Vassar Today

New Major in Jewish Studies

Next year the Vassar catalogue will have one more listing under the heading "Multidisciplinary Programs." Jewish Studies, formerly a correlate sequence, has achieved official status as a major. Pending final approval from the New York State Board of Education, students will be able to declare the major starting in the fall of 2000.

Deborah Dash Moore, professor of religion and acting director of Jewish Studies, explains that a full-fledged major in Jewish Studies has been the goal since the beginning of the program some three years ago. She and other members of the faculty, including Professor of Hispanic Studies Andrew Bush, who will serve as director of the program next year, and Professor of Anthropology Judith Goldstein, worked doggedly with Assistant Professor of Religion and Coordinator of Jewish Studies Marc Michael Epstein to help the program mature.

"Marc worked very hard to build up the correlate," said Moore. "He created a dynamite intro course and intermediate course and worked very hard to build up student interest and to reach out to various faculty to develop their interest," she said. Epstein is on sabbatical in Jerusalem this year.

"Jewish Studies," the faculty wrote in a formal proposal for the major, "involves more than the study of Judaism. Neither Jewish Studies as an academic discipline nor all Jewish people construct Jewish identity and historical experience as a religion. A multidisciplinary approach is needed to situate Judaism in the broader historical experience of the Jewish people." While the department of religion has provided the faculty and course material for a large part of the correlate requirements, many other departments-including history, Italian, psychology, sociology, political science, and Hispanic Studies-also contribute substantially to Jewish scholarship and studies.

Funding from several sources, including as the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation, the Susan Stein Shiva Foundation, the Jules and Doris Stein Foundation, and a grant from Suzanne Rubenstein Fishman '55 and her husband Lawrence, will be used to implement the expanded program. These sources will also help to bring in visiting scholars, both for faculty and student seminars, as well as to increase physical resources, such as books and research materials.

Students who declare a major in Jewish studies will have to complete 12 units in the curriculum, including four units of college-level Hebrew, two 300-level courses, and at least five other courses drawn from either the Jewish studies curriculum or a list of approved courses. The program will explore the diversity of the history and culture of Jews in Western and non-Western societies. Seniors in the program can elect to complete a thesis for honors distinction, and juniors are encouraged to get first-hand knowledge of the Jewish culture through the Junior Year Away Program.