Special to the JTA Two Universities in Brazil Have Begun Teaching Courses in Hebrew Language and Jew
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Special to the JTA Two Universities in Brazil Have Begun Teaching Courses in Hebrew Language and Jew

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Moshe Davis, academic chairman of the Jerusalem-based International Center for University Teaching of Jewish Civilization, reported here that two universities in Brazil have begun teaching courses in Hebrew language and Jewish culture.

The developments, according to Davis, are the result of the continued efforts of the Center in Jerusalem in close cooperation of the Brazilian Committee affiliated with the Center, The Associacao Universitaria de Cultura Judaica, whose president, Leon Feffer, played a leading role in arranging the agreement for the teaching of the new courses.

Davis noted the developments in an interview today with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency after having recently returned from a nine-day visit to Brazil under the auspices of the Associacao. He is scheduled to visit London later this week and Paris soon there after.

The Jerusalem-based Center was designed several years ago to study and then formulate policy for meeting the growing need for Judaica studies on the university level throughout the world. Former Israeli President Yitzhak Navon affirmed the Center’s original mandate under theaegis of the Israeli Presidency and it was again reaffirmed by Israeli President Chaim Herzog.

The courses in Hebrew language and Jewish culture were established at the Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP) and at the Sao Paulo Pontificia Universidade Catolicia. The courses at both universities are offered to Jewish and non-Jewish students and may be used as credit toward academic degrees.


Davis said that he was not personally surprised by the two universities’ actions. “The teaching of Jewish civilization on the campus … has been legitimated in most countries of the world as part of Western civilization,” Davis said.

Davis said that there are already an estimated 700 universities and colleges worldwide which teach courses, and in some cases, offer full departments for Jewish cultural programs. There are now 300 more institutions that will be added to a survey conducted in 1981, said Davis, and which will be updated soon.

Davis added that he interprets the turn-around and development of Judaica programs to the influence of the State of Israel on Western culture and civilization. “Hebraic culture is now at center stage,” he said.

Furthermore, Davis said, the Jewish communities in various cities act as catalysts for the development of such programs in their respective universities, but said that overall, the programs must be a “purely academic enterprise.”

The Universidade de Sao Paulo is currently one of the few universities with a “full fledged department” teaching Hebrew and Judaic civilization and has thus become an institution of considerable interest for Brazilian Jewry.

During the nine-day visit to Brazil, Davis met with faculty members of the Universidade de Sao Paulo and with Jewish community leaders and the Sao Paulo Jewish Federation. Also, during the course of meetings with the Brazilian Committee affiliated with the Center, a three-year program for development of Judaic civilization programs in Brazil was outlined. It was agreed by the Committee, according to Davis, that the following steps will be taken:

A faculty development program in Brazil of Brazilian Jewish teachers who would teach in the universities; regular visits to Israel of existing faculty and teachers of Jewish curriculums; and a publication program to include a Judaica studies library catalogue in Portuguese, including preparations of syllabi.

According to Davis, Jewish student participation in the study of Jewish civilization may run as high as 85 percent in the United States and as low as 35 percent in other nations. But he emphasized the importance of Jewish cultural studies as it serves as a meeting ground for those “committed” and those “alienated.”

An estimated 130,000 Jews live in Brazil with half of them concentrated in Sao Paulo. Some 50,000 Jews live in Rio de Janiero, according to a recent issue of the Zionist Year Book.

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