Wednesday, June 02, 2010

$12 million Chair in Jewish studies at Stanford University reconstituted
bu Peter Menkin

A Chair in Jewish studies has been reconstituted at Stanford University’s School of Education where doctoral students will pursue culture, history, language, and all the elements that constitute the Jewish faith of which religion is a salient feature. So notes one authority involved with the $12 million dollar endowment. The San Francisco-based Jim Joseph Foundation construes education broadly: camps, youth groups, Jewish service learning, and trips to Israel. Doctoral students will learn about the religion of the Jewish people in America. That is part of the Jim Joseph Foundation charter, to provide the American Jewish community with education.

The Executive Director of Jim Joseph Foundation, Charles Mark Edelsberg, Ph.D. notes: “Only one other major research university in the U.S. currently offers such a program: NYU—which the foundation also supports.

“This program of study enables students to examine Jewish history, culture, language (Hebrew), and literature as well as Judaism’s dynamic forms of religious observance. It is not a religious studies degree but a PhD in education and Jewish Studies. It will admit two students per year for the first three years of the program and then will ramp up by one additional student per year afterwards to reach a total of seven."

“The foundation selected Stanford for this award because of its college of education’s stellar reputation. Stanford also features a robust graduate program of Jewish studies. The scholarship of the Stanford faculty—both in education and Jewish studies—is formidable.'

"What makes this renewed concentration unique is its broad, all-encompassing approach to education," said Dr. Jonathan Sarna, the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at

Brandeis University. "SUSE and the Jim Joseph Foundation understand that Jewish education encompasses issues of nationality, peoplehood and culture, as well as religion; that Judaism is a broad civilization embracing both secular and Jewish elements."

In a statement, Stanford University says:

“Through this generous gift, Jim Joseph Foundation is helping to pioneer a new paradigm for thinking about the intersection of religion and education,” says Sam Wineburg, the Margaret Jacks Professor of Education and of History, who led Stanford's effort. “We're putting our energy into the intersection of education and Jewish studies because Stanford has a record of success in this field and because there's a need to produce more scholars with this background. The impact of this significant JJF gift will be broadly felt. More children across the globe are educated in religious institutions than secular ones. However, we don't yet know, and have not yet begun to properly study, what ramifications this may have for future generations.”

Faculty in Stanford’s School of Education will collaborate with scholars in Stanford’s Taube Center of Jewish Studies to create the curriculum for this new concentration.

“We truly are embarking on a new era of research and understanding about how religion and education intersect,” said Professor Vered Karti Shemtov, co-director of the Taube Center for Jewish Studies. “Our center is looking forward to contributing to this new concentration and working with its scholars and students. We have long participated in educating the next generations of leaders in the study of Jewish history, religion and literatures. Thanks to the Jim Joseph Foundation, the new concentration will allow us to train scholars who will influence not only the academic world, but also K-12 education.”

In one comment on the subject, Dean and Vice President of the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California Arthur Holder was interviewed by telephone and email on the new Chair and its concentration. Here is the interview in commentary:

Is this a lot of money?

That’s the level of funding that’s appropriate for this kind of program; $12 million is a substantial amount of funding that will support one faculty chair and fellowship (i.e., scholarship) support, as well as programming such as conferences and seminars.

What does a Chair at GTU cost? We’ll give readers a comparison.

To endow a faculty chair at the GTU would be $2.5 million. But it is not that the whole $12 million at Stanford is going to the faculty chair, since the program includes fellowships and conferences as well. I’m assuming this is an endowment that will produce in the neighborhood of half a million dollars a year (at 4%). Their required level of funding for a faculty chair is probably more than we would require.

Are you surprised that Stanford would be a choice for this Chair?

No. Stanford has a strong and well established track record for this kind of graduate program. It is certainly an appropriate place for this kind of study. You have to have a strong school of education and a strong program in Jewish Studies for this kind of concentration.

Who do you think might fill the Chair?

Obviously, somebody who is highly competent in both the field of education and the field of Jewish Studies. There will be a research focus for the position, so I’m sure Stanford will be looking for an accomplished Jewish researcher with a background in Jewish Education.

How are such chairs and study areas created?

This kind of chair comes out of a meeting of two things: One is a donor, in this case, a Foundation [San Francisco’s Jim Joseph Foundation] that has a very strong commitment to a particular topic. Then that topic has to fit within the mission of the university. This has to be a kind of blending. This (Stanford Jewish Studies chair, and concentration) has every likelihood of working. Stanford has done this kind of work before, and they already have a wide range of doctoral areas in their School of Education. If someone comes to a university and says we are going to give you $12 million for a faculty chair in Buddhist studies but the university is a business school with no established programs in Religious Studies, then that isn’t going to work. You have to locate a chair in a university that does the kind of work that the new program is meant to accomplish.

In what way does the Jewish Studies’ concentration meet the criteria as religious education? Your thoughts, please.

Religious education should be just as rigorous, just as sophisticated, and make use of all the educational theory and scientific methods as any other kind of education. Stanford’s new program appears to be a good example of that. Religious education is not a watered down kind of education. It has to be just as sophisticated as public education, for example. It is a good thing to see when a religious community takes the “education” part of religious education just as seriously as they do the “religious” part.

Sam Wineburg, Professor at Stanford, played a key role in bringing the $12 million Chair in Jewish studies into existence.

In an interview, he made this statement:

Why a “Concentration” and not a “Program” in the School of Education?

Students will be admitted into one of the existing SUSE doctoral programs and will take additional coursework allowing them to “concentrate” in Education and Jewish Studies.

Why would a secular university like Stanford want to get involved in “religious education?” Isn’t that advocacy?

The study of Jewish education, Islamic education, or Catholic education is a scholarly enterprise similar to the study of bilingual education, multicultural education or science education. The frequency with which the intersections of religion and education have become important problems of policy and practice, both historically and in the present day, makes their careful study critically important.

How can scholars better understand the role of religious education in moral development? How do schools operate when they include curricula that reflect essentially universal and secular values and also curricula that are built on systems of faith and tradition? How is the very act of interpretive reading undertaken when approached devotionally as against analytically?

Will religion and its attendant systems of education become venues for cultivating peace and inter-cultural understanding or occasions for sowing hatred and intolerance? How can religious education be conducted in the context of multi-cultural, pluralistic democratic societies and remain “faithful” both to democratic and religious values? What is the role of religion and religious education in the development of identity, commitment and compassion? The intersection of religion and education touches many fields – from international security and economic development to questions of identity, community, and affiliation studied by scholars from a range of disciplines. This intersection deserves the serious attention of outstanding education scholars.

Why now?

There is a new found interest in programs in education and Jewish Studies at our nation’s top universities. Michael Steinhart's endowment of the Ph.D. program in Education and Jewish Studies at NYU is the most notable example, but new positions and programs have been created at some of the leading institutions of public and private higher education: Penn Wisconsin, York (Toronto), Brandeis to name a just a few. One consequence of this development is that there are few faculty qualified to fill these positions. The only major research university in the United States with a track record for preparing scholars of Education and Jewish Studies at the doctoral level is Stanford. We would build on that record.

In another Stanford press statement, it’s noted:

It is believed by one reliable source that the work of the Center for Jewish Studies and the college, and the faculty will be animating one another. The Taube Center is a tremendously rich resource, the source said.

Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports:

Dr. Wendy Rosov, a graduate of Stanford's original concentration who is now a private education consultant, collaborated with Wineburg on a feasibility study for the new effort. She was a significant part of the team in bringing the Jim Joseph Foundation to Stanford to endow the Chair and its concentration.

"Stanford is a great institution, and we are certain it will attract extraordinary talent and produce scholars who will help to build and lead the field," said Chip Edelsberg, executive director of the Jim Joseph Foundation.

Faculty in the School of Education will collaborate with scholars in Stanford's Taube Center for Jewish Studies to develop the curriculum, offer courses and seminars, and advise doctoral students.

For the School of Education at the prestigious university … the grant is the largest in its history. The grant is large, too, for a foundation that has squarely set its sights on formal and informal Jewish education, comprising probably just less than 10 percent of the foundation's annual grants over the next several years, according to (Jim Joseph Foundation chairman, Al Levitt.

"This is part of our intention of creating more Jewish educators in the broader sense," Levitt told The Fundermentalist this week. "The idea was to make an important statement about the value of Jewish education. If Stanford doesn't have the best department of education, it is one of top two or three."

Rabbi Yitzoch Adlerstein of the Rabbinical Council of California comments regarding Jewish studies:

The notion of a $12 million donation is a delight. It shows there are Jewish givers who are still interested in giving to Jewish causes. There is money around, but it is going to non Jewish causes. It’s nice to have a chair and department in Jewish studies. The first question is are there going to be Jews interested in reading the scholarship that is coming out of the department today. When people do consider the overarching question of Jewish survival, will there be Jews in the next generation, some of us in the Orthodox camp are a bit disappointed that initiatives with demonstrated ability to capture the imagination of programs to capture the imagination of young Jews.

President of the Jim Joseph Foundation Al Levitt finds the $12 million well spent. He says in a Jewish Telegraphic Agency report:

"We are talking about creating a model to provide teachers and educators in perpetuity," Levitt said. "This is about more than just day schools. The educational field is more than just day schools. Only about 12 percent of the total Jewish population even go to day schools. That is a relatively small percentage -- and of that, a significant portion is Orthodox. There is a huge number of young people who don't go to day schools.

We are talking about educators in all the other fields of Jewish life, and educating people who are dealing with programs and running organizations. The definition of education is very broad. What if the executive director of Hillel had a Ph.D., or what if a Ph.D.-holder was the executive director of B'nai B'rith? We have the ability to have that kind of impact."

In a few questions asked of Associate Professor Charlotte Fonrobert, Co-Director, Taube Center the reader gets an idea of the religious imperative of the Chair and concentration:

Will there be a religious imperative to the studies?
The Jewish Studies program does not really have "a religious imperative," although I am unsure what you mean by that. We have two faculty members - myself, my field is classical Judaism, rabbinic literature, the Talmud; and my colleague Prof. Steve Weitzman, whose field is Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Judaism - who teach in the Dept. of Religious Studies. So both of us are interested in religious aspects of Jewish culture, which for so many centuries played a central role in Jewish history. The imperative of the Center however is to explore the many facets of Jewish culture (history, literature, religion), and this new chair at the intersection of Jewish Studies and Education will add another dimension, in terms of shaping a concentration that will explore how religious identity formation influences and is influence by education.

Will you speak to the issue of Jewish education and the focus of the Chair?
The focus of this chair is on the intersection of Jewish Studies and Education, and to training scholars who will be able to analyze the impact the role of Jewish education in K-12 education, and more broadly the intersection of religion and education. We are hoping (and expecting) that this initiative will only be the beginning of an academic initiative to explore this intersection between religion and education more broadly - and not just for the Jewish context. The role of religion in education, especially in k-12 education, needs to be understood more broadly and more critically, as more children across the globe are educated in religious institutions and in the US in day schools.

"This extraordinary gift from the Jim Joseph Foundation allows Stanford to lead the country in the study of the nexus of culture, religion, and education," said Deborah Stipek, dean of the School of Education. "Scholarship in this area is critical to understanding the central role of religion in education, and its broad implications for humanity. We are deeply grateful to the foundation for this opportunity."

This article appeared in The Church of England Newspaper, London.

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