Abraham Jacob Berkovitz has been appointed Assistant Professor of Liturgy, Worship, and Ritual at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York as of July 1, 2018.
“The various fellowships and accolades offered to AJ Berkovitz at this early stage in his career testify to the fact that he is widely regarded as a brilliant scholar. Those who have had the opportunity to see him in action know too that he is an inspiring teacher and a warm and approachable personality. We are privileged to have him join our faculty and help mold a generation of Jewish leaders in the crucial areas of liturgy and worship, ” commented Rabbi Michael Marmur, the outgoing Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Provost.
A historian of Judaism whose research reconstructs the cultural and textual practices of Jews from antiquity through the Middle Ages, Berkovitz was granted a Ph.D. in Religion (2018) from the Religions of Mediterranean Antiquity subfield of Princeton’s Department of Religion, where he most recently served as a Post-Graduate Research Associate. Berkovitz received the M.A. in Bible from the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, Yeshiva University (2012), the B.A. in Jewish Studies from Yeshiva College, Yeshiva University (2011), and studied rabbinic literature at Yeshivat Har Etzion (2007-08). He is the co-editor of the forthcoming Authority in Late Antique Historiography: Authorship, Law and Transmission in Jewish and Christian Tradition; Lexical Studies in the Bible and Ancient Near East Inscriptions: The Collected Essays of Hayim Tawil; and Judaism in the Seventh and Eights Centuries (in preparation), the author of numerous scholarly articles and conference presentations.
Berkovitz’s research analyzes the intersections among material reality, conceptions of how texts operate, and reading practices in ancient Jewish sources. His dissertation, “The Life of Psalms in Late Antiquity,” examines how Jews and Christians read and make meaning of the Psalter in Late Antiquity and shifts the focus from interpretation to practice and lived circumstances of its very production. He describes how reading, understood as an embodied, material activity, reveals the interconnected processes of knowledge production, identity formation, and religious development. His examination of the material and textual remnants of psalm-based liturgy, piety, and magic amplifies the often-muted voices of non-elite Jews and Christians and paints a vivid portrait that depicts the diverse ways that late antique Jews and Christians encountered the Bible.
His next major project will situate the Psalter among other liturgical texts of the ancient world to write a new history of ancient Jewish and Christian comparative liturgy, informed in part by Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, Ph.D.’s historiographical framework for the study of liturgy and comparative analysis. Utilizing the tools provided by the fields of anthropology and ritual studies, he will build a comparative model for the study of Jewish and Christian liturgy that accounts for embodiment, performativity, motion, and acoustic soundscape.
A Wexner Fellow, Berkovitz is the recipient of the 2016-17 Center for the Study of Religion Graduate Fellowship, the Association for Jewish Studies dissertation completion fellowship, the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture fellowship, and Princeton’s highly competitive Dean’s completion/Post-Graduate Research Associate fellowship. At Princeton, he co-founded a bi-weekly reading group at Princeton on Materiality, Textuality, and Reading Practices that drew together students and faculty researching material and meaning from antiquity to modernity, and from America to China. He co-organized a three-day conference titled “Beyond Authority: Composition and Transmission in Late Antiquity,” whose proceedings are forthcoming from Routledge Press. He co-organized an international conference on “Judaism in the 7th and 8th Centuries” to shed light on this pivotal but obscure era. He has taught at Princeton University and Yeshiva University, and is certified as a trained pedagogue by Princeton’s McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning.