Unique New Degree Offered at Bar-Ilan University

Jewish Studies encompasses a diverse range of disciplines, which combines aspects of Jewish history from ancient to modern times; Jewish literature and linguistics in Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, and the other Judaic languages; Judaism, the religion; Jewish thought, theology, philosophy, and mysticism; Bible and biblical interpretation, rabbinic literature and culture, Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews, Holocaust Studies, Israel Studies; Jewish politics; the Jewish arts; archaeology; sociology; and more.

However, when it comes to choosing what to study as an undergraduate student from this vast range of choices, most programs are limited to specific departments and one or two majors, and very few cross over between the different departments – until now.

Students of Jewish studies will be able to benefit from a unique and diverse degree program that has no equal internationally.

Bar-Ilan University’s International School and the Multidisciplinary Department of Jewish Studies have introduced a new Bachelor of Art’s degree, which will be taught entirely in English and will open up the world of Judaism in all its facets – a Multidisciplinary BA in Jewish Studies.

This new offering enables students to take a wide variety of courses from all departments and fields that are included within the Faculty of Jewish Studies – in English or in Hebrew – enabling international students to benefit.

The multidisciplinary program offers four main concentrations in which students have a choice of introductory and advanced-level courses. These are Bible, Jewish History, Jewish Philosophy, and Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology. The program also includes a wide variety of electives from other departments in the Faculty of Jewish Studies, such as Talmud, Hebrew and Semitic Languages, Hebrew Literature, Yiddish and Ladino, Jewish Art, and Middle Eastern Studies. The department allows students to create individualized curricula, which best reflect their interests within the field of Jewish Studies.

World-Class Faculty and Programs

Why provide this degree in English? According to Prof. Yigal Levin, head of the Multidisciplinary Department of Jewish Studies, there is a huge need globally for what Bar-Ilan University can provide.

“We know that Jewish Studies are offered at many academic institutions all over the world, but in most of these, there are one or two Bible scholars, a Talmud scholar, a historian, someone who teaches Jewish Literature together with other types of literature,” he says. “None of them can offer the variety of choices in their programs or the number of excellent faculty members that Bar-Ilan University can offer.”

Dr. Tova Ganzel and Prof. Yigal Levin

The Faculty of Jewish Studies at Bar-Ilan University is the largest of its kind in the academic world. It offers about 1,500 courses and programs taught by a faculty of 300 members and is divided into 10 departments, a center for basic Jewish studies, 16 research institutes and centers, and 25 chairs.

About 1,800 students are enrolled in the Faculty, studying for BA, MA, and PhD degrees. An additional 1,500 BA students majoring in other subjects supplement their studies with Jewish Studies programs and courses. In addition, 16,000 students from all university faculties study at the Helene and Paul Shulman School for Basic Jewish Studies. The Faculty has its own central library as well as separate departmental libraries, a multimedia laboratory, a computer room, and a language laboratory.

“We have the best collection of academic scholars in all fields, whole departments in each area, and more,” says Prof. Levin. “Bar-Ilan University really is the best place to study any of these individual areas. In the Multidisciplinary Department, we offer the possibility of studying all of them. We also provide students with the opportunity to create individualized ‘topical’ programs.

“As an example, someone who is interested in the development of the synagogue can study the architectural aspects in the Archaeology Department, the liturgical aspects in the Talmud Department, the philosophical aspects in the Jewish Philosophy Department, and the historical aspects in the Department of Jewish History.”

An “Old-New” Department and Team

The Multidisciplinary Department of Jewish Studies has been around for many years. When Prof. Levin was appointed to run the department three and a half years ago, he decided to expand the program. A little over a year ago, he was joined by Dr. Tova Ganzel and they opened the Cramim Jewish Studies Honors Program (offered in Hebrew), which is now in its first year.

“An international version of our programs seemed like the natural next step,” he says. “Having a cadre of international students will be great for Bar-Ilan University and our Israeli students and will help our faculty engage in different ways with the international academic scene.”

Dr. Tova Ganzel and Prof. Yigal Levin engaging with students

Prof. Levin was born in Israel to American parents. He spent several years of his childhood in the US. After completing his service in the Israeli Defense Forces, he began his degree in Land of Israel Studies and History at Bar-Ilan University, and “I have basically been here ever since. Today, my academic home is the Department of Jewish History and Contemporary Judaism, where I teach classes on the history of the biblical period.”

Dr. Ganzel’s work is mainly on the Hebrew Bible in the context of the larger ancient Near Eastern world. Her recent research focuses on prophetic literature, ancient Near Eastern temples, and second temple texts. She oversees the Cramim Honors program.

Since this is a “multidisciplinary” department, students take classes in the various departments within the Faculty of Jewish Studies, where they will find top experts in all fields.

Support Throughout the Process

“Getting this Multidisciplinary BA off the ground took a lot of support, from both the International School and from our colleagues in the Faculty of Jewish Studies,” says Prof. Levin. “All new academic programs must be approved at a number of levels, each of which has its own preconditions, and the backing that we received from our Dean, Prof. Yaron Harel, from the Academic Secretary, Dr. Rachel Levy-Drummer, and from the heads of the International School, Prof. Moshe Lewenstein, Ofer Dahan and Prof. Rachel Dekel, at every stage was instrumental.

“The first set of Multidisciplinary BA students will be welcomed in the new academic year in October 2021 and we are looking forward to engaging with many motivated students from all walks of life,” he concludes.

Invitation: Contextualizing Jewish Temples

Get a taste of what the Multidisciplinary Department of Jewish Studies has to offer at an exciting event to celebrate the publication of Contextualizing Jewish Temples, a new book edited by Tova Ganzel and Shalom E. Holtz.

The event will take place on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at 19:30 Israel Time (12:30 EST). You can register for the event here and find out more about the program below.

If you’re interested in finding out about the Multidisciplinary BA program overview and course descriptions, please visit our website or email Prof. Yigal Levin or Dr. Tova Ganzel for further information.