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Jewish Studies Proliferate, B’nai B’rith Study Shows

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As little as 10 years ago, Jewish studies were largely restricted to Sunday schools, yeshivas and rabbinical seminaries. Now they are proliferating in the curricula of many American colleges, a B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundations survey has revealed. More than 350 colleges, exclusive of seminaries and divinity schools, offer at least one Judaica course for credit and more than 40 schools offer an undergraduate degree in Jewish studies, the Hillel study shows.

“The increasing self-awareness and minority assertiveness that pervaded campuses in recent years propelled the growth of Judaica as an academic study,” said Dr. Alfred Jospe, national director of the Hillel Foundations, in analyzing the study for the B’nai B’rith board of governors meeting here last week.

Dr. Jospe cautioned, however, against mistaking the purpose of collegiate Jewish studies as “influencing Jewish commitment and identification among young Jews. That may happen,” he said, “but the essential purpose of the program is the study of Judaism and the Jewish people as an academic discipline, not as an expression of ethnicity.”

The most common course offerings, the study found, are Hebrew language and literature, taught in 165 schools. The study of Yiddish can earn students credit in 17 schools. Other prevalent courses include Jewish history, philosophy and theology while such specialized courses as Hasidism, Jewish art and music are also available. One third of the 350 colleges offers five or more courses and 25 include Judaica in their graduate programs.

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