Religion & Beliefs

How I Invented Jewish Studies at My Catholic University

When I was applying to colleges three years ago, I had no intentions of becoming so invested in my own Jewishness. In fact, I was unawareI even had any Jewishness to call my own. So it’s no surprise that I … Read More

By / November 23, 2009

When I was applying to colleges three years ago, I had no intentions of becoming so invested in my own Jewishness. In fact, I was unawareI even had any Jewishness to call my own. So it’s no surprise that I didn’t really mind the Jesuit tradition when I sent my intent form to Fordham University.

Actually, being at a traditionally religious University got me thinking more about religion in general-not just Catholicism. In fact, mythology class was a persistent reminder of why I never really liked being a part of the Catholic Church. Having Catholicism thrust upon me, even in the subtle way Fordham likes to think it does so, was probably a big part of whatpushed me toward Judaism. That, and an English professor who let us write a term paper about whatever we wanted. I chose Jewish intermarriage and conversion.

Actually studying Judaism at a Catholic university, however, was going to take more than holding my own while being fed Catholicism. It’snot that Fordham wants all of its graduates to be baptized by the time we arehanded our diplomas. It’s just that they tend to expect we all grew up going to Catholic schools. And let’s be honest, many of my classmates did.

Once I got involved in the Jewish community in the middle ofmy freshman year, I started taking classes outside of school and startedreading on my own. That is, until I realized a full credit load in college doesn’t lend itself well to, you know… free time. So I decided the only way I would be able to continue studying would be to find a way to incorporate Judaism into my course load.

So, I took up a minor in Jewish Studies. I wish I could capture and collect the looks on peoples’ faces when they hear this, and without fail look back at me and say, "Fordham has Jewish Studies?" No, it absolutely does not. I’m inventing it.

Luckily, as a Catholic institution, we have a thriving department of theology. So, officially, I am a religious studies minor. I just happen to be taking all of my classes in what my school refers to as the "Old Testament." I was taught the Hebrew Bible by a nun. Thankfully, I am being taught The Torah by a rabbi, so I guess it balances out. For lack of classes beyond "Introduction to the Old Testament," "The Torah," and "Classic JewishTexts," I’m fulfilling one of my requirements by taking "Introduction to MiddleEastern History." It’s, err… close, right? Round it out with "Faith and Critical Reason" and "Women in the Bible" and somehow, I’ve managed to finish a religious studies minor with a focus in Judaism. Of course, I’d be stuck if Iwanted to make it a double major, since I’d have four classes left and only "The Holocaust" to choose from, but I’ll take what I can get for now and take it up with our president (a priest) and our dean (also a priest) so that others have to chance to learn about Jewish texts and traditions at Fordham, too.

Next step: getting a Fordham University Hillel. Wish us alot of luck with that one, we’re going to need it.