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YU Looks to Broaden Torah U’Madda Appeal with Refurbished IBC Curriculum

In the wake of recent student demand, YU is conducting a reevaluation of its Isaac Breuer College of Hebraic Studies (IBC) track and plans to widen the program’s appeal through the implementation of a more rigorous and broadened core curriculum. Prompted by the minority of students who prefer a more varied Jewish studies syllabus, the reforms could potentially address the needs of IBC’s more advanced students looking for a less Gemara-oriented curriculum.

The plight of the student with a preference for studying broader Judaic disciplines over the exclusive study of Gemara is not a recent phenomenon.  Few if any gap-year yeshivot offer a diversified curriculum that can rival the seriousness of its Talmudically-focused counterparts, due in large part to the unlikelihood of a comparable degree of dedication under such a curriculum. This issue specifically manifests itself in Yeshiva College in the school’s overwhelming emphasis on the development of its Mazer Yeshiva Program (MYP) and Irving I. Stone Beit Midrash Program (SBMP).

Rabbi Yona Reiss, who serves as the Max and Marion Grill Dean of RIETS and is playing a central role in the college’s reevaluation of the IBC program, stressed the Yeshiva’s concern in accommodating the demands of students of all intellectual preferences. Specific enhancements to the program are still in their formative stages, but IBC students can expect opportunities for more in-depth studies of Biblical and philosophical topics, surveys of Biblical archaeology and a more intensive Hebrew language program.

Whether such a reevaluation would indeed better suit the greater IBC populace is still unclear. A large number of the school’s IBC students specifically opt out of the college’s MYP and SBMP alternatives for the simple reason that they do not have the skills necessary to succeed in a strictly Gemara-oriented schedule. On the other end of IBC’s academic spectrum are those who are well versed in Gemara but prefer to dedicate equal amounts of time to other Judaic disciplines. “For me, IBC is ideal because it offers a more varied array of Jewish subjects that’s a lot more thorough than the heavy Gemara I’ve had in Yeshivas until now,” said Asher Perez (Syms ’14). Others choose IBC not just for its substantive range but additionally for the format in which it is presented. “I prefer to study Judaic subjects in an academic rather than yeshiva setting,” says Benjamin Scheiner (YC’14). “Now that I am in university, I am no longer interested in the traditional shiur-beit midrash format; I would rather sit in a classroom listening to a university-trained professor.”

However, sitting through a comparably easier  IBC Talmud shiur can sometimes seem like a steady price to pay for the opportunity to study other topics. Consequently, some students have begun petitioning for the implementation of an IBC honors program which would offer a unique blend of Judaic disciplines to accommodate those IBC honors students who excel in their afternoon studies and are looking for a similar challenge in their mornings.

However, in order for a refurbished IBC program to thrive, there would first need to be a sufficient quantity of students who elect to take such classes. While a number of current IBC students may opt to elevate their studies in this manner, there would undoubtedly be a need for a significant number of previously skeptical MYP and SBMP students to perhaps cross over to the IBC track.

The goal of a reimagined IBC program is to accommodate the intellectual spectrum that the college’s Judaic program currently does not comprehensively address. For now, however, the administration will continue to gauge the relative appeal of a broadened IBC program and determine whether there is a significant enough minority of students that would benefit from such reforms.