Oravetz admits that when she decided to attend Reed, she planned to major in French or math--a major in religion and serious inquiry into the work of a sixteenth-century Jewish mystic were not in her life's plan. However, one thing led to another: coursework in her junior year in Jewish mysticism, led by Steven Wasserstrom, Moe and Izetta Tonkon Associate Professor of Judaic Studies and the Humanities, and a class in early modern European humanities, taught by David Sacks, professor of history and humanities, helped determine her course of study.
Oravetz decided she wanted to examine the work of a sixteenth-century Jewish mystic for her thesis, but she was disenchanted by many of the systematic and slightly dry accounts of mystical experiences she came across. She found these accounts problematic, because although they belonged to the tradition of Jewish mysticism known as kabbalah, they didn't match anyone's notion of what mysticism was. Then Wasserstrom handed her a translation of Abraham Yagel's book, A Valley of Vision.
Oravetz opened up the book and be-gan to read the first passage, an account of Yagel's time in prison. Yagel, a physician from northern Italy, described how, lying in a prison bed, he was visited by a vision of his dead father. Overcome with emotion, he flung himself on the ground, wailing.
The old text intrigued Oravetz. As she grew more comfortable with the obscure writing, she observed aspects of the text not regarded by David Ruderman, the main translator, biographer, and scholar of Yagel. She read the text as more strongly mystical than Ruderman did. She detected an apocalyptic strain, which, again, he had not credited to Yagel.