Doctoral Program in Jewish Studies


The department's graduate program in Jewish Studies comprises one of the largest Judaic studies faculties in the Diaspora, and embraces all eras in Jewish life, as well as a wide variety of disciplines and scholarly approaches.

The Ph.D. program is highly selective and is designed to train scholars and teachers in such areas as Jewish history, Jewish thought, Modern Jewish studies, American Jewish history and life, Israel studies, contemporary Jewish studies, and Jewish education. Potential applicants are encouraged to consult with the Graduate Advisor or with faculty members in their areas of interest to ensure that they are a good match for the program.

Preparation for the Ph.D.
Students applying for the Ph.D. generally have at least an undergraduate background in Jewish studies and in the discipline which they seek to pursue, as well as a working knowledge of Hebrew. An undergraduate concentration in Jewish studies is not required, though training in the humanities or social sciences (e.g., languages, literature, philosophy, history, sociology or anthropology) is helpful. Students with less training are nonetheless encouraged to apply to the program. All applicants are encouraged to consult the faculty of their program prior to their application to seek answers to questions, especially if they have questions concerning qualifications. Students lacking adequate preparation may want to consider applying to the M.A. program.

Residence Requirement and Program of Study
Three years of full-time residence are required at the normal rate of at least seven term courses each academic year. Students who enter with graduate credit from other recognized institutions may apply for transfer credit. By rule of the Graduate School, a maximum of one year of credit (seven term courses) may be accepted toward the residence requirement on the recommendation of the departmental adviser in consultation with the student's adviser. First year students are required to participate in a weekly for-credit graduate Proseminar (NEJS 231a) during the fall.

By March 1 of the second year, a student will submit a research paper of at least twenty pages analyzing primary and secondary sources to two NEJS professors for approval. The readers are to be selected by the Graduate Advising Head in consultation with the Chair of the Department. This may be a paper written originally for a NEJS course or one based on such a paper. This paper must be approved for continuation in the graduate program.

Teaching Requirement
As part of the graduate training program in NEJS, all PhD students are required to fulfill five semester-length teaching fellow or research assignments during the first four years of their programs, serving as apprentices to faculty mentors who provide feedback to their mentees.

Students should also discuss with their advisers the desirability of taking courses at member institutions of the Boston Consortium.

Students are assigned advisers from the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies department in the program to which they were admitted. Students must meet with their adviser(s) regularly and before enrolling in courses, to ensure appropriate course coherency. The programs for each graduate area may be found in the departmental office and are posted on the NEJS departmental Web site.

Funding and Annual Evaluation
Scholarships and fellowships are generally renewable for four additional years, based on a favorable annual evaluation by each student's professors by May of each academic year. These evaluations will be shared with the students and will be part of the official file, along with grades. Additionally, university dissertation fellowships are available on a university-wide competitive basis for the final year.

Language Requirements
Hebrew is an essential language for all students in Jewish studies. All students must pass a reading exam in Hebrew, usually by the end of their first year in the program. All students must pass a reading exam in at least one other foreign language by the end of their third year of residence. Students whose focus is Jewish education or Jewish sociology may substitute statistics for this language, typically by passing a course approved by their adviser(s). By the time their Ph.D. proposal is submitted for approval to the department, all students must also pass a reading exam in a third language required for their doctoral research. Language exams are administered by the student's adviser(s) and test for the ability to read the necessary literature.  The formats for these exams differ throughout the department, but they are typically three-hour examinations, where a hard copy of a dictionary may be used.  Electronic dictionaries are not permitted.

Comprehensive Examinations
All candidates for the Ph.D. degree in Jewish studies are required to pass two comprehensive examinations.

  • The first exam, which usually includes a written and an oral component, tests for knowledge of a broad discipline or body of literature, e.g. the breadth of Jewish history, central Jewish texts in context, or medieval and modern Hebrew writings. Precise details should be worked out with the student's adviser.
  • The second exam tests for proficiency in the student's area of specialization related to the proposed area of the dissertation. This may be combined with the defense of the dissertation proposal. In the semester in which they are preparing for their examinations, students are encouraged to sign up for reading courses with the members of the faculty who will participate in those examinations.

Dissertation Proposal
After successfully completing all qualifying examinations and language requirements, students must submit their dissertation proposal to the department faculty by the end of the third year or the beginning of the fourth year (by the beginning of the fifth year for students in the program in Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies), after first obtaining the approval of their dissertation director and the other two members of the dissertation reading committee. Proposals should be up to six pages in length, plus bibliography. They should contain a clear articulation of the topic with rationale, a summary of current research in its area, its intended contribution to scholarship, methodology, sources, structure and table of contents, preliminary bibliography, and any other relevant material. Additional information about the proposal is available on the NEJS department Web site.

Dissertation and Defense
The dissertation, ordinarily between 250 and 400 pages in length, must constitute an original contribution to knowledge and demonstrate thorough mastery of a field as well as competence in pursuing independent research. Students must successfully defend their dissertations at a final oral examination.

Structure and Length of Program
The doctoral program in Jewish studies typically requires a minimum of five years to complete: three years for course work and exams, and two years for researching and writing the dissertation.