University of Toronto’s blossoming Jewish Studies center now recognized as one of North America’s finest

University of Toronto’s blossoming Jewish Studies center now recognized as one of North America’s finest

Source: Jewish Tribune, 7-28-09

TORONTO – In the past two months alone, the number of majors at University of Toronto’s Jewish Studies centre, which had close to 2,200 students enrolled in its courses this past school year, has increased by 25 percent. By the spring of 2008, what had started out as an undergraduate Jewish studies program in 1967 evolved to become the Centre for Jewish Studies at University of Toronto (U of T), with Hindy Najman, associate professor of Ancient Judaism in the department of religion, as its director.

Last year there were 11 departments and centres that collaborated with Jewish studies; now there are 20. And while there had been 40 faculty members, now there are more than 50. As well, the Jewish Studies doctoral program, launched four years ago, has tripled in size this year, and there is a new Master’s program with 12 incoming students to date.

“I’ve worked very hard, gone to various departments to let them know the strengths of our program and what it has to offer,” Najman told the Jewish Tribune. “As a result, the students flocked to me. “The undergraduate program calls on various disciplines that touch on Jewish Studies, like religion, philosophy and political science,” she explained. “It has really been re-thought to reflect its strengths.”

Najman initiated an annual conference for graduate students, where faculty spends a full day listening to students’ papers and choosing the best ones for publication in a Jewish Studies journal. In fact, “this journal and many of the new programs are funded by two American foundations that have come to help us,” Najman said. “One is the Posen Foundation. And more recently, the Tikvah Fund of New York City, having funded Princeton and NYU [New York University] Jewish Studies programs – especially Jewish philosophy, thought and law – decided they wanted to help build our program. “They recognized, and hopefully the Toronto community will realize now, that our faculty resources are great, our students are the finest in Canada and U of T is one of the top universities in North America,” Najman enthused. “It’s time to bring us to the next stage,” she said. “There are community members who have stepped up to give support and encouragement.”

Indeed, an exciting addition is the Senator Jerahmiel S. and Carole S. Grafstein Fellowship to support advanced research in Jewish thought by post-doctoral academics from Israeli universities. Dr. Sol Goldberg, a native Torontonian, holds a doctorate in Jewish philosophy from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Among the last students taught there by the late renowned philosopher Emil Fackenheim, Goldberg is the program’s first scholar and will be mentored by Jewish Philosophy Professor Paul Franks. “One of my major initiatives this year was to build a bridge between the Jewish community and the Centre for Jewish Studies,” Najman said. “The crucial thing for me is to promote Jewish literacy, to educate the next generation of leaders and to address matters of interest to the Jewish community.” This is the first of a series on U of T’s Centre for Jewish Studies. The next article will focus on its contribution to the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit currently showing at the ROM.

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