Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, India, made history when it organized a three-day international interdisciplinary conference titled, “Hebrew Language and Culture: Reception, Self Conception and Intercultural Relations” at the end of January.
The conference was significant not only because it happened to be the first ever conference in South Asia to be focused on the Hebrew language, but also because it was largely organized by Muslim scholars at a time when Jews and Muslims are perceived as natural adversaries. The conference hosted thirty-nine scholars: Jewish, Muslim as well as of other religious affiliations, from a dozen Indian and Israeli institutions, all of whom presented their papers in sixteen parallel sessions. Eight of the institutions were Israeli, including Ariel University. The rest of the institutions represented were Indian.
The session themes focused on literature and psychology; language and religion; names in ancient and modern Hebrew; Halakhah, Jewish identity and modernization; law and language; Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic and the mutual influences; The language of the bible, as well as sessions held on the Indian Jews, and India in Hebrew Literature and Hebrew in India.
Israel’s Ambassador to India, Mr. Alon Ushpiz, in his keynote address thanked the organizers from JNU and said that “the impressive depth of the discussions in the conference is a mirror image of the academic passion found in Israel for Indian culture, heritage, history and languages.” He added, “The key to our mutual academic fascination is the fact that both Israel and India have managed to preserve their ancient heritage while constantly moving forward with the rapidly changing world.”
Jawaharlal Nehru University is currently the only Indian university that offers courses in the Hebrew language. Jewish and Holocaust Studies are absolutely non-existent in Indian academia in spite of a continuous Jewish presence in India for at least twelve centuries.