Hebrew Union College is proud to announce that faculty members AJ Berkovitz, Ph.D., and Gordon Dale, Ph.D., received the Jordan Schitzner First Book Publication Award from the Association for Jewish Studies (AJS). Dr. Berkovitz, Assistant Professor of Ancient Judaism, received the Award for his book, “A Life of Psalms in Jewish Late Antiquity” and Dr. Dale, Visiting Professor of Ethnomusicology and, effective July 1, the Inaugural Dr. Jack Gottlieb, z”l, Scholar in Jewish Music Studies, received the Award for his book, “The Life and Works of Rabbi Ben Zion Shenker.”
Dr. Gordon Dale
Dr. Dale shares, “I am very grateful to receive the AJS Jordan Schnitzer First Book Publication Award. I am deeply honored that the selection committee believes that my forthcoming book will make a valuable contribution to the extant scholarship, and I am appreciative of the ways in which the prize will help to make Ben Zion Shenker’s music available in a new way. Receiving this prize alongside my friend and HUC-JIR colleague, Dr. AJ Berkovitz, makes this an extra special occasion.”
“The Life and Works of Rabbi Ben Zion Shenker” by Dr. Dale is a study of one of the most important composers of Hasidic niggunim. The book will include an in-depth biography, as well as a presentation of all 446 of the compositions that Rabbi Shenker included in his oeuvre. As a key figure in the preservation and revitalization of the niggun after World War II, and the composer of several of the most famous pieces in the canon, Rabbi Shenker is likely unsurpassed in his contribution to the genre.
Dr. Dale has most recently conducted extensive research in the Hasidic communities of New York and Israel, and has lectured across the United States on topics related to Israeli popular music, and Jewish music and mysticism. He is currently the Executive Director of The Jewish Music Forum, a project of the American Society for Jewish Music, and is a past president of the Society for Ethnomusicology’s Special Interest Group for Jewish Music. He holds a Ph.D. from The Graduate Center, CUNY, an M.A. from Tufts University, and a B.S. from Northeastern University.
Dr. AJ Berkovitz
Dr. Berkovitz’s book, “A Life of Psalms in Jewish Late Antiquity,” clarifies the world of late ancient Judaism through the versatile and powerful lens of the Psalter, the most cherished text among all the books of the Hebrew Bible. It asks a simple set of questions: Where did late ancient Jews encounter the Psalms? How did they engage with the work? And what meanings did they produce? It answers these queries by reconstructing and contextualizing a diverse set of religious practices performed with and on the Psalter, such as handling a physical copy, reading from it, interpreting it exegetically, singing it as liturgy, invoking it as magic, and reciting it as an act of piety. The book draws from and contributes to the fields of ancient Judaism, biblical reception, book history, and the history of reading. It argues that a nuanced accounting of the ways in which ancient Jews encountered and used the Psalter must do more than rely on the exegetical discussions of the late ancient rabbis. It must also focus on the Psalter’s material media and their capacity to shape meaning, explore pervasive non-exegetical practices that employ the Psalter – such as liturgy and piety – and examine the conflicts and convergences between the Jews and Christians who placed the Psalms at the center of life.
Dr. Berkovitz writes, “This book has been almost a decade in the making, from its inception as a dissertation to its slow development into a scholarly monograph. I am thankful to the Association for Jewish Studies for viewing my project favorably and worthy of support. To me, the Jordan Schnitzer First Book Publication Award signals that a book not only contributes to the current scholarly conversation, but also has the potential to shape a field and encourage future experimentation. I hope that my book actualizes this vote of confidence.”
Dr. AJ Berkovitz is a scholar of Jewish Antiquity. His research hops across Jewish texts, traditions, and history from the creation of the Hebrew Bible until the rise of Islam. He received his Ph.D. in Religion from Princeton University and a B.A./M.A. in Jewish Studies from Yeshiva University. He has edited several scholarly volumes and penned articles that appeared in both academic and popular publications. He was a Starr Fellow at Harvard and also a Wexner Graduate Fellow. His interests outside of scholarship include cooking, finance, and reading historical fiction and epic fantasy.