Robert Harris

Professor of Bible and Ancient Semitic Languages

Department: Bible, Medieval and Early Modern Jewish Studies, Library, Ancient Semitic Languages, Camp Ramah

Phone: (212) 678-6144

Building Room: Brush 617

Office Hours: By Appointment

Biography

BA, Columbia University; BHL, MA, Rabbinical Ordination, and PhD, The Jewish Theological Seminary

Robert A. Harris is professor of Bible and Ancient Semitic Languages at The Jewish Theological Seminary, teaching courses in biblical literature and commentary, particularly medieval Jewish biblical exegesis.

Dr. Harris is an expert in the history of medieval biblical exegesis. His most recent book is Rabbi Eliezer of Beaugency: Commentaries on Amos, Jonah (with Selections from Isaiah and Ezekiel).  TEAMS Commentary Series. Kalamazoo, MI:  Medieval Institute Publications, 2017. In 2004 he published a book in the Brown Judaic Studies series, Discerning Parallelism: A Study in Northern French Medieval Jewish Biblical Exegesis. In addition, he has published many articles and reviews in both American and Israeli journals. His dissertation (1997) was titled The Literary Hermeneutic of Rabbi Eliezer of Beaugency.  He is currently at work on a book, tentatively titled The Reinvention of Reading in the 12th Century Renaissance

Dr. Harris’s most recent publication is “Sexual Orientation in the Presentation of Joseph’s Character in Biblical and Rabbinic Literature,” AJS Review 43:1 (Spring, 2019). He regularly delivers papers at academic conferences, such as the Society of Biblical Literature; the World Congress of Jewish Studies; and the International Medieval Congress. Many of his addresses have ultimately been published in various scholarly and academic journals.

Dr. Harris also lectures on biblical narrative and Jewish liturgy in congregations and adult education institutes around the country. One of his most popular series is Unfolding the Text: An Introduction to Jewish Medieval Bible Commentaries; Dr. Harris is at work on a book on this subject (the first chapter of which is entitled “I Pshat the Torah!”). Dr. Harris also frequently lectures about Passover in a program called “The Cow That Laid an Egg:  From the Torah to Your Seder Plate,” and hopes to publish a popular book of that title. A similarly popular program reevaluates Hanukkah, and is titled “That Kislev Affair: What Really Happened at Hanukkah?”

Dr. Harris has served as a rabbi in several congregations in the United States and Israel, including the Pelham Jewish Center in Westchester County, New York, and Moriah Synagogue in Haifa, Israel.  He has continued his love for congregational work for the past 20 years by serving Temple Beth Shalom (“The Tremont Street Synagogue”) in Cambridge, Massachusetts on the High Holidays, and frequently visits there during the year as well. 

For many years, Dr. Harris taught in JTS’s renowned adult education program, Context. He spent 1995–1997 as a visiting scholar at the Bible Department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and returned there again in the summer of 2007 as a visiting associate professor. In 2004 and 2007, he taught in Moscow at JTS’s Project Judaica at the Russian State University for the Humanities; in 2019, he returned to Project Judaica, this time at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. In 2011, he was a visiting professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and in 2018 served as the Gesenius Visiting Professor at the University of Halle, Germany. Dr. Harris is a past president of the Society for the Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages, a constituent organization of the International Medieval Congress. 

Dr. Harris regularly performs with his rock band, SR2, and he has composed two original rock ‘n’ roll albums.

Dr. Harris is a past director of theater at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, where he translated more than a dozen musical comedies into Hebrew. Dr. Harris also directed musical productions in Hebrew at JTS, as well as in Jewish schools around the metropolitan area.   

Publications

• “The Voice of the Woman: Narrating the Song of Songs in 12th Century Rabbinic Exegesis,” In The Bible and Women: An Encyclopaedia of Exegesis and Cultural History, edited by Carol Bakhos, Gerhard Langer, and Costanza Cardoni.  Atlanta:  Society of Biblical Literature (forthcoming).

• Harris, Robert A. “From “Relgious Truth-Seeking” to Reading: The Twelfth Century Renaissance and the Emergence of Peshat and Ad Litteram as Methods of Accessing the Bible,” In The Oral and the Textual in Jewish Tradition and Jewish Education, edited by Jonathan Cohen, Matt Goldish, and Barry Holtz, 54–89. Jerusalem: The Hebrew University, Magnes Press, 2019.

• “Improving the Quality of Our Disagreements:  The Potential of ‘Scriptural Reasoning’ for Helping to Repair the World,” Journal of Scriptural Reasoning 15:2 (November 2016): Special Issue on Interreligious Reading after Vatican II.  http://jsr.shanti.virginia.edu/back-issues/volume-15-number-2-november-2016/

• “What’s In a Blessing?  Rashi and the Priestly Benediction of Numbers 6:22–27,” in Birkat Kohanim: The Priestly Benediction in Jewish Tradition.  Edited by Martin S. Cohen and David Birnbaum. New York: New Paradigm Matrix, 2016, 231–258.

• “Concepts of Scripture in the School of Rashi,” in Jewish Concepts of Scripture: A Comparative Introduction, ed. Benjamin D. Sommer (New York and London: New York University Press, 2012), 102-122.

• “Jewish Biblical Exegesis in the Middle Ages:  From Its Beginnings Through the Twelfth Century,” The New Cambridge History of the Bible.  Volume 2, 596–615, edited by Richard Marsden and Ann Matter (Cambridge University Press), 2012.

• “The Book of Leviticus Interpreted as Jewish Community,” Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations 6 (2011): 1-15.  Download at:  http://ejournals.bc.edu/ojs/index.php/scjr/article/view/1783.

“The Reception of Ezekiel Among Twelfth-Century Northern French Rabbinic Exegetes.” In After Ezekiel: Essays on the Reception of a Difficult Prophet, edited by Andrew Mein, and Paul M. Joyce, 71-88. New York, London: T&T Clark International, 2011.

• “Medieval Jewish Biblical Exegesis.” In History of Biblical Interpretation.  Volume 2:141–171.  Edited by Alan Hauser and Duane F. Watson. Grand Rapids, Mich.:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009.

• “Twelfth-Century Biblical Exegetes and the Invention of Literature.” In The Multiple Meaning of Scripture: The Role of Exegesis in Early-Christian and Medieval Culture, edited by Ineke Van ‘t Spijker, 311–29. Commentaria, vol. 2. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2009. 

• “Rashi and the ‘Messianic’ Psalms.” In Birkat Shalom: Studies in the Bible, Ancient Near Eastern Literature, and Postbiblical Judaism-Presented to Shalom M. Paul on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday, edited by Chaim Cohen, Victor Avigdor Hurowitz, Avi Hurvitz, Yochanan Muffs, Baruch J. Schwartz, and Jeffery Tigay, 845–62. Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2008. 

• “Rashi’s Introductions to His Biblical Commentaries.” In Shai le-Sara Japhet: Studies in the Bible, Its Exegesis, and Its Language, edited by Moshe Bar-Asher, Dalit Rom-Shiloni, Emanuel Tov, and Nili Wayzana, 219–41. Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 2007. 

• “Contextual Reading: Rabbi Eliezer of Beaugency’s Commentary on Jonah.” In Bringing the Hidden to Light: The Process of Interpretation-Studies in Honor of Stephen A. Geller, edited by Kathryn F. Kravits and Diane M. Sharon, 79–101. Winona Lake, IN: JTS, in collaboration with Eisenbrauns, 2007. 

• “Structure and Composition in Isaiah 1-12: A Twelfth-Century Rabbinic Perspective.” In “As Those Who Are Taught”: The Interpretation of Isaiah from the LXX to the SBL, edited by Claire Mathews McGinnis and Patricia K. Tull, SBL Symposium Series, 171–87. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006. 

• “The Rashbam Authorship Controversy Redux: On Sara Japhet’s The Commentary of Rabbi Samuel Ben Meir (Rashbam) on the Book of Job (Hebrew).” The Jewish Quarterly Review 95, vol. 1 (Winter 2005): 163–81. 

• Discerning Parallelism: A Study in Northern French Medieval Jewish Biblical Exegesis. Providence, RI: Brown Judaic Studies, 2004. 

• “On the Recitation of Amen” Between Ge’ulah and Tefillah of the Shaharit Service.*” Orah Hayyim 66, vol. 7, Rabbinical Assembly Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, 2003.