"It’s important for students to be able to live with questions and ambiguities, and to have the capacity to draw their own conclusions. Bucknell’s undergraduate environment allows me to help them to do that."

It's not every day that you see an accomplished scholar of Rabbinic Studies sideline coaching the varsity men's football team. At Bucknell, however, the scene is a typical example of the personal relationships that form between faculty and students outside of class.

A photograph bearing signatures of the senior members of the football team hangs in Professor Rivka Ulmer's office, a gesture of gratitude for the guidance she has provided the players as their official University mentor.

A professor of Jewish studies, Ulmer is a world authority in midrash, or rabbinic interpretations of the Hebrew Bible. She specializes in the Pesiqta Rabbati, a collection of midrash homilies. Her recent book, Egyptian Cultural Icons in Midrash, combines insights from the discipline of Egyptology with concepts of rabbinic Judaism. She has authored or edited nineteen books and more than seventy articles in academic journals

As much as she is a prolific scholar and a leader in her field, Ulmer is also a committed teacher of undergraduates. She bases her teaching philosophy on the model of Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929), whose philosophy may be traced back to the conception of Jewish education as set forth in the formative texts of Judaism. "According to Rosenzweig, of particular importance in Jewish education is a well-balanced relationship between the individual and others," says Ulmer. "The student would help the teacher in asking, as well as solving questions; thus, they worked together during the study sessions."

Ulmer brings this interactive method of teaching, listening and responding to her courses, which focus on Jewish texts, Jewish thought, and Jewish perspectives on the enduring questions of human life. Examples of her course offerings include Images of Jerusalem, Introduction to the Bible, Jewish Law, Judaism in Film, The Male Body in Judaism, and Israel: Land, People, Tradition.

"I want to help students reflect critically and respond constructively to the complex religious themes running through these topics," says Ulmer. "It's important for students to be able to live with questions and ambiguities, and to have the capacity to draw their own conclusions. Bucknell's undergraduate environment allows me to help them to do that."

Posted Sept. 13, 2011

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