Sharon J. Portnoff

Sharon J. Portnoff

Elie Wiesel Associate Professor of Judaic Studies
Chair of the Department of Classics, Arabic, and Jewish Studies

Joined Connecticut College: 2008

B.A., St. John's College (Annapolis)
M.Ed., Harvard University
M.A., Ph.D., Jewish Theological Seminary


Modern Jewish thought

Holocaust theology


Primo Levi


Among the courses Sharon Portnoff teaches are The Holocaust and Post-Holocaust Responses, Religious Ethics and Jewish Traditions. Portnoff's areas of research include Leo Strauss' influence on Emil L. Fackenheim and Primo Levi's use of Dante's Commedia in If This is a Man. Portnoff also coordinates the Miriam Melrod Lecture in Judaic Studies and the Leah S. Rubin '32 Endowed Travel & Research Fund.

The working title of Portnoff's newest project is War and Memory: Virgil, Dante, Levi and the Western Canonical Tradition.


  • Reason and Revelation Before Historicism: Strauss and Fackenheim. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011.

Books edited:

  • The Companionship of Books: Essays in Honor of Laurence Berns. Edited by Alan Udoff, Sharon Portnoff and Martin D. Yaffe. New York: Lexington Books, 2012 (including her contribution "For Love of One's Teachers: Dante, Virgil and Paganism.")
  • Emil L. Fackenheim: Philosopher, Theologian, Jew. Edited by Sharon Portnoff, James A. Diamond and Martin D. Yaffe. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2007 (including her contributions "Introduction" and "Fackenheim's Hegelian Return to Contingency.")

Selected publications:

  • "'Not in Our Stars': Primo Levi's 'Reveille' and Dante's Purgatorio." Idealistic Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy. New Directions in Leo Strauss and the History of Philosophy. Guest Edited by Jeffrey Bernstein. Charlottesville, VA: Philosophy Documentation Center. 44:2 & 3 (Summer–Fall 2015)
  • "Reenacted Humanism: If This is a Man and Primo Levi's 'New Bible.'"The Value of the Particular: Lessons from Judaism and the Modern Jewish Experience. Festschrift for Steven T. Katz on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday. Edited by Michael Zank. Brill Academic Publishers, 2015.
  • "Primo Levi." In Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception. Edited by Dale C. Allison, Jr., Christine Helmer, Choon-Leong Seow, Hermann Spieckermann, Barry Dov Walfish, and Eric Ziolkowski. De Gruyter, 2014.
  • "Making Peace with Philosophy: Emil L. Fackenheim’s Hegelianism." In Personal Theology: Essays in Honor of Neil Gillman. In New Perspectives in Post-Rabbinic Judaism. Edited by William Plevan. New York: Academic Studies Press, 2013.
  • "For Love of One's Teachers: Dante, Virgil and Paganism." In The Companionship of Books: Essays in Honor of Laurence Berns. Edited by Alan Udoff, Sharon Portnoff and Martin D. Yaffe. New York: Lexington Books, 2012.
  • "Emil Fackenheim und seine Theologie jüdischer Existenz nach dem Holocaust." Translated by Andreas Mink. Aufbau. April 2011.
  • "Levi's Auschwitz and Dante's Hell." Society. Volume 46, Number 1. New York: Springer, January/February 2009. Whole Number 297.

Recent conferences she has attended include the Association for Jewish Studies, the American Academy of Religion and the Association for Israel Studies.

Recent seminars in which she has participated include:

  • Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy, Scholar in Residence, Summer Institute for Curriculum Development in Critical Antisemitism Studies, St. Antony's College, Oxford, Summer 2016.
  • Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Keene State College, Keene, NH. 'Truth, Memory, and Justice in Rebuilding a Post-Genocidal Society: The Case of Bosnia-Herzegovina – A New England Colloquy,' July 22, 2015.
  • Greek Summer Institute (Homeric Greek), St. John's College, Santa Fe, NM, June-August, 2014.
  • Seminar for Faculty, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. "Transforming Troubling Tellings: The History of the Deicide Charge and the Holocaust." June-July 2011.
  • Jack and Anita Hess Seminar for Faculty, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. "Teaching about the Holocaust through Eyewitness Testimony: Using Interviews and Memoirs in the Classroom." 2011.
  • The Tikvah Project on Jewish Thought, Princeton University, Tikvah Working Group. "Holiness." 2009-2010.

Selected presentations she has made include:

  • 'Fackenheim's Moral Seriousness in the Art of Living: Some Personal Reflections.' The Jewish Thought of Emil L. Fackenheim: Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust, Israel. The Annual Sabina Citron International Conference, Toronto, Canada, October 25, 2015.
  • "Filtering Anguish: Primo Levi and the Ancient Art of Storytelling." Part of "The Legacy of Survival in Auschwitz: A Tribute to Primo Levi," Jan. 27, 2013, sponsored by Boston University and the Consulate General of Italy in Boston, in collaboration with the American Jewish Committee, the Consulate General of Israel in New England, and Professionisti Italiani a Boston, Boston University
  • "Anguish, Storytelling and the Epic Poets in Primo Levi’s If This is a Man." Part of "UConn Remembers Primo Levi: After Auschwitz, Beyond Survival," March 7, 2013, sponsored by Department of Literatures, Cultures and Languages and the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life, Uconn, Storrs.
  • 'The Canon, Historicism and the Holocaust in Primo Levi's Memoirs.' Association for Jewish Studies, Chicago, IL, December 2012.
  • "Fackenheim's Constructed Holiness and Its Place in Historicism." The Tikvah Project on Jewish Thought, Princeton University, Tikvah Working Group "Holiness," May 24, 2010.
  • "Memory and Fiction: Primo Levi and Holocaust Witnessing." The Goldin Lecture in Jewish Thought, Pomona College, Claremont, CA, April 15, 2010.
  • "Primo Levi and Dante: The Black Hole at the Center of If This is a Man,"Association for Jewish Studies, Dec. 2008.
  • "Levi's Auschwitz and Dante's Hell: Witnessing and Literature." Presentation sponsored by the Luce Program in Scripture and Literary Arts, Boston University, March 4, 2008.

Portnoff is a member of the Association for Jewish Studies, the American Academy of Religion, and the Association of Israel Studies, and serves on the Board of Governors, Gratz College, Philadelphia, PA.

Visit the religious studies department website.

Contact Sharon J. Portnoff

Mailing Address

Sharon J. Portnoff
Connecticut College
Box #CLASSICS/Blaustein Humanities Center
270 Mohegan Ave.
New London, CT 06320


307A Blaustein Humanities Center