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YU News

Dr. Daniel Rynhold, Professor of Jewish Philosophy

Dr. Daniel Rynhold is professor in modern Jewish philosophy at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, and director of the Revel doctoral program, having arrived on these shores from London, England, in August 2007. Educated at the universities of Cambridge and London, Dr. Rynhold had previously been a lecturer in Judaism in the department of theology and religious studies at King’s College London, a position he had held since 2001. This followed two years as a lecturer at the renowned Jews’ College of London.


1. What profession did you think you would hold when you were a student?

Given where I have ended up, it may come as a surprise to know that the answer is - something in the field of chemistry, most likely research I imagine. For my undergraduate degree, I was actually admitted to read Natural Sciences. In the UK, we don’t have liberal arts degrees, but instead apply for specific degrees that are usually devoted to a single subject - or at most to two or three that are closely related - and we study that (or those) alone for 3 years. And I was going to study Chemistry. But during my gap year I became enamored of Jewish philosophy, so on my return,  after two weeks (!) I switched to a philosophy degree. And the rest, as they say....

2. How has your past experience prepared you for your current position?

Teaching and writing about Jewish philosophy is what I trained for, through 9 years of undergraduate and graduate study. So that experience prepared me very directly for my post at Revel.  Taking care of the Honors program is a rather different story. I suppose the closest would be when I was assistant Rabbi to a small community in England many, many years ago, which prepared me for dealing with a large and somewhat diverse population, and the inevitable brickbats when you are unable to please all of the people all of the time.


3. What aspect of your job with YU do you most enjoy?

Those moments in the classroom when you can almost see the comic-book thought bubble above a student’s head with the light bulb inside it. It’s still such a thrill and simultaneously humbling when you see the power of ideas in action, when you’ve lit the blue touch paper, when a student gets genuinely excited and wants to stay behind to talk for hours after class has ended.  

4. What are some of the goals you have for what students take out of your classes?

Here’s a story to answer the question. Around 2005 or 2006, I was teaching a graduate course in London on the philosophy of Maimonides and one of my students was (and more importantly still is) a Habad Rabbi. When visiting London in summer 2008, a year after moving here, we met for coffee, and he told me that while at an international Habad gathering, he had mentioned to a fellow rabbi that he had been studying the philosophy of Maimonides. His colleague responded that one could only study Maimonides through the prism of Hasidic thought - or “derekh hasidus” - and that anyone who studied Maimonides in any other way “did not know what they were talking about.” My student told me that he responded as follows: “I studied Maimonides with someone. He did not teach us Maimonides “derekh hasidus.” But he knew what he was talking about.” That’s what I want. Students who might be committed to a system of beliefs, and remain so, yet be able to appreciate and respect the existence of alternatives without feeling the need to silence or denigrate them even when they disagree with them. 


5. What would your colleagues be surprised to learn about you?

I’m a Beatles fanatic. Not a fan, a fanatic. I own all of Ringo’s solo albums. It’s an illness.