By: David Rubinstein  | 

Belz to Downsize, Expand Online

The Philip and Sarah Belz School of Jewish Music will downsize its operations beginning next semester as Yeshiva University’s financial woes claim their latest victim. Starting in Fall 2015, Belz will no longer offer courses in music theory and will be moving many of its classes online.

“We will be focusing on the classes that are unique to Belz,” said Cantor Eric Freeman, Belz’s Assistant Director. Belz’s downsizing comes amid a series of reformations across Yeshiva University as the school looks for ways to cut costs and decrease its deficit. Among the notable changes recently announced is the consolidation of the faculties of Yeshiva College and Stern College for Women into one Faculty of Arts and Sciences under the deanship of Karen Bacon.

[caption id="attachment_4109" align="alignleft" width="213"] Cantor Bernard Beer.[/caption]

Despite the cutback, Cantor Beer remains optimistic about the cantorial school. Offering online courses will allow Belz to have “a wider reach than almost any institution, except perhaps some schools in Israel,” he said.

Freeman is also excited about the technological advance: “As alumni move away, they wish they could continue taking classes at Belz. Now they really can,” Cantor Freeman said.

Yeshiva University’s school of Jewish music was first named the Cantorial Training Institute. In 1984, it was renamed in honor of Mr. Philip Belz of Memphis, who contributed generously to the institution, and in memory of his wife Sarah. According to the school’s website, Belz “emphasizes synagogue service and community activities as a whole,” preparing students both for professional and lay leadership in synagogue prayer and music education.

A division of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, Belz is housed in the red-bricked Schottenstein Center on West 185th Street between Audubon and St. Nicholas Avenues. This semester, the school offers courses including voice culture, keyboard work, and Sephardic Liturgical Music. In addition to teaching prayer melodies and instrumental music, Belz is the seat of the Cantorial Council of America and even has a scribal training program.

Yeshiva students were sad to hear of Belz’s downsizing. David Freilich, a computer science major taking the Shabbat II class (Musaf Prayer) at the cantorial school, considers Belz a “unique aspect of our Torah Umadda philosophy” and “an irreplaceable asset.” Jonah Sieger, a marketing major who took the course on Maariv of the Three Regalim/Yamim Noraim last fall, is “very disappointed” to hear that the school is cutting back. “I was in a class of two and had the privilege of one-on-one interaction with Cantor Goffin, a world-renowned cantor,” Mr. Sieger remarked. He is relieved that despite the cutbacks, Belz remains committed to “providing individual instruction within the broader class framework,” as Freeman assured.

The downsizing of the Belz School of Jewish Music is another alarming instance of the direct ramifications of YU’s financial woes on academic opportunities. “The whole University is tightening its belt,” Cantor Beer reflected. “We are, too, but we’re taking this as an opportunity for progress.”