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Faculty Faculty Spotlight:
Dr. Devora Steinmetz

By Hebrew College
students and faculty member talking in beit midrash

As part of our new faculty spotlight series, we recently spoke with Hebrew College faculty member Dr. Devora Steinmetz about her teaching, research, and Jewish community work.

Q. What do you like best about teaching at Hebrew College and particularly teaching rabbinical students?

I love that Hebrew College Rabbinical School is centered in the beit midrash. And I love teaching rabbinical students, because for them learning is more than an academic pursuit, and also because I know that they will continue to build throughout their lives on the learning that they do in rabbinical school, and that they will serve as teachers to others throughout their careers.

Q. How have Hebrew College students inspired you?

I am inspired by the tremendous dedication of our students toward learning Torah, especially when so many of them did not have a background of text study before coming to rabbinical school. I also am taken by the thoughtfulness that our students bring to their learning, the ways in which they reflect on the connections between the texts that they study and their lives and their work. And I am moved by the kindness and care that our students show toward each other and the gentleness with which they speak.

Q. What keeps you up at night?

I worry deeply about whether the Jewish people do, or will continue to, feel connected to each other and responsible for one another. I worry that too many of us operate within micro-communities of like-minded people and don’t feel solidarity with—or perhaps don’t even encounter—communities of Jews who live, believe, and vote differently from us. I want our students, and every Jew, to feel that all Jews, in Israel, America, and around the world, whatever their political or religious commitments, are their family. I want them to be curious about them, I want them to feel kinship with them, and, most of all, I want them to care about and for them.

book cover
Q. Tell me about your new book.

My new book is called Why Rain Comes From Above: Explorations in Religious Imagination. It’s a book of essays, each of which weaves together biblical and rabbinic texts, inviting the reader into a thick experience of reading and of imagining themselves into our stories, prayers, and practices.

Q. What is a text you love to teach and why?

I really love teaching almost all texts. For me, entering into a text is a journey of exploration. In teaching, I try to bring students along on this journey, helping them be open to what they will encounter and to approach whatever they come upon with curiosity and generosity and respect. It’s akin to the ethical stance that I hope they will take when encountering another human being who may be different from themselves—in fact, who will be different from themselves. How do we try to hear the voice of the other, to understand the other, to open ourselves to the other, rather than expecting the other to reflect back to us what we want to hear or what we already know and believe?

Q. How do spend your time when you’re not teaching or working in the Jewish community?

For the past few years, I’ve been involved with a therapeutic farm in Western Massachusetts called Gould Farm, and I spend time there on breaks and sometimes on weekends during the semester. It’s a hundred-plus-year-old residential program on 700 acres in the Berkshires, and it serves as a recovery-oriented community for individuals who have been struggling with serious mental health challenges.

I’m a city person who has always worked with texts and ideas, so being in a rural environment, doing physical labor, and accompanying the brave individuals who come to the farm to rebuild their lives has been a perspective-expanding blessing for me.

Q. A rabbinical school teacher can play multiple roles. How would you describe your role in 3-4 words?

“A more experienced learner.”

Dr. Devora Steinmetz is a faculty member at Hebrew College in Newton, MA, where she teaches in the Rabbinical School. She also serves on the faculty of the Mandel Institute for Nonprofit Leadership. She is the author of scholarly articles on Talmud, Midrash, and Bible and of three books, From Father to Son: Kinship, Conflict, and Continuity in Genesis; Punishment and Freedom: The Rabbinic Construction of Criminal Law; and Why Rain Comes From Above: Explorations in Religious Imagination. She holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University.

Devora will be speaking about her new book, Why Rain Comes From Above: Explorations in Religious Imagination, on March 10 from 12:30-1:30 p.m. at Lehrhaus. Learn more and register here.

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