Hebrew major on the chopping block

Some feel that the Hebrew major, to be cut this fall, may find its way back to campus, with more support. Effective Fall 2012, Hebrew will no longer be offered to students as a major.


Some feel that the Hebrew major, to be cut this fall, may find its way back to campus, with more support.

Effective Fall 2012, Hebrew will no longer be offered to students as a major. The major’s suspension could potentially be the first in a series of cuts as the university reshapes itself in response to declining state appropriations and apparent low student interest in certain areas.

The Hebrew major has been taught at Temple for six decades, but due to perpetual drops in attendance and a shrinking budget, the College of Liberal Arts has decided to suspend the major from its curriculum.

Teresa Scott Soufas, dean of CLA, said letting the program continue wouldn’t make sense, fiscally or academically.

“We cannot sustain upper-level courses with one or two students taking them,” Soufas said. “It’s not even an appropriate classroom experience for the students taking those courses…and doesn’t create appropriate dialogue between the teacher and student.”

Although introductory Hebrew courses will still be offered in a four-semester program, Hebrew professors are suspicious of the suspension, and argue that it could be detrimental to the university.

Soufas said, though, that the program “is more than many of our languages have for the College of Liberal Arts.”

“A Hebrew program is one of many things Jewish students look for in a college or university,” Corey Bass, a senior Jewish studies and Hebrew major, said.

Bass said that as an active Jewish student on campus, he pays special attention to how the suspension will affect the Jewish community on Main Campus and is disheartened by the university’s decision.

“I was very upset to hear about it,” Bass said. “As someone who is double majoring in both Jewish studies and Hebrew, it plays into a lot of what I am studying.”

Adjunct Hebrew professor Ayala Guy is wary of Temple’s promise to provide the courses necessary for enlisted students to graduate.

One of her main qualms with the university’s decision stems from the fact that “[administrators] have canceled two courses needed for graduation this May and next December for several majors.”

“Luckily, it doesn’t affect me, I am graduating in May,” Rachel Pogolowitz, a senior Jewish studies and Hebrew minor, said. “But I feel sorry for any future students who won’t have the option of working with Ayala [Guy], Ilana [Margolis], and Hanoch [Guy]. With those [courses] being cut, any future Jewish studies students are going to have some problems.”

The courses on the chopping block are on the Holocaust and upper-level Hebrew courses.

“Basing the decision on the number of majors is narrow minded,” Hebrew professor Hanoch Guy said. “I think the decision on cuts without consultations with faculty and students is a deficient process that lacks transparency.”

Soufas said the decision to suspend the major was made between CLA and the university before the latest round of cuts to Temple’s budget, but did not shed any light on consulting with faculty prior to making the decision.

Soufas also said the Hebrew major’s suspension is by no means “set in stone,” and, with enough demand by students, could be reinstated since the size of the budget is not the only factor involved.

“I understand that money is tight,” Pogolowitz said, “but [the administration] saying that there isn’t a big enough draw to the Hebrew language classes seems ridiculous.”

“Obviously, as the classes go up in course number, they are also getting more difficult, and less and less students take those classes – but isn’t that true with any topic of study?” Pogolowitz said.

“We still believe in miracles,” Ayala Guy said. “And it will take a miracle, or a good amount of dollars, to revive the Hebrew program.”

Some find the decision a step backwards for the university, after the $8 million Edward H. Rosen Hillel Center for Jewish Life opened in 2009. The center is the namesake of Trustee Edward H. Rosen.

“It does affect those students who want to be Jewish studies majors, or those students who want a religion degree and need Hebrew certification,” Hillel Center Director Phil Nordlinger said. “To the outside world it doesn’t look good.”

“When high school students start looking for universities, especially Jewish students, they’re looking for these things — a strong Hillel, Jewish Studies deptartment, Hebrew major, Kosher food on campus,” Nordliner said. “And as a result of these items being cut, it affects the perception of Temple in the eyes of the Jewish community.”

Nordlinger said Temple maintains a strong Jewish community, but cuts like the one to the Hebrew program may make it appear differently.

“We hope that in the future that Hebrew as a major can come back, that Jewish studies can be a stand-alone major and that in the coming years the university can work with the Jewish community to understand the significance of these programs and find ways to find funding for them,” Nordlinger said.

Nate Rosen, a junior marketing major, said he was shocked by the decision to cut the Hebrew major.

“When I first heard about it, I wanted to go crazy…I think having students be exposed to Jewish and Hebrew experiences on campus is enlightening,” Rosen said. “Speaking from a business sense, they talk a lot about globalization, businesses operate in different locations, and it’s good to be able to communicate with people.”

Ayala Guy also contributed the supposed cuts to a lack in state funding, but generally concluded that there will not be any change in the university’s decision.

For the Guys, the specter of losing the major, and creating an environment that may not be attractive to potential Jewish students, is not only a threat to their careers own in academia, but is disheartening due to the prospect of decreasing the Jewish presence on Main Campus.

Hanoch Guy said Temple’s decision to suspend the Hebrew major, in addition with other Jewish studies courses, would be a major turnoff to many prospective Jewish students who will simply “choose not to come here.”

Currently, Penn and Temple are the only schools in the Philadelphia area that offer Hebrew as a major, and, with Temple’s Middle Eastern program, Ayala Guy thinks Temple will be missing out on a timely opportunity.

“With what’s happening now in the Middle East and North Africa, a program like this can be an important magnet for students to come to Temple and, of course, I can’t imagine a program like this without Hebrew and courses about Israel,” Ayala Guy said.

“Well, the Hebrew language has obviously not been a mainstay for Jewish studies students,” Soufas said, emphasizing the Hebrew major’s dwindling population during the years. “Otherwise, we would have more of them majoring in Jewish studies.”

“I don’t think it’ll have much of an effect on our currently enrolled students or new Jewish students in the near future,” Soufas added.

Currently, there are approximately 10 Hebrew majors and minors in the university, but Ayala Guy said those numbers aren’t just a result of lack of interest.

“Even now, I had to discourage students who wanted to become majors and minors since I knew they won’t have the courses to fulfill their requirements,” Ayala Guy said.

And without a new generation of Hebrew students, Guy argues, then the accomplishments of Temple’s former Hebrew graduates have been known to achieve after graduation, including careers as lawyers, physicians, rabbis, writers and teachers, will be a thing of the past.

Pogolowitz said she would like to work for a Jewish non-profit, and earn her master’s degree in an Israeli university in the future. Bass’ plans include earning his master’s degree, then focusing on a career that helps Jewish youths however he can – possibly as a teacher or rabbi.

“I hope that the major comes back,” Pogolowitz said. “It’s a beautiful language and culture, which Temple gave the students an opportunity to learn about, and now they are taking that away.”

Adjunct Hebrew professor Ilana Margolis said the university was in the wrong for suspending the Hebrew program because “this decision may undermine precisely the goal that it is intended to advance,” such as the study and development of “technology-related fields that hold promise of lucrative inventions, patents and services.”

Margolis, who is the only other Hebrew professor apart from Hanoch and Ayala Guy, claims that the future is in the hands of those “who have the vision to infuse technology with value,” referring to Israel’s role as a “gateway” to American technology.

Margolis suggested that, in a globalized world, where even the minor languages have significant importance, the impetus for Temple to keep its Hebrew major should be in its “capacity to be a center of excellence.”

Yet, despite the budgetary and administrative blockages, some students are more aligned with Soufas’ notion that just because the major is gone now, doesn’t mean that a surge in student demand will be unable to revive the program in the future.

“As long as the Jewish studies program does not come to an end, I feel there will still be hope with Hebrew at Temple,” Bass said.

Khoury Johnson can be reached at khoury.johnson@temple.edu.

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