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Welcome to my LSA Homepage. I am jointly appointed in the Department of History and in the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan, where I’ve been teaching since 2007. I have degrees in Law, Religion, and Jewish Studies from the London School of Economics (1995), Boston University (2002), and Harvard University (2007). My training has been enriched by the study of philosophy and Jewish texts in Jerusalem at Hebrew University and other (non­-academic) institutions, and Fine Art at the Bezalel Academy (1991­–92, 1995–­98 ­n.d.).

My research and teaching are primarily in the fields of Ancient Jewish Studies, Religion, Visual and Material Culture, and Comparative Law and Legal Theory. I am interested in the formation and variations of Jewish cultures in the broader religious, social, and political contexts of late antiquity (1st–­7th centuries CE approx) across the Mediterranean and Near East. Questions related to the body and the senses, materiality and ritual space, the formations of religious identity and practice, and the boundaries between humans and other entities (animals, objects, images) drive my work. In my writing thus far, these interests have led me to questions about the history of the senses, particularly the sense of sight, and the relationships between the body and religious ritual, law, and narrative. I have written about visuality, prayer, pilgrimage, icon–­veneration and ‘mystical texts,’ and toilet habits. My course offerings range from comparative ancient law and legal theory, to history of Jewish art and visual culture, to ancient Jewish history and Rabbinic literature.

the_sense_of_sight_in_rabbinic_culture_by_rachel_neis_1107287871In my first book, I turned to how ancient Jews ­­particularly the sages known as the Rabbis who lived in Roman Palestine and Persian Mesopotamia in the first several centuries of the Common Era ­­understood, experienced, and attempted to shape vision. This work led me not only to carefully analyze ancient Jewish ‘classics’ such as the Mishnah, Midrash, and the Talmud, but also to connect these sources with Greco­Roman medical and philosophical theories of vision, Persian­ Zoroastrian understandings of the evil eye, and Christian texts on modesty and the gaze. The world of late antiquity has been described as being “visually voracious” and rabbis no less than others sought to cope with the potential dangers and pleasures that the eye could sustain or inflict. For me, therefore, to study Jewish culture, means recognizing its thorough embeddedness and imbrication with other cultural formations, and entails going well beyond a narrow definition of ‘Jewish’ sources. Click ­here ­­ to see more about this book.

Currently, I am engaged several projects including: a book on ritual space; an essay on the dangers and perils of comparative law and rabbinics; an article religious ‘Jew-hop’ music videos; and a larger, ongoing project on ancient Jewish conceptions of humans and other species.