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11 Nissan 5765 - April 20, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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We Must Teach Our Students Ancient Accadian And Syriac
by B. Adler

An article published in Ha'aretz discussed the various academic studies available at Israeli universities. The universities are up in arms at Ha'aretz's approach to this topic: "You can't talk about more or less important subjects, since all study groups are meant for research and the acquisition of profound knowledge."

The paper points out that like the capital and fashion markets, the field of academic university studies is also influenced by international fashions and trends. The popularity of academic study groups fluctuates in accordance with the needs and moods of the time. "Twenty years ago we did not have a study group for the Chinese language and culture," says Professor Dan Lior, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at Tel Aviv University. "Nowadays there is also quite a big demand for Indian studies. The demand stems from the local phenomenon of youngsters traveling to the East and the consequent exposure to these cultures and curiosity about them. These studies are actually a continuation of the `Great Eastern Tours' and the study group for Asian studies is one of our three biggest study groups. This comes as something of a surprise to the outsider."

The paper also mentions a list of study groups, some of which are attended by a small amount of students, and which only take place for the sake of "academic research." These include those on "The ancient East and its languages," "Italian language and literature," "Indian and Armenian studies," and so on. These statistics are preceded by the headline: "A Lecturer for Every Student."

The university points out that studies for Tanach and Talmud are suffering from a lack of interest and demand.

As far as we are concerned, this fact should not be a source of disappointment. Although this trend testifies to the alienation between Israeli students and youngsters and their foundations, anyone who knows about the distorted and heretical attitude prevalent in limudei kodesh subjects in universities can confirm that it would preferable if these study groups were closed altogether.

Suffice it to quote Professor Lior, who praises Ben- Gurion for having created a "connection with the Tanach." We can imagine what these studies consist of. The professor, who spoke about the big demand for Indian studies, contrasts this with the small amount of students participating in studies dealing with "Israeli and Jewish subjects" as he puts it.

We can see an opposite trend when it comes to subjects such as Bible Studies, which used to have a full-size, flourishing study group, which today is much smaller. "About 20 or 30 years ago these subjects took up a prominent place in the Israeli consciousness. During Ben-Gurion's period and afterwards there was a stress on our connection to the Bible and it was at the center of Israeli discourse. This connection manifested itself in the Bible Quiz and the popularity of Bible Studies and Tanach studies in schools and universities. Nowadays there has been a dramatic decline in their status and these groups have become much smaller. This transformation is due to changes taking place in post- modern Israeli society, which have pushed these subjects into the sidelines of academic interest."

Professor Lior adds: "Linguistics, history and Bible studies will always remain academic subjects, but there is no doubt that a correlation exists between the extent to which these subjects interest the public at large and their prominence in academic circles. We should note the fluctuations in the popularity of these study groups. There are 14 undergraduate Talmud students in Tel Aviv University and 18 post- graduate students. Some people would say that we should give up. Our attitude is that a university should not act in accordance with the laws of supply and demand." Incidentally, Ha'aretz points out, "Surprisingly, in Bar-Ilan University too there are not many students studying these subjects."

Professor Lior explains that any university "with a conscience and values" remains faithful to areas which do not enjoy great popularity, but which it feels are important for whatever reason. "In our opinion, it is out of the question that there should be any university in the State of Israel with a sense of responsibility towards Israeli and Jewish culture which does not have some sort of organized framework for Talmudic studies. We feel obliged to offer these studies even if there are only 30 students. The same applies to Semitic linguistic studies, which are a subdivision of the Hebrew study group. Even though this study group only has about ten students, we live in the Semitic region and we consider it important to teach our students languages such as ancient Accadian and Syrian and the whole legacy of Semitic languages as an integral part of the cultural legacy of the civilization of the area we live in. We invest a lot of energy into this study group, since we do not have a lot of teachers who deal in the subject. The university's conscience obliges us to teach Semitic languages and offer a study group for ancient cultures such as Greece and Rome, in which only a small amount of students take part."

These statements speak for themselves. If Tanach and Talmud are compared to Semitic linguistic studies and the study of ancient cultures such as Greece and Rome, and if the study of Jewish sources is considered as "an integral part of the cultural legacy of the civilization of the area we live in" it is little wonder that the spirit of these studies is dominated by a distorted and heretical attitude.


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