Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home


Jewish interest in education, including its advanced forms, goes back to the early history of the people. Specialists in the history of education, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have long recognized that the *academy of ancient Judea and Babylonia was an institution of advanced instruction and research in theology and in other subjects as well. According to Lewis J. Sherrill, the academy was "a university," in which "learned scholars" pursued "the most advanced studies" and instructed those who were capable of learning.

In the Middle Ages

The advent of Christianity, with its opposition to Judaism, made impossible any Jewish identification with the learning represented by such institutions as the University of Constantinople. However, Jewish scholars were welcome in the University of Jundishapur during the reign of Nurshirwan the Just, the renowned sixth-century monarch of Sassanid Persia. In this, "the greatest intellectual center of the time" (George Sarton), Jews, Christians, Hindus, Greeks, and others furthered study and research in philosophy, science, and *medicine . Jews also played an educational role in the House of Wisdom (Bayt al-Ḥikma), the research and translation center founded in Baghdad by Caliph Abdallah al-Mamun (813–833). At this institution, alchemy, astronomy, mathematics, law, philosophy, philology, and other learned subjects were promoted by the combined efforts of Jews and Christians under the aegis of al-Mamun.

The study of medicine drew many Jews to medieval and Renaissance universities. During the latter half of the 14th century Abraham Avigdor studied medicine at the University of Montpellier. He was apparently one of the earliest Jewish students of note at a Christian institution of higher learning. In later times Jewish names were not rare in the medical faculties of European universities, especially at those in Italy.

During the 15th and 16th centuries there were several recorded instances of Jews' affiliation with universities, as a rule in connection with science, medicine, and Hebrew. Elijah Levita, the Hebrew grammarian, invited by Francis I to accept the professorship of Hebrew at the University of Paris, refused because other Jews were not permitted to live in Paris at that time. Elijah b. Shabbetai (Sabot) taught at Paris in the 15th century.

At most, the contacts between the Jews and the European universities were sporadic and tenuous. The desire for higher education could not be satisfied through such arrangements. Hence it is not surprising that the desire for advanced learning led to the formation of plans for the establishment of an institution under Jewish auspices. In 1466 King John of Sicily gave formal permission to the Jews to organize a university of their own with faculties of medicine and law, and possibly also philosophy. It appears likely that the aim of this university was to prepare young Jews for the medical and legal professions. In any event, nothing came of this proposal, especially since the Jews were expelled from Sicily in 1492 by order of the Spanish crown.

An echo of the drive for university education came a century after the Sicilian plan. In a publication in 1604, R. David *Provençal of Mantua and his son Abraham called for the establishment of a Jewish college to teach Jewish religious and secular subjects. This plan evidently anticipated a bull by Pope Pius IV prohibiting the admission of Jews to examination for doctoral degrees. With the aid of his son, a doctor of philosophy and medicine, R. David presented a suitable program of study, "so that anyone who wishes to become a physician need not waste his days and years in a university among Christians in sinful neglect of Jewish studies." Owing to the intolerance of the times, the Provençals were not able to open this yeshivah-university, but only a talmudical institute instead.

If there was discouragement from without, there can be little doubt of opposition from within regarding secular education for Jews. Opposition to secular learning arose repeatedly, on the grounds of safeguarding the integrity of Judaism against alien ideology. However, despite such disapproval, there were always traditional Jews who made an effort to combine the sacred with the secular.

Whatever the case, some Jews in the 16th century managed to obtain doctoral degrees from several Italian universities – Bologna, Ferrara, Pavia, Perugia, Pisa, Rome, and Siena. The University of Padua conferred 228 doctorates upon Jews from 1517 to 1721. Aiding the Jews in their quest for higher learning in Italy was the Senate of Venice, which bypassed the papal ban on degrees by empowering an official to grant degrees without regard to religion, thus safeguarding academic freedom at the University of Padua.

The attitude of the Catholic Church toward study by Jews changed with the times. According to the 24th canon of the Council of Basle, Sept. 7, 1434, a ban was placed upon conferring any university degree upon Jews. However, even churchmen found it advisable to ignore this decree. Thus, Pope Julius III ordered the University of Padua (on Jan. 9, 1555) to examine a Jewish student, Simon Vitale, for the doctorate. The pope's motivation was neither religious tolerance nor academic freedom, but rather the hope that conversion of the candidate and, consequently, of other Jews would be facilitated.

Even when admitted to a university, Jewish students were faced by special problems and difficulties, some originating from their religious principles and others from discriminatory treatment. An example of the former was when students had to resort to various devices to avoid desecration of the Sabbath and holidays in connection with examinations. Jews had to pay larger graduation fees than did the Christian students, and in the 15th century they were required to invite all the students to dinner. If the Jewish students were excused from wearing the Jewish cap, they were also prohibited from practicing medicine on Christians. Jewish physicians of the 16th century had few, if any, opportunities for medical research and teaching or for admission to the leading hospitals.

17th and 18th Centuries

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the barriers to Jewish study were still very firm. No doubt taking their cue from traditional Catholic practice (as well as from Luther), European universities, hospitals, and official bodies carried on a boycott of Jewish physicians (generally identified as "Italian doctors," since it was impossible for a practicing Jew to get a doctoral degree outside of Italy). Johann Jakob *Schudt , the Lutheran theologian and Orientalist from Frankfurt and author of Juedische Merckwuerdigkeiten (1714–1717), was distressed at the Catholic Italians' disregard for the canon law of the Council of Basle. He accused the Italian universities, particularly the University of Padua, of permitting "every ignoramus and even the despised Jews" to take their degrees because of their pecuniary greed. Johann Heinrich Schuette provided proof in 1745 that conferring a medical doctorate upon a Jew was "contrary to the Christian religion." Under these circumstances, it is clear that Jews were separated at this time from the universities of virtually all of Europe by a formidable iron curtain.

However, here and there were chinks in this curtain. The philosopher Baruch *Spinoza , who had been excommunicated in 1656 by the Amsterdam Jewish community, but who was still identified as a Jew, was offered a professorship at the University of Heidelberg in 1673. Spinoza turned this invitation down because he feared losing his independence of thought and expression.

The usual association between medicine and higher education is also evident in the early history of the Jews of Poland. In their society talmudic and rabbinic studies were predominant, the physicians alone obtaining secular learning at universities. The earliest Jewish physicians in Poland were Spanish exiles and alumni of the University of Padua. They were seeking a place of refuge and hoped to practice the arts forbidden to them elsewhere. It was probably their example that influenced some Polish Jews (e.g., R. Moses Fishel of Cracow) to study medicine at the University of Padua in the early 16th century. From the second half of the century to the 18th, an increasing number of Polish Jews enrolled as students of medicine at Padua.

Interesting case studies are provided by R. Tobias *Cohn and Gabriel Selig or Felix of Galicia, who succeeded in getting their doctorates in medicine and philosophy at Padua in 1683. Both had succeeded in 1678, with the intervention of the great elector Frederick William of Brandenburg, in gaining admission to the University of Frankfurt on the Oder in the face of strong opposition on the part of the faculty. Only when the Lutheran faculty, citing the Catholic Council of Basle in 1434, refused to admit Jewish students to doctoral examinations, did Jewish students go to study in the south.

Once the barrier was broken, it became less difficult for Jewish students to enter German universities. Those whom the University of krakow refused in the 18th century ventured to study medicine (and sometimes other disciplines) not only at Frankfurt on the Oder, but also at the University of Heidelberg. Only Padua exceeded the number of Jewish students at Frankfurt. It was most difficult for a Jew in the 18th century to obtain an appointment as a university lecturer in Europe, even on a temporary basis and in a subject such as the Hebrew language. The experience of Isaac Abraham *Euchel at the University of Koenigsberg in 1786 illustrates this. Euchel, who was an observant Jew, applied to the rector, Immanuel Kant, but was rejected by the university senate (minus Kant's signature) on the ground that he lacked the master's degree and that he was not a Christian.

During the 18th century, Jews studied at Harvard, Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, and Brown University (where they were excused from attendance on Saturday). Moses Levy, who graduated from Pennsylvania in 1772, became a lawyer and judge; Isaac Abrahams (A.B., Columbia, 1774) practiced medicine; and Sampson Simson (B.A., Columbia, 1800) was the first Jewish lawyer in New York. A Jew in higher education was Rabbi Gershom Mendes *Seixas of the Spanish-Portuguese Congregation of New York, who became a regent of the University of the State of New York when it was founded in 1784, and who served as a trustee of Columbia College (1785–1815).


The change in the European attitude toward opening higher education to the Jew, originating in the Enlightenment, was evident in the "Patent of Tolerance" (1782) issued by Emperor Joseph II of Austria. By this Jews could enroll their children at public schools and their young men at universities. In general, however, the change was more apparent than real, in actual practice. Nonetheless, during the course of the 19th century, young Jews began to attend European universities, at first slowly and then increasingly.

The reforms in 1812 of Karl von Hardenburg, Prussian minister of state, and of Wilhelm von Humboldt, minister of education, opened the universities to Jews. The closed door policy of the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Durham, which restricted entrance to Anglicans only, led to a movement for a secular university in England. The opening in 1827 of University College, the foundation school of the University of London, resulted in the admission of dissenters (Catholics and Jews). Finally, a parliamentary law in 1871 abolished the religious tests for Cambridge, Oxford, and Durham. The admission of Jewish faculty members followed that of Jewish students.

In the United States slow but perceptible change was made during the 19th century. Early in the century Joel Hart, possessor of a medical degree from the Royal College of Surgery in London, became a founder of the New York Medical Society and of the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. David Levi Maduro *Peixotto received an M.D. from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1819 and became professor of medicine at Willoughby College. Lorenzo *da Ponte (Emanuele, son of Geremia and Rachele Conegliano), a convert to Christianity, was appointed in 1830 to the professorship of Italian language and literature at Columbia College. As a poet and famous librettist of Mozart's opera he became one of the early contributors to the development of the teaching of foreign culture at American universities.

The 19th-century Russian policy of repression of minorities, especially the Jews, as well as that of reactionary political philosophy, was instrumental in the exodus of young Jews to universities in Germany and other countries. A Jewish scholar could become a faculty member at a Russian university only at the cost of conversion to the Russian Orthodox Church. The outstanding example of this was Daniel *Chwolson , professor of Hebrew and Syriac at the University of St. Petersburg.

The professional rosters of the German universities indicate the presence of a significant number of Jewish scholars in the 19th century. Jews also made their mark as scholars in Oriental studies in Germany.

The establishment of the first real university in the U.S., the Johns Hopkins University, in 1876, led to the appointment of several Jewish scholars, James J. *Sylvester and Fabian Franklin in mathematics, and Maurice *Bloomfield in Sanskrit and comparative philology. The Hopkins atmosphere was one of learning and research, rather than one of Christian piety. By the end of the 19th century, with the gradual growth of secularism, the spread of science, and the impact of industrialization and business, Jews attended Columbia and other universities in various parts of the United States.

The situation in imperial Russia regarding university attendance by Jews changed somewhat for the better under Czar Alexander II. However, the liberal privileges were severely curtailed under his successor, Alexander III, with the result that only a small percentage of Jews could receive a higher education in Russia during the late 19th century. The Jewish drive for higher education, stimulated by the Haskalah movement, but somewhat inhibited by the anti-secularist influence of the yeshivot, found an outlet in the universities of Germany, Switzerland, and other countries.

Modern Period

The forces which operated during the last decades of the 19th century to liberalize opportunities for Jews as professors and students in higher education were even stronger during the advancing decades of the 20th. The interest by young Jews in new fields of knowledge, such as psychology, sociology, experimental physics, and linguistics, brought about calls for their services when universities expanded their areas of teaching and research. The multiplication of the media of publication brought Jewish research scholars to the attention of academic audiences everywhere.

The growth of democratic sentiment in some countries opened the doors wider to Jewish students. On the other hand, Poland, Hungary, and Romania introduced the numerus clausus to limit Jewish enrollment. In Poland, particularly, Jews were relegated to the "ghetto benches" in university lecture halls, while periodic riots were organized by antisemitic students. During the later years of the Weimar Republic, German university students began to harass Jewish students and put pressure on Jewish professors, thus preparing for the academic repression characteristic of the Nazi regime. The opening of the Hebrew University (Jerusalem, 1925) and of the Yeshiva College (now Yeshiva University; New York City, 1928) served notice that Jews were now determined and prepared to undertake an active, leading role in the world of higher education. They would not now merely wait for Christian benevolence and for the vicissitudes of scientific and intellectual development. As time went on during the 20th century, it became evident that in universities in various parts of the world Jewish professors and students were common in virtually all fields of study. Although one cannot say that antisemitic restrictions had been abolished universally, it is clear that in the 1960s it was not at all difficult for capable Jews to make progress as students, professors, and even as administrators in higher education.

A special factor of significance during the 20th century was the impact of the policies of Nazism in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. With the application of the Nazi racial doctrines to the universities, there took place a migration of professors, research workers, and students to other countries, especially to the United States, Canada, England, and Palestine. As a result, higher education all over the world became enriched, even as the university systems of Germany and Austria became impoverished.

Of special interest is the situation in the U.S.S.R., where large numbers of Jews have been enrolled in institutions of higher education, and where professors and research workers have won signal recognition in the universities, institutes, and academies. During Stalin's "black years" (1948–53), however, a drastic reduction of their number took place, when Jewish scholars were dismissed in great numbers from their posts and many of them arrested or exiled. After Stalin's death the situation improved, but the complete absence of discrimination prevalent in the early post-revolutionary period was not restored.

In addition to teaching and scholarship, Jews have made growing contributions, in recent decades, to the administration of higher education (see below). Apart from heading institutions such as Yeshiva University (Bernard Revel, Samuel Belkin) and Brandeis (Abram L. Sachar and Charles Schottland), Jews have served as deans, vice presidents, and presidents of various institutions of higher learning. Among the rectors and presidents are Samuel Steinberg (Prague), Vittorio Polacco (Padua), Paul Klapper (Queens College), Martin Meyerson (University of Pennsylvania), Edward H. Levi (Chicago), Edward J. Bloustein (Rutgers State University of New Jersey), Maitland Steinkopf (Brandon University, Canada), Marvin Wachman (formerly at Lincoln), David N. Denker (New York Medical College), Maurice B. Mitchell (Denver), Jacob I. Hartstein (formerly at Kingsborough Community College, Brooklyn, N.Y.), and Jerome B. Wiesner (MIT). Samuel B. Gould, a convert to Christianity, was president of the State University of New York. David H. Kurtzman, formerly a professor of political science, served as acting chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh. Also to be mentioned are Abraham Flexner, director of the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton), and Simon Flexner, former professor at Johns Hopkins and Pennsylvania, and director of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research (now Rockefeller University).

[William W. Brickman]

In the U.S.


Since the end of the 19th century, the number and proportion of Jewish students in American colleges and universities has increased rapidly, parallel to the growth of the Jewish community and of the American university population in general. In 1890 general enrollment in American colleges and universities was 157,000; it passed a million in 1934–35, reached 2,100,000 in 1946, increased to 3,570,000 in 1960, and virtually doubled once again by 1968, when it reached 7,571,636. The number of institutions of higher learning grew from 998 in 1890 to 2,008 in 1960.

The growth in Jewish enrollment has been equally rapid. By the beginning of the 20th century Jewish university students were numerous enough to permit the founding of Jewish fraternities and Zionist societies and especially of Menorah chapters at several universities. A survey by the Menorah Association between 1911 and 1913 reported 21 Jewish students at Colorado, 400 at Cornell, 160 at Harvard, 100 at Minnesota, 75 at Missouri, 62 at Ohio State, 325 at Pennsylvania, 50–60 at Penn State, 50 at Rutgers, and 70 at Wisconsin.

Prior to World War I, only scattered data about Jewish campus life are available. The first statistical survey of Jewish student enrollment, in 1915, found 7,300 Jewish students, or 3.1 percent of the total student population, at 534 institutions. Subsequent studies showed 14,837 Jewish students (9.7 percent) at 108 institutions in 1919, 104,906 (9.3 percent) in 1,319 institutions in 1953, 200,000 (7.5 percent of the total college population) at 1,610 institutions in 1955, 275,000 (6.5 percent) at 850 institutions in 1963, and 375,000 Jewish students (5 percent) at 840 institutions in 1968. A survey of 59,707 college seniors of the class of 1961 by the National Opinion Research Center found that 8.4 percent were Jews; of these 62 percent were male and 38 percent female, as compared with 67 percent and 33 percent respectively in the non-Jewish student population.

Although the number of Jewish students has increased continually since 1900, the Jewish percentage of the total American college population dropped from 9.3 percent in 1935 to about 5 percent in 1968 as the overall growth of college enrollment moved at a faster pace than the Jewish enrollment. Less than 40 percent of the U.S. college-age population was in college in 1968; the Jewish percentage attending college was nearly 80 percent. More than half of all Jewish students (51.3 percent) attended public institutions, 41 percent were at privately supported colleges, and denominational institutions accounted for 7.7 percent.

New York City continued to have the largest number and proportion of Jewish college students in the world, reflecting its large Jewish population and the city's unique system of tuition-free city colleges. Nevertheless, New York City declined as a center of higher education for Jewish students after 1935, when 53 percent of all Jewish collegians in the United States studied in New York City institutions, to 50 percent in 1946, 38 percent in 1955, and 27.6 percent in 1963. The decrease was due to several factors: growing affluence enabled more parents to give their children a college education away from home; the growth of the State University of New York opened additional opportunities for study at colleges outside the metropolitan area. The liberalization of admissions policy by private colleges, mainly but not exclusively in the east, and the steady movement of the Jewish population from the inner city to the suburbs contributed further to these tendencies.

The distribution of Jewish students by professional fields of study showed 23.6 percent (as compared with 16.5 percent of all students in business administration), 18.9 percent (compared with 28 percent) in education, 17.6 percent (19.8 percent) in engineering, 8.2 percent (3.3 percent) in law, 7.6 percent (3.4 percent) in medicine, and 5.2 percent (1.7 percent) in pharmacology. Other professional fields in which Jewish students were highly represented were dentistry, optometry, psychology, and philosophy; they were proportionately underrepresented in agriculture, nursing, home economics, physical education, and physical therapy (data for 1964).


Jewish students, however, did not always gain admission to the colleges and professional schools of their choice. While admission to institutions of higher learning was, in theory, open to all students who had the necessary scholastic and financial qualifications, many institutions restricted the admission of members of minority groups, including Jews. The use of quotas was rarely admitted, but they were a persistent feature in numerous private institutions, usually reflecting the social prejudices and desire for social homogeneity of the university community, its alumni, and its supporters. In 1922, Harvard president A. Lawrence Lowell defended the existence of a 10 percent quota for Jews at Harvard by expressing concern about "the large and increasing proportion of Jewish students in Harvard College," and his policy was supported by Harvard undergraduates who claimed that "Jews do not mix [and] they destroy the unity of the college" (in: Harvard Graduates' Magazine, Sept. 1922). In 1945, Dartmouth president E.M. Hopkins justified a quota for Jewish students by emphasizing that "Dartmouth is a Christian college founded for the christianization of its students." In 1947, President Truman's Commission on Higher Education charged that quota systems and policies of exclusion had prevented young people of many religious and racial groups, but particularly Jews and blacks, from obtaining a higher education and professional training. A study by the American Council on Education (1949) showed that the average Jewish applicant for college admission had considerably less chance of acceptance than a Catholic or Protestant of comparable scholastic ability. In the same year, application forms of 518 colleges and universities and of 88 schools of medicine and dentistry were still found to contain at least one and usually several potentially discriminatory questions.

Restrictive admissions and social practices at universities began to yield to concentrated public criticism after World War II. Many veterans returning to the campus under the GI bill vigorously objected to discriminatory practices in civilian life as incompatible with the mandates of democracy for which the war had been fought. Reports and studies by federal agencies and educational associations criticized restrictive policies. Several states outlawed discriminatory practices in education and employment. As a result, scholastic merit gradually became the major criterion for admission to private institutions, although other factors – geography, preferential treatment of children of alumni, the extracurricular activities of the applicant, the desire for a balanced student body – remained operative. As a result, Jewish enrollment at private institutions rose substantially between 1940 and 1968 (at Princeton from 2 percent to 12 percent, at Harvard to 21 percent, in the Ivy League colleges as a whole to 20 percent).

At the same time, however, many state universities began to restrict their enrollment of out-of-state students. In 1969, 73 (more than one-half) restricted the admission of nonresidents. Inasmuch as New York and New Jersey constituted a major Jewish population center of the United States and both states consistently "exported" large numbers of students because their own college systems could not accommodate all applicants, this restriction grew as an obstacle to the admission of Jewish students in the rest of the country. The demands for the admission of more black students to American universities, especially to tax-supported institutions, also caused increasing concern that such redistribution would cut down Jewish admissions.


While Jewish student enrollment, despite restrictions, rose steadily after the turn of the century, the number of Jewish faculty members remained proportionately small. Before World War I, the supply of qualified American-trained Jewish college teachers was small; but even after the supply increased, restrictive policies continued to bar many Jews from academic appointments until the late 1930s, when burgeoning student enrollment and the demands of enlarged or new institutions created a growing need for additional academic staff. The way was smoothed further by federal and state legislation, especially after World War II, prohibiting discriminatory employment practices. Virtually no ethnic restrictions in faculty appointments have remained. According to a 1968–69 survey, 10 percent of more than 60,000 faculty members of all ranks and from all types of institutions (94.4 percent white) indicated they had been reared as Jews, though only 6.7 percent still gave their present religion as Jewish at the time of the survey. (A similar drop in religious identification was found among non-Jews; the percentages for Protestant faculty members were 64 percent and 45.3 percent; for Catholics, 15.4 percent and 11.8 percent.) At the same time, some leading universities, such as California, Chicago, Columbia, Harvard, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Princeton, the City University of New York, were estimated to have 15–20 percent Jewish faculty. Few Jews could, however, be found among college presidents and other top-echelon university administrators. A 1966 survey found that, although Jews constituted 10–12 percent of the student body at the 775 nonsectarian senior colleges and universities in the United States at that time, only 5 of 397 private and one of 378 publicly supported institutions had Jewish presidents (less than 1 percent). Of the 1,720 deanships at the same institutions, 45 (2.6 percent) were held by Jews; two-thirds of them were, however, concentrated in half a dozen institutions. Eleven (42.3 percent) of the 26 deans of the City University of New York were Jewish in 1966. Jewish deans could be found mainly at graduate schools of social work and schools of government and international affairs. While anti-Jewish restrictions had largely disappeared on the professional level, they seemingly continued to exist on the top level of academic administration. See also *Students ' Movements.

By the early 2000s 85 percent of American Jews received some college or university education, and more than 50% received at least a bachelor's degree. In all, it was estimated that more than half the Jews in America under the age of 65 were college graduates.

Jewish Studies

Jewish studies, defined as the systematic study of Judaism and Jewish life and experience through the ages, began to emerge in the American university curriculum to a significant degree only in the late 1930s. The Old Testament and Hebrew had long been taught, but only insofar as a knowledge of the Hebrew Bible was considered necessary for an understanding of Christianity and the training of Christian clergymen.

The first courses in post-biblical Judaism were introduced into the curriculum of American universities only toward the end of the 19th century. The development led to the appointment of the first Jewish scholars to American university posts in Judaica or related subjects. Despite persistent efforts by interested individuals and groups in the Jewish community, the number of institutions offering Judaic studies remained small; in 1945, full-time teaching staff in Judaica could be found only at Berkeley, Chicago, Columbia, Harvard, Iowa, Johns Hopkins, Missouri, New York University, Pennsylvania, and several New York City colleges. The number began to increase rapidly in the 1950s; by 1969, nearly 80 Jewish scholars were teaching full-time in American universities, and courses in Judaica were taught part-time at nearly 200 additional institutions in the country. By 2005 the number of Jewish scholars in the *Association for Jewish Studies (AJS), founded in 1969, was more than 1,500, most of whom were faculty teaching some area of Jewish studies in an institution of higher education, while 20% of the membership consisted of graduate students.

A variety of factors contributed to the growth of Judaic studies, among them the articulation of a growing demand for such studies arising from increased Jewish self-awareness generated by the impact of the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel; the democratization of academic policies and admission practices which, together with the increased social mobility and affluence of the Jewish population, led to substantial increases in Jewish enrollment and greater Jewish visibility throughout the United States; the climate of greater acceptance of Jews and Judaism by the general and academic communities, especially after World War II; the growing recognition and acknowledgment of Hebrew as a living language and of Judaism as an essential component in the fabric of Western civilization deserving of serious academic interest and study; and the postwar growth of specialized area studies and of courses and departments of religious studies.

The efforts aiming at the introduction of new or the enlargement of existing programs of Judaic studies were usually spearheaded by Jewish students, faculty members, and Hillel directors, frequently joined by other groups or agencies. Although some of there efforts may also have been stimulated by pressure for the introduction of black studies, university responses were generally based on recognition of the significance of Judaism as a major matrix of Western civilization and of its rightful claim as an authentic field of study. Some Jewish studies programs offered a major for undergraduates either in departments of religion or in departments of Near Eastern studies; others were interdepartmental.

The funds required for the support of Judaic studies came from a variety of sources. About two-thirds of the support for full-time staff was provided by university budgets; 10 chairs of Judaic studies were fully endowed; others were supported by various Jewish communal or private sources. Numerous individual courses were taught by Hillel directors (at 40 institutions) and by visiting staff provided by the Jewish Chautauqua Society, the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, and similar groups.

The number of undergraduates majoring in Judaica was estimated to be about 600 in 1969. A 1972 survey (by the Hillel Foundation) listed more than 350 institutions, not including seminaries and divinity schools, which offered at least one and usually several courses in some area of Jewish studies. Graduate studies leading to an advanced degree could be undertaken at 25 institutions as well as the major rabbinical seminaries and some Hebrew Teachers Colleges. The expansion of programs of Judaic studies in American universities was, at that time, slowed by a shortage of competent academic personnel. By 2005, more than 70 institutions had degree-granting programs of one kind or another in Jewish studies.

[Alfred Jospe]


H. Hurwitz and L. Scharfman, The Menorah Movement (1914); L.J. Levinger, The Jewish Student in America (1937); E. Roper, Factors Affecting the Admission of High School Seniors to College (1949); R. Shosteck, The Jewish College Student (1955); S. Kaznelson (ed.), Juden im deutschen Kulturbereich (19592); A. Jospe, Judaism on the Campus (1963); American Jewish Committee, Jews in College and University Administration (1966); L. Fermi, Illustrious Immigrants: The Intellectual Migration from Europe 193041 (1968); L.A. Jick, The Teaching of Judaism in American Universities (1970); A. Band, in: AJYB (1966), 3–30; A. Jospe, ibid. (1964), 131–45; Elbogen, ibid. (1943), 47–65; Bloomgarden, in: Commentary (Feb. 1960), 112–9; Neusner, in: Journal of the American Academy of Religion (June 1969), 131–40.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.