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Rabbi Mira Beth Wasserman, Ph.D.

Director of Center for Jewish Ethics, Assistant Professor of Rabbinic Literature, RRC

Mira Beth Wasserman’s work as a rabbi and scholar bridges Talmud study, community building and the pursuit of social justice.  In the classroom, she explores the history and cultures of diverse ancient Jewish communities while fusing immersion in classical text with new critical methods and theory. In 2016, Wasserman was selected by her students to receive the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College’s Yaakov Gladstone Award for Fine Teaching.

Wasserman is director of the Center for Jewish Ethics and Assistant Professor of Rabbinic Literature.  Through the Ethics Center, she offers support and mentorship to students interested in pursuing study and service in Jewish ethics. Additionally, Wasserman serves as a resource for all students who face ethical questions in their internships.

Wasserman’s research focuses on the art of the Babylonian Talmud and on how the Talmud can be deployed to support contemporary Jewish ethics. Her book, Jews, Gentiles, and other Animals: The Talmud after the Humanities (Penn Press, 2017), is an exploration of what it means to be human according to the Talmud; it was awarded the Baron Prize for the best first book in Jewish studies published in 2017. In connection with the Ethics Center, Wasserman engages in public scholarship on race, gender and Jewish ethics. A go-to speaker on Jewish ethics and the #MeToo movement, she is a co-editor of the forthcoming Respect and Responsibility: A Jewish Ethics Study Guide that employs Jewish values and text study in the prevention of abuse. The Ethics Center’s work on anti-racism and Jewish ethics can be found here.

Wasserman’s background in the congregational rabbinate helps her bring a practical orientation to her teaching and scholarship. She is Rabbi Emerita of Congregation Beth Shalom in Bloomington, Ill., where she served for over a decade. Her doctorate in Jewish Studies is from the University of California at Berkeley, her rabbinic ordination is from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and she is an alumna of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Hebrew Literature from the Jewish Theological Seminary and a Bachelor of Arts in American Studies from Barnard College. Her focus on Jewish early childhood education as a congregational rabbi led to the publications of a children’s book, Too Much of a Good Thing.

 

Selected Courses

Rabbinic Civilization: An exploration of the history and cultures of diverse Jewish communities in antiquity.

Animals in the Talmud: A study of three complex passages from the Babylonian Talmud that are crawling with animal life.

Beyn Adam Le-Havero: An exploration of Jewish teachings about human relationships and about justice, where texts are drawn primarily from classical rabbinic literature, including both narrative and legal material

Eichah Rabbah: An examination of ways  Eicha Rabbah can serve as a resource for us as we confront the losses and traumas of our own age.

 

Selected Publications

“Talmudic Ethics with Beruriah: Reading with Care.” Journal of Textual Reasoning. Volume 11, Number 1, May 2020.

Against Apocalyptic Ethics Evolve, 2020

Does the Torah Require Us to Publicize the Names of Sexual Abusers?Forward, March 27, 2018

Navigating the Coronavirus: Jewish Values to Guide Institutions and Individuals NoweJewish Philanthropy, June 2, 2020

Jews, Race, and Religion to be Discussed in Online Lecture SerieseJewish Philanthropy, Jan. 5 2021

 

Public Lectures

Is the Talmud Racist? Part of the “Jews, Race, and Religion” lecture series, co-sponsored by the Center for Jewish Ethics and the University of Pennsylvania’s Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, February 2021.

Strangers in a Strange Text: Non-Jews in (and around) the Talmud.” Study session offered through Valley Beit Midrash, February 2021.

 

Podcast Appearances

Rabbi Mira Wasserman has appeared as a guest on podcasts produced by Reconstructing Judaism, which is the central organization of the Reconstructionist movement. In 2020, she appeared on Evolve: Groundbreaking Jewish Conversations to address “Covid-19 and Jewish Ethics.”  And, in 2018, she appeared on both Hashivenu: Jewish Teachings on Resilience, to discuss “Midrash” and #TrendingJewish to talk about the #metoo movement and “Why Jewish Ethics Matters.”

She was interviewed about Reconstructionist Judaism for an English-language radio program in Spain.

 

Quoted in the Media

How to understand the Kavanaugh allegations, according to rabbisJTA, Sept. 27, 2018

Is Michael Cohen Doing Teshuvah – or Just Trying to Reduce His Prison SentenceForward, March 6, 2019

Rabbis; Judaism Discourages Line JumpingJewish Exponent, March 25, 2021

Steven M. Cohen, Shunned by Academy After Harassment Allegations, Makes Stealthy Comeback and Provokes UproarForward, March 23, 2021

Donating, Fundraising, and the First Amendment” E-Jewish Philanthropy, April 27, 2021

Jews, Race, and Religion: An Online Lecture Series

Jewish experience offers a valuable entryway into the study of race. Jewish identities and experience complicate conceptions that are overly simplistic or that lack nuance. Jewish history illuminates both the difficulty and the imperative of grappling with race and racism. To deepen our understanding of race, we have organized a series of online talks that will bring leading scholars of race, religion and Jewish life to a broad public.

News

Jewish Ethics, #MeToo, and Crowd-Sourced Responsa

In 5778, the hashtags #TimesUp #MeToo #GamAni sparked a broad communal conversation about abuses of power on the part of individuals and institutions, within and beyond the Jewish community. The year brought revelations of misconduct among celebrities and government officials, and in Jewish schools, organizations, and synagogues. Now, powerful people who abuse their power are being held accountable, and this is a development that is welcome and long overdue. That doesn’t mean it is easy.

News

Does The Torah Require Us To Publicize Names Of Sexual Abusers?

What does Judaism teach us about how to respond to accusations of harassment or assault?

News

When Will We Ever Learn?

Why do we persist in turning our backs on the very wisdom that will sustain our lives? Rabbi Mira Wasserman reflects on the message of Parashat Ha’azinu: how our individual decisions reverberate, with long-reaching consequences.

D'var Torah