Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi Wins Two Major Awards: National Jewish Book Award and National Endowment for the Humanities Grant

Monday, June 25, 2012

Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi, Professor of Bible at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, recently received two national honors. Her new book, The JPS Bible Commentary: Ruth (Jewish Publication Society) just won a 2011 National Jewish Book Award, and her research interests in biblical women earned her a prestigious grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The Jewish Book Council's National Jewish Book Awards – the longest-running North American awards program of its kind in the field of Jewish literature – are designed to recognize outstanding books of Jewish interest. Dr. Esekenazi’s work was singled out in the category of Women’s Studies when winners were announced January 10, 2012. Her book (see more below) is an extensive examination of the biblical story of Ruth, with its themes of loyalty, lovingkindness, and redemption.

Dr. Eskenazi will receive her award in a gala ceremony on March 14 at the Center for Jewish History in New York City. Joining her will be her colleague from HUC-JIR’s New York campus, Dr. Jonathan Krasner, Associate Professor of American Jewish History. His book The Benderly Boys and American Jewish Education (Brandeis University Press) won in the discipline of American Jewish Studies.

In December, Dr. Eskenazi also was named one of 215 recipients to be distinguished with a coveted grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The federal agency’s fellowship will support her project, “Out from the Shadows: Biblical Women and Women in the Persian Period, 6th to 4th Centuries B.C.E.”

Created in 1965, the NEH supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Only a small number of applicants – about 4 percent – were funded this year

Dr. Eskenazi’s project focuses on the writings in the third division of the Bible, the Ketuvim, and puts the representations of women in these texts in the larger context of the ancient contemporaneous world.  Dr. Eskenazi notes that women come boldly to the fore in biblical literature from the Persian period, which was pivotal in the formation of the Hebrew Bible and a time of reconstruction of Jewish life under Persian imperial rule.  Women are prominent in many of these writings, especially in books like Ruth, Esther and Proverbs.

This study investigates the representations of women in this literature in order to illumine presumptions and projections regarding women, with an eye to explaining a relationship to the new socio-political dynamics of a vanquished nation under imperial rule. Her study, therefore, also analyzes the historical developments in Judah where this literature emerges, as well as extra-biblical sources, such as the archives from the Jewish community in Egypt in the 5th Century B.C.E. (which include the oldest Jewish marriage contract), together with evidence from Mesopotamia and Greece.

Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi -- The JPS Bible Commentary: Ruth

The moving story of Ruth is one of the great narratives of the Bible. Socially, the Israelites were aware of their responsibility to protect the weak and unprotected among them. Redemption secures the life of the people as a community, not just as individuals. In this story, Boaz fills the familial obligation to marry the widow of a deceased relative who never was able to father children, both to continue the family line and protect an otherwise vulnerable woman. This volume provides a critical, line-by-line commentary of the biblical text, presented in its original Hebrew, complete with vocalization and cantillation marks, as well as the 1985 JPS English translation. The extensive introduction places the book within its historical, literary, and critical context, discusses contemporary interpretations of the story of Ruth, and examines its major motifs and themes, among them: family, marriage and levirate marriage in biblical and ancient Israel, redemption and inheritance, hesed (lovingkindness), and the book’s connection with the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.

Dr. Eskenazi received her Ph.D. at the University of Denver and the Iliff School of Theology. Prior to joining HUC-JIR, she was a faculty member at the University of Denver and was also Director of its Institute for Interfaith Studies. Her research has long focused on the reconstruction of Jewish life after exile in the 6th Century B.C.E., on the role of women in the biblical world, and on the implications of the Bible for the Jewish community today. She received the National Jewish Book of the Year Award, together with Dr. Andrea L. Weiss (Associate Professor of Bible at HUC-JIR in New York), for her work as Chief Editor of The Torah: A Woman's Commentary (URJ) in 2008. Dr. Eskenazi has served on the executive committee of the Society of Biblical Literature, and her books include In an Age of Prose: A Literary Approach to Ezra-Nehemiah (1988) and Second Temple Studies 2: Temple and Community in the Persian Period (1994). An expert in postexilic history and literature and in the Bible, Dr. Eskenazi has published numerous scholarly papers and presented her research in national and international scholarly conferences, as well as in synagogues and churches.


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's first institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu