Librarian's Lobby
by Daniel D. Stuhlman

May 2001

Jewish Studies at Washington University, St. Louis


In 1965 Washington University in St. Louis appointed its first professor of Jewish studies, Rabbi Dr. Steven S. Schwarzschild(1), 1924-1989. He was appointed as an associate professor in the philosophy department. He was also the editor of the scholarly journal, Judaism. I remember him well because his son was one of my high school friends. In those days, there was no Jewish studies department. Professors from many departments taught Judaica courses. Students who wanted to earn degrees in a Judaica subject had to put together their own programs. Library resources were limited.

Today, Dr. Hillel Kieval (son of a congregational rabbi) is the Gloria M. Goldstein Professor of Jewish History and Thought and is the head of the Jewish and Near Eastern Studies Program. There are five full professors, five associate professors, two assistant professors, and five lecturers in the program. They teach courses in history, languages, rabbinics, and Bible.

Dr. Kieval recently wrote, Languages of Community : The Jewish Experience in the Czech Lands. (December 2000). This book deals with a community that has fewer books written about it than other European countries. David Sorkin writes, "Kieval has a masterful command of a century and a half of Czech Jewish history, which he brings to bear in a sophisticated manner." The book is written for scholars and other who want to understand the history of this tortured path through history. The book deals with history from the late eighteenth century to the late twentieth century of Bohemia and Moravia which today are parts of the Czech Republic. Kieval is also the author of The Making of Czech Jewry (1988).

When I talked with Dr. Kieval he told me that the program at Washington University combines the study of Islamic and Jewish culture. They require students to take a common introductory course, one course in the other discipline and a course together at the end of their major. Students have the opportunity to explore subject areas such as the history and philosophy of Europe as they relate to Jewish studies. Foreign language departments teach the languages and literature necessary for reading original documents.

The Jewish and Near Eastern Studies program is interdisciplinary program drawing from academic areas such as language, literature, history, philosophy, and the social sciences. The Washington University program is configured in a distinctive way. It is part of a larger, comprehensive program in "Jewish, Islamic and Near Eastern Studies." The net result is a contextualized, and multi-dimensional major. Students graduate with an appreciation of the complexities, depth, diversity, and cultural wealth of Jewish and Near Eastern peoples and societies in their historical contexts from antiquity to the present and an understanding of the interaction of Near Eastern societies and cultures with those of neighboring peoples (Greeks, Romans, medieval Christian Europe, and modern Western nations.) As in any liberal arts program, a good curriculum teaches students how to think critically about their own environment and about the past; this is a skill that is applicable to any profession or walk of life that a student might choose for him/herself in the future.

A major requires 24 credits plus mastery or Hebrew, Arabic or another language approved by the department. A minor requires 15 credit units. Students are encouraged to study abroad at Hebrew University or another equivalent program.

M.A. and Ph.D. programs are available, but the student must apply to an academic department such as philosophy, history, comparative literature, or language that is appropriate to the student's area of interest. The faculty of the Jewish Studies program will offer instruction and guide the graduate students. Graduate students may need to spend time visiting libraries and archives containing primary materials in their area of study. Washington U. students have also earned doctorates in education doing research in Jewish education.(2)

The Washington University Library possesses a Judaica collection of approximately 20,000(3) volumes in all areas of Jewish Studies, with special emphasis on Jewish philosophy, intellectual history, Jewish history, and Jewish journals of the 19th century. This is a solid collection for the undergraduate and is probably the largest collection of Judaica in the St. Louis area. The library has not been systematically collecting Judaica for a long time compared to the history of the institution. It has purchased all the books and other materials that the faculty has recommended and has received many gifts from community members. The library is lacking in primary materials (such as archival materials and old periodicals) required by graduate students to do primary research.

The Jewish studies program is a mature program that affords the liberal arts student an opportunity to learn Judaism in a large urban university. Washington University is an highly rated university with a beautiful campus. It has a large number of Jewish students and students from the Chicago area. There are ample opportunities for the observant student. The dormitories are within walking distance of Congregation Bais Abraham (Orthodox). The rabbi, Abraham Magence, was one of my teachers.

1. His writings were collected in: The Pursuit of the Ideal: Jewish Writings of Steven Schwarzschild/ edited by M. Kellner (Albany: SUNY Press, 1990). He emigrated to the U.S. in 1939 with his family from Germany. Before his appointment to Washington U., he was a professor at Brown University. An interesting coincidence is the fact that Rabbi Schwarzchild was a congregational rabbi in the mid-1950's in my wife's home town, Lynn, MA, but she never met him.

2. Rabbi Bernard Lipnick published a version of his Ed.D. thesis as, An Experiment That Works (New York, Bloch Publishing Company, 1976). I found other thesis on Jewish topics in the Washington U. Library collection from as early a 1934 MA thesis on the Jewish immigrant community in St. Louis.

3. Compare this to the University of Chicago's collection of over 140,000 physical volumes, Spertus Institute's 110,000 volumes, and HTC's 50,000 volumes. Northwestern University, Loyola University and DePaul University libraries have interdisciplinary collections and do not have any counts of their Judaica volumes. 

Daniel D. Stuhlman is president of Stuhlman Management Consultants, Chicago, IL, a firm helping organizations turn data and information into knowledge. Previous issues of Librarian's Lobby can be found at: He can be reached via e-mail at:

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