SHARE
Talmud (photo: Wiki­media Commons)

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.