Established at Oberlin in 1971, the Jewish Studies Program fosters knowledge of Jewish civilization—the religion, history, and culture of the Jews. Interdisciplinary in nature, the program employs a variety of methods to examine a history of more than 3,000 years and Diaspora communities on every continent, focusing on Jewish life and expression in the Middle East, Europe (east, central, and west), and the United States.
We offer a broad range of courses and a rigorous academic setting for the major, minor, and occasional student, from introductory courses, to thematic intermediate level courses, to specialized seminars. Private readings and participation in the JWST Honors program are also available, subject to program requirements. Most courses (seminars excluded) require no prior study or knowledge.
Majors acquire broad knowledge of the field along with fundamental tools required for its pursuit. These skills include the ability to read and comprehend core religious and historical texts, as well as methods for interpreting other materials relevant to the study of Judaism as a religious system and body of thought; Jewish history, literature, and culture. These skills are directly applicable to other areas of study and performance during one's undergraduate career and after it.
Major also pursue specialized study in an area or discipline within JWST.
The Jewish Studies Program offers two core disciplinary areas: history and religion; majors are required to choose a focus in one of these tracks. While all majors must complete a total of four core courses in Hebrew language, religion, and history (see the course catalog for full details), students in both concentrations will achieve practical skills fundamental to each.
Jewish studies offers intensive instruction in modern Hebrew language at both the elementary and intermediate levels by full-time faculty; with the emergence of a cohort reaching this level, we hope to offer advanced Hebrew (taught entirely in Hebrew), as well. A variety of courses in Hebrew and Jewish literature in translation and courses in Jewish Cultural Studies will also be offered; see the on line catalog for a full listing of all available JWST courses.
Most JWST courses are cross listed with other departments and or programs (religion; history; gender, feminist and women's studies; Classics; philosophy; Middle East and North Africa), and students can get credit for such courses in both. Many of our majors are double majors. Almost all our courses offer Cultural Diversity and Writing credit, as well. Different JWST courses offer Social Science and Humanities credit; see individual courses for specifics.
Oberlin JWST graduates have gone into academic careers, the rabbinate, and Jewish education and communal work, as well as varied professional careers (law; politics) enriched by grounding in Jewish historical experiences, text, and critical analysis. We encourage JWST majors to live in Johnson House, the residential program house for Jewish studies, where Hebrew language, text study, and cultural and social programs are held. Founded in 1969 by students as a winter-term project under the name Hebrew House, today about 35 students live in the renovated Queen Anne-style mansion complete with a fireplace, library, and lounges.
In addition to program housing, you may enrich your studies by spending a semester or more in Israel, Europe, England, or another American institution, taking a variety of Jewish studies courses through our study away programs. Four programs in Israel are on the approved list of Oberlin study away programs. A JWST award is available to help support intensive study of a Jewish language not offered at Oberlin (Yiddish; Ladino; Judeo-Arabic). Another JWST award is given for Best Paper in JWST.
The JWST program regularly hosts outstanding speakers in contemporary Jewish scholarship, politics, and literature through such programs as the David Hyman B’nai B’rith Lecture in Judaism, the Lubicki-Rosen lectures, and mini-courses.