Rafael Rachel Neis


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Professional Title

Professor of History and Judaic Studies


Judaic Studies


Dr. Neis's research interests include reproduction in antiquity, feminist science studies, feminist materialisms, animal studies, disability studies, queer theory, and religion.

Neis is a scholar, writer, educator, and artist. A Professor of History and Judaic Studies, they are Director of the Interdepartmental Program in Ancient History and hold the Jean and Samuel Frankel Chair in Rabbinics. Neis has a Ph.D. in Jewish Studies (NELC) from Harvard University, a Masters in Religious Studies from Boston University, and a law degree from the London School of Economics. They studied painting at the Bezalel Academy of Art & Design, at Camden Working Men’s College, and throughout their graduate studies. Neis seeks to instigate inquiries about more than human worlds, ritual, gender, and classification. They are committed to multi-media forms of knowledge-making and sharing, from websites to workshops and from collaborative comics to zines. 

Neis’s research focuses on the culture of the rabbinic movement of the first centuries C.E. in Roman Palestine and Sasanian Mesopotamia. They place the rabbis in conversation with a broad array of interlocutors in the late ancient Mediterranean, Southwest Asia, and North Africa. Neis also investigates the ways that rabbinic and ancient Jewish culture is deployed in the modern-contemporary eras. 

Neis's first book The Sense of Sight in Rabbinic Culture: Jewish Ways of Seeing in Late Antiquity (Cambridge University Press, 2013) won the Salon Baron Prize for best first book in Jewish Studies and an honorable mention for the Jordan Schnitzer Award for books published in Biblical Studies, Rabbinics, Jewish History and Culture in Antiquity in 2010-2013. The Sense of Sight offers a cultural history of vision focusing on late antique rabbis, other Jews, and other minorities living under Roman and Sassanian rule in Palestine and Mesopotamia respectively. Their second book, When a Human Gives Birth to a Raven: Rabbis and the Reproduction of Species (University of California Press, 2023) investigates "generation" (aka reproduction) and the creation of species in ancient Jewish writings and other sources in the Mediterranean, Southwest Asia, and North Africa. 

Research Interests