Six professors from across the Touro College schools were recognized for their contributions to the College in this year’s Presidential Awards for Faculty Excellence. The awards, initiated in 2017, recognize excellence in faculty members across Touro College undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools in three areas: teaching, scholarship, and service. In a year when the traditional classroom adjusted to meet safety concerns amidst COVID-19, the faculty recognized this spring for contributions to the school stand out for their dedication to their students and the university that extends far beyond the classroom.
Faculty members were nominated by members of the Touro community and were judged by a cross-disciplinary selection team of faculty from different Touro schools. Final decisions were made by Touro’s academic leadership and the Touro College and University System President, Dr. Alan Kadish.
Rabbi Moshe Miller, the recipient of a 2020 Touro Presidential Awards for Excellence in Teaching, approaches his subjects from two perspectives: that of an ordained rabbi who received his s’michah, rabbinical ordination, from Rabbi Mordechai Krauss, late Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Ohr HaChaim; and an academic who received his Master’s Degree in Jewish History from the Touro Graduate School of Jewish Studies and his PhD from Yeshiva University with a focus on the world of 19th-Century German-Orthodox Jewry.
“From a very young age, I was interested in the intellectual history of Judaism,” stated Rabbi Miller, a member of the department of Judaic Studies at Lander College for Women–The Anna Ruth and Mark Hasten School. “One of my goals as a teacher is to use both my academic knowledge and my rabbinic training to create a holistic perspective of issues in Judaism.”
Rabbi Miller’s course offerings include staples of a religious studies curriculum, like The Book of Genesis and Jewish Business Ethics, alongside more eclectic and equally popular course offerings, like The Seven Noahide Laws, Roots of Contemporary Orthodox Ideology, The Life and Works of Rabbi S. R. Hirsch, Intellectual Trends in Rabbinic Judaism, and Women in Halachah. To all of his courses, Rabbi Miller brings both his attention to the minutiae of the subjects as well as the larger picture of how the subject fits inside the broad perspective of Judaism. Rabbi Miller is unafraid of discussing difficult topics, and he brings the full force of Jewish scholarship to them.
Rabbi Miller’s classes are known to fill quickly. He also teaches Jewish history in his alma maters, Lander College for Men and Touro College Graduate School of Jewish Studies. Many of his students look to him not only as an academic figure, but as a rabbi and mentor.
Describing her experience during a class given by Rabbi Moshe Miller, MA, PhD, a student wrote: “He is a man who lives and loves what he teaches.”
Writing in support of his candidacy, former student Miri Korbman, PsyD, who is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Cognitive and Dialectical Behavior Therapy, recalled a class lecture comparing the halachic worldviews of two pillars of modern Orthodox Judaism, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, and their places on the spectrum of contemporary Orthodoxy. “We pondered and discussed this question, and Rabbi Miller then took the discussion a step further and asked us to consider where we thought we fell on that spectrum and in what ways Rabbi Hirsch’s ideology or lifestyle might apply to us,” Dr. Korbman wrote. “This discussion led me to take time to consider my own Jewish worldview, to ask myself important and difficult questions, and give thought to my own religious and spiritual identity in a new way. A good professor has a strong influence in the classroom; a truly great professor’s reach extends beyond the classroom and beyond graduation.”
Rabbi Miller is invited to his students’ weddings and is consulted by them long after they graduate. He credited part of his teaching success to the general teaching climate at the Touro institutions.
“What Touro has done so amazingly well is to create a warm and caring environment,” he said. “Students know they can reach out to us, whether via email, phone, or office hours. LCW Dean Stoltz-Loike is always available, and I think that has affected how I teach. We’re not dispassionate professors teaching from an ivory tower. We are in the trenches with our students, working to ensure their growth as students and as individuals.”
How he thinks COVID-19 will change academia:
“The most immediate sense is the change in venue. I was teaching in a classroom and now my classes are online. That’s obviously a dramatic difference that affects me personally. It’s quite a change but it was done smoothly thanks to the visionary efforts of the administration, starting at the highest level with Dr. Alan Kadish, Provost Patricia Salkin, and Dean Stoltz-Loike. Had we not had their leadership, my colleagues and I would have had a much harder time. I think we were very well-prepared, and the change of venues has been seamless.
“I personally have a strong preference for in-class teaching. As successful as our online efforts have been, you’re still teaching to a computer screen. While you are interacting with your students, you are not in the same room. It doesn’t compare to interacting with real people, reading the texts at the same time, and having face-to-face class discussions and debates.
“I don’t think COVID-19 will permanently alter the teaching landscape. We’ve been teaching in university settings forever. The Jewish people have been mastering texts for thousands of years, and I think there’s something special about being in a classroom and having a teacher. From what my students have told me, the online classes have been successful, but I don’t think it’s the same. It’s important to have this readiness to go online or have virtual classrooms in place when it’s necessary, but I hope that when it’s not necessary we can be back in the classroom.”