College of Liberal Arts

Jewish Studies (M.A.)


Ben Fisher
Benjamin Fisher joined the History Department and Graduate Programs in Judaic Studies in 2011. He earned his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania for his 2011 dissertation, "The Centering of the Bible in Seventeenth-Century Amsterdam: Jewish Religion, Culture, and Scholarship."

Dr. Fisher studies the social, intellectual, and cultural history of Jewish society in medieval and early modern Europe. His research focuses on the history of the ways in which Jews in diverse settings have studied and taught the Bible, the origins of modern critical approaches to biblical scholarship in Jewish and Christian communities, and the impact of the Protestant Reformation on Jewish religious culture.

Dr. Fisher is currently working to expand his dissertation into a book that describes the emergence of the Bible, rather than Talmud and rabbinic literature, as the central focus of education, culture, and rabbinic scholarship in the Jewish community of seventeenth-century Amsterdam. This project provides valuable context for understanding the emergence of Benedict Spinoza from within this milieu, one of Europe's most impactful early modern philosophers and readers of the Bible, and for understanding the primacy of the Bible as a cultural resource in many modern Jewish communities.

Susanna Garfein 
Dr. Susanna Garfein received her Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies from Johns Hopkins University in 2004. Garfein came to Towson from Baltimore Hebrew University and has been a visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University, UMBC and McDaniel College. Her research is concerned with political identities in ancient Israel and how these identities shaped the religious and historical picture of ancient Israel.

A native of Tallahassee, Florida, Dr. Garfein began her academic career at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia. During her undergraduate studies, she majored in Religion with her concentration in Judaic and Biblical Studies. Dr. Garfein’s undergraduate studies led her to pursue both the archeological and philological aspects of biblical studies. During the summers of 1991-1993, Dr. Garfein participated in the Harvard-sponsored Leon Levy archaeological expedition in Ashkelon, Israel. After graduating from UGA in 1993, Dr. Garfein attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s one-year graduate program where her studies concentrated in Aramaic as well as linguistic change within Biblical Hebrew. In 1995, Dr. Garfein was accepted into the Ph.D. program in the department of Near Eastern Studies at the Johns Hopkins University where her concentration was in Hebrew Bible and Northwest Semitic Philology. In May 2004 Dr. Garfein completed her Doctorate from the Johns Hopkins University. Her dissertation is entitled “Temple-Palace Conflict in Pre-Exilic Judah.” Currently she is completing a monograph based on this topic.

At Towson, Dr. Garfein teaches a variety of courses concerned with the history, language and literature of the Hebrew Bible. In addition to serving as a faculty member in the department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Dr. Garfein serves as the Program Director for the Graduate Program in Judaic Studies. Dr. Garfein lives in Baltimore with her husband, Ross Goldstein, and their son, Bram Feist Goldstein.

Barry M. Gittlen
Dr. Barry M. Gittlen has spent the better part of his life in the pursuit of the past. He has scoured the earth in search of ancient Israel at Tell Gezer, the Jenin-Megiddo Survey, Tell Jemmeh, Tel Ser’a, and Be’er Resisim. As Field Archaeologist and Archaeological Coordinator for the Tel Miqne/Ekron Excavations in Israel (1982-1996), he helped recover the fascinating history of this Philistine industrial city. Combining the disciplines of Archaeology and Biblical Studies, Dr. Gittlen strives to bring Israel's past to life and to reach new understandings of the Israelite populace which produced Biblical Literature.

Dr. Gittlen received his PhD from the Department of Oriental Studies of the University of Pennsylvania (1977) and has authored many scholarly articles as well as the recently published Sacred Time, Sacred Place: Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (Eisenbrauns 2002), Dr. Gittlen is currently preparing Tel Miqne-Ekron: Report of the 1984-1996 Excavations in Field III, the final report on his excavations at Philistine Ekron. In work related to his research and teaching, Dr Gittlen was flown to Egypt by the BBC (in May 2003) to be filmed for the BBC/Discovery Channel program on Joseph in Egypt which aired in October 2003.

Formerly Interim President of Baltimore Hebrew University, Dr. Gittlen is Chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Region of the American Schools of Oriental Research. He is preparing a book of conference papers titled The Archaeology of Worship in Biblical Israel.

The recipient of numerous grants and fellowships, Dr. Gittlen is listed in the Who’s Who in Cypriote Archaeology and Who’s Who in Biblical Studies and Archaeology and has served as consultant to documentary film makers. Named Baltimore Hebrew University’s “Most Popular Professor” by Baltimore Magazine (January 1997) and the 1993 recipient of the President's Award for “The Professor Who Most Exemplifies the High Ideals of the Baltimore Hebrew University”, Dr. Gittlen’s students constitute a critical legacy. 

Shimon Shokek 
Dr. Shimon Shokek earned his BA Cum Laude, MA Cum Laude, and PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Department of Jewish Thought, where he also taught Jewish Ethics, Kabbalah, and Jewish Philosophy for seven years. Dr. Shokek also teaches  at Goucher College in Baltimore, MD and has taught for many years at the Smithsonian Institution . He is the author of the following books and articles:


  • Mavoh Le-Machashevet Israel.   (Introduction to Jewish Thought), Selected Articles in Jewish Philosophy and Mysticism, edited by S. Regev and S. Shokek, Published by the Academon, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1984 and 1985. (Hebrew).
  • Early Jewish Mysticism:  Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought, Volume VI (1-2), co-editor of a collection of articles with Prof. Joseph Dan, Published by The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1987. (Hebrew)
  • Jewish Ethics and Jewish Mysticism in Sefer Ha-Yashar, Published byThe Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston, New York, 1991. (English).
  • Ha-Teshuvah Be-Siffrut Ha-Mussar Ha-Ivrit, Ba-Philosophia Ha-Yehudit U-Va-Kabbalah ( Repentance in Jewish Ethics, Philosophy, and Mysticism ),Published by The Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston, New York, 1995. (Hebrew).
  • Kabbalah and the Art of Being:  The Smithsonian Lectures, Published by Routledge, London & New York, 2001. (English).
  • Ke-Etz Shatul, (Like A Planted Tree), A Novel in Jewish Philosophy and Kabbalah, Published by Yediot Sefarim, Tel Aviv, Israel, 2008. (Hebrew).
  • The Language of Jewish Mysticism and Kabbalah , to be published in 2009 -- manuscript has already been accepted for publication by Yediot Sefarim, Tel Aviv, Israel. (Hebrew). 

Selected Articles:

  • "The Affinity of Sefer Ha-Yashar to the Circle of Geronese Kabbalists."  Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought, Volume VI (3-4), Published by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1987, pp. 337-366 (Hebrew).
  • "In a Place where a Penitent Stands."  Yovel Orot,Rav Kook Volume, edited by B. Ish Shalom and S. Rosenberg, Published by Ha-Histadrut Ha-Ziyonit Ha-Olamit, Tel Aviv, 1987, pp. 245-256 (Hebrew).
  • "Le Sefer Ha-Yashar et la Litterature Morale du 13' Siecle."  Archives Juives, 1987, pp. 54-57 (French).
  • "Rationale and Mystical Elements in Ibn Paquda's Duties of the Heart."  The World Jewish Congress, Published by The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1993/94 (Hebrew).

Valerie Thaler
Dr. Thaler received her Ph.D. in Modern Jewish History from Yale University in May 2008. Her research focus was American Jewish identity in the 1950s. Dr. Thaler teaches courses in Jewish history and contemporary American Jewish life. 

Prior to earning her doctorate, Dr. Thaler received an M.A. in Jewish Studies and Jewish Communal Service/Education from Brandeis University. She was a recipient of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship for her studies in Jewish education, and has extensive teaching experience in both formal and informal settings. 

She also graduated magna cum laude from Yale University in 1994 with a B.A. in American Studies, and was named to Phi Beta Kappa in 1993.  She received a Coca-Cola National Scholarship in 1990.

Dr. Thaler spent 1994-95 studying in Jerusalem as the recipient of a Dorot Fellowship; she attended the month-long Seminar for Holocaust Educators at Yad Vashem, interned in the Department of Education at Yad Vashem and took courses at the Pardes Institute.

Dr. Thaler is a member of the Association for Jewish Studies, as well as of the Jewish Communal Service Association of North America.

A native of Norristown, Pennsylvania, Dr. Thaler is married to Alex Thaler, and has one daughter, Sabrina.





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