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Higher Education in Israel: Bar-Ilan University

Bar-Ilan University, located east of Ramat Gan outside of Tel Aviv, was established in 1955. The name Bar-Ilan was chosen in honor of Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan (Berlin), a spiritual leader who led traditional Judaism from the ashes of Europe to rebirth and renaissance in the Land of Israel. Bar-Ilan's mission is to blend Jewish tradition with modern technologies and scholarship and the university endeavors to teach the compelling ethics of Jewish heritage to all its students while providing them with a first-rate academic education.

In the late 1940's a plan evolved to establish a religious university in Ereẓ Israel, supported by the Mizrachi movement in the United States. The idea received further impetus under the leadership of Prof. Pinkhos Churgin of Yeshiva University in New York, and the university was inaugurated in 1955. Classes opened with 80 students and 19 lecturers. At the opening ceremonies, Prof. Churgin said that Bar-Ilan would "demonstrate that Judaism is not a cloistered way of life, removed from scientific investigation and worldly knowledge." Named for Meir Bar-Ilan (Berlin), Bar-Ilan received little encouragement in Israel at the outset. The government doubted the need for another university in addition to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Agudat Israel and similar Orthodox groups were fearful of imperiling certain types of religious education, particularly the yeshivot. However, it gradually became clear that Bar-Ilan served an important function in combining modernity with tradition, and in expanding the country's scientific and Jewish studies' capabilities. Prof. Churgin served as first president of the University. In 2005 Moshe Kaveh was president. In 1957 Prof. Joseph Lookstein was appointed chancellor, holding the position until 1976. Under Lookstein's leadership the university grew rapidly and received a charter from the State of New York (the only institution of higher learning in Israel to do so).

The Bar-Ilan campus is located east of the city of Ramat-Gan and administers another five regional colleges throughout the country. The campus includes 63 buildings, 165 classrooms, 130 laboratories, and 25 libraries. It employs 1,650 academic staff, teaching in six faculties and 38 academic departments: exact sciences, natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, Jewish studies, and law. The campus also includes schools of education, social work, engineering, and business administration. In 2005 Bar-Ilan had 31,200 students and 59,000 alumni. Its annual budget was $130 million.

Bar-Ilan is the only Israeli university where all students benefit from a compulsory enrichment program in Jewish heritage (Bible, Jewish literature and history, ethics, culture, etc.), in addition to the full university curriculum. The university offers over 500 elective courses in Basic Jewish Studies. Degrees offered by Bar-Ilan's academic departments include: B.A., B.Sc., LL.B., M.A., M.Sc., M.S.W., LL.M., M.B.A., and Ph.D.; diplomas in communications, local government, music therapy, teaching, translation and interpreting. It has also taken a leading role in applied scientific research in the biomedical and pharmaceutical fields, and houses several national scientific centers, such as the Israel National Center for Magnetic Measurements. The university also houses highlevel research centers in the fields of physics, medical chemistry, mathematics, brain research, economics, strategic studies, psychology, music, archaeology, and Jewish philosophy and law. Unique to Bar-Ilan are the Institute for Advanced Torah Studies and the counterpart Midrasha for Women, through which over 1,300 students combine intensive yeshivah-style studies with a full academic curriculum.

Bar-Ilan maintains academic cooperation agreements with 54 leading universities around the world. There are 64 endowed chairs and 66 research centers operating at the university, including several leading research institutes in physics, medical chemistry, mathematics, brain research, economics, strategic studies, developmental psychology, musicology, Bible, Talmud, Jewish education, Jewish law and philosophy. A special project of the university is the publication of responsa texts, historical and present, with special computer applications developed for this purpose. Bar-Ilan University Press published to the mid-1990s some 350 publications in addition to 20 periodicals and professional journals. The university owns the Bar-Ilan Research & Development Company aimed at marketing research results to private companies. The university sponsors many social and community outreach projects, including a prisoner rehabilitation effort, a big-brother program, legal aid, study programs for senior citizens, educational counseling, and a network of social counselors in development towns.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved; Bard, Mitchell G. and Moshe Schwartz. 1001 Facts Everyone Should Know About Israel. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005.