By: Yosef Lemel  | 

YC Jewish Studies Department Dissolved, Department of Bible, Hebrew, and Near Eastern Studies Formed

The Robert M. Beren Department of Jewish Studies at Yeshiva College (YC) has been dissolved, The Commentator has learned. The changes have already taken effect for the Spring 2021 semester. Before its dissolution, the Jewish Studies Department was the largest department at YC. 

Faculty who were previously in the YC Jewish Studies Department have been moved into three separate departments, depending on their disciplinary backgrounds: Jewish Philosophy professors are now in the Philosophy Department and Jewish History professors are housed in the History Department; other Jewish Studies faculty have been moved into the newly-formed Department of Bible, Hebrew, and Near Eastern Studies. 

The YC History Department now features two divisions: General History and Jewish History. According to Dr. Joshua Karlip, who served as chair of the Jewish Studies Department before its dissolution, the decision to dissolve the Jewish Studies Department “was made by the faculty with the approval of the administration.” Karlip will serve as chair of the Jewish History division of the History Department, while Dr. Douglas Burgess will continue to chair the General History division. Dr. Ari Mermelstein was nominated by the faculty to chair the Department of Bible, Hebrew, and Near Eastern Studies. 

When asked why the changes have occurred, University Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Selma Botman told The Commentator that “It is not uncommon, in higher education, for faculty members to move from one department to another in order to align more closely with colleagues who share a common disciplinary focus.” She explained that the restructuring occurred so that professors of Jewish Philosophy and Jewish History are placed in departments in which their “training and research methodologies align with their new colleagues.” 

Rabbi Shalom Carmy, a professor moving to the Philosophy Department, told The Commentator, “I am happy to share a department with my dear friend of 50-plus years, Prof. Shatz, and with my newer friend Prof. Johnson.” Dr. Jess Olson, a professor of Jewish History, says he was “positively affected by the changes.” 

The restructuring will not result in any curricular or requirement changes for students. “Students will continue to study with accomplished and dedicated professors and all courses are being preserved,” assured Botman. Similarly, Karlip stated, “It is important to realize that Jewish History, as well as academic Jewish Studies as a whole, is alive and well at Yeshiva College,” noting a recent podcast series titled “Crisis and Hope: YU Voices” produced by Jewish History faculty as one example.  

Dr. Aaron Koller, a professor of Near Eastern Studies who previously served as chair of the YC Jewish Studies Department, expressed that the changes will “certainly make things more complicated, as multiple departments will now have to coordinate with each other to plan the [Jewish Studies] courses.”

Koller mentioned that the Jewish Studies Department has faced “huge [faculty] losses in recent years.” In the past four years, Professors Barry Eichler, Shmuel Schneider, Sarah Kasher-Bendet and Mitchell Orlian have retired, and Dr. Yaakov Elman has passed away. Other faculty members who previously taught in the YC Jewish Studies Department, including Professors JJ Schachter and Jill Katz, are currently teaching at Stern College for Women, but not at YC.  

According to Koller, “The university administration has made it clear that we will not be allowed to hire anyone new to replace all these losses, so the department has slowly – actually, rapidly! – been shrunk.” Botman did not address The Commentator’s inquiries as to whether there has been, or will be, a plan to replace the Jewish Studies faculty losses in YC.  

At press time, the university has not made a public announcement regarding the changes. The web page for the YC Jewish Studies Department is still up, while the Department of Bible, Hebrew, and Near Eastern Studies has not been added to the list of Yeshiva College departments on the YU website.

Editor’s Note: In a previous version of this article, Professor Elazar Hurvitz was listed as a faculty member who retired in the past four years and Dr. Yaakov Elman was referred to with the title of "Rabbi." The article was since updated to reflect the facts that Hurvitz still teaches at Yeshiva College and that Elman's title was "Dr." 


Photo Caption: The Jewish Department at Yeshiva College has been dissolved.
Photo Credit: Yosef Lemel