Name: Mara Benjamin
Title: Irene Kaplan Leiwant Associate Professor of Jewish Studies, chair of Jewish Studies
Areas of study: Jewish thought and textual traditions, gender and feminist studies in religion
Research focus: Mara Benjamin specializes in modern Jewish thought. Her first book, “Rosenzweig’s Bible: Reinventing Scripture for Jewish Modernity,” examined the attempt to reinvigorate Jewish intellectual and social responses to the Bible by focusing on the work of Franz Rosenzweig, one of the most important Jewish religious thinkers of the modern period. Her forthcoming book, “The Obligated Self: Maternal Subjectivity and Jewish Thought,” investigates the religious dimensions of caring for young children in the context of Jewish thought and tradition. Her interests include Jewish textual traditions and practices, including biblical, rabbinic, and contemporary hermeneutics; modern European Jewish history and thought; and feminist religious studies and theology.
What appeals to you about being a professor at Mount Holyoke: The opportunity to work with excellent, curious, motivated students in a liberal-arts setting. I love getting to know my students and staying a part of their lives long after they graduate. It’s also exciting to work in a place that has made a genuine commitment to diversity, and to have the opportunity to make the case for the relevance of Jewish studies in a truly multicultural environment.
What do you like about teaching: I’m always learning — and not just new material, though certainly that happens — but about other people. I also find that I’m always learning about myself, whether it’s assumptions I didn’t know I had or ways I can grow as a person. I love it when the chemistry is right on a particular day and things move in an unexpected but fantastic direction, or when a class comes together over the course of a semester.
What was your favorite class as an undergraduate: A seminar (Hampshire College, 1993) called Time. We read classics like “Clocks and Culture” and “The Magic Mountain,” and studied physics and Philip Glass. It pushed interdisciplinarity to the edge and beyond! We all bonded and had potlucks. It was great.
Favorite book, author, music, movie/TV: I’m still obsessed with “Hamilton.” I just read “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead and can’t stop telling friends they have to read it. And I can’t wait for “Transparent,” season four!