The Ph.D. Program in History

at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York

Non-GC Events

December 7 Center for Jewish History : An Introduction to the Problem of Security in Jewish History

4 PM

“In every generation” ― so Jews have repeated ritually each spring for more than a millennium ― “they rise up against us to annihilate us.” In fact, since late antiquity Jews have been taught to think of themselves as a group especially vulnerable to harsh treatment by more powerful neighbors. Nevertheless, in most times and places they have also been aware that the harshness of their treatment and the degree of their vulnerability have not been uniformly unbearable. Consequently, at certain times and in certain places Jews of various sorts have pondered a series of questions: Under what conditions might they feel relatively more confident or more threatened? What signs might point to greater or lesser levels of physical safety? What might they do to influence the conditions that govern their wellbeing? What means ought they to deploy to mitigate the hazards that accompany their situation to one degree or another?  How can they help ensure that whatever ill will Jews may face because of their identification as Jews will do them the least possible tangible harm? These questions, taken together, constitute what may be called the problem of security in Jewish history.

A history of the security problem can be approached in two ways: as one of Jewish ideas and discussions about the security problem, and as one of the changing conditions that have affected security for Jews over time. The seminar will discuss some of the issues involved in considering the first approach.


David Engel is Maurice Greenberg Professor of Holocaust Studies, and Professor Hebrew & Judaic Studies and History, at New York University.

Derek Penslar, who will respond to David Engel’s presentation, is Samuel Zacks Professor of Jewish History at University of Toronto, Stanley Lewis Visiting Professor of Israel Studies at University of Oxford, and Visiting Professor of History at Harvard University.


Unlike past seminar meetings, this one does not involve a pre-circulated paper, and is more of a lecture and response than a seminar. We ask, however, that you RSVP in order to receive the primary sources David Engel will be utilizing. Please email Judah Bernstein ( in order to do so.


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