Judaic Studies department overhauls curriculum

The Judaic Studies Program is adding an array of interdisciplinary classes to its course offerings in hopes of boosting enrollment in the department.

Jenna Weissman Joselit, the department’s director, said the University is adding new classes in subjects like theater, economics and archaeology to attract students who have traditionally shied away from the religion-based department.

“The main pivots of Judaic studies have been religion, literature and history, so we don’t get too many engineers or economics kids,” she said. “But there’s so much more to [Judaic studies] than that.”

While there are close to 400 students taking courses that are considered part of the Judaic Studies department, this semester only five of those students are majoring in the discipline, as well as 12 minors. Five years ago, there were 10 majors.

Weissman Joselit said increasing the course offerings from 16 to 25 in the spring, and bringing in faculty from other departments, will make the program multidisciplinary and potentially increase interest in the program.

“It struck me that there’s a great opportunity here to reach out to colleagues in many disciplines, to make it clear that Judaic Studies is interested in embracing them,” she said.

New and existing courses in the discipline will begin using D.C.-area institutions to supplement in-class learning. One class, focusing on the history of the Holocaust, will include several sessions at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Sophomore Eli Zinman, an economics major, said the new classes are appealing.

“As an economics major, it makes sense to have a wider variety of classes that are available,” he said. “From a Jewish perspective, I definitely like to take Jewish studies classes in college, and it’s nice to learn more than just what I learned in temple school.”

Michael Siroka, president of the Reform Judaism group KESHER, said he thinks students will be more inclined to take classes in Judaic Studies now.

Weissman Joselit hopes to lead a number of other initiatives including the creation of a master’s program in Jewish cultural arts, the expansion of on-campus programming relevant to Judaic Studies and writing for the program’s recently launched blog, From Under the Fig Tree.

Ultimately, Weissman Joselit said she hopes the program overhaul will add depth to the program as a whole.

“The more students from different backgrounds, the more lively the conversation and the cultural exchange,” she said.

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