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SIDIC Periodical V - 1972/1
Christian Theology of Judaism (Pages 20 - 23)

Other articles from this issue | Version in English | Version in French

Jewish Studies and the University
C. Deutsch


In a time when one hears much of a regression in ecumenism and Jewish-Christian relations, of a withdrawal into separate camps, it is both worthwhile and encouraging to recall the fact that serious interest in Jewish studies has increased steadily in the last five years. Although most Christians are still unaware of the implications of the Holocaust for Jewish self-understanding, the birth and survival of the State of Israel, the renewal of biblical and liturgical studies, and the second Vatican Council have compelled them to take notice of the Jewish reality. This perception is often reflected in serious study.


There has been a noticeable increase in interest in Jewish studies in this country despite certain tensions existing between the Jewish and Christian communities.

Paris and Strasbourg are the major centers in this development, although there is also some activity in other cities such as Lille and Nancy. Study of Jewish life and thought is by no means limited to biblical studies or to the Semitic languages, although these two disciplines are of great importance.

Students at the Ecole Langues Orientales (School of Oriental Languages) in Paris have the possibility of studying Yiddish, Ladino, and Judeo-Arabic as well as the more familiar Semitic languages. Courses are also offered in sociology, such as the study of Israeli society. At the state faculty at Vincennes the program of Jewish culture includes literary history in its prospectus.

At the Institut Catholique (Paris) and the University of Strasbourg, the emphasis is on the biblical and rabbinic periods. The Institut Catholique offers three seminars on various themes in rabbinic literature, while the University of Strasbourg offers a licentiate program in biblical Hebrew as well as courses in post-biblical Hebrew.

There is an increasing number of doctoral students pursuing topics related to the field of Jewish studies. Theses include several on nineteenth century Jewish history, the development of Zionism, the Jew and the contemporary novel, as well as studies on the Massora and Philo.

The development of interest in Jewish studies in France is undoubtedly related to two factors. The French-Israeli agreement of 1959 recognized Hebrew as a living language. Ten years later a licentiate in Hebrew was inaugurated and, in 1970, the teaching diploma. The university reforms initiated in 1968 have also contributed to the increased number of students pursuing Jewish studies. Through the new credit system students can now follow courses in various related disciplines, and many non-Jews as well as Jews are attracted to this area.


Founded in March, 1971, the « Institutum Iudaicum » is an organization of Catholic Protestant and Jewish professors which promotes courses and seminars in Jewish studies. It publishes an annual list of courses given at various levels in Jewish and talmudic studies, as well as a bibliography of judaica and talmudica available in Belgium.

According to the 1971 report, seminary curricula of Jewish and biblical studies are markedly weak in representing post-exilic history, literature and thought. Courses in Jewish studies, in fact, are not usually given in seminaries although there are programs in biblical exegesis. However, even in Scripture classes, the texts are not generally studied in the original Hebrew.

Possibilities for pursuing Jewish studies are rather more varied in the universities. There are the usual courses in Semitic languages and biblical exegesis and theology, as well as a good number of offerings in rabbinic Judaism. Although Belgian programs appear weak in the area of later Jewish thought, the Université Libre de Bruxelles (Free University of Brussels) offers a more comprehensive program which includes a study of Judaism from the phenomenological, philosophical, sociological, historical and literary points of view.

The Institutum Iudaicum sponsors French-and Flemish-speaking inter-university working groups for the study of the Mishna. These study groups meet every two weeks and bring together professors from the various universities. In keeping with its goal of encouraging interest and promoting the establishment of chairs of Jewish studies, Institutum Iudaicum has given priorityto the creation of two courses: 1) a study of the rabbinic commentaries on the Torah; 2) a study of Mishna and Talmud and their commentaries. Plans are also under way for a research and documentation center which would sponsor research in Jewish literature and tradition, as well as attempt to establish closer collaboration in Jewish and biblical studies between faculties of theology and philosophy and letters. The existence of such an organization augurs well for the future of Jewish studies in Belgium.


Courses in Jewish studies are offered in seventeen German universities. Very often these courses are related to biblical studies. Thus, many theology and philosophy faculties offer their students the opportunity to investigate rabbinic and hellenistic Judaism.

The level of student expertise demanded by these courses varies from the introductory to the advanced. The student may begin with a general course on rabbinic literature, and then proceed to a more advanced study of a specific text, such as the Midrash Pirke Rabbi Eliezer, or Abraham ibn Esra's commentary on the Pentateuch. There is some interest in hellenistic Judaism, evidenced by the offering of a certain number of courses on Philo and gnosticism.

German interest in Judaism seems to extend beyond the biblical and rabbinic period, and students seem to be attracted to a study of Judaism for its own merit as a living tradition. One finds courses in Jewish history, liturgy, and literature. These courses cover a wide range of topics, from the Chassidic legends to a sociological study of American Judaism.

The presence of such a wide variety of courses on the university level is certainly encouraging. However, one must qualify the image. Courses are usually short (one or two semesters). They are offered by theology, philosophy, and history faculties, and are often taught by professors whose area of specialization is other than Jewish studies. Nonetheless, a certain number of students are being reached through these efforts.

Great Britain

Although one cannot actually say that there has been an increase in the pursuit of Jewish studies in British universities, there is a certain amount of significant activity. With some exceptions, there seems to be little interest in a study of contemporary Judaism. There is, however, a considerable amount of interest in inter-testamental and rabbinic Judaism.

The British student may pursue his studies in this area in a program of Old Testament or New Testament studies, as well as Semitic languages. Within such programs special sourses are offered on the Apocrypha, as well as the Qumran and rabbinic literature (New College — University of Edinburgh). As might be expected the level of interest varies. Thus, one student reports that, although there is much work being done on the New Testament at Cambridge, among students there is comparatively little investigation into its Jewish background. However, certain of the professors there address themselves explicitly to this question. The undergraduate theology program at Oxford gives an important place to biblical studies and some students follow lectures on first century Jewish history and the beginnings of Christianity. Graduate students have the possibility of seminars on various periods of Middle East history and geography.

Programs in biblical languages also offer the student an opportunity to study texts from all periods and literary forms. Thus, a student following a course in post-biblical Hebrew might do a careful examination of the Pirke Aboth. A course in biblical theology might include a study of texts from the Wisdom or Apocalyptic literature. The professor of New Testament Greek, sensitive to the question likewise treats an exegesis of a text in reference to the Qumran,apocalyptic and apocryphal texts, as well as the rabbinic writings.

It is earnestly hoped that interest in Jewish studies will grow in a country which has given R. Travers Herford, Canon George Danby, and James Parkes to the world of scholarship.

U S. A.

Interest in Jewish studies has increased on a nation-wide level, as is readily evident from a cursory glance at a list of the more than one hundred eighty-five universities, colleges, and seminaries offering courses in Jewish studies.

Certain of this country's universities have long been noted for their contributions in this area (Columbia, Harvard, the University of Chicago). In the past few years, this interest has become more widespread. State universities such as New York University or U.C.L.A. (the University of California at Los Angeles), as well as smaller private institutions, offer their students an opportunity to deepen their knowledge of Judaism. In some instances students may follow one or two courses. Other institutions allow the student the possibility of specializing in this field.

A related development is the many seminars and workshops offered during the summer holidays as well as during the academic year. The Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith has been particularly active in this area, co-sponsoring with Catholic colleges and universities the Menorah Institutes as well as shorter study sessions.

There is an important point to be noted. Teachers of religion are becoming increasingly aware that a knowledge of Jewish life and thought is essential to a study of the New Testament and to the Church's understanding of herself. They are also becoming more sensitive to the value of Judaism in and of itself. This deeper understanding is illustrated by the fact that students are given the possibility of studying not only the normative Judaism of the orthodox, but also other aspects of the fabric of Jewish life and thought: Talmud, the Hebrew language, the various currents of Jewish thought throughout the ages.

There are a number of factors at work in this increasing awareness. There is, of course, the revival among the young of an interest in explicitly spiritual values, an interest which may be translated into serious study. There is also a growing consciousness among Americans of the rich heritage of this country's many ethnic groups. Despite tension and confrontation — and someties regression — many Americans have become sensitized to the presence of the various minority groups. Thus, one finds an increasing interest in things Jewish. The second Vatican Council and the renewal of biblical studies have played a major role in awakening Catholics to a recognition of the values of the Jewish tradition.

For all the promise contained in this development, there are a number of problems. Foremost among them is the shortage of sufficiently trained personnel. Awareness of the country's social ills makes the question of Jewish-Christian relations seem peripheral to many students. The economic crisis has resulted in a shortage of funds for educational projects, and students and teachers at some state universities have found it difficult to persuade administrators that such courses are among priorities for the government financial aidnecessary to establish a university chair on a state campus. Private institutions often find it difficult, if not impossible, to pay extra teachers or to establish adequate libraries for courses in Jewish studies.

Departments and chairs of Jewish studies are by no means to be found in the majority of this country's colleges and universities (less than 8%). However, the current interest is a hopeful sign that the students being reached through these programs are acquiring a solid foundation for a more profound sensitivity to the values of Jewish life and thought which influence all of western society, even if only implicitly.


If the last half of the twentieth century is an era marked by confrontation and struggle, it is also characterized by an anguished longing for peace and understanding among all men of good will. The university reflects the climate of the society it serves, as well as acting as a catalyst. Thus, a growing interest in Jewish studies reflects this desire for rapprochement and unity in a culture that is beset by problems of war, poverty, and social unrest. It is to be hoped that, in some small way, this deepening sensitivity bears with it the seeds of reconciliation in an age of tension and conflict.

Sr. Celia Deutsch received her degree in theology from Trinity College, Washington, D.C. and did catechetical work with secondary school students be for or joining the SIDIC staff in Rome.


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