Jewish studies has been an important field of research at the University of Chicago since the institution’s first classes in 1892. Among its first five full professors two taught Judaica (William Rainey Harper and Emil Gustav Hirsch). The University’s first president, Harper was a renowned Biblical scholar and oversaw the beginnings of programs in the Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations. A few decades later, these early initiatives received a huge institutional boost with the founding of the Oriental Institute, which remains one of the pre-eminent centers for the study of ancient Near Eastern language, civilization, and archeology.
The subsequent flourishing of Jewish studies at UChicago has been sustained by appointments in a wide range of departments: professorships of Jewish Hellenism in Classics, Medieval Jewish philosophy in Philosophy, and Jewish social and economic history in History, to name only a few. During the past decade and a half, the University has appointed eminent scholars in the study of Hebrew Bible, Midrash, Jewish medieval studies, Hebrew literature, American Jewish literature, Jewish political thought, Yiddish literature, modern Jewish thought, and German Jewish culture. Working together, they have created one of the most comprehensive, distinguished and interdisciplinary programs in Jewish Studies available at any American university.
The BA program in Jewish Studies provides a context in which UChicago students may examine the texts, cultures, languages, and histories of Jews and Judaism over three millennia. The perspective is contextual, comparative, and interdisciplinary. The long and diverse history of Jews and Judaism affords unique opportunities to study modes of continuity and change, interpretation and innovation, and isolation and integration of a world historical civilization. Students are encouraged to develop appropriate skills (in texts, languages, history, and culture) for independent work.
Students in other fields of study may also complete a minor in Jewish Studies.