Director of the Minor in Christianity and Culture
- Ph.D., Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris, 1999-2002
- D.E.A., Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes en Sorbonne, Paris, 1998-1999
- Licence de Théologie, Institut Catholique de Paris, 1994-1998
- Rabbinics, Yeshivat ha-Kibbutz ha-Dati, Ein Tzurim, 1990-1993
- Contemporary Catholicism
- Social History of Jews and Christians in Medieval Europe
I am a historian of religions, having a particular focus on the study of beliefs and practices of lay Jews and Christians from various periods. I am, correctly or not, a strong believer in the many intellectual and scholarly benefits of studying more than one religious culture, whether a comparison is intended or not. No one is perfect, but I am, apparently, Jewish. I was raised in a rather strict Jewish Modern Orthodox community, but, as it happens, lost my faith in its beliefs and the justifications of its cherished practices a long time ago (to be precise, in my very late 20s, which might be a relatively old age for that). Since I remember myself, around the age of 7 or 8, I did not share its ideological or political aims; it probably helped losing faith in much else dear to this community, decades later. For several decades already, and I doubt this will ever change (“We do not give up, yet!”, some religious friends tell me), I do not believe in any of the transcendental claims of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or any other religion, including those originally from Asia. Not even in the claims of Latter Day Saints! True, in some rare moments (last time it happened: synagogue, high holidays, 2022) I wonder, sometimes maybe hope, whether there is something out there, but these moments are sadly few, very short, and in between. I wish I would have some faith, but for now, it does not stick. So not a combative Atheist in any way (a dogmatic stand), but also not a believer by any reasonable definition. I am not religious, nor “spiritual”. A lost case, kind of. This does not mean I do not appreciate, like, and even at times keep various religious ideas and practices. In my case, this means mostly the Jewish practices I was raised on, and many Jewish notions: they are not better than other religious practices, but these are the ones I very intimately know. Still there are huge differences between my past and my present. I raise my children in a Judaism which is secular, not the Orthodox type I grew up in, yet honors some old traditions: I am not unique in that. Most Jews today do more or less the same. If my children would want a Christmas tree, for example, I will get it for them ($60 max, though!), but it will have a Star of David (made of ice-cream sticks painted in blue) on the top, and Hanukkah objects will be in a much more prominent place in the house. If they want Easter chocolate bunnies I am all for it (as long as they share some with me), but the real holiday of that season will be Passover. I also go occasionally to services in synagogues on Shabbat and holidays. Most often, the synagogues I go to happen to be more-or-less Orthodox (I like Chabad’s style of doing things. They are, how to say it, unique), but this changes at times. When they deserve it, I respect many religious traditions and people, but I am not one of those who say “people can believe and support whatever they want, and that’s fine”: there are religions and religious traditions and practices and beliefs and concepts (including obviously some Jewish ones) I have clear negative opinions about, based on, among other things, secular, human-rights considerations, or just what I think to be common sense. I do not respect them, I do not say about them “they are not worse than the others”, because often, they are. I respect, obviously, also those who are not related to any religion. I appreciate the existence of religions, mostly because studying them helps me pay my bills, but also because, well, they sometimes have an actually useful and beneficial roles in this challenging experience we all call life.
Born in Israel, in the beautiful port city of Haifa, I studied for several years at Yeshivat (a.k.a., “Talmudic Institute”, but really, a place where Jewish sources are studied seriously from a believing perspective) Ha-Kibbutz ha-Dati of Ein-Tzurim. Did also three years of compulsory military service. I was a tank commander (go figure…), and hated it. Later, during a five-year stay in Paris (oh….), I studied Catholic theology at the Institut Catholique de Paris, and religious studies at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes en Sorbonne. For some mysterious reason I was then appointed a visiting fellow at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Yeshiva University in New York, and, a year-and-a-half later, an assistant professor (special category!) in the Department of Jewish Studies at McGill University in Montreal.
Before coming (by car, from New York) to UNC in 2009, I spent a year teaching at Paideia Institute in Stockholm, and three years of teaching and research at Tel Aviv University. I spent also a year as a Carey postdoctoral fellow at the Erasmus Institute at the University of Notre Dame, two years at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, and one semester at Harvard’s Center for Jewish Studies. During my time at UNC, I was a fellow for one semester at the Frankel Institute at the University of Michigan, and had a research leave in Israel.
My doctoral dissertation (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, 2002), written in French, was devoted to the conceptualization of menstruation, of all things, in Jewish and Christian cultures, with a particular interest in the Medieval and Early Modern periods. Its two parts were published as two separate books: Niddah, Lorsque les juifs conceptualisent la menstruation (Les Belles Lettres, 2003), and La Baraita de-Niddah: Un texte juif pseudo-talmudique sur les lois religieuses relatives à la menstruation (Brepols, 2012). Please don’t ask me what brought a (relatively) nice Jewish boy to spend years on studying menstruation. I do not know. Or prefer not to.
Another book of mine, Catholicism Today: An Introduction to the Contemporary Catholic Church, was published in March 2010 by Carmel Press in Israel, being the first-ever (and still only) book on the matter in Hebrew. A thoroughly revised and adapted English version was published by Routledge in 2014, and it serves as a textbook for courses on the matter in various places. A new edition is in progress, and the plan is to release it a few months after Pope Francis dies or resigns, and a new guy takes the job (I really like you, Francis, so no rush. And I am busy with other things, so really, take your time).
A relatively recent book of mine, Sting and Religion: The Catholic-Shaped Imagination of a Rock Icon (Cascade Books / Wipf & Stock, 2021), is a study of a Catholic parish, Our Lady and St Columba, in Wallsend, a small town in North East England, in the 1950s-1970s, and how growing up in that parish possibly shaped the imagination and creativity of the most famous person hailing from that community, the rock star Sting, who became kind of my buddy. Finally, I worked on something of importance! I must humbly (but with I think some justified satisfaction after the significant work that went to it) admit that it seems many people really like it. Sting too, by the way, but he suggested I do not share with the world what he wrote me, so, well, sadly, I don’t. Here I tried to describe in writing how and why I came to this project, and here I did it in a recorded interview. Shortly after that book’s publication, I released a smaller, independently published, related volume. It explores some elements in the history of Religion in England that I find of importance when trying to understand contemporary England (and Sting’s community of origin), but which did not find their place in the main book. If you are interested in that kind of stuff, I think it is not too bad, after all.
My most recent book, entitled Traditional Jewish Sex Guidance: A History (yes; too often, sadly, as we know by now, academics spend their precious life on exploring weird topics), was published by Brill in the summer of 2022. A little taste of it can be found in this old lecture. If you want to learn about interesting sexual practice, I highly recommend you look elsewhere. I currently take orders for the topic of my next projects. If I do not get better ideas, one might be on a Catholic parish in North Carolina, an one might be on rituals in general. But I am not sure yet.
I live in Cary, which is near Raleigh, which is the capital of North Carolina, which is in the USA, a country some might have heard of. When I can, I spend time also in Wilmington, which is another city in North Carolina, but closer to the ocean, my happy place. It’s not as fun as Haifa (see above), but it is very cool still. Really cool, I mean.
For a complete CV, if you really need that, click here.
MOST IMPORTANT ACHIEVEMENT (BY FAR)
Father of the best two kids ever!!!!!
LEAST IMPORTANT RECENT ACHIEVEMENT (BUT FUN NEVERTHELESS)
Certified Advanced Open Water / Rescue Scuba Diver!
Awards (A.K.A. LOW IMPORTANCE ACHIEVEMENTS)
- Fellow, Frankel Institute for Judaic Studies, University of Michigan, Winter 2014
- Starr Fellow, Center for Jewish Studies, Harvard University, Spring 2008
- Carey Postdoctoral Fellow, Erasmus Institute, University of Notre Dame, 2006-2007
- Postdoctoral Fellow, Tel Aviv University, 2004-2006
Courses I HAPPEN TO TEACH
- FREN 308 Religion in France and in the Francophone World (in French, syllabus)
- RELI 088 Religion and Society in Historical Novels (introductory video)
- RELI 108 Traditional Jewish Literature (poster from 2020)
- RELI 162 Catholicism Today: An Introduction to the Contemporary Catholic Church (+ Online version) (introductory video)
- RELI 270 Religion In Western Europe (cross-listing: EURO 270) (poster from 2020)
- RELI 450 Sexuality & Marriage in Jewish Tradition & History
- RELI 525 Medieval Jewish Bible Interpretation
- RELI 566 Jewish Legal Literature
- RELI 566x Islamic and Jewish Legal Literature (with Ahmed El Shamsy, poster)
- RELI 662 Advanced Seminar in Contemporary Catholicism
- RELI 697 Religion and Law (poster from 2019)
Traditional Jewish Sex Guidance: A History, Brill, Leiden 2022
Religion in England from Prehistoric Times to the Early 1980s: With a special emphasis, when relevant, on Catholicism, and the country’s North East, Independently published / KDP, 2021
Sting and Religion: The Catholic-Shaped Imagination of a Rock Icon, Cascade Books / Wipf & Stock, Oregon 2021
Catholicism Today: An Introduction to the Contemporary Catholic Church, Routledge, New York 2014
La Baraita de-Niddah : Un texte juif pseudo-talmudique sur les lois religieuses relatives à la menstruation (The Baraita de-Niddah: a Pseudo-Talmudic Jewish Text about the Religious Laws Concerning Menstruation), Brepols, Turnhout 2012
Catholicism Now: An Introduction to the Contemporary Catholic Church (Hebrew), Carmel, Jerusalem 2010
Niddah. Lorsque les juifs conceptualisent la menstruation (Niddah: When Jews Conceptualise Menstruation), Les Belles Lettres, Paris 2003
“‘It Is Certainly Forbidden to Force Her’: Marital Relations in the Nineteenth Century Kitzur Shulhan Arukh“, Review of Rabbinic Judaism 26 (2023), pp. 262-288
“Menstruation – Post-Biblical (Rabbanite) Judaism“, in: Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception, Vol. 18, De Gruyter, Berlin – Boston 2020, pp. 665-672
“Educating American Modern Orthodox Children About Sex: Guides for Parents, Guides for Pupils“, G’vanim 10 (2019), pp. 35-49
“‘Close Your Eyes and Think of These Four’: Correct Thoughts During Sex According to an Important 12th Century Provençal Jewish Author“, The Medieval Magazine 121 (February 2019), pp. 70-79
“The 19th-Century Kitzur Shulhan Arukh: The Story of a Classic Manual of Jewish Law“, Religion Compass 13.2 (2019), pp. 1-9
“Bible, Religion, and Catholicism in Sting’s album and musical The Last Ship“, Studies in Musical Theatre 12.3 (2018), pp. 319-335
“Death, Resurrection, Sacraments, and Myths: Religion Around Sting“, in: Cultural Icons and Cultural Leadership, Edited by Peter Iver Kaufman and Kristin M. S. Bezio, Edward Elgar Publishing, UK and Northampton MA, 2017, pp. 167-185
“Jews, Jesus, and Menstrual Blood“, Transversal: Journal for Jewish Studies 14 (2016), pp. 1-10
“Female Fertility in Talmudic Literature” (Hebrew), Hebrew Union College Annual 86-87 (2015-2016), pp. 47-94
“Women, Men, and Cold Water: The Debate over the Heating of Jewish Ritual Baths from the Middle Ages to Our Own Time” (Hebrew), Jewish Studies: An Internet Journal 12 (2013), pp. 1-37
“Traditional Jewish Sexual Practices and Their Possible Impact on Jewish Fertility and Demography“, Harvard Theological Review 106:3 (2013), pp. 243-286
“La Halakhah. Observée ou ignorée ? Unificatrice ou séparatrice ?” (The Halakhah : Observed, or Ignored? Unifying, or Separating?), Tsafon 65 (2013), pp. 63-71
“Aufklärung als innerjüdische Herausforderung: Rabbi Moses Schreiber, ‘häretische jüdische Doktoren’, und Ritualbäder” (Enlightenment as Inner-Jewish Challenge: Rabbi Moses Schreiber, ‘Heretic Jewish Physicians‘, and Ritual Bathing), DAVID – Jüdische Kulturzeitschrift 94 (Fall 2012), pp. 68-71
“Qui coierit cum muliere in fluxu menstruo… interficientur ambo (Lev. 20:18) – The Biblical Prohibition of Sexual Relations with a Menstruant in the Eyes of Some Medieval Christian Theologians“, in: Shoshannat Yaakov: Jewish and Iranian Studies in Honor of Yaakov Elman, Edited by Shai Secunda and Steven Fine, Brill, Leiden 2012, pp. 271-284
“The Stealing of the ‘Apple of Eve’ from the 13th century Synagogue of Winchester”, in: Henri III Fine Rolls Project, Fine of the Month: December 2011 (With David Carpenter)
“Jews Have the Best Sex: The Hollywood Adventures of a Peculiar Medieval Jewish Text on Sexuality“, Journal of Religion and Film 14:2 (2010)
“The Second Council of the Vatican: Current Debates” (Hebrew), Zmanim 101 (2008), pp. 28-41
“Menstruation in Sacred Spaces: Medieval and Early-Modern Jewish Women in the Synagogue“, Nordisk Judaistik 25:1 (2004), pp. 7-16
A talk by someone else presenting my work
Avi Harari, “Heating the Water in the Mikveh“, September 5, 2021 (Audio, a rabbinic class in a synagogue)
EXAMPLES OF TALKS OR INTERVIEWS THAT WERE UNFORTUNATELY RECORDED
“Human sexuality: the ancient Jewish perspective“, Recovering Evangelicals, Episode 118, May 19, 2023 (Podcast/Audio)
“Sting and Religion: Interview by Prof. Todd Ochoa“, UNC Chapel Hill, April 2022 (Video)
“Old religions, new rituals” (on Covid-19 and religious practices), Interview by Scott Jared, The Well, UNC, January 2022 (Article)
“What is Niddah? Menstruation in Judaism”, Polin: Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Warsaw, November 23, 2017 (Video)
“Marital Sexuality in Contemporary Modern Orthodox Manuals“, Paris, July 2014 (Slides with audio)
“Traditional Jewish Sexual Guidance Through History“, The Frankel Institute for Judaic Studies, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, January 23, 2014 (Video)
“Une société unifiée par sa Loi : imaginaire et réalité“, Alliance Israélite Universelle, Paris, February 14, 2010 (Video, in French)
Radio interview about my second book, “Catholicism Today”, Reshet Aleph, Tel Aviv 2005 (Audio, in Hebrew)
Radio interview about my first book, “Niddah”, Radio J, Paris 2004 (Audio, in French)