Yaacob Dweck will spend the academic year 2020-21 as a Humanities Council Old Dominion Research Professor. He will work on the project, “Rabbinic Reactionaries in the Sephardic Diaspora: Notes on a Social Type.”
In his research, Dweck describes how, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a new character emerged in the Sephardic Diaspora. This character was immensely learned, often peripatetic, frequently acerbic, always critical and deeply disgruntled. He, and he was always a he, often came from the real or imagined margins of Jewish society and sought to place himself at the center. Only on very few occasions was he successful in his quest for power. And yet it is precisely in this gap between his hopeless ambition for control over Jewish life and the real material conditions of his existence that an opportunity presents itself for historical analysis. It is this gap between the reality of Jewish life and his ideals—a past that he imagines that never was, a present that falls hopelessly short of his ruthless judgement, and a future that cannot ever hope to fulfill his imagined Jewish utopia—that enables a historian working with a number of books, a few images and some archival sources to trace his emergence.
During the year, Dweck will contribute to the Council’s interdisciplinary programs and events and engage colleagues and students from across the University in sustained discussions about his work.
Dweck has written two books, The Scandal of Kabbalah: Leon Modena, Jewish Mysticism, Early Modern Venice (2011) and Dissident Rabbi: The Life of Jacob Sasportas (2019), as well as an introduction to the reprint of Sabbetai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah by Gershom Scholem. Currently he is working on a Hebrew edition accompanied by an English translation of Ari Nohem by Leon Modena. Dweck translates modern Hebrew fiction and is at work with Nicholas de Lange on a translation of Ziklag Days by S. Yizhar.