Dr. Evyatar Marienberg is assistant professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at The Jewish Theological Seminary. Dr. Marienberg began teaching this fall and comes to JTS with a fascinating background. His academic odyssey has taken him, an Israeli, to France, back to Israel, and then to the United States at the Erasmus Institute at the University of Notre Dame. He is an expert in halakhah (interested, among other things, in the Jewish laws regarding menstruation), and contemporary Catholicism.
Why did you think the study of laws regarding menstruation is interesting?
I think that when you study something that is universal, or at least occurs within 50 percent of the population, it gives you a window from which to look at or study a society. It’s a means of comparison that runs through history. In looking at the practices surrounding menstruation from the Middle Ages to the present, both in Judaism and Christianity, one can see how women were viewed, their status, their roles in religious practice, and even more. What were the prohibitions of the day concerning sexuality, family, etc.
Is it true that you were the only Jew to ever earn a degree in Theology from the Institute Catholique de Paris?
As far as I know. At first they didn’t know what to do with this Jewish (and at the time, Orthodox) guy: the vast majority of people who graduate from there become priests, nuns, or monks. Obviously, not being Catholic, I wasn’t interested in becoming a priest, and being a nun was excluded for other reasons. I simply wanted to learn about Catholicism from Catholics. So for the first year and a half (out of the five I spent there), I audited classes. After that I became fully enrolled. They had to get some clearance from Rome first.
After completing your years of study at the institute, what changed the most in terms of your thoughts about Catholicism?
Many things. In short, understanding its inner logic, and realizing fully that one religion doesn’t make more (or less!) sense than another. Although I am not part of it in any way, this religion of about a sixth of humanity is not something foreign to me anymore, and there are many aspects of it which I admire.
You wrote a book about Catholicism in Hebrew?
Yes, and I’m very happy about it. There isn’t any book about contemporary Catholicism in Hebrew yet. The book is divided into a number of sections including what it means to be a Catholic, the structure of the Catholic Church, Catholic worship, Catholic challenges, Catholics in Israel, etc. I hope it will be published in the coming year.
What classes do you teach here?
I teach one Talmud course, and two courses on Jewish law.
How do you like being here?
JTS has been very welcoming to me and that’s quite nice. I’ll be leaving JTS and New York for the spring term to be a Starr Fellow at Harvard, but will be back here next fall.
What will you be doing at Harvard?
I’ll be working on several projects there involving looking at the family unit in Jewish history, particularly exploring Jewish works that try to prescribe, in different periods, from Talmudic times to our own, the “correct” way of having sexual relations.