Jewish studies on the college campus in the United States started at Harvard University after Harry Austryn Wolfson(1) was appointed the Nathan Littauer Professorship of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy in 1925. Before then Bible and Hebrew were taught, but not as Jewish studies. Doctorates before 1925 were completed in other departments. In the 1960's and 1970's Jewish studies programs increased with the rise of all ethnic studies. The web site: Jewish studies internet directory [http://www.uni-duisburg.de/FB1/JStudien/judaica.htm] lists 52 colleges and universities in the United States have Jewish studies programs. The programs greatly vary in size from one teacher to more than 22 professors. I am starting a series profiling some professors of Jewish studies in major universities.
In preparing this article I was cautioned by Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz that the pressures of a "publish or perish" atmosphere in academia may lead to examining issues and difficulties that are trivial. That is why I am not profiling one Jewish studies professor (who shall remain nameless) who publishes 15-20 books a year and has more than 600 books and articles to his name. For this column I am searching for careful scholars who have published significant works of Judaica. Names came to me after searching the internet for Jewish studies programs and readers of this column told me about some of their favorite teachers. Please let me know if you have a favorite teacher.
A happy and kosher Pesah!
Jewish Studies at Yale University
The program in Judaic Studies at Yale offers an interdisciplinary approach to the critical study of the religion, history, literature, languages, and culture of the Jews from ancient to modern times. Jewish society, texts, ideologies, and institutions are studied in comparative historical perspectives in relation to the surrounding societies and cultures.
In addition to the Department of Religious Studies students also have courses available in the Departments of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Comparative Literature, and the Yale Divinity School. Degrees may be completed in ancient, rabbinic, medieval, or modern periods of Judaism.
Dr. Steven D. Fraade was the chairman of the Department of Religious Studies from 1996-1999 before returning to full-time teaching. He holds the title of Mark Taper Professor of the History of Judaism. His particular interests are the history of Judaism, Dead Sea Scrolls, Rabbinic literature and thought, and the history of the synagogue.
He is the author of the following books Enosh and His Generation: Pre-Israelite Hero and History in Post-Biblical Interpretation (1984) and From Tradition to Commentary: Torah and Its Interpretation in the Midrash Sifre to Deuteronomy (1991) and about 35 articles and book reviews. His forthcoming book is: Targum and Torah: Early Rabbinic Views of Scriptural Translation in a Multilingual Society.
Two pieces that he wrote drew me to Dr. Fraade. The first was an article that he wrote for his shul newsletter. Dr. Fraade is the chairman of his shul's religious committee (i.e. gabai). He pleaded with his fellow members to come to the daily minyan. He wanted members to commit to coming to shaharit one or more days per week. The second piece was in the preface of his book, From Tradition to Commentary. He says that this work is the result of eight years of study and another eight years before that of thinking. The learning process began in a graduate seminar on the Sifre's(2) commentary on Devarim taught by Dr. Judah Goldin in 1975-76. Fraade put the study of Sifre on hold while he completed his doctoral dissertation and its later revision for publication. His thanks the persons, institutions, and foundations that helped him in the process of examining the Sifre in the mastering of the methodology and tools needed for this interdisciplinary study.
This book examines Torah and its interpretation both as a recurring theme in the early rabbinic commentary and as the very practice of the commentary. Fraade also probes the tension between Torah and nature as witnesses to Israel's covenant with God.
Dr. Paula Hyman is the Lucy Moses Professor of Modern Jewish History at Yale. She was one of the first women appointed to a named professorship in Jewish studies at a major American university. A top rated Jewish history scholar formerly of Columbia University and Jewish Theological Seminary. Her particular interests are in area of French Jewish history and in Jewish women and their role in Jewish history. Her scholarly books include: The Jews of Modern France. Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1998; Gender and Assimilation in Modern Jewish History: The Roles and Representation of Women. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995. The Emancipation of the Jews of Alsace: Acculturation and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991; The Jewish Family: Myths and Reality (edited with Steven M. Cohen). New York: Holmes and Meier, 1986; From Dreyfus to Vichy: The Remaking of French Jewry, 1906-1939. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979 and about 52 articles.
1. Harry Austryn Wolfson, one of the 20th century's great humanists, a prolific and creative scholar in the history of philosophy. He was Jewish Studies' scholar laureate, acclaimed and admired throughout the world, beloved and honored. Some of his works are: Crescas' Critique of Aristotle: Problems of Aristotle's Physics in Jewish and Arabic Philosophy (1929); The Philosophy of Spinoza: Unfolding the Latent Processes of His Reasoning, 2 vols. (1934).
Professor Wolfson's was a strong supporter of collecting Judaica for the library. He said, that the library's objective is "to acquire every book that may be helpful to the scholar in his researches, or the presence of which may be stimulative to new researches" has guided the growth of Harvard's remarkable collection that today numbers over 250,000 items.
2. Sifre is Aramaic for books (plural) referring to the commentary on the books of Bamidbar and Devarim. Sifra (book, singular) refers the commentary on Vayikra.
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