6/17/2020 Ann L. Wagoner

Remembering Prof. Matthew B. Hoffman

Matthew B. Hoffman, Associate Professor of Judaic Studies and History, passed away on June  5, 2020. Members of the F&M community are invited to contribute remembrances and photos to this message board:  https://padlet.com/fandmcollege/o4ck9ba9rz5yj5hk

  • Matthew B. Hoffman Matthew B. Hoffman

Matt Hoffman joined the Franklin & Marshall faculty in 2004 as a key member of the Judaic Studies program, with a joint appointment in History and Judaic Studies. He received his Ph.D. from the Joint Doctoral Program in Jewish Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Graduate Theological Union, after earning a MA from the latter in Judaic Studies and a BA in Religious Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara. 

Steeped in interdisciplinarity, Matt’s scholarship examined the dynamics of Jewish religion, culture, and politics with a focus on Jewish identities in transition and tension. In his first book, From Rebel to Rabbi: Reclaiming Jesus and the Making of Modern Jewish Culture (2007) published with Stanford University Press, Matt focused on Jewish depictions of Jesus in Yiddish literature, artistic works, and Jewish intellectual debates to document a shift in Jewish perceptions of Jesus that reflected attempts to carve out a distinctly modern European Jewish identity. Matt turned in his research to other manifestations of secular Jewish activity and identity, which bore fruit in the volume he co-edited with Henry F. Srebrnik, A Vanished Ideology: Essays on the Jewish Communist Movement in the English-Speaking World in the Twentieth Century (SUNY Press; 2016). He also published articles in academic journals, as well as reviews and encyclopedia entries. In the last several years, he began to move into a new area of intellectual passion: free speech debates in American academia and society. He understood himself as an exponent of classic Enlightenment principles that are essential to free, democratic societies; and he hoped that this new line of scholarship would contribute to the continuation and strength of those principles and practices.

The advancement of academic freedom, shared governance, and higher education's contribution to the common good were central to Matt's life. To these ends, he dedicated himself tirelessly to the F&M chapter of the American Association of University Professors. Matt served as co-president and president of the chapter for two terms and he sat on its executive board for several additional years. He was a conduit to the AAUP's national office through his participation in the AAUP Summer Institute and invitations of campus speakers. He brought his AAUP principles to his college committee work as well, including positions on the various faculty handbook revision committees and the Grievance Committee. He led in the drafting of the "Statement on Freedom of Expression" that is codified in our Faculty Handbook. Matt was at once passionate and informed about the pressing issues affecting higher education. He felt no animosity for those with whom he disagreed. Chapter meetings were, for him, an opportunity for conviviality. He took the lead in welcoming new members, planning the refreshments, and distributing AAUP buttons and stickers. For all of his public advocacy, Matt was especially effective in offering quiet, empathetic assistance for individual faculty in difficult circumstances.

At F&M, Matt offered courses in premodern and modern Jewish history, American Jewish cinema and humor, Jewish historiography, and Eastern European Jewish culture; he was especially passionate about his CNX classes, “Why We Hate” and “Freedom of Speech.” Matt was a cheerful, engaging professor; and his students knew and appreciated his intellect, warmth, and kindness. A tireless promoter of Judaic Studies on campus and beyond, Matt took part in the CPC Judaic Studies conferences and on one occasion took a leading role in organizing this student conference at F&M. Even in the last week of his life he was hoping to teach in the coming fall semester and was discussing with colleagues how best to move his pedagogy online. 

Matt’s colleagues in the Judaic Studies program, which he sometimes chaired, will miss his energy, his teaching, and his readiness to discuss and debate vital matters of education, politics, and academic life. Matt was a person of strong conviction but above all committed to the life of reasonable debate, and his colleagues experienced his ability to argue without rancor and to disagree within the bounds of friendship and collegiality. To his colleagues in the History department, which he also chaired, Matt was not only a valued teacher and scholar, but a treasured friend – genial, witty, caring, and fun. He mentored newer colleagues with humor and humanity, understanding that the simple act of stopping by and checking in builds community. As the heart of the Third Floor Stager, Matt was deeply loved and respected. In all of these ways and more, his absence leaves an aching hole for colleagues and students alike.

"To his colleagues, Matt was not only a valued teacher and scholar, but a treasured friend – genial, witty, caring, and fun. He mentored newer colleagues with humor and humanity, understanding that the simple act of stopping by and checking in builds community."
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