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Revived Judaics Program at U of M Continues, Despite Difficult Economic Climate

By Rhonda J Spivak, B.A., L.L.B.

The Faculty of Arts at the University of Manitoba [ U of M] has recently begun to  offer students the ability to graduate with a minor in Judaic Studies, something which has not been offered for 20 years.

The Judaic Studies program at the U of M was founded in 1950, the first of its kind in Canada, but in 1989 the program was reduced in scope, and most degree options were dropped. Dr. Moshe Nahir co-ordinated the reduced program until 2009, ensuring the survival of the language component by offering classes in Hebrew at all levels.

The newly revived Judaic Studies program, is headed by program co-ordinators Dr. Benjamin Baader of the Department of History and Dr. Justin Jaron Lewis of the Department of Religion.  Baader specializes in German Jewish history and Jewish historiography, while Lewis specializes in mystical and narrative aspects of Jewish religious tradition. The other faculty members for the Judaic Studies program are Dr. Moshe Nahir of the Department of Linguistics and Dr. Rachela Secter, of the Department of German & Slavic Studies and Yiddish.

“This academic year students can take classes in Hebrew Bible, Talmud, Contemporary Judaism, Middle East Politics and Zionism, among many many others,” Baader said.

Baader, told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that the program “promotes the study of Jewish civilization, of Jewish religious expressions and traditions, and of Jewish cultural, social and political formations.”

He added, “In the classes we are offering this fall, we have about 100 students enrolled, both Jewish and non-Jewish. The class on the History of Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust and the Yiddish language class have the largest enrollments.”

Lewis told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that of the courses he teaches the best enrollment is in ‘Contemporary Judaism, about the spectrum of religious movements in Judaism today in their historical context.

“Keep in mind that all of my courses are new or have not been offered for the last  number of years; hopefully, enrollment will increase over time as the Jewish component of Religious Studies takes root again. I also teach a semester of World Religions, which is a large class, about 80 students per year. This introductory course includes a lot of material on Judaism,” Lewis said.
There are plans to continue to develop the Yiddish language element of the program.

“With the support of the I.L. Peretz Folk School Endowment Trust Foundation and the Dean of Arts [Richard Sigurdson], we are planning to offer an advanced Yiddish class next year, and we are currently talking to the Gray Academy of Jewish Education [high school] to coordinate our Yiddish language and culture curriculum with theirs,” Baader said.

As for the Hebrew language, Professor Moshe Nahir's said that “In my introductory Hebrew class, I have 10 students.”

Notwithstanding that the U of M is facing difficult economic challenges, Baader is optimistic that the newly revived Judaic Studies program will not be down-sized.

“The Dean of Arts, is committed to supporting the nascent program in this very difficult time, though resources are more than tight. Community support will remain crucial to making the program viable,” said Baader.

“Dr. Justin Jaron Lewis and I are working hard on building the program with the means that are currently available to us,” he added.

Baader and Lewis hope that with support from students and the public, the Judaic Studies program will continue to grow, and one day it will again be able to offer a Major.

But, he added, “We will need community support to make this possible.”
There had been some discussion of launching a campaign to raise money to fill a third professorship in the Judaic Studies program, but that does not seem to be on the immediate horizon.

”We are in the process of exploring the idea of a campaign for a professorship, but there are no immediate plans to move forward. However, donations  in support of the current program are always welcome,” Baader said.


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.