IJS Events

Can Judaism restore the ‘Human’ to Human Rights?

Publication date: Mar 25, 2014 03:46 PM

Start: Mar 26, 2014 07:15 PM


Devorah Wainer, The University of Sydney


Wednesday March 26th

Devorah Wainer

Devorah Wainer has had vast experience with asylum-seeking refugees and will offer insights from 'Torah', Jewish philosophers and 'Midrash' for stimulating thinking about the vexed topic of refugees.

As the global discourse concerning the treatment of people who seek asylum continues to be framed by politics and legal conventions, it seems that the ‘human’ in the concept ‘human rights’ is increasingly being lost. Terms such as displaced people, refugees, asylum-seekers, economic or climate refugee belong to international conventions and law, and mean nothing to the person fleeing from persecution, torture and death. They are ordinary people seeking life—the most primal instinct of all living beings—who, mostly, have become objects of derision and are unwanted. There is a huge divide between ethics and law and people are being lost in the abyss.

When researching the passage of refugees through the borderlands desert of Mexico and Arizona, USA, Devorah Wainer was struck by the profoundly ordinary, and individual, human aspects of those fleeing their homelands. Likewise after visiting and advocating for asylum-seekers in Australian detention centres she was deeply disturbed by the demise of ordinary people, including children, during their incarceration. She witnessed people being effectively de-humanised.

In this lecture she will briefly describe a few scenarios from these experiences. She will then deconstruct some terms and concepts from the 'Torah' explaining why mere translation from Hebrew to English is inadequate to develop the meaning and practical implications for us today.  The thoughts of Jewish philosophers and scholars are woven throughout this lecture as Devorah re-inserts the 'neshama' (soul) to people who are mostly unknown, unseen and unheard.

Dr Devorah Wainer is an Honorary Associate in the School of Social And Political Sciences at the University of Sydney in Australia.

She was born in South Africa during the apartheid regime. Grappling with the ethical nature of the serious issues confronting her, she concluded that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’ and participated in peace-making initiatives for dismantling that regime.

In Australia Dr Wainer again acted, gaining release for those who had been detained for 3 – 5 years.

Her doctoral thesis, 'Beyond the Wire: Levinas vis-à-vis Villawood' is a study of Emmanuel Levinas’ philosophy as an ethical foundation for asylum seeker policy, and develops a new qualitative research methodology—'Midrash Methodology'.

Devorah Wainer lectures on Refugee Studies, Levinas's philosophy and 'Midrash' methodology.  


Lecture 7.15pm  Pearson lecture theatre, G22 Pearson building (NE entrance)


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For more events, see our Lectures Programme for Spring 2014.    

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