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The New Curriculum Part V: An Embattled Jewish Studies Department Resisted the New Curriculum

The only area where the majority of senior faculty members resisted changes to the curriculum was within the Academic Jewish Studies Department. Jewish Studies faculty never came up with specific desired outcomes for Bible and Jewish History courses and refrained—and even snubbed—larger conversations with faculty from the college. Schedule changes forced Jewish Studies to modify the Hebrew timeslots—the only change the department conducted as part of the adoption of the new curriculum.

“Jewish studies made a decision to hunker down. We are now dealing with the aftermath,” said Dean Eichler, referring to Presidential Task Force on Torah and Jewish Studies. The committee was formed in the wake of the sweeping curricular changes to try to bring meaningful changes to Academic Jewish Studies.

“Faculty members wanted Jewish studies to be part of the conversation,” said Associate Dean Viswanathan, echoing the sentiments of many other professors in the college. Dean David Berger and Dr. Moshe Bernstein declined to be interviewed for this article.

Academic Jewish studies has always been ground zero for tensions between the Yeshiva and the University. Secular faculty often don’t understand why Jewish studies are taught in the college, given the substantial morning program, while many in the Jewish studies staff question the need for students to train in scholarly Judaic learning. Those interdepartmental tensions, according to many faculty members involved in the curriculum, translated into a resistance on the part of the department to think critically and creatively about curriculum redevelopment.

That being said, a number of younger faculty members have joined the rest of the college in advancing the new curriculum. “There are areas in which Jewish studies has integrated into the curriculum,” said Dr. Cwilich. “Dr. Jess Olson, for example, is teaching in the summer program and coordinating Cultures over Time.” Younger, tenure track professors have taken initiative in committees or have expressed interest in generating new courses to compliment the curricular changes.