BODY AND SOUL | The State of the Jewish Nation

Isaiah Gafni, PhD

Isaiah Gafni, PhD

Sol Rosenbloom Chair of Jewish History, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Born in New York City, Isaiah Gafni moved to Israel in 1958, where he received his BA, MA and PhD (under the direction of Menahem Stern and Shmuel Safrai) from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Gafni’s focus is research on political, social and religious Jewish life during the Second Temple Period (516 BCE – 70 CE). He is interested in the attitudes of the Jews of the Second Temple towards the Land of Israel. His research focuses on how Judaism was reshaped during the years the Jews after the Temple’s destruction.

His book The Jews of Talmudic Babylonia: A Social and Cultural History was honored with the 1992 Holon Municipality Prize for Jewish studies. Additionally he has written more than 100 entries in the Encyclopedia Judaica. Gafni's Land, Center and Diaspora: Jewish Constructs in Late Antiquity was originally delivered in a series of lectures in Oxford called the Third Jacobs Lectures in Rabbinic Thought in January 1994. In the book he seeks to "shed some light on what the Jews of the period (post destruction of the Second Temple) in Judea, as well as in Diaspora, might have thought about their particular situation as a scattered people, and how these thoughts translated into concrete policies and subsequent measures that shaped and defined relationships among the various Jewish communities of Late Antiquity."

The most recent works published by Gafni are The Jewish Family – Metaphor and Memory, explaining the institution of Jewish marriage in rabbinic times, and Irano-Judaica II, which articulates the expressions and types of “local-patriotism” among the Jews of Sasanian Babylonia.

Gafni has been a professor in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for over 40 years and a visiting professor at other institutions such as Yale and Brown University. He has devoted much effort to the dissemination of Jewish historical knowledge on a popular level as well. He wrote the first course in Jewish Studies at Israel’s Open University (“From Jerusalem to Yavne”), and is Chairman of the publications committee of the Zalman Shazar Center for Jewish History, an extension of the Historical Society of Israel devoted to the enhancement of Jewish historical consciousness in Israel and abroad. 

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