Thinking of majoring in Jewish Studies? Here are answers to some FAQs.
RJ: How do I determine if a Jewish Studies major is right for me?
Gauge your intellectual interest in Jewish history, religion, and culture. Since most institutions do not require a declared major until the end of sophomore year, take Jewish Studies courses in your first two years. Ask yourself: Which courses have I found intellectually stimulating? What might I want to do after college? How can my major help lay the groundwork for that direction?
How much Hebrew is required?
Usually two and sometimes three years of Hebrew are required. Large Jewish Studies programs may offer a broad range of courses, including advanced Hebrew and literature in the original language. Many programs offer the option of testing out of the Hebrew requirement if students can demonstrate a certain level of mastery.
How do I evaluate the faculty?
Examine the Jewish Studies faculty biographies on the school’s website. Pay attention to whether the professors’ publications and teaching focus on Jewish Studies (some teach and write on a range of topics, others solely in Jewish Studies). Also note whether they trained in Jewish Studies or in a different field. What matters most is finding a program with a core group of faculty for whom Jewish Studies is its primary research and teaching interest. At smaller institutions that core group might consist of one or two; at larger institutions the number could be five, six, or more.
Should the school also have a good corresponding department in my area of interest (e.g., history)?
This is important. You will need to take courses outside the field—such as European history and American history—in order to give you a broader framework within which to understand the Jewish experience. Likewise, a student focusing on medieval Jewish literature would benefit from courses in Arabic literature and biblical literature to understand earlier literary and cultural influences. Evaluate the corresponding departments too.
Given the job market in Jewish Studies, should I go for a double major?
Broadening your area of study could improve your job prospects. Some Jewish Studies majors pursue academics after graduation; others go on to rabbinical school, Jewish education, or work in Jewish communal or service organizations; but most pursue graduate degrees and careers in unrelated areas, such as government service, business, law, medicine, social work, or the world of nonprofit organizations. If you wish to go into social work, for example, a double major in Jewish Studies and psychology would be useful; if you’re drawn to foreign affairs or policy work, a double major in Jewish Studies and international relations makes sense. Prospective employers care most about the candidate’s capacity for critical thinking, sense of responsibility, commitment to hard work, and writing and speaking abilities. Like other liberal arts majors, Jewish Studies provides the foundation to read in a discriminatory way, to argue persuasively in speech and in writing, and to understand the complexities and diversity of the human experience.
To learn more, contact the Association for Jewish Studies, the learned society and professional association of Jewish Studies scholars: firstname.lastname@example.org.—Marsha Rozenblit, Ph.D., the Harvey M. Meyerhoff Professor of Modern Jewish History at the University of Maryland and president of the Association for Jewish Studies; and Rona Sheramy, Ph.D., AJS executive director