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Jewish studies (or Judaic studies) is an academic discipline centered on the study of Jews and Judaism. Jewish studies is interdisciplinary and combines aspects of history (especially Jewish history), religious studies, archeology, sociology, languages (Jewish languages), political science, area studies, women's studies, and ethnic studies. Jewish studies as a distinct field is mainly present at colleges and universities in North America.

Related fields include Holocaust studies and Israel studies, and in Israel, Jewish Thought.



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The Jewish tradition generally places a high value on learning and study, especially of religious texts. Torah study (compromising study of the Torah and more broadly of the entire Hebrew Bible as well as Rabbinic literature such as the Talmud and Midrash) is considered a religious obligation.

Since the Renaissance and the growth of higher education, many people, including people not of the Jewish faith, have chosen to study Jews and Judaism as a means of understanding the Jewish religion, heritage, and Jewish history.

Religious instruction specifically for Jews, especially for those who wish to join the rabbinate, is taught at Jewish seminaries (and in Orthodox Judaism, yeshivas). Among the most prominent are the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary and the Reform Hebrew Union College. For the majority of Jewish students attending regular academic colleges and universities there is a growing choice of Jewish studies courses and even degrees available at many institutions.

The subject of antisemitism the and the Holocaust, as well as the establishment of the modern State of Israel and the revival of the Hebrew language have all stimulated unusual interest in greater in-depth academic study, research, reading and lecturing about these core areas of knowledge related to current events. In the United States, the unique position that Jewish Americans have held within the nation's complex social structure has created substantial scholarship, especially with regards to topics such as interfaith marriage, political activism and influence on popular culture.

The political situation in the Middle East, especially the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has raised the profile of Jews, Judaism, and Zionism on campuses, spurring many on to study this subject for non-degree as well as for credits in obtaining a Bachelor of Arts or Master of Arts degree. A growing number of mature students are even obtaining Ph.D.s in Jewish studies judging by the quantity of courses and programs available. Many hope to obtain employment in the field of Jewish education or in Jewish communal service agencies.

Many Christians are searching for an understanding of the Jewish background for Jesus and Christianity and for the source of monotheism that sprang from Judaism. There are those who are seeking an understanding of the complex and volatile relationship between Islam and Judaism. Others are searching for spirituality and philosophy and therefore seek classes in Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) and Jewish philosophy. There are also those who have a genuine concern and attachment to modern Israel as Christian Zionists and therefore seek to learn more about the subjects related to their beliefs.

The following are only a few significant examples of places where Jewish studies are offered and flourish in an academic setting:

Albany, State University of New York

The Judaic Studies (JST) department at UAlbany offers undergraduate courses at elementary and advanced levels in Jewish history and culture, as well as Hebrew. Both a major and a minor in Judaic Studies are offered, as well as a minor in Hebrew. [1]

Courses range from basic introductory courses on particular topics in Judaic studies to more advanced seminars where students can explore questions and ideas in more depth. Many of the courses, both upper- and lower-level courses, are cross-listed with other departments, providing students with exposure to different disciplinary methods. There are also opportunities for students to earn independent study credit through which they can work on an idea or question particular to their own interests, while also gaining valuable research and writing experience. Practicum credit may also be earned by assisting a professor in a course, and Internship credit is available through community service. [2]

Qualified students also have the option of enrolling in the Honors Program to be considered for a BA in Judaic Studies with Honors upon successful completion of an honors thesis. [3]

Hebrew language classes are also available at the elementary, intermediate, and advanced levels, and for students who are advanced in their language studies, Practicum and Independent study credit may also be earned. [4]

Students may also apply for department-sponsored scholarships to help further their educational goals. [5]

The Center for Jewish Studies, which is affiliated with the Judaic Studies department, sponsor several talks each semester, which are open to both the local, as well as academic communities, and include lectures and discussions by Jewish Studies scholars and writers. [6]

Many students also take advantage of the SUNY-wide Israel study program for a semester or a year, which is overseen by the Judaic Studies department and is open to everyone. [7]

American Jewish University

The American Jewish University, formerly the separate institutions University of Judaism and Brandeis-Bardin Institute, is a Jewish, non-denominational and highly eclectic institution. Its largest component is its Whizin Center for Continuing Education in which 12,000 students are enrolled annually in non-credit granting courses. A prominent program of the Center is the university's annual speaker series, featuring luminaries like Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Colin Powell, and other political and diplomatic leaders. AJU's academic division includes the College of Arts and Sciences, leading to a B.A. degree in majors such as Bioethics (pre-med), Business, Communication Arts & Advocacy, Jewish Studies, Political Science and Psychology. In addition, AJU offers graduate degrees through the Fingerhut School of Education, The David L. Lieber Graduate School, and the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, a Conservative Jewish rabbinical seminary. AJU is host to two "think tanks," the Center for Israel Studies (CIS) and the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust. Through the Brandeis-Bardin Institute, the University has oversight over Camps Ramah, Alonim, and Gan Alonim.

Bar-Ilan University

Bar-Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, Israel, has the world's largest school of Jewish Studies, which includes 14 teaching departments, 21 research institutes, some 300 faculty members and over 2,000 students[8]). The school publishes 11 journals [9] and the only internet journal in Jewish Studies - "Jewish Studies" [10]. Flagship projects of the Faculty of Jewish Studies include: the Responsa Project [11] which is the largest data base of classical Jewish sources throughout the ages; The "Mikraot Gdolot Haketer" which is the most accurate edition of the Mikraot Gdolot; The Ingeborg Rennert Center of Jerusalem Studies [12]; and the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project [13], the excavations of the site of biblical Gath of the Philistines.

Binghamton University

Binghamton University (SUNY) offers a major and a minor in Judaic Studies (JUST). The department offers two concentrations: 1) Jewish history and culture and 2) Hebrew language and literature. There are a wide variety of courses offered. The faculty members are prolific scholars and interested in diverse areas of Jewish studies. Internship credits are available. [14]

Brandeis University

The Lown School of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, one of the most comprehensive centers for Judaic studies outside Israel, reflects Brandeis's special commitment to scholarship that illuminates issues of concern to the Jewish community, scholars in religion, and students of the ancient and modern Near East. It houses the department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, the Maurice and Marily Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, the Tauber Institute for the Study of European Jewry, the Jacob and Libby Goodman Institute for the Study of Zionism, the Bernard G. and Rhoda G. Sarnat Center for the Study of Anti-Jewishness, and the Benjamin S. Hornstein Program in Jewish Communal Service. The National Center for Jewish Film and the American Jewish Historical Society are associated with the Lown School. [15]

Brown University

Brown University offers a Judaic Studies program that includes an undergraduate concentration and graduate MA and PhD degrees. This interdisciplinary department brings scholars with a specific focus on Jewish Studies together with those from other Brown departments including history, political science, anthropology, and sociology. Faculty areas of focus include the Hebrew Language, Jewish Thought, Modern Hebrew and Jewish Literature, Ancient Judaism, Modern Jewish History, Biblical Studies, Rabbinics and Early Judaism, and Latin American Jewish Literature. [16]

Birobidzhan Jewish National University

The Birobidzhan Jewish National University works in cooperation with the local jewish community of Birobidzhan. The university is unique in the Russian Far East. The basis of the training course is study of the Hebrew language, history and classic Jewish texts. [17]

In recent years, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast has grown interested in its Jewish roots. Students study Hebrew and Yiddish at a Jewish school and Birobidzhan Jewish National University. In 1989, the Jewish center founded its Sunday school, where children studyYiddish, learn folk Jewish dance, and learn about the history of Israel. The Israeli government helps fund the program. [18]

Columbia University

The Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies at Columbia University [19] remains one of the leading institutions in Jewish studies in the country and the world. Undergraduate enrollment in these courses has historically been robust and continues to grow. Columbia also offers a joint undergraduate degree with the Jewish Theological Seminary with which it is affiliated. Columbia is home to one of the most successful graduate programs in Jewish history and Yiddish studies outside of Israel, and its graduate program in Talmud and Judaism is world renowned.

Cornell University

The Program of Jewish Studies was founded as an extension of the Department of Semitic Languages and Literatures, now the Department of Near Eastern Studies, in 1973 and attained status as an intercollegiate program in 1976. The program has grown out of the conviction that Judaic civilization merits its own comprehensive and thorough treatment and that proper understanding of any culture is inconceivable without adequate knowledge of the language, literature, and history of the people that created it. Accordingly, the offerings in the areas of Jewish languages and literatures have been considerably expanded, and courses in ancient, medieval, and especially modern Jewish history and culture have been added to the program. It is a broadly based, interdisciplinary program, bringing together faculty from various Cornell departments and colleges. The scope of the Jewish Studies curriculum covers Jewish civilization from its ancient Near Eastern origins through its contemporary history and culture in Israel and the diaspora communities around the world. It is a secular, academic program, the interests of which are diverse and cross-cultural. The program recognizes its special relationship to teaching and research in classical Judaica and Hebraica pursued by the members of the Department of Near Eastern Studies. It presently enables students to obtain basic instruction and specialization in the fields of Semitic languages; the Hebrew Bible; medieval and modern Hebrew literature; ancient, medieval, and modern Jewish history; and Holocaust studies. In some of these fields students may take courses on both graduate and undergraduate levels. Faculty throughout the university provide breadth to the program by offering courses in related areas of study. [20]

Fairfield University

The Carl and Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies at Fairfield University was founded in 1994 with an initial endowment of $1.5 million from Carl and Dorothy Bennett of Greenwich, Connecticut. The Bennett Center's goal is to provide Fairfield University students exposure to and contact with Jewish ideas, culture, and thinking. For example, the Bennett Center has brought several world-renowned lecturers to the University, including Nobel Prize-winner Elie Wiesel, Former Ambassador Dennis Ross, and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.[1]

Fairfield University also began offering an academic minor in Judiaic Studies within the Religion Department beginning in 1996. The major objective of the Program in Judaic Studies is to provide a variety of courses that will deepen students' knowledge and understanding of Jewish faith, history, and culture. It seeks to integrate Judaic Studies into the curriculum of the Fairfield College of Arts and Sciences and to offer programs and special events of interest to the University community and to audiences drawn from the Fairfield County, Connecticut community.[2]

Since their inception, Dr. Ellen Umansky has served as both the Carl and Dorothy Bennett Professor of Judaic Studies and the Director of the Carl and Dorothy Bennett Center.[3]

The George Washington University

Through the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, the Judaic Studies Program at The George Washington University offers students the able to study in the proximity to some of the most influential Jewish and Jewish-related institutions in the United States. [21] Because of its location on the Foggy Bottom campus in downtown Washington, D.C., internships with organizations such as the American Jewish Committee, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Embassy of Israel in Washington, the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum are not only easily accessible but also very common.

With study abroad connections at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, Ben Gurion University, and Haifa University there is also a strong emphasis in the program on learning Hebrew. Professors such as Max Ticktin, Eric H. Cline, Amitai Etzioni, Yaron Peleg, Lauren Strauss, Sergio Waisman, and Mark Saperstein are readily accessible to students and are considered some of the best experts in their field. For example, Dr. Eric H. Cline has appeared in many television documentaries for the National Geographic Channel, the Discovery Channel, the BBC, and the History Channel. Traveling professors such as Jacob Lassner have also taught courses at the program.

Due to its nearly perfect location in downtown Washington,D.C. students also have access to the Library of Congress. The George Washington University's Gelman Library also hosts the I. Edward Kiev Collection - one of the largest Jewish academic archives on the East Coast. [22]

Harvard University

Harvard University was the first major American university to establish a department of Judaic Studies and appointed Dr. Harry Austryn Wolfson as the first head of department: The Center for Jewish Studies at Harvard University is the focal point for the study and teaching of Judaica through publications, fellowships, lectures, and symposia on topics of interest to scholars and to the general public. The Center sponsors visiting scholars and post-doctoral research fellows and coordinates undergraduate and graduate studies on an interdisciplinary basis...Harvard was the first university in America to establish a Chair in Jewish Studies, the Nathan Littauer Professorship of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy (1925). Since then, Harvard's commitment to Jewish Studies has continued unabated, and its efforts to solidify and broaden the presence of this field in the curriculum ultimately resulted in the creation of Harvard's Center for Jewish Studies in 1978. The hope of the Harvard alumni, faculty and administration involved in this project was that the new Center would not only satisfy an unmistakable need for further growth within the University itself but would also benefit the study and teaching of Judaica throughout the country. [23]

Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The Institute of Jewish Studies of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem was established in 1924, a few months before the official opening of the university [24]. Widely considered to be the world's premier center of Jewish studies, the Institute currently includes 8 teaching departments and 18 research institutes, oversees the publication of a wide variety of journals and periodicals and has student body of over 1200 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees in Jewish studies. In addition, the university has several institutes dedicated to specific subjects of Jewish studies, such as the Institute of Contemporary Jewry [25], the Institute for Research in Jewish Law [26], the Institute of Archaeology [27], the Center for Jewish Art [28], the Jewish Music Research Center [29], the Center for Jewish Education [30], and the Department of Jewish Thought [31]. The Jewish National and University Library, which serves as the library of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, houses the world's largest collection of Hebraica and Judaica. The university also benefits from Jerusalem's unparalleled concentration of resources, which include: some 50 museums, most of which are dedicated to, or contain significant exhibits pertinent to, Jewish studies; dozens of independent research institutes and libraries dedicated to Jewish studies; over 100 rabbinical colleges representing all streams of Judaism; and the city of Jerusalem itself, the ancient and modern center of Jewish life, thought and study.

Michigan, University of

The Jean and Samuel Frankel Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan was originally formed as an independent program under the leadership of Jehuda Reinharz in 1976 and expanded into its current model in 1988. A strong faculty with a variety of expertise has allowed the interdisciplinary program to grow significantly in recent years. Areas of special interest include numerous faculty with strengths in Rabbinics, Yiddish literature and modern Jewish history. The current director, Dr. Deborah Dash Moore, is the author of GI Jews, chronicling the role of Jews in the United States military and co-editor of the two-volume Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. Other leading faculty members include Zvi Gitelman, Todd Endelman, Anita Norich, Madeline Kochen, Mikhail Krutikov, Elliot Ginsburg, Scott Spector and Julian Levinson. Recent arrivals include Ryan Szpiech (Spanish, Sephardic Culture, Medieval Iberia) and Rachel Neis (Rabbinics, Late Antique Judaism). [32]
In Fall 2005, the Frankel Center announced the establishment of a new Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies. The Institute hosts a dozen scholars annually for intensive research. The 2008-09 Frankel Institute theme is titled "Studying Jews" and visiting scholars include Hana Wirth-Nesher, Aharon Oppenhiemer, Regina Morantz-Sanchez, Howard Lupovitch, Chaya Halberstam, and Gabriele Boccaccini. [33]

Michigan Jewish Institute

MJI provides academic baccalaureate and other degree granting programs that combine an arts and sciences foundation with concentrations in Education, Leadership and General Judaic Studies for career development in applied Judaic disciplines. The Institute is part of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. [34]

New York University

The Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies offers one of the most comprehensive Jewish Studies programs in North America, encompassing Hebrew language and literature as well as all facets of Jewish history and culture, from the ancient through the medieval to the modern. Courses are taught by faculty whose specialties include ancient Judaism, medieval Jewish history, modern Jewish history, Biblical studies, Middle Eastern studies, Postbiblical and Talmudic literature, Jewish mysticism, Jewish philosophy, and related fields [35].

Northwestern University

Northwestern University is home to the Crown Family Center for Jewish Studies, which offers both a minor and major in Jewish studies. The center consists of faculty across various departments, and offers courses in Hebrew, Yiddish, Jewish history, rabbinics, Jewish literature, political science and more. Notable faculty include Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, Irwin Weil, Jacob Lassner, Beverly Mortensen and Elie Rekhess. [36]

Oxford University

This nine-month course offers a chance to study Judaism at many different stages in its history - from its roots as the religion of the Israelites to the 20th century - as well as the opportunity to develop a language important to the knowledge, understanding, practice and interpretation of the Jewish faith (or learn a language from scratch). [37]

Pennsylvania, University of

The Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania is the only institution in the world devoted exclusively to post-doctoral research on Jewish civilization in all its historical and cultural manifestations. Located in its award-winning building on Philadelphia's Independence Mall, the Center was created in the fall of 1993 by the merger of the Annenberg Research Institute and the University of Pennsylvania. [38].

Princeton University

Since its establishment in 1996, the Program in Judaic Studies at Princeton University has offered a variety of courses, lectures, conferences, film series, and exhibitions taking advantage of Princeton’s rich resources in Judaic studies in a range of disciplines and departments. [39]

San Diego State University

The Jewish Studies Program at San Diego State University (SDSU), located in San Diego, California, is an interdisciplinary program serving the students of SDSU as well as the greater San Diego community. SDSU offers a Major in Modern Jewish Studies and a Minor in Jewish Studies and are teaching a broad range of topics related to Jewish history, religion and culture from the biblical through the modern period [4]. In addition, SDSU faculty are actively engaged in teaching to the broader San Diego community. SDSU also offers a minor in Hebrew language within SDSU's Department of Linguistics, Asian/Middle Eastern Languages program [5] In addition, SDSU hosts the Archives of the Jewish Historical Society of San Diego[6] as well as the The Lipinsky Institute for Judaic Studies. SDSU is ranked #28 in the country in public universities for Jewish students [7]. SDSU has the largest Jewish student population in San Diego, and the fourth (4th) largest in California[4].

Touro College

Touro College has facilities that allow students to achieve their studies in academic and professional degrees. The College takes its name from Judah Touro and Isaac Touro, Jewish community leaders of colonial America, who represent the ideals upon which the College bases its mission.[40]

University College London

University College London (UCL) houses the largest department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies in Europe. The department is the only one in the UK to offer a full degree course and research supervision in Jewish Studies at the BA Honours, MA, MPhil and PhD levels in every subject of Hebrew and Jewish Studies—philology, history, and literature—covering virtually the entire chronological and geographical span of the Hebrew and Jewish civilisation from antiquity through the Middle Ages to the modern period. As the first university in England to open its doors to Women, Roman Catholics and Dissenters, UCL was also the first to admit Jewish students. This traditional link of the College with the Anglo-Jewish community is very much alive today. Sir Isaac Lyon Goldsmid (1778–1859), one of the leading figures in the struggle for Jewish emancipation in England, was among the principal founders of University College and the chief promotor of its Hebrew department. At his instigation, Hyman Hurwitz was appointed as the first Professor of Hebrew in 1828. In 1967 the department was renamed the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies and extended to include, in addition to the established courses in Hebrew language and literature, a much wider range of courses with an emphasis on Jewish history. The department acts as host to both the Jewish Historical Society of England (JHSE)[41] and the Institute of Jewish Studies (IJS),[42] which organises annual public lecture series and international conferences on all aspects of Jewish civilisation.[43]

Virginia, University of

Jewish Studies at the University of Virginia allows you to focus on the history, languages, and literature of the Jewish people; the beliefs and practices of Judaism; and the enduring contributions of Jewish wisdom to human civilization. Courses in Biblical and Modern Hebrew, Yiddish, Bible, Rabbinic literature, Jewish ancient and modern history, Jewish literature and culture, Holocaust studies, Jewish theology, and Jewish communities and cultures worldwide. Study abroad in Israel or in other centers of Jewry beyond America. [44]

Yeshiva University

Yeshiva University has one of the largest departments of Jewish studies outside Israel and is the home of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, the leading modern-orthodox rabbinical college in the United States. Its Jewish studies library contains over 300,000 volumes. It also houses the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies. Prominent Jewish Studies faculty members include Richard C Steiner, Barry Eichler, Debra Kaplan, Haym Soloveitchik, Ephraim Kanarfogel, David Berger, Mordechai Z. Cohen, Shalom Carmy, Steven Fine, Adam Zachary Newton, and Jeffrey S. Gurock.

See also


  1. ^ Carl & Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies at Fairfield University
  2. ^ Program in Judaic Studies at Fairfield University
  3. ^ Judaic Studies: From enrichment to enlightenment
  4. ^ a b SDSU Jewish Studies Program (accessed August 4, 2008)
  5. ^ SDSU Language Programs - Hebrew (accessed August 4, 2008)
  6. ^ SDSU Jewish Studies Program, JHS-SD Archives (accessed August 4, 2008)
  7. ^ Reform Judaism Magazine: Insider's Guide to College Schools (September 2007)

External links

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