History of the Jewish Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania

The history of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at the University of Pennsylvania spans over two centuries and has involved some of the most illustrious names to have graced the University's roster. Hebrew was first taught at Penn ca. 1780 when a professorship of "German and Oriental Languages" - undoubtedly Hebrew and perhaps Arabic - was established at a time when Penn had only seven full-time faculty. A century later, increasing interest in the ancient Near East, stimulated by archaeological discoveries in the region, led Penn to establish comprehensive programs in Judaica and ancient Near Eastern studies in conjunction with the founding of the University Museum and the Department of Semitic Languages (later known as the Department of Oriental Studies, then the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, and now the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations). The hallmark of these programs was, and remains, the study of Jewish civilization and literature in conjunction with first-hand study of the civilizations which formed their historical and cultural background.

Among the first scholars appointed to teach these subjects, in 1886, were John Peters in Hebrew and Morris Jastrow, Jr. (son of the Talmudic lexicographer Marcus Jastrow) as professor of Arabic and Rabbinical literature. Jastrow's offerings included Apocrypha, Mishna, Talmud, and medieval Jewish philosophy. In the following decades James A. Montgomery, Isaac Husik, E.A. Speiser, and Zellig S. Harris would join the faculty. They offered a variety of courses in Bible, Hebrew (including modern language and literature) and Jewish society and culture.

Since that time, classic works of Judaic scholarship have regularly been produced by Penn faculty, including Husik's History of Medieval Jewish Philosophy and Bible commentaries by Jastrow, Montgomery, Speiser, and later and Moshe Greenberg. It was also at Penn that S. D. Goitein began the publication of his monumental work A Mediterranean Society, based on the Cairo Genizah. Speiser and Greenberg served on the committee that produced the Jewish Publication Society's new Bible translation, Tanakh. Penn archaeologist James B. Pritchard edited the classic Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament and The Ancient Near East in Pictures Relating to the Old Testament. Numerous contributors to the Encyclopaedia Judaica, the Encyclopedia of Religion, and the Israeli Biblical encyclopaedia, the Entsyklopedia Mikra'it, were trained or taught at Penn, and Penn archaeologists conducted excavations at several ancient Israelite sites, including Beth Shan and Gibeon. In the decades following World War II, Jewish Studies expanded further. Such scholars as S.D. Goitein, Moshe Greenberg, and Judah Goldin joined the faculty. The Ellis Chair in Hebrew and Semitic Languages and Literatures and the Berg Chair in Jewish Religious Thought were established, and departments began to offer courses relating to Jewish folklore, sociology and Israeli studies. Thus, when the Jewish Studies Program was created at Penn, there was a substantial presence of distinguished faculty and notable course offerings.

Jewish Studies formally became a program at Penn in 1982. About 10 professors from five different departments, who specialized in their own areas of Jewish Studies and approached the study of Jewish civilization from their own disciplinary foci, joined

together to coordinate their undergraduate and graduate course offerings. Recognizing that Jewish Studies is not a single field or discipline, but a group of fields that approach the Jewish experience from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, the faculty decided not to form a separate department of Jewish Studies, but to keep Jewish Studies as an integral part of the liberal arts curriculum and maintain a presence in many departments, so that students and faculty could remain in close contact with colleagues who applied the same disciplinary approaches to other subjects.

This approach has worked well for Penn over the decades, and when Jewish Studies underwent its dramatic nationwide expansion in the 1970's, scholars trained or taught at Penn filled many important academic positions in the field, including positions at Yale, Berkeley, Princeton, Cornell, New York University, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Yeshiva University, and all the universities in Israel.

The continued growth of the Jewish Studies Program led to increased interest in expanding its modern dimensions, which culminated in the establishment of the Joseph Meyerhoff Chair in Modern Jewish History and the Katz Family Term Chair in American Jewish History, both in the History Department. At the same time, Penn's strength in Biblical studies was further enhanced by the establishment of the James B. Pritchard Chair in Biblical Archaeology in the Department of Anthropology.

Jewish Studies at Penn was enhanced significantly in 1993 when the Annenberg Institute (formerly Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning) merged with Penn and became the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies within the School of Art & Sciences. Dropsie had been founded in 1907 when there were no graduate programs specifically devoted to Jewish Studies in this country, and no places where the Hebrew Bible could be studied in a secular, nontheological context. Over the years Dropsie built up one of the greatest Judaica libraries in the western hemisphere, with 180,000 volumes, including 6000 rare books and hundreds of manuscripts. Its faculty included such scholars as Max Margolis, Solomon Zeitlin, Cyrus Gordon and Theodore Gaster, and its graduates included Bernard Revel, E.A. Speiser, Harry M. Orlinsky, E.L. Sukenik, Moses Zucker, Ben Zion Netanyahu, and Nahum M. Sarna. But beginning in the 1960's, the growth of Jewish Studies programs in American universities led, on the one hand, to declining enrollments at Dropsie, and on the other to a need for a postdoctoral research center in Jewish Studies where the growing number of scholars in the field could carry on advanced research. As a result, Dropsie was reconfigured in 1986 as the Annenberg Research Institute. In 1993 the Institute merged with Penn so as to combine the resources of both institutions, thus creating the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies.

In its new configuration, the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies has created opportunities for intensive, advanced research by numerous scholars. Penn students and faculty benefit not only from the center's superb Judaica library, which is now part of the Penn library system, but also from the presence at Penn of the distinguished scholars who come to CAJS as fellows each year and interact with faculty and students in numerous ways, through lecturing, meeting with students, and teaching courses.

Today Penn's offerings in Jewish studies encompass as broad a range of fields as can be found at any university in America: the Hebrew Bible, Biblical archaeology, Hellenistic and Rabbinic literature, the history of Biblical interpretation, Jewish social and intellectual history from the ancient to modern periods, Jewish folklore and sociology, Hebrew and Yiddish language and literature, and Israel studies.


Graduates in Jewish Studies at Penn since 1893

John R Abercrombie "Palestinian Burial Practices from 1200 to 600 B.C.E." Ph.D., 1979

Rachel Anisfeld "Rabbinic Preachers and Their Audiences in the Amoraic Midrashim Pesikta deRav Kahana and Leviticus Rabbah: The Development of Homiletical Midrash in Its Late Antique Historical-Cultural Context." Ph.D. Dissertation, 2004.

Cornelia Aust “Commercial Cosmopolitanism. Networks of Jewish Merchants between Warsaw and Amsterdam, 1750-1820.” Ph.D. Dissertation, 2010

 Loring W. Batten "Septuagint Transliteration of Hebrew Proper Names." Ph.D., 1893 Judith E. Ben-Horin "A Study of Poetry of Natan Alterman and Jonathan Ratosh." M.A., 1973

Charles D. Benjamin "Notes on Some Hebrew Sources in the Book of Ezra: a Discussion of C.C. Torrey's Position in Making Ezra-Nehemiah with the Exception of the Nehemiah Memoirs, an Invention of the Chronicler." M.A., 1916; "Variations Between the Hebrew and Greek Texts of Joshua, Chapter 1-12." Ph.D., 1921

Fredric R. Brandfon "The Beginning of the Iron Age in Palestine." Ph.D., 1983. Herbert C. Brichto "The Problem of 'Curse' in the Hebrew Bible." Ph.D., 1962
Morton Cogan "Imperialism and Religion: Assyria, Judah and Israel in the Eighth and Seventh Centuries B.C." Ph.D., 1971

Edward M. Curtis "Man as the Image of God in Genesis in the Light of Ancient Near Eastern Parallels." Ph.D., 1984

Nili S. Fox "Royal Functionaries and State-Administration in Israel and Judah During the First Temple Period." Ph.D., 1997. (Published as In the Service of the King: Officialdom in Ancient Israel and Judah. Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 2000.)

Steven D. Fraade "Enosh and his Generation: Scriptural Translation and Interpretation in Late Antiquity." Ph.D., 1980

Henry L. Gilbert "A Study in Old Testament Names." Ph.D., 1895

Elliot K. Ginsburg "The Sabbath in the Classical Kabbalah." Ph.D., 1984.

Barry M. Gittlen "Studies in the Late Cypriote Pottery Found in Palestine." Ph.D., 1977

David Glatt "Non-Chronologocal Arrangement of Biblical and Related Literatures." Ph.D., 1991 (Published as Chronologocal Displacement in Biblical and Related Literatures. Society of Biblical Literature Dissertation Series 139. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1993.)

Cyrus H. Gordon "Legal Background of Hebrew Thought and Litera-ture." M.A., 1928; "Rabbinic Exegesis in the Vulgate of Proverbs." Ph.D., 1930

Moshe Greenberg "The Hab/piru." Ph.D., 1954

Raymond S. Haupert "The Relation of Codex Vaticanus and the Lucianic Text in the Books of the Kings: The Viewpoint of the Old Latin and the Ethiopic Versions." Ph.D., 1930

Martha Himmelfarb "Tours of Hell: The Development and Transmission of an Apocalyptic Form in Jewish and Christian Literature." Ph.D., 1981.

Ronald C. Kiener "The Hebrew Paraphrase of Saadia Gaon's Kitab al-Amanat wa:l- I:tiqadat." Ph.D., 1984.

Frederick Knobloch "Hebrew Sounds in Greek Script: An Analysis of Transcriptions and Related Phenomena in the Septuagint, with Special Focus on Genesis." Ph.D. dissertation, 1995.

Matthew W. Lampe "The Limitations upon the Power of the Hebrew Kings: A Study in Hebrew Democracy." Ph.D., 1914

Sid Z. Leiman "The Talmudic and Midrashic Evidence for the Canonization of Hebrew Scripture." Ph.D., 1970

Gerson B. Levi "Gnomic Literature in Bible and Apocrypha, with Gnomic Fragments and their Bearings on the Proverb Collections." Ph.D., 1910

Arnold E. Look "Old Testament Quotations in Matthew." M.A., 1920

Thomas L. McClellan "Quantitative studies in the Iron Age Pottery of Palestine." Ph.D., 1975

Thomas F. McDaniel "The Tribal Participants of the Exodus and Conquest." M.A., 1956

Margaret M. McKenna "The Two Ways in Jewish and Christian Writings of the Greco- Roman Period: A Study of the Form of Repentance Parenesis." Ph.D., 1981.

Takus Matsummoto "Apostle Paul's Use of Contemporary Jewish Literature." M.A., 1918

James A. Montgomery "Samaritans, the Earliest Jewish Sect: Their History, Theology and Literature." Ph.D., 1907

J. Yochanan Muffs "Studies in the Aramaic Legal Papyri from Elephantine." Ph.D., 1964

Daniel Nussbaum "The Priestly Explanation of Exile and its Bearing upon the Portrayal of the Canaanites in the Bible." M.A., 1974

Pezavia O'Connell "Synonyms of the Unclean and the Clean in Hebrew." Ph.D., 1898

Raphael I. Panitz "Textual Exegesis and Other Kinds of Interpretation in Scripture." Ph.D., 1983

Shalom M. Paul "The Book of the Covenant, its Literary Setting and Extra-Biblical Background." Ph.D., 1965

Dana M. Pike "Israelite Theophoric Personal Names and their Implications for Religious History." Ph.D., 1990.

Ellen J. Rank "The Book of Jonah in Modern Scholarship: The Date of the Book, the Unity of the Book, the Purpose of the Book." M.A., 1981

Frank H. Ridgley "Jewish Ethical Idealism." Ph.D., 1916

Harry S. Rosen "Ben Sira and Koheleth Compared." M.A., 1919

Martin S. Rozenberg "The stem shpt: An Investigation of Biblical and Extra-Biblical Sources." Ph.D., 1963

Ruth Sandberg "The Merit of Israel and the Redemption from Egypt: A Study of a Rabbinic Debate." Ph. D., 1988

John A. Scott "The Pattern of the Tabernacle." Ph.D., 1965

Hayim Sheynin "An Introduction to the Poetry of Joseph ben Tanhum Ha-Yerushalmi and to the History of its Research." Ph.D., 1988

Moshe Simon-Shoshan 'Halachah LeMa'aseh: Narrative and Legal Discourse in the Mishnah," Ph.D., 2005

Rifat Sonsino "Motive Clauses in the Biblical Legal Corpora in Light of Biblical and Extra-Biblical Literature." Ph.D., 1975

Henry J. Weber "Material for the Construction of a Grammar of the Book of Job." Ph.D., 1894

Leo I. Weinstock "Onomatopoeia and Related Phenomena in Biblical Hebrew: A Survey of Certain Correlations between Sound and Meaning in the Lexical and Phonological Levels of a Semitic Language." Ph.D., 1979

Andrea Weiss "Figurative Language in Biblical Prose Narrative: Metaphor in the Book of Samuel." Ph.D. Dissertation, 2004 (accepted for publication in the Vetus Testamentum Supplement series)

Chava (Lenore) Weissler "Making Judaism Meaningful: Ambivalence and Tradition in a Havurah Community." Ph.D., 1982.

Michael J. Williams "Deception in the Book of Genesis." Ph.D. dissertation, 1999. (Published as Deception in Genesis. An Investigation into the Morality of a Unique Biblical Phenomenon. Studies in Biblical Literature 32. New York: Peter Lang, 2001.)

Benjamin Wright "New Perspectives on Biblical Vocabulary and Translation Techniques: Sirah and its Presumed Hebrew Vorlage." Ph.D., 1988

 Martin J. Wyngarden "Syriac Version of the Book of Daniel." Ph.D., 1923

Boyden K. Yerkes "Lucianic Version of the Old Testament as Illustrated from Jeremiah 1-3." Ph.D., 1918

Perry B. Yoder "Fixed Word Pairs and the Composition of Hebrew Poetry." Ph.D., 1970

Yael Zerubavel "The Last Stand: On the Transformation of Symbols in Modern Israeli Culture." Ph.D., 1980 

Jewish Studies Program
711 Williams Hall, 255 S. 36th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305
215-898-6654 / 215-573-6026 fax / jsp-info@sas.upenn.edu