1991 – Ph.D., Dept. of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University
1983 – M.A.H.L. and rabbinic ordination, Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion
1976 – B.A., mathematics, cum laude, Brown University
Areas of Expertise
Hebrew literature from medieval Europe, especially France, Provence, Iberia. My earlier work focused on literary responses to persecution, expulsion and trauma, then took a turn to focus on Jewish responses to plague in Europe and the Maghreb.
I arrived at the Dept. of Literatures Cultures & Languages in 2012 following a nineteen-year career as professor of Hebrew Literature at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, OH. This past summer (2023), I joined the ranks of emeriti faculty. My research specialty is late medieval Jewish writing in Europe (especially France, Provence and Iberia), generally with a comparative emphasis. My original interests explored how medieval Jews commemorated incidents of violence, persecution and exile in writing (and performative practices), while asking how liturgical and literary genres contributed to our historical reconstruction of the past. The prominent roles of Jewish physicians in medieval society and also as writers led me to a study of Jewish response to the Black Death in Iberia and then to a leap to early modern Italy and a remarkable set of Jewish testimonies to the Great Italian Plague of 1631. Two of my four books have therefore treated plague and Jews, but the grip of plague-related themes has not weakened. I continue to work in this field, now focusing on Iberia and northern African Jewish communities. Not only do unused sources document a Jewish – and wider – experience of plague during and after the Black Death, but the same sources ask us to jettison the default emphasis on Jewish-gentile (Christian or Muslim) relations for an ecological and epidemiological landscape in which humans, whatever their faith community, are merely one factor.
I have served on multiple editorial boards and am honored to have been named a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America and of the American Academy of Jewish Research. My work has been supported by the Guggenheim Foundation, the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, the National Humanities Center, the Center for Mediterranean Studies at Haifa University, and more. I taught as visiting faculty at Brown University in the spring 2019 semester and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in the fall 2019 semester. I am currently a visiting scholar in Religious Studies at Brown University.
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