About Jewish Studies

History of Jewish Studies at UC Santa Barbara

The study of Judaism has long been a part of the programs available to undergraduate students at UCSB. In 1964, Arnold Band, Professor of Hebrew Literature at UCLA, was asked to evaluate the need for Hebrew on this campus in order to prepare students for the Education Abroad Program’s newly opened Israel Study Center at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The first appointment was a ladder-rank position in Hebrew language and literature in the Department of German. This position was initially held by Professor Robert Hetzron who worked in Hebrew linguistics, Amharic and Geez, and Hungarian linguistics.

Faculty in Religious StudiesGerman, and History began to consider a non-degree program in Middle Eastern Studies. George Haddad, Professor of Middle Eastern History, chaired an ad-hoc faculty committee which recommended strengthening Semitic languages on the campus by adding Arabic. Charles Wendell, who had studied with Professor Moshe Pearlman at UCLA, was appointed in 1968 to this position and taught courses in Arabic language, Arabic literature, and also Classical Persian and Modern Farsi in the Department of German. Wendell later added a course on Islam in the Department of Religious Studies. Other appointments in the late 1960s, including Marguerite Bouraad-Nash in Political Science, made it possible to offer Middle Eastern Studies as an emphasis in History, Political Science, German and Religious Studies. Jewish Studies was considerably strengthened by a series of appointments in Religious Studies in the second half of the 1960s, including Jonathan Z. Smith who offered the first courses in Judaism as a religious tradition, along with a course on the history and religion of the Hebrew Bible. Birger Pearson also joined the faculty and while his areas of research and teaching were in Gnosticism and early Christianity, his perspective of setting early Christianity in its Jewish milieu contributed to the ability of students to work in early Judaism alongside of early Christianity. Janet Aviad joined the faculty expressly with teaching interests in the sociology of the American Jewish community. Michael Stone from the Hebrew University and Baruch Kaniel were visitors who taught courses in early rabbinic traditions.

Richard Hecht joined the faculty in the 1970s to offer a series of courses in Hebrew Bible and in the religious history of Jews. Hebrew text courses were offered in the Department of Religious Studies in the mid-1970s and included Biblical, Rabbinic, medieval and modern texts. Michael O’Connell joined the Department of English and has taught the Hebrew Bible as Literature course for many years. Randall Garr joined the faculty in Religious Studies in the 1980s and developed courses in Biblical Hebrew and texts of the Hebrew Bible as well as courses in Aramaic. Hecht and Albert Lindemann in the 1980s began offering a course on the history of anti-Semitism which has continued to the present. By the end of the 1980s additional appointments of scholars with interests in Judaism were made in the Department of German, Slavic and Semitic Studies. Elizabeth Weber and Susan Derwin offered courses on contemporary European Jewish thinkers and literatures which reflected on the experience of the Holocaust. Sydney Lévy, with research and teaching interests in French Jewish literature, joined the faculty in French and Italian. Arthur Schwartz in the Department of Linguistics began offering a course in Yiddish which has continued to the present.

Robert Hetzron retired in the early 1990s and was replaced by Devorah Sprecher who offered two full years of modern Hebrew. Roger Friedland, who was appointed to the faculty in Sociology in the 1970s, joined the faculty in Religious Studies in the late 1990s and brought interests in the sociology of Jewish politics and critical theory to Jewish Studies. Friedland offered a course on the politics of Jerusalem with Richard Hecht. Harold Marcuse joined the Department of History and offered courses on the history of the Holocaust. Richard Hecht and Sharon Farmer in the History Department began regularly offering a course on gender construction in the Jewish and Christian traditions from the ancient world to the present.

In 1997, the Herman P. and Sophia Taubman Foundation gave the campus a grant to provide symposia in Jewish Studies. Over the course of its first decade the symposia have included Arthur Green, Saul Friedlander, Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, Michael Berenbaum, Ambassador Dennis Roth, Judith Plaskow, Susannah Heschel, Amoz Oz, Thomas Friedman, Art Spiegelman, Elie Wiesel, Arthur Hertzberg, A.B. Yehoshua, and many others. During that same period, additional scholars with interests in Jewish Studies have joined the faculty. These include Volker Welter in the Department of History of Art and Architecture who is interested in Zionist and Israeli architecture and urbanism, Debra Blumenthal who is interested in Jewish, Muslim and Christian interaction in medieval Spain and the Mediterranean world, Russell Samolsky in English who offers courses in twentieth-century Jewish writers and critical theorists like Franz Kafka and Jacques Derrida, and Heather Stoll in the Department of Political Science who is particularly interested in Israeli politics and Middle Eastern politics.

In 2014, Elliot R. Wolfson became the Marsha and Jay Glazer Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies. Wolfson is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Academy of Jewish Research, and the American Society for the Study of Religion. He has been editor of the Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy since its inception in 1993, and he presently serves on several editorial boards. His areas of expertise include Jewish mysticism from Late Antiquity to the modern period, medieval and modern Jewish philosophy, and the phenomenology of religion. Professor Wolfson came to UCSB from a post as the Abraham Lieberman Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University.