Starting this January, the University will offer the state”s first master”s program in Judaic studies through the Rackham Graduate School.

“One of our target audiences is a person who is not quite sure they want to commit to a full-fledged Ph.D. program,” said Zvi Gitelman, director of the Judaic studies program.

The new program will build off existing courses that make up the Judaic studies minor. The master”s program will also add courses in political science and history as well as a Middle Eastern studies focus aimed at graduate students.

“About 1,500 students a year enroll in the Judaic studies (minor) program, which I feel is a clear sign of interest,” Gitelman said.

A few have said that they feel it would be a useful credential in furthering their work in rabbinical studies, working in Jewish communal settings and teaching in Jewish schools.

For a new master”s program to be added at a public university in Michigan, it must be approved by every university in the state to avoid duplication. The University of Michigan”s program was approved in October.

The University”s undergraduate Judaic studies program has been around since 1971, although work on the new program was only started recently.

“We”ve been rather conservative toward adding new programs because we have a reputation for our emphasis on quality, which is why this has taken so long,” Gitelman said.

The coming semester”s program has seven applicants, and more are expected next fall.

First to enroll in the program was Greg Epstein, a recent graduate of the University who is now studying to be a humanistic rabbi. Epstein said he feels a master”s in Judaic studies would help him in the future.

Humanistic rabbinical training focuses on Judaic cultural roots. It studies the Jewish texts from the view point of having been written by humans.

“Doing Judaic studies as a grad student is really amazing because you can mix the best parts of your tradition with a very humanistic outlook,” Epstein said.

Epstein said he never considered himself a religious person but decided to become a humanistic rabbi after graduating from the University.

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