By: Michael Klein  | 

The New Syms Jewish Cores -- Values vs. Texts

This past year, the Sy Syms School of Business decided to revolutionize its General Education requirements within Jewish Studies. In the past, Syms students, just like Yeshiva College students, were required to take 20 credits of academic Jewish Studies courses on the Wilf Campus. Of these 20 credits, six were from Hebrew Language, eight were from (two-credit) Bible classes, and six were from (three-credit) Jewish History classes. Now, Dr. Moses Pava, the Dean of Syms, has changed the requirements by offering two options for business students: either follow the YC core curriculum (like the old Syms requirements), or take the new Syms cores. The Syms cores consist of three consecutive Jewish studies classes, each offered only once per year. Additionally, students are obligated to take Business and Jewish Law, taught by both Rabbi Ozer Glickman and Rabbi Daniel Feldman, during a semester of the their choosing.

So far, only one of these new courses has been given- “Jewish Engagements: Jewish Values in a Contemporary World,” taught by Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter, Senior Scholar at Yeshiva University's Center for the Jewish Future. The second course in the new curriculum, titled “Jewish Values in a Contemporary Society,” will be taught by Dr. Daniel Rynhold, an Associate Professor of Modern Jewish Philosophy in Revel Graduate School. The third and final course has not yet been finalized, but it will focus on being a leader while upholding Jewish values, according to Dean Pava. It will likely be called “Jewish Public Policy”.

There have been some rumors swirling that President Richard Joel might teach or co-teach the course. After all, who better to teach a course about incorporating Judaism into leadership than the President who advocates shleimut, the combination of Torah and secular matters? However, when asked about the opening, Joel responded that he declined to teach the course, noting that he wasn’t the appropriate person. Said Joel, “I want to maintain the integrity of the offerings, and I think when Dean Pava thought about it he understood and agreed with that. I’m happy to be invited as a guest lecturer but these courses have to have legitimate Torah content, legitimate Jewish academic content.”

With such a star-studded line up, expectations are running high. I was lucky enough to participate in Rabbi Schacter’s “Jewish Engagements” class, which was stimulating and practical for everyday life. There were some mixed feelings amongst the students due to the fact that there were many weekly reading assignments, especially considering that the class was only worth two credits. However, there were review sessions held by TAs which were helpful in aiding the students to understand the depth and spectrum of Rabbi Schacter’s lectures. The impression made was that Rabbi Schacter and his TAs were more interested in the students gaining from the class and participating in it, than in testing them on their memorization skills of different opinions. One particular challenge for Rabbi Schacter, and presumably the rest of the professors in this series, is catering to such a wide audience. Students from all different backgrounds and identities are taking the same class, so it will be difficult to keep everyone captivated without letting pupils fall behind. The review sessions with TAs were helpful, and they will be the key for future classes to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Dean Pava explained the reasoning behind the change in curriculum. He believes that young adults in the business world will be confronted with situations which will cause conflicts between business intellect and Jewish values. In such a high-pressured environment, how are we to maintain our integrity and conduct business properly in accordance with our Jewish principles? This is the purpose of this new series: to instill students with the necessary tools to be successful in the business world, while upholding the values of Judaism. To paraphrase Dean Pava, if one wanted to study Judaic texts and history, one could go to just about any college and find similar courses, often taught by religious Jews. What makes Yeshiva University unique is that it instills Jewish values and focuses more on developing individuals than on studying texts and history. “Business students especially need to be equipped with courses dealing head on with these issues, rather than extrapolating on their own,” says Dean Pava. The cores have become more practical than theoretical. This focus on real-world application is especially critical for Syms students, as such conflicts of values are quite frequent in the business world. Be it a conflict as grand as the Volkswagen scandal or as small as junior analysts cheating on their company exams, moral dilemmas come up all the time. We need to be firm in our beliefs and Jewish values to succeed in the real world.

Another reason for focusing on values, rather than texts, is the disparity between students. With classmates on such different levels of Hebrew comprehension and exposure to Judaism, it is nearly impossible for the professors to cater to all of them in textual understanding. This, as mentioned previously, will also be a challenge in the current system, but it is far easier to teach values, which are equal to all, than scriptural texts. Additionally, many students complained that this part of their education was previously irrelevant. Students feel that they will never be asked to explain age-old texts, so it shouldn’t be a core part of their education.

So why hasn’t Yeshiva College made the transition as well? Because their administration believes that the understanding of Jewish scripts and history is an integral part of our Jewish identity, said Dean Pava. For this reason, Dean Pava is still allowing students to choose between the YC and Syms core Jewish programs. We have the power to choose what we feel is more central to our growth in Judaism. Dean Pava also hopes that YU will become the forefront of a revolution amongst yeshivot and educational institutions to place a much stronger emphasis on values and application of Judaism to contemporary society rather than the more traditional focuses of expounding texts and the past. This revolutionary method of educating is what Dean Pava hopes will become the standard for all Jewish institutions throughout the world.