Spatz Chair aims to unlock new opportunities in Jewish Studies

- January 20, 2023

Dr. Eva Mroczek, Dal's inaugural Spatz Chair, delivers a lecture titled "The Myth of the Lost Torah" at Dal next week. (Headshot provided; Torah image courtesy Tanner Mardis/Unsplash
Dr. Eva Mroczek, Dal's inaugural Spatz Chair, delivers a lecture titled "The Myth of the Lost Torah" at Dal next week. (Headshot provided; Torah image courtesy Tanner Mardis/Unsplash

Dream jobs can be tough to come by, but Dr. Eva Mroczek feels like she’s finally found hers.

Dr. Mroczek has been named Dalhousie’s inaugural Simon and Riva Spatz Chair in Jewish Studies, an appointment that’ll see the seasoned Jewish Studies scholar trade the Californian coast for Nova Scotia.

“I’ve wanted to live in Halifax since I was a teenager, and I’ve hoped to return to Canada at some point in my life to help build Jewish Studies here,” says Ontario-born Dr. Mroczek, who’ll formally take up the post at Dal in July 2024. “It really is my dream job, and I can’t wait to see what we build together.”

Dr. Mroczek will deliver her first public lecture as chair, titled “The Myth of the Lost Torah,” at Dalhousie next Tuesday (January 24) at 7:00pm in the McInnes Room of the Dalhousie Student Union Building.

The new position replaces a previous visiting chair program with a longer-term tenured appointment that Dr. Mroczek will take up in the Department of Classics and its Religious Studies program.

Dr. Mroczek is currently the director of the Jewish Studies program at the University of California, Davis.

“What I’ve found most fulfilling in my academic career so far is connecting with people, students, scholars, and the broader community, around how exciting and wide-ranging Jewish Studies can be,” she says. “It is an honor to bring that vision to Dalhousie.”

Modernizing Jewish Studies

The establishment of the Simon and Riva Spatz Chair in Jewish Studies — set up by former Dalhousie Board Chair Jim Spatz in honour of the resilience of his parents, who were Holocaust survivors — marks a crucial step towards expanding educational opportunities in Jewish Studies at Dal.

New courses will be created with a multi-disciplinary approach to the study of the Jewish tradition in mind and how it informs many aspects of modern life. This robust curriculum will enable the program to collaborate with other departments, faculties, and institutions, creating world-class educational and research opportunities for students.

Dr. Mroczek, whose studies centred on ancient religions, Jewish Studies, and Book History with a focus on the Dead Sea Scrolls and ancient Jewish writings, is excited to be taking on the challenge of the position in Canada.

“Being appointed to the Spatz Chair is a homecoming to Canada, where I grew up, after over a decade in the United States, and an opportunity to build on what I’ve already started to do in California, but at home: to help build a Jewish Studies program for the 21st century,” says Dr. Mroczek.

She’s excited to be arriving in an environment already rich with amazing scholarship.

“There are already so many brilliant people at Dal and King’s — as well as elsewhere in Halifax — working in different areas of Jewish Studies, and I know students are enthusiastic about learning about Jewish texts, thought, and history.”

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Broadening the tent

In her role as Spatz Chair, Dr. Mroczek says she intends to show that Jewish Studies is for everyone.

“A major role of the Spatz Chair is to connect and energize students and scholars around a capacious vision of what Jewish Studies can be — a vision that recognizes that Jews and Judaism are and have always been multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-cultural, and hugely diverse religiously and socially,” says Dr. Mroczek.

“When individual scholars and students of Jews and Judaism have a chance to connect, we can all see that this tradition, in its global history, is more diverse, more open, more full of variety and creativity than any one of us could imagine alone.”

Dr. Mroczek also intends to help make Dalhousie a new hub for the study of premodern Jewish texts and cultures, working within the department of Classics and the Religious Studies program at Dal, and alongside King’s and other higher learning institutions in Halifax.

Deciphering the Torah's long journey

Dr. Mroczek’s upcoming lecture will tell some Jewish stories from across two thousand years about how the Torah — Jewish scripture — keeps getting lost, hidden in musty caves, damaged, burned in fire, partly destroyed, and sometimes salvaged again from scraps.

“If the Torah, in Jewish tradition, is eternal and divinely inspired, it’s surprisingly also something that seems to always be bound up with loss, whether by fire, flood, or political disaster,” Dr. Mroczek explains.

And that, she says, begs another important question.

“What does it mean for Jewish tradition that sacred texts are so often described as missing, drowned, or burned?”

She’ll discuss this and other questions next Tuesday.

Register now to reserve a spot for this public event.


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