His point? Yeshiva University appears to have expanded its academic approach to the Bible, utilizing modern sources, contemporary scholars, source criticism and biblical criticism. Stern, on the other hand, appears to be lagging behind, advocating for the traditional approach of utilizing medieval scholarly commentaries to the exclusion of more modern techniques.
- It is time for Stern - its students and its administrators - to realize that the traditional study of Jewish texts does contend with other academic pursuits such as psychology or English literature. Rabbi Dr. Efraim Kanarfogel, who chairs the Stern Jewish Studies department and is a well respected academic and an exemplar of Torah u-Madda, has recently promoted more rigorous course offerings. However, it seems that other university administrators who impact Stern's academic nature have yet to realize this critical distinction, holding the women's college back from proceeding to greater heights.
The Stern student body has been complacently silent on this issue. It is time for them to speak up, because it is they, first and foremost, who are losing out. The administration's inaction to advance Stern's academic Jewish Studies gives the women of Stern no right to follow submissively.
Ah! How I agree with him.
However, I think he may have an overly rosy view of what my fellow Stern students desire out of their education.
It is my unfortunate belief that many Stern students, perhaps even the majority of them, do not want a rigorous academic approach to the Bible.
I believe that they find the idea of such an approach to be scary. It is frightening; it borders upon heresy. It leads into the unknown. Perhaps they'll end up abandoning God. Perhaps they'll end up doubting ideas that were at one point firmly established in their minds, pounded there by ever-determined teachers. Perhaps they'll end up...thinking?
I find myself in a very strange position at Stern. On the one hand, I enjoy Judaic Studies enough to be able to be part of the more right-wing group, the ones who are knowledgeable in different textual sources and commentaries. On the other hand, my approach to life allows me to attend movies or read books that frighten or disturb members of that sect, which means I can at times cross over to the left-wing group. At this point in time, I have been fortunate to meet four or five others in a similar position to myself, but I do not think it is the norm. I may be mistaken. In fact, I hope to be mistaken.
The few courses that we have now come under attack, and Jeremy hopes to allow more of them? Dr. David Shatz taught a philosophy course in Science and Religion, I believe (not the one he's teaching this semester, but formerly), and apparently caused much outrage. I hear English class being referred to as Avodah Zara class. I hear people yammer on and on about the kefirah in their psychology class. And I notice that even in Rabbi Mordechai Cohen's Honors class, where he brilliantly presents the advantages to understanding source criticism, citing Rabbi Mordechai Breuer's approach, not everyone is enamored...
First comes understanding, and then comes desire. Before my fellow students could ever desire such courses, they would need to understand why they are not wrong or problematic, which means that one would have to make a speech, or give a course, proving that idea from the medieval sources that they trust. This is how all persuasion works with such people: one must prove this from the sources they do accept. Once one has successfully accomplished that, perhaps then we can get to the point where people want the more advanced, thought-provoking courses. I do not think the Stern student body has been "complacently silent" so much as the right-wing students do not want such courses, while the left-wing students do not much care, as their purpose here is generally not (although sometimes it is) to pursue academic Biblical studies.
Everyone is imprisoned by their mind-forged manacles, to cite Blake. We simply do not all share the same prison...or perhaps we have been lucky enough, or have been aided by others, in breaking the chains that bind us. The issue at hand is not one of sexism so much as freeing the mind. Once one has accomplished that, perhaps we can then advance the Judaic Studies department, allowing people to feel unthreatened by the worlds of interpretation open to us through assorted biblical scholars, or even through reading the text as one would literature. These approaches, novel as they may be to some, can aid us- if we are able to let them.