What Can Angels Teach Us About Judaism?

Mika header 10-14

Last year the Stroum Center conducted a successful international search for a new Assistant Professor of Classical Judaism. The professorship, based in the Jackson School of International Studies, is made possible by funding from two endowments: the Marsha and Jay Glazer Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies and the Althea Stroum Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies.

This position reflects our continuing commitment to teaching the full spectrum of the Jewish experience, including the history and texts of rabbinic Judaism and the ancient world. As a leading center for Jewish Studies, we support scholarship on Jewish religion and culture from its origins through contemporary times.

The Stroum Center is deeply grateful for the community’s crucial support in bringing an accomplished young scholar, Mika Ahuvia, to the UW starting in Autumn 2014. Below is an interview conducted with Prof. Ahuvia this summer. We hope you will be able to meet her in person soon!

Interview with UW’s newest Jewish Studies faculty member!

Hannah Pressman: Welcome and congratulations on becoming our new Assistant Professor of Classical Judaism! What most excites you about joining the Jewish Studies faculty at the UW?

Mika Ahuvia: Thank you! I am delighted to join Jewish Studies, the Jackson School of International Studies, and UW as a whole. I’m excited to join a place that values my expertise in ancient Judaism as well as my more contemporary interests in culture and religion. I can bring many parts of myself (my experiences, my passions, and pedagogical interests) to UW, and it feels like a great fit.

HP: Where did you grow up, and where did you study?  

MA: I was born in Kibbutz Beit Hashita, a small agricultural community in north Israel, but I grew up in the suburbs of Tel Aviv and the suburbs of Orlando. I stayed in Florida for my BA, studying Classics at Rollins College. Next I went to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for a Master’s in Judaic Studies. Finally, I went to Princeton, NJ to complete a PhD in Religion, in the religions of Late Antiquity subfield, where I specialized in ancient Judaism.

HP: Give us a sense of your general research interests. What are your hopes for how your scholarship can illuminate contemporary issues in the Jewish community and beyond?

MA: In a general way, I am interested in making the familiar seem strange and the unfamiliar seem accessible. I am interested in socio-historical questions that bring men, women, and neglected perspectives into view. And I am interested in more peripheral fields of study like ancient magic, Hebrew liturgical poetry, and early mysticism.

Illuminated manuscript

Ahuvia’s research focuses on angels, such as the ones shown guarding the Tree of Life in this Hebrew illuminated manuscript page. Image courtesy of the British Library.

So for example, my dissertation was on angels in ancient Jewish texts. Scholars had said that the lives of ancient Jews were pervaded by angels, and I was curious as to what that could mean for ordinary Jews going about their day. This topic allowed me to look at the many ways that Jews acted out their identity in antiquity: the way Jews imagined themselves to pray with angels in the synagogue and the way Jews invoked angels for help with magical texts in their homes.

Judaism today might not foreground the angels, but my work shows how ancient Jews acted and imagined the world around in very different terms than we do.

HP: Let’s talk about teaching. How would you describe your teaching style? 

MA: I think the best teaching is adaptable, flexible, and sensitive to the frameworks that students bring and that students lack. I specialize in fascinating and foundational religious texts and my main challenge is to help students hear the passionate voices behind these texts. Accomplishing that task can take many forms. In general, I want to sit at the same table reading with my students, but I also want to show them beautiful far-off places, and help them dive into some discarded and intriguing ancient ideas. I have a lot to say on many topics, but my goal is to help students find their own voice.

HP: What is your favorite class that you’ve ever taught? What will you be teaching during the 2014-15 academic year? 

MA: My favorite class I have ever taught was called Jewish History: The Jews and the Encounter with the Other. In a way, I’m teaching related courses this year. In the fall, I’ll be teaching a seminar on contemporary Global Revolutions and Social Movements. In the winter, I’ll be teaching a class called Heroes, Heretics, and Radicals: The Rise of Judaism and Christianity, as well as an Introduction to Rabbinic Literature. The following year, I hope to teach a class called Jewess History.

HP: What might our readers be surprised to know about you?

MA: I worked at Whole Foods Market for four years during college and at Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor during my first year of graduate school. Thanks to that, I’m a food snob and I spend far too much time thinking about finding beers with interesting stories, cheese and wine pairings, and whether I should bake my own bread or give up gluten altogether. I also enjoy lindy-hop, swing, blues, and contra-dancing.

Note: The opinions expressed by faculty and students in our publications reflect the views of the individual writer only and not those of the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies.
By |2018-11-02T12:35:57+00:00September 1st, 2014|Categories: News|Tags: , , |1 Comment

About the Author:

Dr. Hannah Pressman writes about modern Jewish culture, religion, and identity. A lifelong lover of languages and literatures, she earned her Ph.D. in modern Hebrew literature from New York University. She is co-editor of Choosing Yiddish: New Frontiers of Language and Culture (2012). Her writing has appeared in Tablet, the Forward, Lilith, eSefarad, and My Jewish Learning. Dr. Pressman is the former Communications Director and Graduate Fellowship Coordinator at the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies. She is currently at work on a memoir about her Sephardic family history, connected to explorations of contemporary American Jewish identity.

One Comment

  1. MAURICE K Friedlander Shaw 9/24/2014 at 10:44 am - Reply

    I am impressed with the new faculty in the Jewish Studies Program!

    Maurice K F Shaw(M.A.–History, Political Science; Texas Christian University)

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