Judith Mendelsohn Rood, Ph.D.

Maybe you're a  student, or an alumna/us, or just a curious friend.  Thanks for taking the time to learn more about who I am.  This essay is about my spiritual journey, the journey that explains my academic interests and writings. 

I'm originally from Pittsburgh, but grew up in the leafy suburb of Wheaton, Maryland, outside of Washington, D.C. I was raised in a Jewish home and was Bat Mitzvahed and Confirmed at Adas Israel Synagogue, a Conservative Jewish institution. I was a leader in our United Synagogue Youth chapter and went to Israel when I was sixteen. That trip shaped the rest of my life.

I've been studying modern Middle Eastern history since I first started college, back in '76!  Over the years I've earned my academic degrees while I have grappled with the religious, social, cultural, political, and economic aspects of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Disturbed by the acrimonious and tendentious charges and countercharges by those supporting either Israel or the Palestinians, I've hewed my own way through the issues, and learned much in the process. And now, after a wonderful career teaching undergraduate students in multiple disciplines: history, the humanities, and the social sciences, I am retiring to focus on my scholarship and writing.

Over the course of my long career, I've had the honor and privilege of teaching students from all over the world, each one coming to my classes with his or her own perspective, history, identity, and opinions.  My  quest for  knowledge has been challenging and edifying, leading me to some extraordinary experiences, the most important of which professionally, was my research in the Islamic Court in Jerusalem.

The resulting monograph, Sacred Law in the Holy City was published by Brill Academic Press in 2004.

I did that research because I wanted to understand the workings of the Islamic institutions of Jerusalem before the beginnings of political Zionism.  The period I focused on was fascinating because during that time a Muslim revolted against his sovereign, the Ottoman Sultan, in order to set up his own dynasty.  He used Islamic rhetoric against the Ottomans, who responded with their own Islamic rhetoric.  I focused on land tenure to untangle the power base of the various political elites in what became today's Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.  I wanted to record the voices of real people whose lives were affected by the various political, economic, and social developments of that era.  In the process, I came to a deeper understanding of the role of Islamic and administrative law in the early modern Middle East, setting the history of Jerusalem within its Ottoman context.  This foundation has been of great help to me in understanding current politics in the Middle East.

Building upon that work, I've been publishing a series of articles on the recent Palestinian-Israeli conflict that you can find archived on this website.  You'll also find some of my Biola syllabi.

I had the joy of teaching at Oakland University, Wayne State University, and William Tyndale College while I was raising my family in Walled Lake, Michigan. 

From 2002-2018, I taught History and Middle Eastern Studies at Biola University in La Mirada, CA.  While I am passionate about undergraduate liberal arts education, and while I remain dedicated to cutting-edge liberal arts pedagogy exemplified by my alma mater, New College, in Sarasota, FL, I have also been on my own spiritual journey. 

The miracle of my spiritual rebirth began when I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, working on my Ph.D. in Modern Middle Eastern History.  By then I'd earned my M.A. in Arabic and International Relations at Georgetown University and my B.A. at New College.  I'd also spent a year at Hebrew University studying the Arab-Israel Conflict.  My hope had originally been to become a bridge between Jews and Arabs, but I had grown alienated from synagogue and politics.  I had set out to search for God, but little did I imagine where that path would lead.  If someone had told me what my future held at that time, I would have been horrified and emphatically refuse to believe it.

I had grown up with the weight of the Holocaust bearing down upon me.  I struggled with what the destruction of so many lives could have meant, and how God could have abandoned my relatives and my people by removing Himself from history.  As a young girl I had a recurring nightmare.  I would dream that I was falling into a deep, deep, bottomless pit, helplessly, as I was watched by countless silent camp prisoners in striped black and white uniforms with large, unblinking eyes standing behind barbed wire.  That nightmare haunted my waking hours, and as I grew up, I searched the Tanakh (The Hebrew Scriptures) for answers, but I found none.  I only felt the unfulfilled longing for justice and redemption expressed in those writings.  The more I studied Jewish, Muslim, and Christian political philosophy and history in college, the more I despaired, and the darker the world became for me.  By the time I graduated college, I had turned my back on God, angry at His abandonment and rejection of humanity. 

I tried to find satisfaction in worldly things, but the more I achieved the more I realized that I was fooling myself.  I became increasingly self-destructive and embittered, but secretly I was longing for God to rescue me, no matter how much I would have denied it to anyone who might have asked.  No one did.

During my year in Israel as an undergraduate, I realized that ultimately in Jewish law authority lay only with orthodox rabbis.  As a child of the Enlightenment,  a citizen of the United States of America, and as a young woman, I could not submit to their authority, under which I would have had no legal identity.  My alienation from the Jewish community increased, but my love for my people and Israel continued to shape my self identity.  I found myself quite isolated and alone studying Palestinian history and culture.  Although Israel had made many mistakes, so had the Palestinians and their Arab brothers.  I searched for the heroic in Islamic history, but found only the endless struggle for dominion which ultimately crushed the convivencia that had made Islam a refuge for Jews in comparison to Christendom, but that wasn't saying much.  My study of all human attempts to perfect society with law and knowledge had ultimately failed, as the great Islamic historian Ibn Khaldun, about whom I wrote my baccalaureate thesis, had taught.  Were we doomed to repeat the same cycles of destruction again and again?  Or was there something more?

When I was in Israel, I'd read the Sermon on the Mount where Yeshua (Hebrew for Jesus) had preached His Word and fed the people loaves and fishes.  I thought then that had I been among the crowd, surely I would have become His follower; but that was then, and this was now, and to do so would be to betray my people.  History would not allow it.  My martyred great-grandparents and countless other Jews over the centuries who'd been persecuted as Christ-killers made it impossible for me to believe in that man's authority.  His Kingdom had become a hell on earth for countless non-Christians.  So I rejected the thought that the Good News had anything to do with me.

 I decided to go on for my Ph.D., thinking that I'd live the life of a cynical and erudite scholar, become a social critic, and attain worldly success.

When I arrived at the University of Chicago, my world turned upside down when I was invited to a Bible Study led by some Jewish students.  A Christian friend invited me, and I was astounded to find that even after the Holocaust, there were Jewish Christians.  How could this be?  Were they fools?  Did they know what they were talking about?  How was their Hebrew?  Did they know anything about Jewish history?  Had they ever been to synagogue, or Israel?  It turned out they were no fools.  Well-educated and deeply introspective, they lovingly embraced the Hebrew Scriptures and argued that Jesus was Jewish and that His message was biblical.  To prove them wrong, I studied with them, but was amazed to find that their points lined up with my own, secret thoughts.  As an introvert and a loner, I'd never taken the chance to plunge into my truest thoughts with others.  They received my barbed questions with charm, wit, and intellectual power.  Soon I was invited to go to an Intervarsity Easter service at the nearby Hyde Park Hilton.  In the past, there is no way that I would have gone to a church, especially an Easter service, because I knew only too well the antisemitic evils that were loosed on that day in Europe over the centuries.  Still, desperately seeking, I went, to observe, an anthropological exercise that would not involve my being.  Instead I was captivated by what the preacher, Jhan Moscowitz of Jews for Jesus, taught at that service. Zooming in on the concept of Tshuvah, or Repentance,   Jhan seemed to be talking directly to me, telling me what I already knew was the truth.  At the end of his sermon, he asked all assembled to bow their heads in prayer, and asked, "If you would like to know Yeshu'a as your personal Savior, stand up."  I thought to myself, "who would do that?" and opened my eyes.  I was standing up!  And Jhan was looking straight at me.  Like a doe in the headlights, I froze, and then quickly made my escape.

I spent the next three days fasting and praying, asking God if it was truly He who was speaking to my heart.  Inaudibly, in my soul I heard Yeshu'a say, "Stop fighting me.  Trust me.  Follow me."  I protested--the price was so high!  The consequences too great!  But I was tired of fighting the Lord.  I was on my knees, broken by my sinful rejection of my Maker.  I submitted and believed that it was He who had saved me.  My battle against the God of Israel had ended, and He had the victory.  I had peace, and new life. 

New insights and understandings poured into me. Over the past thirty plus years since then, He has girded me so that I could find my place in His plan.  His blessings have been so many, His mercy and grace so deep.  I have become reconciled to the world, realizing that He never abandoned us.  No, He has been with us everywhere, even in Theresienstadt, where my great-grandparents were murdered in their old age.  I trust in His justice and mercy, and understand that there can be no peace without the Prince of Peace.  If we wish to love our neighbors, we must love God first, and through Him we are enabled to do so unselfishly.  Inspired by the clouds of witnesses around me, I know that Yeshu'a is the Lord of History, and that in Him all things are made new.  My prayer is that my work will always be my worship of Him who has given me life everlasting.

God is faithful, even to those who accuse and reject Him, so long as they respond to His Word with a desire to know the truth

As a child, I had prayed for wisdom as I read the Prophets and Wisdom Literature in my JPS Tanakh.  God used my spiritual journey to lead me to the personification of Wisdom, the God of my fathers Himself, who has been with me since before the beginning of time.  The Lord Yeshu'a HaMashiach Himself confronted me, just as He is drawing more and more people to Him today.  Just as at Sinai, when the Children of Israel were faced with the choice of Life or Death, so are we.  Human history and culture has developed in ways no one could have imagined but the Lord of Creation Himself.  Totally unaware of what was before me, I  decided to take the leap of faith and trust Him, to follow Him, to become His disciple.

The wisdom of this world is incomplete.  No matter how much we study, no matter who are teachers are, the only true wisdom is God's wisdom.  We must praise Him and thank Him, trust Him and have faith in His promises to humankind.  I have seen what this wisdom has done in the hearts of Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, nominal Christians, atheists, and pagans.  Once convicted by the Lord of our sinfulness, the universal claims of our King redeems us in our uniqueness.  Deep insights come into every aspect of our understanding, redeeming culture, language, history, and hearts.  Once this is understood, our purpose becomes clear, and our souls are refreshed. We can set out to do the impossible, because we do it for Him who loves us.

So my syllabi and my lectures weren't all about the positivist social sciences and humanities, as important as they are for understanding our world and God's work in it.  While we study what the world says is important, our framework is very different.  We are acknowledge that we are not the final arbiters of truth, justice, and right. My teaching career has always been to point my students to the God of Israel, their Rock and their Redeemer.

We stand before the King, ready to be judged.  And so with great circumspection we ought to speak and read carefully, remembering the consequences for those who mislead others.  As educators, we will be judged.

As students of history, we must respect the dignity of all and to treat them fairly, depending upon biblical wisdom as our foundation and our measuring rod to find the One who is the Truth, beckoning us towards our future.

I pray that in my work you will find wisdom and hope.

For information on Messianic Judaism, go to One For Israel's Website:

          Click below for a pdf of my CV.

To navigate this site, enter "publications" or "syllabi" in the search window to find them, click enter, and it will take you to a new table of contents.
Judith Mendelsohn Rood,
Jan 9, 2018, 12:25 PM