Judaic Studies at UMaine

University of Maine flag logo with Judaic Studies textThe Judaic Studies program at the University of Maine is an interdisciplinary academic minor that also hosts guest speakers and other events of interest to the Jewish community of Eastern Maine. 

As an academic program, Judaic Studies provides UMaine students with substantive understandings of the historical, religious, literary, philosophical, sociological, and political experiences of the Jewish people. In addition to drawing on coursework from across the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Judaic Studies offers four courses every year in modern Hebrew, Judaism, and Jewish history. Full details about the academic minor can be found at https://umaine.edu/judaicstudies/academics/ or contact the program coordinator Derek A. Michaud derek.a.michaud@maine.edu or 207.581.3890. 

While you might think of all this as the purview of “college kids” the truth is that anyone can enroll in Judaic Studies courses! In fact, UMaine courses are tuition-free for Mainers over the age of 65. To register or for more information just contact the Division of Lifelong Learning at dlladvising@maine.edu or 207.581.3143, or visit them at https://umaine.edu/dlladvising/non-degree-student-information/

In the Fall semester, we offer HBR 101 Beginning Modern Hebrew I taught by Shellie Batuski. Designed for students with minimal or no previous knowledge of Hebrew this course offers a systematic study of the basics of the Hebrew language with equal emphasis on developing reading, listening comprehension, speaking, and writing skills. In the Fall 2021 this course is being offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12:30-1:45 pm on campus at UMaine. 

JST 200 Introduction to Judaism is also offered in the Fall semester. This course surveys developments in Jewish belief, practice, institutions, and self-understanding from the Biblical period through the present day. Designed to familiarize students with the major canonical texts of Judaism, religious law, liturgy, rites of passage, the Sabbath, and festivals, the course is also an ideal “refresher” too. In the Fall 2021 semester Rabbi Darah Lerner will offer this course on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:00-3:15 pm on campus at UMaine. 

In the Spring semester students can continue their study of Hebrew with HBR 102 Beginning Modern Hebrew II

JST 205 Jewish History and Antisemitism from Antiquity to the Founding of the State of Israel is also offered in the Spring semester. This survey of the history of antisemitism from pre-Christian Alexandria to the founding of the State of Israel explores academic and popular theories of antisemitism, debates about its proper scope and development, and integrate these ideas with a study of the arc of Jewish history, read closely together in primary sources. This course, developed by Rabbi William Siemers and first offered in the Spring of 2021, brings a systematic study of antisemitism to the university curriculum for the first time. 

In addition to our academic program Judaic Studies also hosts public events and speakers with partners from academic departments, the Hillel student organization (https://umaine.edu/shac/hillel/), and local congregations. While this has been especially difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic we had two fascinating talks in the fall of 2020. 

On October 14th we hosted David L. Smith from the University of New England for a ZOOM talk about his recent book On Inhumanity: Dehumanization and How to Resist It (Oxford University Press, 2020). A recording of Dr. Smith’s talk can be found here: https://youtu.be/C319MYUvzNk

On November 5th we hosted Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg for her talk on “Repentance and Repair in the Public Square.” The award-winning author of Nurture the Wow, Surprised by God, The Passionate Torah, and other books, Rabbi Ruttenberg shared her current research on the work of repentance and repair in the public square which will be published in her next book due out in 2022. 

Plans are currently underway for a fuller series of speakers in the 2021-2022 academic year. Details will be found on our website https://umaine.edu/judaicstudies/, Facebook https://www.facebook.com/UMaineJudaicStudies, Twitter https://twitter.com/JudaicUMaine, and Instagram https://www.instagram.com/UMaineJudaicStudies

All of this is made possible through the generosity and vision of donors and supporters. The Norman Minsky Fund for Judaic Studies allowed for the creation of the minor in 2009 and continues to provide for our academic program today. In 2021 a new fund was started to supplement the Minsky Fund by supporting faculty development, research, travel, guest speakers, and other events. Donations to either fund can be made at https://our.maine.edu/judaicstudies or by contacting the University of Maine Foundation at 207.581.5100 or 800.982.8503, or email umainefoundation@maine.edu