President Berman, what happened to being the “first institution of Jewish education in the world”?

“By offering in one institution a comprehensive and integrated educational program that trains Jewish leaders of the next generations … Yeshiva University is the premier Jewish educational institution in the world.”

These words were spoken by President Ari Berman in his 2017 inaugural address, along with his further praise of YU as an “institution for the Jewish community and society at large.” He congratulated YU for what she had done and would do for the Jewish community and the world at large. Now, however, contrary to that optimistic view, we fear the future may be bleak for YU. He lets down his students and the community as Jewish institution.

This decline and drop in Jewish studies at YU dates back to at least 2015, when the Sy Syms School of Business (SSSB) changed its policies to remove the traditional course load from Jewish studies, including Jewish history and the Bible. . Four years later, in 2019, Yeshiva College (YC) removed the requirement for students to take an “Introduction to the Bible” course, causing enrollment to drop in a course necessary for a full Jewish education. Longtime YC Bible professor Professor Moshe Bernstein said at the time that the new requirements are “just one more manifestation of a weakening of liberal arts education at Yeshiva College.”

Now YU has expressed several other manifestations of this neglect.

In the spring of 2021, the YU administration dissolved YC’s Jewish studies department – YC’s largest department – and transferred professors of Jewish history and Jewish philosophy to the departments of history and philosophy, respectively. The waiting professors were pushed into the new department of Biblical, Hebrew and Near Eastern studies. The commentator recently learned that adjunct professors of Jewish studies at Stern College for Women (SCW) – without any warning – had been notified by email that they would not be rehired for fall 2021.

Then we found out that YU was planning to phase out their in-person Hebrew programs for students Wilf and Beren and move them to an asynchronous online model starting in the fall of 2022. Before that even happened, Biblical Hebrew was eliminated from the Wilf Campus program in its spring 2020 updates. The university’s outdated website celebrates the fact that “the Hebrew language has long nurtured the national identity of the Jewish people”, but this is clearly not a convincing enough reason to maintain the Hebrew program with normal face-to-face lessons.

For a university that prides itself on being the flagship of modern orthodoxy, these changes say a lot about YU’s priorities, and Jewish studies is not one of them.

Of course, this is not the only discipline to take precedence over YU. Indeed, liberal arts departments are also suffering the full brunt of downsizing and the feeling of second-class status on the part of the university. However, can Yeshiva Did the university honestly say that its Jewish studies programs were meant to be treated as if they were just another academic specialty?

Jewish Studies is struggling to survive with an ever-shrinking pool of faculty and college courses, and YU continues to stifle them. We call on YU to stop overthrowing its academics in Jewish studies and focus efforts on their revolution, a feat that can be made possible by following two steps:

First, the university should stop seeing Jewish studies as disposable and start seeing their existence as a fundamental part of YU’s identity. Could we imagine YU winding up undergraduate Torah programming and batei midrash under any circumstance?

Second, instead of cutting courses and dissolving departments, the university should invest its time and resources in figuring out what is wrong and looking to fix it – not with a cheaper, “easier” program. but with something that enriches our academic experience in a significant way while addressing the concerns of the university.

Provost Botman said an online Hebrew program “would improve students’ academic experiences”, giving them “greater flexibility to complete classes and manage their busy academic schedules.” The irony is that this argument was not convincing enough to prevent the university from moving the dropout date without a “W” five weeks earlier than usual, a change that students opposed. strongly.

Administration may think it is fair to assume that the average student wants a lighter compulsory college workload with “more flexibility.” That may be the case, unfortunately, but why would the university approve of this? We need a Jewish studies program that challenges us and hope YU has not given up on its mission to be “the world’s premier Jewish institution,” a statement that does not imply mediocrity.

At this stage, these suggestions can only remain general, the university having moved away from concrete explanations of its actions. If details are needed, however, here are a few: Keep the Hebrew program in person, rehire assistants from the Jewish Studies Department at SCW, and bring back a Revamped Bible Introduction requirement to YC.

In December 1991, The Commentator learned that the university was planning to close the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies. In response, more than 1,000 students signed a petition and hundreds showed up in protest, marching to President Lamm’s office and demanding that the university reverse its decision. “Jewish school, Jewish studies! They chanted. Faced with strong pressure, the university finally reversed its decision.

If YU does not stop his attack on Jewish studies – decimating the university’s Hebrew curriculum, reducing its faculty, and limiting course offerings – we fear it will reach the point where Jewish studies will be. completely forgotten. Now is not the time for YU to reconsider its mission to be the premier university for Jewish students around the world.

President Berman himself took part in the protests to save higher Jewish studies at Revel. This time, we ask him to make an effort to save undergraduate Jewish studies. As he concluded in his inauguration, “Join us on our journey. Be a part of history, as we maximize our potential, write a new chapter in Jewish history, and work to make a lasting impact on the history of all mankind.

Editor’s Note: For an article to be referred to as “The Commentator’s Editorial Board,” a minimum of 75% of the Editorial Board members, including the Editor-in-Chief, must give their assent. This editorial received unanimous support from the editorial board.

Janice G. Ball