Jewish Studies Program at Michigan State University


Jewish Studies Program

The Jewish Studies Program at Michigan State University engages in interdisciplinary study of the history, cultures, language(s), identities, and religion of the Jewish people. While our program encompasses the historical and geographic breadth of Jewish experiences, our particular strengths are in five key areas: American Jewish history, culture, and literature; European Jewish History and Holocaust Studies; Hebrew; Israel Studies; and Judaism and Jewish Philosophy.

A hallmark of our program is the close interaction of faculty, students and community members. The Jewish Studies Program offers a 20 credit undergraduate minor in Jewish Studies that allows students to explore, in interdisciplinary and flexible ways, Jewish history, culture, and identity, to learn Hebrew, and to study Judaism and Jewish thought. Students work closely with faculty mentors, who provide guidance both on academic development and professional opportunities. Our students have opportunities to engage in substantive research projects in class or as guided independent studies as well as senior theses, and to participate in faculty-led study abroad programs in Israel. The result is a collegial, supportive community of students and faculty who form lasting relationships.

The Jewish Studies Program also supports the scholarly work of Jewish Studies faculty at MSU, developing a nationally recognized program that fits with the aspirations of a 21st century global university. We have 6 core Jewish Studies faculty and over 20 affiliated faculty from ten departments and colleges across the university. The program contributes to and enhances knowledge of Jewish life in the university community, mid-Michigan, and the State of Michigan.

The Undergraduate Jewish Studies Minor
The Jewish Studies Minor offers a rich interdisciplinary program which introduces undergraduates to the history, cultures, language(s), identities, religion, and civilization of the Jewish people. Students can choose from among our varied and flexible course offerings (listed below), for a minimum of twenty (20) credits, which can be taken while fulfilling the requirements for a major in nearly any field at MSU. Our minor centers on our strengths in American Jewish History and Culture, European Jewish History and Holocaust Studies, Hebrew, Israel Studies, and Judaism and Jewish Philosophy. We emphasize close collaboration with and advising from faculty, and offer rich opportunities for undergraduate research. These curricular components are enhanced by our many co-curricular lectures and films designed to enhance classroom experiences and research.


Yael Aronoff - Michigan State Jewish Studies


This summer has witnessed particularly dramatic and often painful developments on the national and international stage. Events in the Middle East, Europe and within the U.S. have challenged ideas of peace, security and justice; debates within the U.S. and Europe have challenged seemingly foundational ideas and institutions, reinterpreting the past and reshaping the future; and the unprecedented discourse surrounding the U.S. presidential race has challenged our concepts of immigration, identity and American democracy itself.

Our Jewish Studies faculty are centrally positioned to grapple with the pressing issues of the day, and through their cutting edge research and engaged teaching, to work with students through these crucial challenges. Urgent questions about nationalism, immigration, identity and ethnic conflict are illuminated in courses on anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, and the history of Jewish immigration and identity in the U.S., taught by new faculty like Amy Simon and veteran scholars like Kirsten Fermaglich. The histories and tensions that sparked renewed violence around the Temple Mount will be explored in courses like visiting Israeli Professor Yehotal Shapira’s on religion, history and architecture in Jerusalem and Yuval Benziman’s and Marc Bernstein’s on Israeli history and society. Visiting professor Alon Tal grapples with global environmental concerns in his course on climate change and public policy. Pressing questions about strategy and ethics of fighting non-state actors using terrorist tactics are discussed in Yael Aronoff’s course on asymmetric warfare. Across the breadth and depth of courses taught by our Jewish Studies faculty, issues of diversity, identity, tradition and change are central, and they illuminate these pressing contemporary questions through close examination of the specific experience of Jewish communities both past and present. In short, Jewish Studies has never been more relevant than it is today

I want to highlight several developments that speak to the relevance of our Jewish Studies program to these current challenges. The first is our program’s growing strength in Holocaust studies. Our established leadership in Holocaust Studies has been enhanced by the addition of Amy Simon as the inaugural Appointee to the William and Audrey Farber Chair in Holocaust Studies and European History – the only endowed Chair in Holocaust Studies in the state of Michigan. In addition, a generous donation by Ed Brill and his sister Leslie Van Brandt (in memory of their brother Michael Brill) to the MSU library has made possible MSU faculty and student access to the USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive, an exclusive database of 50,000 video testimonies from Holocaust survivors, with support for teaching faculty and graduate students how to best use this resource. Faculty and graduate students from across the university will receive extensive training in September, led by Ken Waltzer with Deborah Margolis, on how to use these in their research and teaching. We now have more than a half a dozen faculty teaching and researching various aspects of Holocaust Studies across the university, and this will continue to grow and contribute to genocide studies more broadly. We are also well positioned to contribute to Michigan’s new legislation mandating the teaching of the Holocaust in all schools across the state.

We are also expanding our strengths in Israel Studies. The study of Israel focuses on many pressing issues crucial to global events more broadly, including the challenges of democracy and equality in a culturally, religiously and ethnically divided society; the role of religion in a democracy; the challenge of enhancing regional and global connections in the face of threats posed by state and non-state actors and the challenges of peacemaking between long-standing adversaries. This semester our established strengths in Israel Studies has been enhanced by an unprecedented number of visiting Israeli academics and artists. I have already mentioned the courses that will be taught by visiting Israeli scholars like Shapira, Benziman and Alon Tal, which link Israel Studies to both James Madison College and the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities. Esteemed Israeli artist Chen Shapira will be exhibiting his art at the RCAH gallery. In addition, coinciding with MSU’s Year of Water, Alon Tal has helped organize a Jewish Studies-sponsored symposium on lake management, which will bring over a dozen Israeli and Michigan environmentalists, academics and policy makers together to discuss lake management issues in the Great Lakes and the Kinneret/Sea of Galilee, to which the public is invited.

It will be an exciting fall semester to be part of Jewish Studies at Michigan State University!


Click here for Jewish Studies Courses for 2016-2017



Friday, October 21st
10:00-11:30 am in Room 302 Snyder
Jerusalem: the Place of the Absolute: the Temple Mount in Structures of Thought, Society, Architecture and Everyday Life
Yehotal Shapira, the Visiting Israeli Scholar in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities. will discuss the connections between absolute thinking and social structures as they manifest themselves in the Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sharif area, especially the way the perceptions of the absolute or G-d shape the way we relate to those who think differently from us. Co-sponsored by the RCAH, the Asian Studies Center, James Madison College and Peace and Justice Studies.

Friday, October 28th
12:00-1:30pm — 255 Old Horticulture
Forging Ties, Forging Passports: Migration and the Modern Sephardic Diaspora, 1900-1940
Devy Mays, Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan, will discuss the emigration of over one-third of the Ladino-speaking Jewish population of the northeastern Mediterranean to Egypt, Italy, France, the United States, Cuba, Mexico, and the Southern Cone. These Sephardic migrants both created and came to rely on overlapping familial, cultural, and religious networks, ties they perpetuated through frequent non-linear migrations and contact. Such connections enabled Sephardic migrants to cultivate transnational identities and citizenships in order to circumvent the migratory restrictions that saw them deemed increasingly undesirable due to nationality, race, ethnicity, class, and religion. Co-sponsored by the History Department, James Madison College and Peace and Justice Studies.

Friday, November 18
10am-11:30am — Wells Hall B-342
Voices from the Holocaust: Testimonies by French Survivors
Anna Norris will examine the audiovisual testimonies of French Holocaust survivors in the archive of the Memorial de la Shoah of Paris, France. Dr. Norris discusses the reasons that so little research has been done on French survivors’ testimonies, especially those of women who were discouraged from testifying until recently, and underscores the critical importance of hearing those voices. Co-sponsored by James Madison College, The Department of Linguistics & Germanic, Slavic, Asian, and African Languages, The Center for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies, and Peace and Justice Studies.

Friday, December 2nd
10:00am-11:30am — Wells Hall B-342
Israel’s Wars with Hamas: the Dilemmas of Asymmetric Conflicts
Yael Aronoff analyzes democracies fighting asymmetric wars, which attempt to balance traditional military strategies of deterrence with pressures for restraint. Restraint mitigates further resentment by populations in which the strikes are held; are needed to maintain a political culture’s self-identity as a democracy upholding democratic norms and international laws regarding the conduct of war in opposition to the non-state actor; and deprives the opponent of winning narrative battles in the media. Dr. Aronoff will examine how international lawyers, military commanders, and non-governmental organizations such as the ICRC have come together to try to reach consensus on what the restraints binding states should be in these wars. Co-sponsored by James Madison College, the Asian Studies Center, The Department of Linguistics & Germanic, Slavic, Asian, and African Languages, The Center for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies, and Peace and Justice Studies.

Tuesday, December 6th
7:00pm—9:30pm — MSU Library Green Room (4th Floor West)
Son of Saul, directed by Laszlo Nemes
Winner of the 2016 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Son of Saul follows a Hungarian Jewish prisoner (Gez Rohrig) in Auschwitz who works as a Sonderkommando, participating as a cog in the Nazis’ extermination machine. In a haunting exploration of the struggle to maintain one’s humanity in the midst of so much killing, Saul is determined to give the body of a young boy a proper Jewish burial. Amy Simon will introduce the film, provide comments at the conclusion, and then lead a discussion about the film. Co-sponsored by James Madison College and and Peace and Justice Studies.



We’re hiring! Check out the new job opening for The Department of Religious Studies and the Jewish Studies Program


Friday, October 21st – 10:00-11:30 am in Room 302 Snyder
“Jerusalem: the Place of the Absolute: the Temple Mount in Structures of Thought, Society, Architecture and Everyday Life”


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