Campus Life 202: A Glimpse into Graduate Jewish Studies
an interview with Jeffrey Shandler and Rona Sheramy


HUC-JIR offers graduate programs through its
Rabbinical School, the Debbie Friedman School of 
Sacred Music, Schools of Education, Jewish Nonprofit
Management, and Graduate Studies. 

How many graduate Jewish studies programs exist today?

The Association of Jewish Studies directory lists more than 50 programs in the U.S., Canada, and Israel offering graduate training (MA and/or PhD) in Jewish studies. To learn more, visit the AJS Directory of Jewish Studies Programs.

How have the programs changed?

They have grown more interdisciplinary, reflecting broader trends in the humanities and higher education as well as the wide range of students’ educational and cultural backgrounds. Many Jewish studies PhD candidates have prior training in fields as diverse as ethnic and Diaspora studies or media and cultural studies; as well as the more traditional literature, history, politics, and religion. The most innovative Jewish studies departments take full advantage of these diverse perspectives and experiences, encouraging students to connect their graduate work in the field to other departments, area studies, theoretical approaches, and methodologies. Students do doctoral work in Jewish studies combined with fields ranging from comparative literatures and ethnomusicology to linguistics and political science.

What factors should students consider in choosing a program?

Consider the overall scope and agenda of a graduate program as well as the areas of specialization that constitute its strengths. Research the number and expertise of faculty members, the range of graduate-level course offerings, and the library and archival holdings in Jewish studies. For PhD candidates, a key question is whether someone at the institution can serve as a dissertation advisor. Also, learn about funds available for research support, summer study, and, for PhD programs, tuition remittance and stipends.

How can undergrads increase their chances of acceptance?

A key component of applying to graduate school is presenting examples of well-written and thoughtfully researched scholarly work. Therefore, undergraduates should take full advantage of opportunities to write original research papers and/or a BA thesis. Most PhD programs and some MA programs require Hebrew mastery for acceptance, and some will also expect reading skills in at least one other language, so undergrads should acquire proficiency in Hebrew and perhaps begin study of another language. It is also very important to develop mentoring relationships with one or two professors, who then can write informed letters of recommendation.

What careers are available to MA and PhD graduates?

Options include teaching in Jewish or general K-12 schools, teaching at the university level, school administration, Jewish communal work, international relations, journalism, or working in non-profit organizations, museums, archives, historical societies, and libraries. To learn more read the fall 2011 issue of the AJS magazine Perspectives.


—Jeffrey Shandler, PhD, AJS president and professor of Jewish Studies at Rutgers University; and Rona Sheramy, PhD, AJS executive director
Union for Reform Judaism.