Aaron Koller ’01YC, ’09BR ’10BR is an associate professor of Near Eastern and Jewish Studies at Yeshiva University, where he studies the ancient world of the Bible and rabbinic literature, especially material culture, language, and intellectual history. His most recent book is Esther in Ancient Jewish Thought (Cambridge University Press, 2014). Aaron also teaches Talmud and Biblical interpretation at the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education. He lives in Queens with his wife, Shira Hecht-Koller, and their children.
1. What did you do before you joined YU as a faculty member?
I taught for a couple of years on a part-time basis in Queens College and I was a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania and the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, where I wrote my doctorate.
2. What is your favorite aspect of your job at YU?
I wasn’t sure I was prepared to be a teacher, as graduate school prepared me more for research than for teaching. But the teaching, at least with YU students, is a real pleasure and always interesting and challenging.
3. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I would love to work in a natural history museum curating dinosaur fossils and other such things, or become a bread baker or a woodworker. But it’s looking increasingly unlikely that any of these will happen.
4. What is your goal as a Bible scholar, and what is your goal as a teacher?
In my scholarship, my goal now is to find projects that are meaningful, personally and – hopefully – communally. The book on Esther helped me explore issues of Diaspora-Israel relations, politics of the Jewish community, and conflicting values within complex identities. In teaching Jewish Studies at YU, my primary goal is to get the students to look again at their sacred, and often familiar, classical texts, and realize that now, as young adults in university, those texts have much to say about many of the issues central to their thinking. Sometimes we learn Jewish texts and stories in elementary school and never revisit them as we grow up, so the story of Creation remains a second-grade story while other subjects get more advanced and extend to quantum mechanics or contemporary French critical theory. My goal is to show that the Jewish texts are just as rich, complex and rewarding as the rest of what there is to learn in college and beyond.
5. What would your current and former YU students be surprised to learn about you?
Other than my answer to #3? I love going camping with my family and especially cooking out over an open fire. In the future, my wife and I would love to open a kosher bed-and-breakfast in the country, with back-to-nature and intellectual components to it. If anyone wants to join in, let me know!