Monday, June 19, 2000

Miami offers minor in Jewish studies

Religion only part of story, prof says

By Ben L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A Greek Orthodox professor at home with Israelis and Arabs will guide Miami University's new undergraduate minor in Jewish studies.

        It comes “directly out of my intellectual interest and my emotional ties,” professor Thomas Idinopulos said. It also reflects them, he continued.

        “Many people think of Judaism as only a religion. What they don't seem to appreciate is that the people is a people that has a religion called Judaism but also are part of a complex ethno-national development.”

        An initial dozen students will pursue the 18-credit Jewish studies minor when classes begin in August, Dr. Idinopulos said, “and we expect more.”

        Dr. Idinopulos has spent the past 25 summers in Jerusalem, where his friendships, scholarship and Judaism, Christianity and Islam intersect.

        Dr. Idinopulos — professor of comparative religion and acting director of the program — will teach four courses each year.

        One will be “Social and Religious History of the Jewish People,” which he has taught for 20 years in the religious studies department.

        The 64-year-old scholar estimated half the students in that course are non-Jews. “They simply are interested in Jews, they want to know more about the Holocaust, and they are fascinated by Israel.”

        Another offering will be “Introduction to the Religion of Ancient Israel,” taught by Harold O. Forshey, chairman of religious studies.

        Dr. Idinopulos' push for separate Jewish studies coincided with Miami's positive response to a student who urged the school to introduce courses in modern Hebrew.

        Also, Arts and Sciences Dean Karl Maddox and his successor, John Skillings, were seeking more diverse academic offerings.

        Initially, Miami approved a “thematic sequence” of Jewish studies elective for undergraduates.

        Next, to Dr. Idinopulos' “surprise and delight,” the deans created the academic minor. It entered the fall curriculum after Associate Dean Steven DeLue molded their vision and plans into a formal academic program.

        Dean Skillings called it a “natural extension” of the thematic sequence. “That's the way you start.” A Jewish studies major might follow, Dean Skillings added.

        “It's a program about Jews and Judaism,” Dr. Idinopulos said, and no one has complained that the founding fathers were Christians. “No. Just the opposite.”

        He said colleagues found it reassuring when the program arose from within the university and courses were in established departments.

        Early encouragement came from Cincinnati's Jewish Community Relations Council, spokes woman Alice Abrams said. “We told them we supported their initiative.”

        Among the inaugural courses, only modern Hebrew is to be taught by a Miami outsider, Rabbi Javier Cattapan, a doctoral student at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati.

        Courses created for the Jewish studies minor include history of the Holocaust, field work that could include travel to Israel, and Jews and German culture.

        If money can be found for student field work in Israel, Dr. Idinopulos might lead them. “They've asked and I've said I'm open to it.”

        Because the program is new, Dr. Idinopulos is acting director, Dean Skillings said. Assuming all goes well, Miami will seek a director to take over in the 2002-2003 academic year. It will be up to Dr. Idinopulos whether he applies.

        Other Tristate schools offer courses on Judaism, Bible and the Holocaust, but only the University of Cincinnati and Hebrew Union College offer degrees in Jewish studies.

        HUC began training Reform rabbis in 1875 and its interfaith graduate program awarded its first PhDs in 1951. UC's program began in 1973 with a certificate, offered a 4-year degree in 1977 and became a department in 1998.


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