NEJS Founding Chairman

Between Jew & Arab: The Lost Voice of Simon Rawidowicz
Between Jew and Arab:  The Lost Voice of Simon Rawidowicz
by David N. Myers

Simon Rawidowicz (1896-1957) was the founding chairman of the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Department at Brandeis University.  

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Educating Brandeis Students for more than 60 years

The Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies (NEJS) was established in 1953, five years after the establishment of the university. At the time, the program offered courses mainly in Jewish thought, history, and literature, including several courses in the Hebrew Bible. Over the years, NEJS has been home to some of the most illustrious faculty in the field and has trained many leading scholars through its Ph.D. program. Today, NEJS remains a key department on the national and international scenes, boasting renowned faculty members across many chronological, geographical, and disciplinary areas.

Within Jewish Studies alone, NEJS houses scholars of the Bible, rabbinics, Judaism in the medieval Christian and Islamic worlds, Jews in the Ottoman Empire, Jews in early modern Italy, European Jewish intellectual history, Jews in Eastern Europe and Russia, Sephardic Studies, Israel Studies, Hebrew literature, Holocaust Studies, Yiddish literature, Jewish film, and Jewish education. The Hebrew Language Program is the largest in the country. Jewish Studies is highly interdisciplinary today, calling for expertise in related disciplines and facility with a variety of research approaches. NEJS is uniquely positioned to represent the field in all its breadth and depth.

At the same time, NEJS is more than a department of Jewish Studies. It recognizes that Jewish history and intellectual culture always evolved through creative contact and tension with other religious, cultural, and national groups. Hence, the faculty includes specialists in the ancient Near Eastern religions and texts, a specialist in early Christianity, and two scholars of Islamic and Middle East Studies. Several faculty members of NEJS also are core members of the departments offering separate majors such as Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, Hebrew language and literature, history, comparative literature, and religious studies. The NEJS Department has self-standing undergraduate and graduate programs in Bible and Ancient Near East. It has also had and is reconstituting a graduate program in Middle East Studies.

Award-Winning Faculty with Diverse Interests

NEJS faculty members are authors of prominent and prize-winning books. Recent publications include "How to Read the Jewish Bible" by Marc Brettler, "Iberian Jewish Literature" by Jonathan Decter, "American Judaism" by Jonathan Sarna, "Leo Strauss and the Politics of Exile" by Eugene Sheppard, "Jewish Marriage and Divorce in Imperial Russia" by ChaeRan Freeze, and the soon-to-appear "Inventing God's Law" by David Wright. In addition, renowned journals are edited by NEJS faculty, including "Polin: A Journal of Polish-Jewish Studies," edited by Antony Polonsky and "Israel Studies," edited by Ilan Troen.

Numerous faculty members serve as directors of centers and institutes on campus and off, actively engaging in the production and dissemination of knowledge through conferences, publications and other projects. Bernadette Brooten, the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, directs the Feminist Sexual Ethics Project, which explores sexual ethics within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; Sharon Feiman-Nemser is the director and Jon Levisohn is the co-director of the The Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education; Sylvia Barack Fishman is co-director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, which develops fresh ways of thinking about Jews and gender worldwide by producing and promoting scholarly research and artistic projects; Jonathan Sarna directs the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program; Eugene Sheppard is faculty director of the The Tauber Institute for the Study of European Jewry; and David Ellenson is director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies.

Brandeis Research Centers Complement NEJS Research

Other centers at Brandeis University relevant to the work of the department include The Crown Center for Middle East Studies; The Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, The Steinhardt Social Research Institute, The Fisher-Bernstein Institute for Jewish Philanthropy and Leadership, The Bernard G. and Rhoda G. Sarnat Center for the Study of Anti-Jewishness, The Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, Hornstein: The Jewish Professional Leadership Program @ Brandeis, The Institute for Informal Jewish Education, The Brandeis University Summer Institute for Israel Studies and The Brandeis-Genesis Institute for Russian Jewry. The National Center for Jewish Film, an independent organization, is housed in the Lown building. The International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, an independent unit on campus, complements the course offerings in the NEJS program by offering important resources, convening significant conferences and programs, and by conducting research in which students are often involved.

The Brandeis University Library has one of the best collections of Hebraica and Judaica in the nation.