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Jewish Studies Mission Statement

Jewish culture and religion have flourished in a rich variety of forms and in remarkably disparate places on the globe for thousands of years. Jewish contributions have deeply affected the art, language and literature, law, philosophy, and political thought, and the sciences of all nations. The global impact of Jewish culture thus warrants its study as an important component of the liberal arts curriculum at KU. The Jewish Studies Program at KU is the only such program in the state of Kansas. Its mission, therefore, is to celebrate in the US heartland the Jewish experience and promote the understanding of its cultural importance with courses and academic programs that focus on the history, diversity, culture,  languages, thought, and practices of the Jewish people and their religion. (approved 23 Feb 2015, reaffirmed 26 Sept 2016, revised 31 October 2016)

Marc Chagall, "Benjamin," stain glass window for the synagogue at  Hebrew University's Hadassah Medical Center, Jerusalem, 1962.

Marc Chagall, "Benjamin," stain glass window for the synagogue at

Hebrew University's Hadassah Medical Center, Jerusalem, 1962.

The Program in Jewish Studies offers an undergraduate major (BA in Jewish Studies) and minor, Departmental Honors (both by research paper and by service learning), and courses in Jewish Studies, Hebrew, and Yiddish; we also co-sponsor courses in many other units, especially Religious Studies. Among our several focus areas are Judaic studies, identities and ethnicities, languages and narratives, history and archaeology, and applied service in Jewish organizations.

Among the oldest of academic interdisciplinary studies, dating back to the 19th century, Jewish studies explores Judaism, the Jewish people, their culture, and their role in the shaping of human experience. The breadth of Jewish studies is extensive, with a strong foundation in biblical scholarship and the ancient world combined with more recent study of European, American, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern history; it is therefore relevant to every department and program in the humanities and social sciences. Jewish Studies Program prepares students for graduate school and for careers in Jewish agencies, federations, and community centers. The Jewish Studies minor fits neatly with several KU majors, such as American Studies, English, History, or Religious Studies.


Jewish Studies Program statement in solidarity with protests against police brutality

Beloved community,

As an academic program in the University of Kansas, we stand in solidarity with Black Americans -- including Black Jewish people -- and everyone hurting after the senseless, brutal murder of George Floyd and all people targeted by systemic racism and injustice in our country. We continue to be committed to our core values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. This morning, the Association for Jewish Studies sent out an email reminding us that as scholars of Jewish Studies, we are keenly aware of the devastating impact of discrimination and violence against minority groups. Dr. Cécile Accilien, the Chair of the KU Department of African and African-American studies, shared with us the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

The Jewish Studies academic community is rich and diverse – it includes scholars and students who are Jewish and non-Jewish, scholars and students of all ethnic and racial backgrounds and from multiple denominations and creeds, people who are immigrants (like myself) and those who are American-born. The Bible commands: צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף tzedek tzedek tirdof, which translates into English as “Only justice shall you pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20). In this well-cited verse, the Hebrew word tzedek, or justice, repeats twice. There can be many explanations of the repetition – textual interpretation in all its many forms is a beloved pursuit for many of us. Today, I am going to give you my own interpretation -- though I am sure that it already exists somewhere in the treasury of Jewish exegesis. One tzedek, or justice, you must pursue for yourself and for people like you; that is, perhaps, the justice that is easiest to understand, because we keenly feel injustices committed against ourselves and people like us. The other tzedek is the justice you must pursue for the sake of people who are not like you. It is often a harder lesson, but a necessary one. The justice, or tzedek, which we pursue thus also becomes a gift of chesed, of lovingkindness that enriches all of us.

 

In solidarity,

Dr. Renee Perelmutter,

Director of the Jewish Studies Program

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