Jewish and Hebrew Studies prepared by an undergraduate. It was established by Harry Starr ’21, LL.B. 1924. This prize is eligible by nomination only.

Jonathan Katzman ’22

“A Dependent ‘Special Relationship’: Jewish American Economists and the Liberalization of the Israeli Economy”

Nominated by Professor Derek Penslar

Jonathan Katzman

A handful of individuals and institutions with American roots helped dramatically liberalize the Israeli economy between the 1950s and 1980s. This thesis explores the role of Jewish American economists who advised Israeli officials in constructing the modern Israeli economic system.  American economists proposed neoliberal policy responses to acute economic crises and advocated for long-term changes to Israeli institutions and cultural attitudes within academia and the public sphere. My thesis demonstrates that the spread of neoliberalism in Israel was achieved through negotiation, persuasion, and responses to crises rather than through coercive dominance. American economists most reliably found success when they drew upon their Jewish identities and Zionist affinities. This helped them to both “Israelify” economic ideas and to adopt ideological flexibility in the face of local political resistance. This case study of Israel makes a significant contribution to the historiographies of political economy and global capitalism by analyzing the international influence and coercive power of American individuals and institutions in the transnational spread of neoliberal policy. This in-depth analysis of cross-national economic policy formation also provides a novel perspective on the well-established history of the US-Israel “special relationship” beyond the usual military and geopolitical narratives.

Shoshana Boardman

Shoshana Boardman ’22

“Babylonian Incantation Bowl Onomastics.”

Nominated by Professor David Stern

This thesis investigates the naming conventions of late antique Jewish Babylonian communities. These communities were among the strongest and most influential in Jewish history. They codified the mammoth text known today as the Babylonian Talmud, a text which colors much of our understanding of Jewish life in this period. However, the authors of the Talmud were a male, educated elite. They often perceived themselves as categorically distinct from less educated, or more acculturated, Jews, and rarely centered on these latter voices. Luckily, there is another—and only one other—large source of textual evidence for the experiences of these non-rabbis: the incantation bowls, found in the 1890s buried under doorframes. The spells written on these bowls were to protect households from malevolent entities. As they were written or commissioned by women and practitioners of magic, quote texts and mention names affiliated with multiple religions, and are free of the generations of ideological “hypercorrections” in the Talmud, they allow us the often unattainable privilege of access to voices left out of the canon. In this thesis, I argued that these voices represent Jewish communities distinct from those of the Talmud. I analyzed client names in 214 incantations, assessing their demographic factors (gender, language of origin, religious associations, family relationships, etc.). My study of onomastics in magical texts constitutes a methodological intervention. The data points to an integrated community, with a preference for Semitic-named parents to pass down a Semitic naming tradition to their children. This suggests that some Jewish practice was preserved among bowl clients. By comparing this data to the highly Semitic names in the Talmud, we see that the bowls represent a different way to be Jewish in late antiquity.