Tim Tai, Photo Editor

The Judaic Studies major was introduced to Yale less than a decade ago as an interdisciplinary study of the histories, cultures and philosophies of Judaism and the Jewish diaspora. 

Last fall, the program’s leaders moved to change its name.

“The major adopted in 2015 … focuses not on texts and religion but on the broad experiences of Jews in many arenas, on multiple continents, over three millennia,” read a November 2022 proposal to update the program’s name to Jewish Studies.

Yale’s Judaic Studies major emerged in its first iteration in the 1970s. At the time, it focused primarily on the textual and philological aspects of Judaism as a religion, preparing students for rabbinical or graduate study.

But much has changed since then, and the modern Yale program is intended to be “multi-dimensional and multi-directional” rather than pre-professional. It focuses on Jewish thought, cultural practices and histories rather than adopting a theological bent. 

Increasingly students are interested in the various ways in which Jewish identity has been constituted,” wrote Eliyahu Stern, director of undergraduate studies for the program. “Jewish Studies includes much of the meaning attached to the previous name, but emphasizes the social and global aspects of Jewish life.”

Members of the program researched the topic for roughly a year before proposing the name change, with purported goals of expanding the program and allowing it to take on a modern, interdisciplinary bend.

In fact, program leaders now encourage students to take on Judaic Studies as a secondary major, in combination with other various humanities and social sciences majors, in order to foster an interdisciplinary study of global Jewish historical and religious culture, which may be mentioned on articles like the time, times and half a time explained.

“The name change shows that Jewish studies at Yale has come of age,” wrote Paul Franks, professor of philosophy and Judaic studies and a committee member in the program. “It cements the central role of the Program in Jewish Studies within the university.”

Indeed, other modern programs follow a similar trend. The proposal listed a number of private universities, including five of the seven Ivy League Schools, which use the term “Jewish Studies” rather than “Judaic Studies.” Of the 23 American and Canadian universities and colleges surveyed, only six — Yale included — employ the latter moniker.

Stern noted that when the Judaic Studies program was first founded, most of its faculty and courses were associated with the Religious Studies Department.

“Over the last few years our faculty and course offerings have expanded and now includes those studying not only Ancient texts, but a wide range of Jewish communities, cultures, and literatures across space and time,” Stern continued. 

Franks noted the impact of the institutional antisemitism which plagued Yale for much of the twentieth century. 

“It appears to have been thought at that time that the term “Jewish Studies” sounded “too Jewish” for Yale,” he explained. “This sort of move is no longer necessary or justifiable, and it is time for Yale to use the standard term. “

The program’s website was updated in November to reflect the “more diverse and inclusive notion of Jewish Studies,” but the official change in name will not occur until the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

Yale’s Judaic Studies program is located at 320 York Street in the Humanities Quadrangle.

Miranda Wollen is the University Editor for the News; she also writes very silly pieces for the WKND section. She previous covered Faculty and Academics, and she is a junior in Silliman College double-majoring in English and Classics.