Here at Hillsdale, the Judeo-Christian Greco-Roman heritage is a big deal.
But something has slipped by unnoticed: Where in our curriculum or on campus do you find anything about the Jewish side of that heritage? Once a year the religion department offers an Old Testament class, and every fall we bring in a lecturer or two with the Gershom Lecture series.
These are great opportunities, but they pale in comparison to the seemingly endless barrage of the other three heritages. It is practically a requirement to bring Aristotle into any speech given on campus, and the philosophy and religion department offers more classes about Christianity than I could ever fit into my four-year Hillsdale education.
Although I am grateful for these opportunities, the Jewish heritage offers far more than simply a jumping-off point for Christianity. The works of the Jewish writers, both during the biblical period and beyond, provide an endless wealth of wisdom from philosophy and religion to politics and history.
Through the biannual Philos trips to Israel and the Gershom Lectures, the campus has been pushing to foster stronger interfaith relationships. Yet, no 10-day trip to Israel can truly teach a student to understand this unique tradition.
While I was sitting in Visiting Assistant Professor of Classics Joshua Fincher’s Midrash seminar this semester, it struck me just how little knowledge the student body generally has regarding the Jewish heritage. It’s not a lack of interest, but a lack of opportunities. This tradition in which I and a handful of others on campus grew up is practically night and day in comparison to the other three traditions: Christianity, Greek, and Roman.
Beyond interfaith relations, the Jewish tradition is incredibly important to properly understand the Christian faith. Far from being some mystic on a hill, Jesus Christ was an earthly figure in a real time and place. For those who desire to study his teachings, shouldn’t we strive to understand what he was taught and the tradition that he was raised in?
Practically every single verse in the New Testament hearkens back to the teachers that came before it. This work that we hold in such high regard is not some standalone book, but one built upon centuries of a deep and rich tradition.
As a senior about to pursue Old Testament and Near Eastern studies at the graduate level, it is baffling to see just how little we respect this important tradition. For example, through our classical studies department, you can learn to read Homer and Virgil. In the foreign language department, you can spend a lifetime reading Calvin and Luther. But where do you read the politics of Moses, the philosophy of Solomon, the dialectics of the Hazal? For those interested in such linguistic pursuits, we are lucky if there is a class offered every other year.
This is not for a lack of faculty. It seems that every time I turn around, I meet a faculty member that has at least a basic grasp of Biblical Hebrew and several that excel in it. By studying abroad or taking independent studies, it is possible to take these classes, but there should be no need to jump through such complicated hoops.
I understand that as a small rural college, it’s impossible to offer every class that students want, but if we’re meant to do our heritage justice, we need to right this wrong. Between the classics, history, and philosophy and religion departments, we have the faculty to do it. Several of them, such as Professor Fincher, said he would even be interested in teaching more classes in this area.
Duly respecting the Jewish heritage does not require offering a new major. But a good place to start would be to offer regular Hebrew classes, continue Fincher’s classes on Jewish literature, and most importantly, spend more time talking about it in our core humanities courses.
As it is, we don’t even have a Talmud in Mossey Library that students can check out. In an ideal world, students like me could spend just as much time studying the Jewish heritage as the other three, but until that happens, I’ll be doing it on my own.
Nathan Steinmeyer is a senior studying philosophy and religion.