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Lecture to address little-known aspects of Jewish scholarship on Islamic world
10 January 2003

By José L. Rodríguez, Development Communications

Berkeley - How did Jewish scholars of the 19th century perceive the world of Islam? Until historian John M. Efron began studying this question, scholarship largely overlooked the role Central European Jews played in "Orientalism" - the effort by Europeans of that time to understand the Near East.

Efron, the new holder of the University of California, Berkeley's Koret Chair in Jewish History, will address these issues on campus at a Jan. 22 public lecture. A professor of history at UC Berkeley, Efron joined the faculty in fall 2002.

"The intimate links between Islam and Judaism were a subject of great historical interest to them, as was the cultural life of their Jewish co-religionists in the Islamic world," Efron said. "What makes their story an intriguing one is that their approach to the Muslim world differed significantly from that of their non-Jewish colleagues."

"I argue that it was their Orthodox backgrounds, their familiarity with a religious culture based on commentary and interpretation, as well as the discrimination they faced as Jews in Christian Europe that drew them to the study of Islam and the culture of Sephardic Jewry, as it blossomed in the Islamic environment of medieval Spain," he said.

Efron's lecture - "From Mitteleuropa to the Middle East: Orientalism through a Jewish Lens" - will take place at 7 p.m. at the Morrison Library, which is on the ground floor of the Doe Library.

Efron, a specialist in the history of modern European Jewry, has written widely on the history of the Jews in Germany and especially on the connection of medicine to the formation of modern Jewish identity. He is the author of many works including, "Medicine and the German Jews: A History" and "Defenders of the Race: Jewish Doctors and Race Science in Fin-de-Siecle Europe." He also edited, with Elisheva Carlebach and David N. Myers, "Jewish History and Jewish Memory: Essays in Honor of Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi."

The San Francisco-based Koret Foundation established the Koret Chair in Jewish History at UC Berkeley in 1988. As the second holder of the Koret Chair, Efron succeeds the historian Amos Funkenstein, who held the title from its inception to his death in 1995.

The Koret Foundation, one of the nation's largest Jewish-sponsored charitable trusts, funds innovative initiatives and organizations in the Bay Area and Israel, focusing on education, community and economic development, and Jewish life and culture.