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Tirosh-Samuelson to become director of Jewish Studies

May 14, 2008

When asked why a public university should teach Jewish Studies, the incoming director of ASU’s program doesn’t hesitate with her response.

“There is no way to understand the story of humanity, let along the story of the West, without telling the story of the Jews and the story of Judaism. The story of the Jewish people is nearly as old as human written records. Judaism developed side by side with the Christian interpretation of the Judaic heritage, and there is no way to understand Western, Christian culture without its Judaic foundation,” says Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, who will assume the position of director of Jewish Studies at ASU on Aug. 16.

Tirosh-Samuelson, who has been at ASU since 1999, is a professor and associate chair in the history department. In the director’s position, she will hold the Irving and Miriam Lowe Professorship in Modern Jewish Studies and will remain an active member of the history department.

“One the attractive aspects of the director of Jewish Studies position is the convergence between ASU’s growth trajectory and the interests and needs of the Jewish community in metropolitan Phoenix,” Tirosh-Samuelson says.

In sharing her vision with members of the faculty and the community, Tirosh-Samuelson says that Jewish Studies at ASU will focus on research, teaching and community outreach.

“At ASU, Jewish Studies will offer a new and creative model to integrate a Jewish perspective into all relevant disciplines and academic units, including history, religious studies, political science, justice studies, international languages and cultures, media and film studies, and law,” she says.

Tirosh-Samuelson would like to see develop new subjects, discourses and emphases within the program, specifically in the areas of Judaism and science, Judaism and environmentalism, Jewish history as global history, Judaism and liberalism, and Judaism and the arts.

As part of the community outreach, Jewish Studies will organize monthly seminars on campus, as well as art exhibits, either on campus or in synagogues.

Tirosh-Samuelson was born in Kibbutz Afikim, Israel, and served three years in the Israeli army. She has a doctorate in Jewish philosophy and mysticism from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and a bachelor’s degree in religious studies from the Stony Brook University. This past November, the university recognized her with a Distinguished Alumni Award.

Tirosh-Samuelson’s research focuses on medieval and early-modern Jewish intellectual history with an emphasis on the interplay between philosophy and mysticism.

Among her published works, Tirosh-Samuelson is the author of “Between Worlds – The Life and Thought of Rabbi David ben Judah Messer Leon,” which was awarded the best work in Jewish history published in 1991 by the Institute of Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and “Happiness in Premodern Judaism: Virtue, Knowledge, and Well Being” (2003). She also is the editor for “Judaism and Ecology: Created World and Revealed Word” (2002), “Women and Gender in Jewish Philosophy” (2004), and “The Legacy of Hans Jonas: Judaism and the Phenomenon of Life” (2008).

She is the recipient of a $500,000 grant for the Templeton Research Lectures on the Constructive Engagement of Science and Religion – a three-year project titled “Facing the Challenges of Transhumanism: Religion, Science, and Technology.”

“Transhumanism is inherently interdisciplinary, as is the nature of Jewish Studies,” Tirosh-Samuelson says. “To understand Judaism, the Jews, Jewish civilization, one is called to do interdisciplinary work.

“My interest in transhumanism is part of a larger and deeper commitment to the dialogue of science and religion, which is rooted in the conviction that, historically and conceptually, science and religion are not antagonistic but intertwining cultural forces,” she says.

“In her new role as director of Jewish Studies Dr. Hava Tirosh-Samuelson brings with her both a national vision for the program and first-hand experience from some of the leading programs in Jewish Studies in the country: Emory University, Columbia University, and Indiana University,” says Deborah Losse, dean of humanities in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Her stature in the field is such that her work to advance the program will attract the attention of major scholars in Jewish Studies both in the United State and abroad.”

Tirosh-Samuelson steps into the directorship, a position vacated in 2005 with the departure of Jack Kugelmass. Since that time, Joel Gereboff, chair of ASU’s Department of Religious Studies, has been serving as interim director.

“With the appointment of Professor Hava Tirosh-Samuelson as the director of the Jewish Studies program we will be able to move forward on our goal of raising the international profile of the program, which will be of great benefit for many individuals on campus, the community and many areas of inquiry in general,” Gereboff says. “She brings with her a stellar international reputation as a scholar and an already very strong record of leadership and ability to work with and motivate others."