After a Decade of Planning, a Ph.D. Program in Jewish Studies
Touro's Ph.D. Program to Inspire a New Generation of Jewish Scholars and Educators
Touro College Graduate School of Jewish Studies welcomed its first Ph.D. program candidates in September 2018. In doing so, Touro furthers its commitment to academic excellence in Jewish Studies and ensures that there will be scholars and teachers available to fill future vacancies for Jewish academics in high schools, colleges and graduate schools. The new doctoral program will build upon Touro’s highly-regarded master’s program in Jewish Studies, and augment Touro’s already considerable contributions, through published writings and scholarship, to the collective knowledge of the intellectual, social and political history of the Jewish people in the past millennium.
Dean Michael A. Shmidman and Dr. Shnayer Leiman talk more about the program.
GSJS Dean Michael A. Shmidman is both an ordained rabbi and a scholar of Jewish Studies. He holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and an M.A. from Hebrew University in Jewish Philosophy. He has served as Dean of Touro Graduate School of Jewish Studies since 1986, and was appointed to the Victor J. Selmanowitz Chair in Jewish History in 2003. He has been a member of Touro’s faculty and administration since 1981, when he was recruited to serve as the first director of the newly established GSJS. He taught at Harvard, the University of Cincinnati and Yeshiva University prior to his appointment at Touro. Medieval Jewish history and Maimonidean studies are the focal points of Dr. Shmidman’s research. He has published and lectured extensively, and often serves as a scholar-in-residence at synagogues and Jewish communal institutions. Dr. Shmidman was editor of Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought from 2001 to 2004, and Rabbi of Congregation Keter Torah in Teaneck, New Jersey from 1998-2003.
Dr. Shnayer Leiman
Dr. Leiman is Distinguished Professor of Jewish History and Literature at GSJS, Professor Emeritus of Jewish History and Literature in the Department of Judaic Studies at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York and former Dean of the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Yeshiva University. He earned his doctorate from the Department of Oriental Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and served as Skirball Fellow in Judaic Studies at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, Lady Davis Fellow and Visiting Professor of Bible at the Hebrew University, and as Visiting Professor of Jewish History at Harvard University. He has also served as Professor of Jewish History and Literature at Yale University, where he administered graduate and undergraduate programs in Judaic Studies. Dr. Leiman earned his rabbinic ordination from the Mirrer Yeshiva in New York.
What was the impetus behind the development of the program?
Dr. Leiman: Touro wants a role in producing a new group of skilled and talented teachers and scholars who will fill openings for academics in high schools, colleges, and graduate schools. We are dedicated to providing the highest level of academic teaching and training for the next generation of scholars who will be on the front lines of teaching at the high school and college level and beyond.
Is there anything occurring today in the world today that makes such a program more important or relevant?
Dr. Leiman: There are currently not enough Jewish teachers who have the talent to reach high school and college students. We hope to develop scholars who are both experts in their fields as well as charismatic teachers who will inspire high school, as well as college students, to fall in love with Jewish Studies.
Has there been an ongoing need at Touro for such a program?
Dr. Leiman: Up until this year, if there was a student at Touro who wanted to continue his/her studies beyond the master’s level, that student would have to go elsewhere. Now such a scholar has the opportunity to continue studies with the faculty of the Touro Graduate School of Jewish Studies.
What are the criteria for applying?
Dr. Leiman: An applicant must have a Master’s in Jewish Studies or a related field plus an outstanding Master’s thesis, as well as scholarly proficiency in Hebrew.
Please describe the program.
Dr. Shmidman: Touro’s program will offer a specialization in modern Jewish studies--sixteenth century to the present day. In future years, this specialization will be supplemented with a concentration in medieval Jewish studies.
Dr. Leiman: Similar to the Touro Master’s Program in Jewish Studies, our doctoral program is intensive. It is designed to train people in scholarly methods, critical thinking and writing, and combining these skills with the study of Jewish history, literature and thought.
How do you envision growing the program?
Dr. Leiman: We hope to build the program through our reputation for and commitment to academic excellence in Jewish Studies. The Touro Master’s Program attracts students from all over the world because of our name and reputation. Touro College Graduate School of Jewish Studies produces serious scholars who combine an academic and scholarly approach with traditional Jewish studies. We are maintaining these high standards with our PhD candidates and, as a result, we are being very selective and careful to accept only the most qualified students. When we produce our first doctorates, we want to have a group of graduates who will have no problem obtaining positions as academics or teachers.
Dr. Shmidman: More than 1,500 students have graduated from the various branches of the Touro Graduate School of Jewish Studies since 1981. Many have assumed positions of leadership in academia, Jewish education and Jewish communal service in the United States, Israel, Europe and Canada. We will grow our new doctoral program on a solid foundation of excellence.
What will a Ph.D. candidate pursue in terms of curriculum and then thesis research and writing?
Dr. Shmidman: We require 36 credits of advanced course work beyond the Master's degree; written and oral comprehensive examinations in the area of specialization and in the cognate field; demonstration of reading proficiency in French or German and any other language deemed relevant to the student’s program of study; submission and approval of a dissertation proposal, which includes explanations of what the student proposes to study and why, and what is novel about the approach to this material; and submission, approval, and satisfactory oral defense of the doctoral dissertation.
What kinds of candidates are you hoping to attract to the program?
Dr. Leiman: Our ideal student is passionate about his or her subject, intellectually alert, fluent in Hebrew as well as a second language such as German, French or Arabic. The candidate must undergo an interview with us, have earned high GRE scores, possess a high-grade point average in prior studies, present a first-rate Master’s thesis, and have received strong support in the form of letters of recommendation.
Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
Dr. Shmidman: The doctoral program will provide students with opportunities to work with Touro’s distinguished graduate faculty in New York, as well as with experts in Holocaust Studies at Touro’s Berlin campus and faculty at Touro’s New York-based Jewish Law Institute. I am particularly delighted that doctoral students will now have the opportunity and privilege to be mentored by Professor Leiman, our newest addition to the graduate faculty.
I am confident that Touro’s doctoral students will contribute significantly to Jewish scholarship, teaching and the quality of education in the Jewish community at large.
Dr. Leiman: The Touro Graduate School of Jewish Studies offers the highest level of study to both men and women. We are very proud of the fact that many of our M.A. and Ph.D. students are highly qualified female scholars.