Klingenstein 2017: Humans, Animals, Hybrids in Rabbinic Reproductive Thought


When people try to define what being human means, the Hebrew Bible’s notion of humanity “created in the image of God” is often what comes to mind.

Dr. Rachel Neis, a Judaic studies scholar at the University of Michigan, will present a different approach to classical Jewish thinking on the topic, in “Humans, Animals, and Hybrids in Rabbinic Reproductive Thought,” the annual Klingenstein Lecture in Judaic Studies at New College of Florida on January 17.

Dr. Rachel Neis

Neis is an associate professor of history and Judaic studies at Michigan and holds the Jean and Samuel Frankel Chair in Rabbinics. She has a Ph.D. in Jewish studies from Harvard University, a master’s degree in religious studies from Boston University, and a law degree from the London School of Economics.

“I’m delighted to have Rachel Neis as the Klingenstein speaker because of her great ability to remind us that there is so much more to the world around than we might have considered,” said Dr. Susan Marks, professor of Judaic studies and the Klingenstein Chair at New College.

In her talk, Neis plans to show the surprising ways in which the early rabbis of the Mishnah created a “biology” that sought to determine the boundaries and the overlaps between species.

This alternative Jewish approach to the human opens up possibilities for a more porous and varied approach to bodily variation and dovetails with insights drawn from the fields of disability studies and animal studies, she said.

New College’s Professor Marks said Neis awes her listeners by drawing on many, often unexpected, aspects of historic, social and communal relations to help people understand rabbinic Judaism.

Dr. Neis’ first book, The Sense of Sight in Rabbinic Culture: Jewish Ways of Seeing in Late Antiquity (Cambridge, 2013), offers a cultural history of vision focusing on late antique rabbis, other Jews, and other minorities living under Roman and Sassanian rule in Palestine and Mesopotamia respectively. It won the Salon Baron Prize for best first book in Jewish Studies and an honorable mention for the Jordan Schnitzer Award for books published in Biblical Studies, Rabbinics, Jewish History and Culture in Antiquity in 2010-2013. It was just released in paperback format.

Neis’ current research projects encompass ancient Jewish visual and material culture, minority spatial rituals in antiquity, comparative ancient law and legal theory, and ancient science.

New College’s annual Judaic Studies Lecture is sponsored by the Klingenstein Chair of Judaic Studies and the Jay Rudolph Endowment. The lecture is named for Selma Klingenstein who, along with her husband Paul, helped establish the Klingenstein Chair in Judaic Studies at New College in 2001.

The 2017 Klingenstein Lecture:

Humans, Animals, and Hybrids in Rabbinic Reproductive Thought”

Dr. Rachel Neis, Assoc. Prof. of History and Judaic Studies, Jean and Samuel Frankel Chair in Rabbinics, University of Michigan

Tuesday, Jan. 17, at 5:30 p.m.

Sainer Auditorium, New College’s Caples Campus, 5313 Bay Shore Road (immediately south of the Ringling Museum)

Admission is free and the public is welcome. Sponsored by New College of Florida, the Klingenstein Chair of Judaic Studies, and The Jay Rudolph Endowment.  


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