Dr. Reuven Kiperwasser


Fellow (Max Weber Centre for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies)


Weltbeziehungen / C19.03.08

Office hours

Nach Vereinbarung

Visiting address

Max-Weber-Kolleg für kultur- und sozialwissenschaftliche Studien
Forschungsneubau „Weltbeziehungen“ C19
Nordhäuser Str. 63
99089 Erfurt

Mailing address

Max-Weber-Kolleg für kultur- und sozialwissenschaftliche Studien
Postfach 90 02 21
99105 Erfurt

Dr. Reuven Kiperwasser

Personal information

Reuven Kiperwasser specializes in rabbinic literature. He is a research associate at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Ariel University, Israel and teaching in Polis, Institute for Humanites, Jerusalem. His research interests include the interactions between Iranian mythology, Syriac-Christian storytelling, rabbinic narrative, and trans-cultural relationships between textual communities of Late Antiquity. Schechter publishing house published his critical edition of Kohelet Rabbah (7-12) with an introduction and commentary in 2021. Braun Judaic Studies published his book Going West in 2021 as well. A collection of papers he edited with Geoffrey Herman Expressions of Skeptical Topoi in (Late) Ancient Judaism was published by De Gruyter in 2021.  

Research project

“A city and a mother in Israel”: Urban Stories and Their Social Background and Significance in Rabbinic Culture

This project aims to explore the rabbinic portraits of prominent cities in the Land of Israel in the rabbinic period through the prism of rabbinic narrative. The narrated city is a microcosm of the shaping of identities and multiple social differences of gender and age, social position and literacy, and rural and trans-regional relationships. I already analyzed some of them as urban versus rural in my work (Kiperwasser 2008, 2012), and other identities I hope to explore further in this project.

The rabbis lived in the cities of Late Ancient Roman Palestine. They were a sort of local intellectual elite devoted to certain religious practices and learning of the traditional disciplines of rabbinic Judaism. In the complexity of the political life of Roman Palestine, the rabbis were probably not a leading group but a significant minority. They often played the role of mediators between a Jewish people, widely defined, non-oriented from the religious point of view, vis-a-vis others, i.e., various sectarians, including Christians, as well as Roman pagans, and rabbinic Jews as a minority and an intellectual group, or, in Bryan Stock's language, a textual community, the rabbis were led by the need to express their identity in their literary creation through a constant dialogue with their sacred text. In a series of short, concise accounts, they formed their own identity and determined the identity of the Others. Looking closely at the others, to decide on their own identity, they composed stories in which the climate of the Mediterranean cities, saturated with religious inquires, finds expression.

I want to investigate how the rabbis used rabbinic ideology and religion to appropriate urban space. I am also interested in exploring how religious practices produced a specific rabbinic urbanity and how this specific religious agency shaped and changed urban space over time by changing different or even competing practices of religious communication. If religion can be fruitfully conceptualized as communication, the area of communication as context and as a result of such communication is crucial. Rabbinic religion, like any other, uses different forms of communication aimed at disclosing reality and creating community: prayer and preaching, worship and witness, reading and listening to sacred texts, ritual practice, dietary laws, and theological reflection. I want to explore the urban space of Jewish culture in Late Antiquity as the context and result of these forms of religious communication.

This project consists of a series of narratological inquiries into rabbinic stories composed in Roman Palestine in the 3rd-4th centuries. I want to analyze some obscure narrative traditions presenting urban scenes in which the ritualization of Jewish daily life needs to be deciphered. The stories usually deal with actions, spatial movements, and gestures, i.e., non-verbal acts intended to express grief or the approval of real or imagined hierarchies. Realizing that ritualization of everyday life is a crucial characteristic of the rabbinic project also opens new and compelling directions for narratological inquiry. Ritually oriented discourse is pervasive in rabbinic texts. It is not confined only to texts that describe ritual performances. Examining the role of rituals and ritualization in the formation of rabbinic subjectivity and rituals as forms of spiritual exercises allows for a better understanding of rabbinic culture.

The typical Roman city has its characteristic Roman loci, such as markets, baths, lavatories, washing factories, brothels etc. All these are mentioned in rabbinic stories and quite often become a scenic place for the encounter between the rabbinic protagonist and his internal and external Other. I want to systemize this rich narratological material and to show how these stories serve as  evidence for sorts of communications in Late Antiquty and what they are telling us about religion as a communication means. I already began working on this direction and would like to continue this ongoing project. In dealing with these contested and shared spaces, which often are, using the Lefebvre terminology, "lived space," namely the "space as directly lived through its associations and images and symbols, and hence the space of 'inhabitants' and 'users'" Furthermore, "[t]his is the dominated - and hence passively experienced - space which the imagination seeks to change and appropriate. It overlays physical space, making symbolic use of its objects" (Lefebvre, Production of Spaces, p. 39). Using the concept of 'lived city-space,' I want to explore a specific type of urban space, dense with urban inhabitants, built to accommodate and communicate with large crowds within a framework of everyday mundane activity. Lefebvre's notion of 'lived' space has taught us those agents do not merely 'perceive' or 'conceive' urban space as a lived space highlighting human capacity to change its use and appropriate it.  Like any other cultural practice, religious communication engages with space, in ways that can be described as 'appropriation.' Preceded by a selection, this use recognizes and accepts a spaces' character as defined by previous, expected, or prescribed usages. Still, it also modifies the space through performance and thus changes the future memory of the place.


The publication list of Reuven Kiperwasser can be found here.