Rabbi Joshua D. Garroway, Ph.D. ‘03

Professor of Early Christianity and the Second Commonwealth;
Chair, Skirball Campus Faculty; HUC/Los Angeles

Rabbi Joshua Garroway

Please tell us about your Jewish journey and your journey to HUC-JIR.
I was raised in a Reform synagogue, from consecration to confirmation, but we were not a very observant family. My commitment to Judaism and my desire to pursue the rabbinate came largely through academic inquiry. Simply put, I fell in love with Judaism by studying it in college. It started as a teenage fascination with the Roman Empire, which led me to classes about ancient Judaism and Christianity. Eventually, I became a Religion major with a concentration in Jewish Studies. As I continued to study Judaism, I learned more about what an observant contemporary Jewish life can look like, and I began to take it seriously. As graduation approached, I knew I wanted to make the study of Judaism into my life’s work. However, I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant. Should I be a congregational rabbi? A Hillel rabbi? A professor? Something else? One of my cherished teachers, the late professor of medieval Judaism, Kalman Bland, encouraged me to do what he did: go to rabbinical school. He said the training at HUC-JIR would prepare me to be an excellent rabbi. Should I choose thereafter to become a scholar rabbi, the academic preparation in rabbinical school would likewise be excellent. So, I went to HUC-JIR unsure of where I was ultimately headed, but I knew it was the right place for me to find out. While there, it was the advice, mentorship, and inspiration I received from the Cincinnati faculty, which convinced me my path in the rabbinate should be in the academy.

Please tell us about your research and your current project.
My area of expertise is early Christianity, and specifically the writings of the Apostle Paul. My work participates in a revision of Paul that has been ongoing for about thirty years. In many ways it follows what had happened to the study of Jesus in the generations before, when scholars and historians began to recognize that Jesus, historically speaking, was a Jewish person who had lived a Jewish life and thought in Jewish terms. Now the consensus is that Jesus was Jewish through and through. The notion that Paul, too, was Jewish through and through began to emerge only in the last generation or two, and scholars are still working out what it means to say that Paul is a Jew who thinks like a Jew, and so on, because Paul’s writings, in light of their reception in late ancient and medieval Christianity, can appear to be a rejection of Judaism. My work participates in that ongoing conversation about what it means to speak about Paul as a Jew.

My interest in Paul as a Jew, albeit a radical and defiant Jewish thinker, has led to the broader project I am currently undertaking. I have written several pieces likening Paul’s Jewish defiance to the similarly antinomian — and similarly messianic! — writings of certain founders of Reform Judaism. This, in turn, has led to curiosity about Jewish defiance across time and space. Why is it and how is it that Jews, from time to time, propose radical revisions of Judaism that ultimately take root? Specifically, how do these new movements reinterpret, skirt, undermine, or even overturn the foundational document of Judaism, the Torah.

How has your HUC-JIR education influenced your teaching?
One of the problems in higher education is that the professors in universities are never taught how to teach, or to communicate or write for a popular audience. They are taught the vernacular of their fields — how to speak, think, write, and communicate for their peers. As a result, many professors make poor classroom teachers or public intellectuals. I am thankful every day for the training I received at HUC-JIR, where I learned how to communicate like a rabbi — that is, to speak dynamically, write vibrantly, and interact with empathy. Very few professors receive that sort of preparation.

What is your favorite memory from being a student at HUC-JIR/Cincinnati?
My favorite memory, it goes without saying, is getting married in the chapel. I saw Kristi for the first time in that chapel, and lo and behold we married there two and half years later, surrounded by friends, family, and also many of our teachers. One of them even performed the ceremony!

My second favorite memory is a funny one: a professor and his wife (I’ll spare them the embarrassment) took Kristi and me out to dinner. They told us to meet them in Mount Adams at a lovely restaurant that had been there for decades. Upon arriving, we noticed that the restaurant had changed its name since the professor had been there last. It was now called Porkopolis. When we got there we thought “Wait, this can’t be right.” Sure enough, it was. Our teacher looked at us, then at the sign, and said matter-of-factly, “It appears the restaurant has changed its name.” This was but one of so many warm personal interactions I had with faculty members at HUC-JIR.

Thank you for serving as the Faculty Representative to the Board of Governors. What has this experience been like for you?
I have enjoyed my first few months as the faculty Governor. The faculty is the heart of HUC-JIR and it’s an honor to represent its interests on the Board of Governors. It’s also a challenge, naturally, because the faculty is so varied in terms of campus location, field of expertise, seniority, and so on. Putting all of it into one voice is difficult. One of the highlights of my service thus far has been getting to know many of the Governors personally. In my first two decades at the college — as a student and then as a professor — I mainly saw only the academic side of the institution: students, professors, mentors, visiting lecturers, conferences, and the like. Meeting the people who donate the time, wisdom, and treasure to make it all possible has been truly inspiring.

How would you describe HUC-JIR in one word?

What do you like to do in your free time?
I spend a lot of time watching baseball, whether the professional LA Dodgers or my boys (ages 9, 11, and 12) who play little league year round. I also enjoy chess, tennis, and short naps. We’re also opera buffs; Kristi and I have had the same obstructed-view, balcony tickets for every full season of the LA Opera since we got here. You barely notice the hand railing!