By: Jacob (Avishai) Cohen  | 

Developments In The Sy Syms Jewish Curriculum

The academic Jewish studies requirements for YU undergraduates are among the most contentious issues impacting student experience at the University. Sy Syms, perhaps in recognition of this, has recently made adjustments to the academic Jewish studies courses for its students. For new students, the University’s traditional offerings of Bible and Jewish History have been scrapped. New Sy Syms students find themselves with a brand new buffet of Jewish courses, including Jewish Engagements, taught by University Professor Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter, as well as a course with Dr. Daniel Rynhold and another, designed by Dr. Saul Berman. Pava said that in development of the curriculum, he worked with Karen Bacon, Dean of Undergraduate Arts & Sciences, and Rabbi Schacter who Pava said was “instrumental in putting this together.” According to the dean, new Sy Syms students will retain the option of fulfilling the Yeshiva College Jewish studies requirements.
Sy Syms Dean Moses L. Pava told The Commentator that four and a half years ago, he and Dean Strauss decided on “three E’s” – ethics, entrepreneurship and experience-based learning. “The first E, ethics, is something I want to see throughout the entire curriculum, not just in the morning, in Torah classes, in Sy Syms ethics classes…everywhere” Pava said. As this newspaper has previously reported, Pava’s professional career has been largely dedicated to the study of business ethics and he holds the Alvin Einbender Chair in Business Ethics at Sy Syms. Pava said that he wanted students to be aware that there is a Jewish approach to business and that he sees ethics as key to a business education. Pava noted student complaints about “the bible courses” and thought it would be an opportunity to change course, and said that the YU faculty were among “the best in the world on these topics.” He went on to say he wanted to offer courses more relevant to the education of a business student, and that the University has worked to tailor these courses to a budding business professional.
Rabbi Shachter described his course as “dealing with the relationship between Judaism and the culture around it.” The course touches on the “notion of commitment to Judaism and the challenge of choice, major issues that traditional Jews face in Western culture which emphasizes personal choice.” The course has included guest lecturers such as University Professor David Shatz who spoke about non-Jews in the Jewish perspective. Israel, Christianity and tikkun olam are on the agenda for the semester. Rabbi Schacter said that his goal for the course was to spur students to think and avoid a superficial presentation of these key issues. Pava said that the course would also address Torah u’Maddah, the motto of the University.
The Ethical & Legal Environment of Business course has also been infused with Jewish ethical values and is taught by Rabbi Emanuel Z. Feldman, a RIETS Rosh Yeshiva and Robert Greenberg, professor of Business Law and last year’s Sy Syms professor of the year. Pava described the Business & Jewish Law course as a great success and said that it would continue and complement the new line of course offerings. Pava noted that redeveloping the Jewish offerings wasn’t the most pressing issue for the faculty, but that they were very supportive of the change.
Ben Fried, a Sy Syms student in the Jewish Engagements course, told The Commentator “The class is vital to every YU student. We all should understand why such a rarity exists.” Fried said that he found Rabbi Schacter to be “an amazing lecturer” and thought the course was well organized. “What I really enjoy about this class is that it is not based on a one sided approach but rather Rabbi Schacter shows the students both sides to the argument of Torah u’Madda should co-exist,” Fried said. He went on to say that he thinks the course helps many students understand YU’s place in the world.
Echoing these sentiments, Pava said “This is the first course in the history of Yeshiva University that really deals with Torah u’Maddah. We should all be proud of that.”