As director of the Robert A. and Sandra S. Borns Jewish Studies Program, I regularly struggle with maintaining a balance between the different ideas of what a Jewish Studies program should be. The three biggest challenges are:
As part of a public university, we must always retain a wall of separation between church and state, but we are also obliged to educate our students and our community about Judaism. In reaching this goal, then, is it appropriate for us to conduct outreach activities at a local synagogue? Or participate in a multifaith educational symposium held at a local church? Should we co-sponsor a conference that holds sessions on Saturday?
(2) Jewish Studies/Israel Studies
As the Jewish state, Israel is obviously of integral importance to Jewish Studies, but is all of Israel Studies relevant to us? Should we cross-list a course taught by a geographer on water management in Israel? What role does the Jewish Studies program play in Middle East Studies on campus? What is our role in monitoring and promoting overseas study programs in Israel that are not directly related to Jewish Studies?
(3) Jewish Studies/Judaic Studies
I believe that no student should be able to complete the Jewish Studies major without having seen a page of Talmud. But how much emphasis should be placed on rabbinic literature in the degree? In many universities today, including my own, Jewish Studies is understood as a study of Jewish society and civilization. The seminal texts of Judaism are an important part of that civilization, but for many Jews in the world today—and for many students in our classrooms—these texts seem less relevant than other aspects of Jewish civilization. Can we truly educate students about Jewish civilization without in-depth study of these texts? Or do we risk providing a distorted picture of the diversity of Jewish life today by overemphasizing the textual tradition?