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Frankel Center History

Todd M. Endelman

Professor Emeritus of History and Judaic Studies



I.    Before Judaic Studies

The teaching of Hebrew and the Hebrew Bible has a long history at the University of Michigan. In Ann Arbor, as elsewhere in Protestant America, both were well established in the liberal arts curriculum before the blossoming of Jewish studies in the last third of the twentieth century.  The antiquity of Hebrew instruction on the American campus was a result of Protestant bibliocentricity, the foregrounding of unmediated access to the original Hebrew text of the Bible. As early as 1864, President E. O. Haven told the Board of Regents that the establishment of a professorship of Hebrew and Oriental languages was “much needed.” Almost two decades later, in 1883, the Regents were told that there were (Christian) students “who would be glad of an opportunity to take up Hebrew, especially as a preparation for their theological studies” (that is, training for the ministry). However, nothing was done until 1890, when the University hired Carl W. Belser, who was already teaching French and German, to offer classes in biblical Hebrew. Several times in the early 1890s, the Board of Regents noted that there was increasing interest in the study of the “Old Testament” and Hebrew and cognate languages and that classes in this area attracted large number of students. It also noted, while acknowledging the religious motive for this interest, that, as a state university, it could not establish “a theological department.” On the other hand, it recognized that nothing prevented it from offering language courses to students who would receive theological instruction elsewhere. In 1893, James A. Craig succeeded Belser and during his nineteen years at the University taught Hebrew as well as Arabic, Aramaic, Assyrian, Hellenistic Greek, and Sanskrit. He also taught a variety of courses on the Hebrew and Greek Bibles.

Hebrew thus entered the University curriculum under Protestant auspices. It and other Semitic languages were valued because they enhanced understanding of God’s will, as revealed in the Hebrew Bible. The University’s interest in Hebrew did not extend, however, to postbiblical forms of the language (rabbinic, medieval, and modern).

Historically Christian theology deprecated the value of post-biblical Judaism (as well as its literature), which it represented as decayed, corrupt, and fossilized from the time of Jesus if not earlier. The study of post-biblical Hebrew literature – and Judaica more generally – was not then a kind of natural outgrowth of biblical studies. Its introduction was linked, rather, to broader changes in attitudes toward Jews and Judaism in American society, changes that began to occur only in the 1960s. It was made possible, as well, by the serendipitous arrival in Ann Arbor of Jewish faculty whose own background, commitments, and priorities moved them to champion Jewish studies.

In the years after World War II, the University of Michigan emerged as a major center for teaching and research in the history of the ancient Near East. In 1948, what had been the Department of Oriental Languages and Literatures split into two departments: Near Eastern Studies (renamed Near Eastern Languages and Literatures in 1962) and Far Eastern Studies. In 1953, Near Eastern Studies appointed Hebert A. Paper (1925- 2012), who had received his Ph.D. from the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago in 1952 and had just spent a Fulbright year in Iran, to an assistant professorship. A specialist in the history of the Persian language (including Judeo- Persian) and the languages of ancient Iran, Paper was a gifted linguist and an engaging raconteur. A native speaker of Yiddish, he learned Hebrew as a child and studied Latin and Greek in high school and college and then Chinese at the University of California, Berkeley, during World War II (courtesy of the United States Army). A lifelong Zionist and a practicing Jew, Paper was the key figure in introducing the teaching of post- biblical Hebrew at Michigan (and a major advocate for Judaic Studies until his departure for the Hebrew Union College in 1977, where he served as dean of the graduate school). In 1964, under the terms of the National Defense Education Act, a Cold War measure, the U.S. Office of Education had established a Near Eastern language and area center at the University of Michigan, enabling the department to expand its offerings in modern languages of the region, which it had more or less ignored previously.  In 1965, Paper was responsible for the appointment of Gene M. Schramm to an associate professorship in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures and in Linguistics. Schramm had received his Ph.D. from Dropsie College of Hebrew and Cognate Learning in 1956 and had taught Arabic (and occasionally Hebrew) for the Armed Forces Security Agency (precursor to the National Security Agency) for seven years during and after his doctoral work. He began his academic career as an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky, where he taught for one year, before receiving an appointment at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1959. Schramm worked in the areas of comparative Semitic phonology, Hebrew and Arabic verbal syntax and semantics, and dialect geography. At Michigan, he introduced the teaching of mishnaic, medieval, and modern Hebrew, as well as offering courses in comparative Semitic linguistics.   He was assisted from 1967 to 1970 by Joseph A. Reif, who was completing his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania and later taught at Bar Ilan University.

The next step in the expansion of Hebrew instruction was, again, the consequence of a serendipitous event. In 1959, Edna Amir Coffin, a native of Haifa, moved with her husband, Tristram Coffin, to Ann Arbor when he was appointed an assistant professor in the Department of Physics. In 1962, she became a graduate student in the Department of Near Eastern Studies, where she received her M.A. in 1965 and her Ph.D. in 1969, with a dissertation, written under the direction of Gene Schramm, on the eleventh-century Jewish grammarian, lexicographer, and philologist Jonah ibn Janah.

She joined the faculty as a lecturer in 1970 and was appointed an assistant professor in 1971. Coffin’s appointment firmly rooted the teaching of modern Hebrew in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, a development that was not greeted with universal enthusiasm among her colleagues. The longtime chair of the department, George Cameron (1905-1979), a philologist and historian of early Iran who had come to Michigan in 1948 to oversee its establishment in the wake of its split with what became Asian Languages and Literatures, was unenthusiastic about modern Hebrew and believed it would attract few students. Cameron, a typical product of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, preferred that the department focus on antiquity, with a nod, perhaps, to the medieval period. He also would have preferred to develop the teaching of modern Arabic. However, Paper and Schramm prevailed on him, overcoming his opposition.

Under Edna Coffin’s supervision, Michigan emerged as a major center for teaching modern Hebrew. When she began teaching the subject, there was no established curriculum and no satisfactory text books. The earliest students were veterans of Jewish youth movements, who were ideologically motivated to study Hebrew, and undergraduates who had spent a year studying in Israel. As the number of students multiplied and the teaching burden increased, the department provided Coffin with teaching assistants. By the 1980s, four years of Hebrew language classes were available and the number of students studying modern Hebrew in any one semester was almost two hundred. In the absence of adequate textbooks, Coffin filled the void by writing her own. In the 1970s, she produced textbooks for the first two years of Hebrew and in the 1990s revised them and added a textbook for the third year. The books were used widely in courses throughout the United States. The Hebrew program at Michigan program achieved an even higher profile when in the 1980s she began to develop interactive multimedia programs for teaching modern Hebrew for IBM, for whom she served as a consultant for four years. She produced four computer-assisted, language-learning instructional units that were widely used in this country and abroad. Concerned with the professionalization of Hebrew instruction, she was also instrumental in creating the modern language and literature section of the National Association of Professors of Hebrew, which had been founded in 1950 to represent the interests of professors of biblical and medieval Hebrew. By the 1980s, Michigan’s Hebrew program, contrary to Cameron’s prediction, was a model for universities and colleges around the country.

The next step in the emergence of Jewish studies was, once again, unanticipated. In 1968, the Department of Political Science hired Zvi Gitelman, who had just received his Ph.D. in Political Science at Columbia University, to teach courses on Eastern Europe. A specialist on the interplay between ethnicity and politics in Eastern Europe, Gitelman knew Yiddish and Hebrew from childhood, had received a day school education and studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary while a Columbia undergraduate, and had written his dissertation, which became his first book, on the Jewish section of the Communist Party in the early years of the Soviet Union. While he was not hired by Political Science because of his wide-ranging scholarly Jewish interests, he played a central role in the emergence of Judaic Studies at the University.

By 1970, then, the key figures were in place – Herbert Paper, Edna Coffin, and Zvi Gitelman – none of whom, it should be remembered, had come to Ann Arbor to teach Jewish studies. In addition, the teaching of Hebrew, both modern and medieval, was launched, if not yet flourishing. The seventies also were the first decade in which efforts were underway at a number of universities across the country to introduce the teaching of Judaica and, in some cases, to establish programs and centers in Jewish studies.  This effort emerged out of a confluence of changes in American society and the American Jewish community. The hegemony of old-line Protestant cultural ideas and elites was under attack. Ethnic and racial groups that historically had been marginalized and stigmatized – Jews and African-Americans in particular – were struggling for recognition as full participants in state and society and thus expanding definitions of what was socially and culturally worthwhile. Within the American Jewish community, in part because of the lightning victory of Israel in the Six Day War in 1967, there was a greater sense of security and assertiveness. No longer satisfied with maintaining a low profile, Jewish communal leaders were beginning to agitate for the teaching of Judaica on American campuses as both a sign of the successful arrival of Jews in the mainstream of American life and as a way to instill pride in increasingly acculturated and secularized Jewish students, who were often several generations removed from the East European immigrant experience. These leaders also saw Jewish studies as a vehicle for promoting interfaith relations.

In 1970, Herbert Paper, who knew Zvi Gitelman from their mutual participation in off- campus Jewish religious life, mentioned to Gitelman and Edna Coffin that it was a shande [shame, disgrace] that the University did not have a Jewish studies program. His comment served as a catalyst for action. Coffin, Gitelman, and Paper sought the advice of the former dean of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, the labor economist William Haber (1918-1988), who had been a major figure in American Jewish relief and rehabilitation work in Europe after World War II. In 1971, they, along with Samuel Krohn, a Detroit-area dentist with three Hillel-Day-School-educated sons at the University who was eager to see them continue their Hebrew education at the University, met with the current dean, Frank H. T. Rhodes (later President of Cornell University) to explore the possibility. Rhodes was enthusiastic about the idea but made clear that they would have to raise seed money for the project. They then met with the two top executives at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, William Avrutin and Samuel Cohen, who were skeptical at first but in the end were persuaded. They agreed that the federation would give the University $40,000 to hire a professor for three years if the University would agree to fund the position on a permanent basis thereafter – which it did. These negotiations unintentionally established precedents for the expansion of Judaic Studies in later years. First, initiatives for the expansion of Judaic Studies originated among the faculty, not the administration. Second, these proposals usually required the faculty, with the support of University and College development staff, to raise funds, whether for seed money or endowments, in the Jewish community (both in Detroit and beyond).  Third, the University made a commitment either to match the funds that were raised or to provide on-going financial support once the seed money was exhausted. This arrangement was both a blessing and a curse. The upside was that it allowed Judaic Studies to expand in directions that its faculty (rather than College administrators) judged important and allowed it do so independently of whatever financial constraints the University as a whole was experiencing due to declining state funding. The downside was that it placed a burden (tolerable but a burden nevertheless) on the director of Judaic Studies and other key faculty. None of the other area studies units that were created in the 1970s and 1980s were required to fund themselves in this way. Many were created and then later provided with the funds to expand as a result of student unrest, faculty pressure, and external political currents.

The first person to be hired expressly to teach Jewish studies was the modern Jewish historian Jehuda Reinharz (later President of Brandeis University), a specialist in the history of Zionism, who came to Ann Arbor in fall 1972 from Brandeis University, where he had just received his Ph.D. in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. Later that same year the Program in Judaic Studies was formally established in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. It was decided at the time not to pursue the creation of a department of Judaic Studies, such as existed at Brandeis University, New York University, Brown University, Brooklyn College, and elsewhere.  The reason was twofold. Those who established the program did not believe that Judaic studies was a discipline with its own distinctive methodology or ethos but was akin to an area studies unit. They also wanted to emphasize that Judaic studies was not a parochial project that engaged in ethnic cheerleading (which was not uncommon elsewhere at this time of turbulence and unrest in American universities). The expectation was that anyone hired to teach Judaic studies would meet the criteria of excellence in his or her disciplinary department.


II.       From Program to Center

Reinharz, who received tenure in 1976 and was promoted to full professor in 1981, directed the program in its early years. He was frequently absent from campus in the early 1980s and Edna Coffin succeeded him as director in 1983. The following year Reinharz formally resigned from the University and began teaching at Brandeis University. The major development of the early 1980s was the establishment of a position in Yiddish language and literature. Paper had offered classes in Yiddish before this – on an ad hoc, overload basis – but he had left Ann Arbor in 1977.  Once again the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit agreed to fund the position for three years and the College agreed to support the position after that, until such time as an endowment could be raised to support it. Anita Norich, a native Yiddish speaker who received her Ph.D. in Victorian literature from Columbia University in 1979 and who had done advanced work in Yiddish literature on a Lady David postdoctoral fellowship at the Hebrew University, was appointed to fill the position and she came to the University in 1983. She was the second joint appointment between Judaic Studies and an LSA department – in this case, the Department of English Language and Literature, a choice dictated by Norich’s disciplinary training rather than any linguistic connection between Yiddish and English. In 1985, Todd Endelman, a 1976 Harvard Ph.D. who had taught previously in the Bernard Revel Graduate School at Yeshiva University and at Indiana University, was appointed to replace Jehuda Reinharz. A specialist in Anglo-Jewish history and the social history of European Jewry, Endelman came to the University as a full professor and in 1987 was appointed director of the Program in Judaic Studies.

In the mid-1980s, Judaic Studies at Michigan was still in its infancy. Classes in modern Hebrew language and literature, modern Jewish history, Israeli politics, and Yiddish, American-Jewish, and Holocaust literature were offered regularly and were well attended but it was clear to the core faculty (Coffin, Endelman, Gitelman, and Norich) that there was much room for growth. There were vast areas of the Jewish experience in which there was little or no faculty expertise, including, most critically, pre-modern Jewish history, medieval and modern Jewish thought, rabbinic literature, East European Jewish culture, and contemporary American Jewish studies. Few graduate students were being trained in the various fields that make up Jewish studies. In addition, there were only two faculty members who were formally (that is, budgetarily) attached to the Program – Endelman in History and Norich in English. Gitelman, Coffin, and Schramm offered courses through their respective departments that were central to the intellectual content of the Program and contributed time and effort to strengthening it, but none of their FTE’s were in the Program. In addition, a second position in modern Hebrew had been created in the 1970s, but it, like Coffin’s postion, was located in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures and not attached budgetarily to the Program in Judaic Studies.

The transformation of Judaic Studies at Michigan from a respectable but not outstanding academic unit into one of the leading centers for research and teaching in Judaica in North America began in the late-1980s. Endelman and Gitelman, working closely with College development officers, began to explore ways to attract further financial support from the Detroit community and to prod the University to take a more active role in seeking this support. In 1988, at the initiative of then President Harold Shapiro, who later served as President of Princeton University, the University made the establishment of an endowment for Judaic Studies a priority in its current fund-raising campaign, announcing that it would match, on a dollar-for-dollar basis, donations for that purpose (up to $2 million). At this point, Samuel Frankel (1913-2008), a property developer and benefactor of the Detroit Jewish community, was brought into the picture. Gitelman knew Frankel and his wife Jean (d. 2012) from a University of Michigan Alumni Association sixteen-day boat trip in the Soviet Union in 1985, on which Gitelman was a faculty lecturer. The two hit it off and Gitelman helped the Frankels, who were bringing goods for unemployed refuseniks (Jewish activists who had been refused permission to emigrate to Israel), to distribute them through contacts of his in the refusenik community. Gitelman and Endelman spoke with Frankel several times and a funding agreement, which also included once again the participation of the Detroit Federation, was reached. The Frankels contributed $1 million while the Federation contributed another $1 million to mark their distinguished service to the greater Detroit Jewish community. Those two gifts triggered in full the matching funds that Harold Shapiro had made available to endow Judaic Studies. In 1988, the University formally created the Jean and Samuel Frankel Center for Judaic Studies, and at a gala dinner in Rackham Assembly Hall on 15 November President James Duderstadt, who had succeeded Harold Shapiro, thanked the Frankels for their gift.

The Frankels’ first gift to Judaic Studies inaugurated a period of dramatic expansion. In fall 1990, Miriam Bodian, a specialist in the history of the conversos and the Sephardi diaspora who had received her Ph.D. from the Hebrew University in 1988, and was then teaching at Yeshiva University, joined Endelman, who had been appointed William Haber Professor of Modern Jewish History in 1989, in the Department of History and began offering classes in the medieval and early modern periods. Despite enthusiastic evaluations from History and Judaic Studies, the executive committee of the College foolishly denied her tenure, a blunder that in the long term neither derailed her career nor blemished her scholarly reputation. She was replaced, in 1998, by Stefanie Siegmund, a 1995 Ph.D. from the Jewish Theological Seminary who worked on early modern Italian Jewry, but Siegmund, who received tenure in 2005 and whose first book was honored with two major book prizes, resigned from the University in 2008 for family reasons and moved to New York to accept a position at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Since her departure, no one has offered classes in medieval or early modern Jewish history. The first Frankel gift also allowed Judaic Studies to create a position in in medieval and modern Jewish thought, which was attached to the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, in the absence of a department of religion or religious studies. The first – and to date only – incumbent of the position was Elliot Ginsburg, who had studied Jewish mysticism with Arthur Green at the University of Pennsylvania, where he received his Ph.D. in 1984. He came to Michigan as an associate professor from Oberlin College in 1991.

In addition to these appointments, Judaic Studies was able to increase the number and variety of the courses it offered in other ways. In 1989, Gitelman was appointed to the newly created Preston R. Tisch Professorship in Judaic Studies, which freed him from some of his teaching obligations to the Department of Political Science and allowed him to introduce what became a popular undergraduate course on the politics and culture of East European Jewry. The establishment of the Louis and Helen Padnos Visiting Professorship in Judaic Studies the year before boosted the Program’s ability to bring in visitors for one semester to offer classes in areas otherwise absent from its usual offerings. Over the years the Padnos Professors offered classes in a surprisingly broad array of subjects, including film, anthropology, art history, philosophy, sociology, folklore, the ancient Near East, and comparative literature. In some cases, the visitors supplemented the teaching of faculty who were on sabbatical or burdened by administrative work. Most of the Padnos Professors came from Israeli or European universities and their presence on campus strengthened ties between Michigan faculty and colleagues abroad.

By the early 1990s, the Judaic Studies landscape at Michigan looked very different than it had a decade earlier. Classes taught by Judaic Studies faculty routinely attracted five hundred students or more each semester. The majority of students taking these classes were, not surprisingly, Jewish, but increasingly non-Jews as well were to be found studying Jewish history, literature, and politics, although not Jewish languages.

Courses on the history and literature of the Holocaust, in particular, attracted non- Jewish students, although here too they remained a minority. Endowments established by friends and alumni allowed the Center to invite visitors to campus for one or two days – to deliver public lectures and meet with faculty and graduate students. This too acted as a counterweight to the relative geographical isolation of Ann Arbor (its distance from major centers of Jewish life and scholarship on the East and West coasts). The most important of these is the David W. Belin Lectureship in American Jewish Affairs. The lectureship, established in 1991 to provide an academic forum for the discussion of contemporary Jewish life in the United States (a subject with which Belin [1928-1999], a lawyer who served as counsel to the Warren Commission and the Rockefeller Commission, was passionately engaged), offered social scientists, historians, and scholars of religion and literature, an opportunity to present and receive feedback on work in progress. From the start the Center published the annual lectures in an attractive booklet format and distributed them widely, including to members of the Association for Jewish Studies living in North America. In 2008, Deborah Dash Moore published eleven of the lectures under the title American Jewish Identity Politics (University of Michigan Press).

In the early 1990s as well, a trickle of doctoral students wishing to pursue work in Judaic Studies within the departments to which the Center’s faculty belonged began to find their way to Ann Arbor (although, given the length of time required to finish a humanities Ph.D., they did not begin completing their degrees until the late 1990s).

Before this, the number of Ph.D. students working on Jewish topics at Michigan was insignificant; most were in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Literatures. As Michigan’s reputation in the Jewish studies field rose, the number of doctoral students increased. Gifts to the Center from Marshall Weinberg, Frances and Hubert Brandt, Stanley Frankel, Sue and Alan Kaufman, and others allowed the Center to provide fellowships and research support to the students. In most cases, the Center shared the cost of graduate student support with the departments to which they were admitted. Doctoral students at Michigan tended to work in one of two areas: modern Jewish history (including American Jewish history) and Jewish literatures (in Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian, German, and English). Their presence added a new dimension to the work of the Center. Lively, engaging, and youthful (by definition), they stimulated the intellectual and social life of the Center. They also served as Graduate Student Instructors, teaching sections for large undergraduate survey courses. They were able


to benefit from the ongoing expansion of Jewish studies in the American academy and, on completing their degrees, found positions at distinguished colleges and universities, including Ohio State, Illinois, Emory, Brown, Cornell, Arizona, Arizona State, Carnegie Mellon, Purdue, and Washington (St. Louis), and at major cultural institutions, like the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, and the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts.

In the mid-1990s, the core faculty of Judaic Studies continued to expand, thanks to two further generous gifts from the Frankel family. (By this point, Samuel and Jean’s son Stanley was also active in guiding the family’s philanthropy.)  In 1992, the establishment of the Frankel Chair in Rabbinic Literature allowed the Center to offer for the first time classes on the foundational texts of postbiblical Judaism, the mishnah and the gemara. Initially, the chair was filled by visiting professors from Israeli universities, since the pool of suitable candidates was not large.  Eventually, after a multi-year search led by Gitelman, who replaced Endelman as director of the Center in 1995, Yaron Eliav, who had received his Ph.D. at the Hebrew University in 1999 and was then a postdoctoral fellow at New York University, was appointed and began teaching in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures in 2000. The second gift, from Stanley and Judy Frankel in 1999, endowed a professorship in American Jewish studies in honor of Samuel Shetzer, Judy Frankel’s father. Julian Levinson, who had completed a Ph.D. at Columbia University in 2000 focusing on twentieth-century American Jewish literature, was appointed and began teaching in the Department of English in 2000, as well. The Center also benefited from appointments made by other units that brought to Ann Arbor faculty whose research interests fell within the ambit of Jewish studies.

Thus, in 1994, when History and Germanic Languages and Literatures searched for a scholar who could bridge the interests of both departments, their choice, Scott Spector, a 1993 Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins, was a cultural historian of modern Central Europe whose focus on German Jewish intellectuals complemented Endelman’s emphasis on the social and political dimensions of Jewish history. Similarly, when Near Eastern Languages and Cultures made a new appointment in early Christianity in 1999, its choice, Gabriele Boccacini, saw himself broadly as a scholar of Second Temple Judaism rather than narrowly as a scholar of the New Testament. His methodological emphasis on the common historical and cultural matrix from which Christianity and rabbinic Judaism arose fit well with the interests of the Judaic Studies faculty.

In the 1990s, the Center also addressed an instructional problem that had bedeviled it for some time. It was impossible for Anita Norich to teach classes in both Yiddish language and literature, as well as classes in Holocaust literature and American Jewish literature. So, beginning in 1990, the Center arranged to hire instructors on a temporary basis to teach the beginning language classes. The funding for these classes was cobbled together on a year-to-year basis, an unsatisfactory arrangement that resulted in revolving-door appointments, often of graduate students in the throes of completing their dissertations. (This arrangement, nonetheless, managed to attract a number of persons who later went on to distinguish themselves in academic and literary life, including Ellen Kellman, assistant professor of Yiddish language and literature at Brandeis University; Holgar Nath, lecturer in Yiddish at the University of Regensburg, and Michael Wex, the New York Times-bestselling author of Born to Kvetch.) In 1999, the Center took steps to put Yiddish language instruction on firmer footing.  The Frankel family and a group of their friends agreed to provide the Center with funds to hire a Lecturer III in Yiddish for ten years. (The agreement was later extended for an additional three years.) Vera Szabo, a native of Hungary who had taught Yiddish at Stanford University previously, filled the lectureship from 2001 to 2010. She was succeeded by Russian-born Alexandra Hoffman, first as a Graduate Student Instructor and then, after she completed her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature in 2012, as a lecturer. This arrangement stabilized Yiddish language instruction, but it did not solve the enrollment problem. The number of undergraduate studying Yiddish was never high – which explains why the College refused to fund it in the way it did other languages. However, there was a consensus among the Judaic Studies faculty that Yiddish was too critical a component of Jewish culture and civilization to be dropped simply because few undergraduates wished to study it. For graduate students in several fields it was essential, and they were the most enthusiastic students of the language. Once the College agreed to establish a joint position between Judaic Studies and Slavic Languages and Literatures and in 2003 appointed Mikhail Krutikov, a Russian-born, British-based scholar of East European Jewish literature and culture who had received his Ph.D. from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1998, to the position, the importance of Yiddish-language instruction loomed even larger. At present, it is hoped to secure an endowment for this purpose as part of a larger College campaign to secure funding for less commonly taught languages.

Krutikov’s appointment coincided with that of Shachar Pinsker, who was hired on the retirement of Edna Coffin in 2002. Pinsker, who did his graduate work with Robert Alter and Chana Kronfeld at the University of California, Berkeley, where he received his Ph.D. in 2001, was a native speaker of Hebrew, like Coffin before him. The appointments of Krutikov and Pinsker strengthened the existing cohort of Michigan faculty who worked in Jewish literatures (Norich, Levinson, Spector). What distinguished this band of scholars was their distance from the old ideological battles between the champions of the primacy of Yiddish and the primacy of Hebrew and their commitment to exploring Jewish literary creativity in multiple languages. They, as well as the graduate students they trained, moved effortlessly among Jewish and European languages and cast the story of Jewish cultural encounters in the widest possible context.


III.     New Initiatives

In the first decade of the new century, the number of faculty at Michigan whose work encompassed the Jewish experience continued to grow, a development in which chance rather than strategic planning was largely responsible. In 2007, Rachel Neis, who studied law at the London School of Economics and rabbinic literature at Harvard University, where she received her Ph.D. that year, was hired by the Center and the Department of History as the result of a partner hire funded by the Office of the Provost. That same year Ryan Szpiech, a 2006 Ph.D. from Yale University whose work focused on Jewish-Christian disputations and conversionist literature in medieval Spain, was hired by Romance Languages and Literatures. Neis’s appointment enhanced the ancient history component of the Center while Szpiech’s added a medieval focus that was hitherto missing.

New initiatives rather than new hires were the most characteristic feature of the Center’s development in the new century. These included a closer working relationship with the School of Social Work’s program to train Jewish social workers, the introduction of a multidisciplinary M.A. in Judaic Studies, the introduction of a certificate in Judaic Studies for doctoral students, and most significantly the establishment of the Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies. These initiatives, which would have been unimaginable one or two decades earlier, built on the foundation that the expansion of teaching positions between 1990 and 2003 provided. They moved the Center even further into the area of graduate student training, and, especially with the Institute, raised the profile of the Center both on campus and within the profession.

One such program dated back to 1989, when, at the initiative of Armand Laufer from the School of Social Work, the Frankel Center and the School of Social Work joined together to offer an M.S.W. to students seeking employment in Jewish communal service. The program, known as Project STaR (Service, Training, and Research), required students to take advanced level courses in Judaic Studies as well as complete the internship and classroom requirements for the M.S.W. Like the Frankel Center, the program received financial support from external sources, including the Wexner Foundation, the Detroit Federation, and individuals in the Detroit community. After Lauffer’s retirement, the name of Project STaR was changed to the Sol Drachler Program, in honor of the long-time chief executive of the Detroit Federation, in the hope (correct, as it turned out) that his name, well known in the Detroit community, would attract financial support. The School of Social Work mounted a national search to find someone to direct the program following Laufer’s retirement in 2001, but was unable to find a replacement who was distinguished equally as a practitioner and a scholar. Robin Axelrod, a graduate of Program STaR and the School of Law, then administered the Drachler Program for several years. In 2008, the School appointed the Harvard-educated American Jewish historian Karla Goldman, then at the Jewish Women’s Archive in Brookline, MA, to head the program, whose name was changed to the Jewish Community Leadership Program. The following year she was appointed to the Sol Drachler Chair in Social Work. Goldman oversaw two significant changes in the program. First, she shifted the focus from preparing students for federation-type administrative jobs to preparing them to serve in a broader variety of organizations and institutions, many of them focusing on social justice issues. Second, she recruited students who were more academically serious than the students who had entered Project STaR and the Drachler Program. This addressed what earlier was a major problem for Center faculty whose classes the students attended: the lackluster academic performance of the STaR and Drachler students in classes with doctoral students.

The next initiative in graduate education was the introduction of a multidisciplinary M.A. in Judaic Studies in 2002, largely the work of Zvi Gitelman, who served as director of the Center from 1995-2002. Most of the area studies center at the University offered this kind of terminal M.A. and, in one sense, it was natural that the Frankel Center should follow their example. The degree program was designed to serve the needs of four kinds of students: 1) Jewish educators and communal workers who wanted to raise the level of their Jewish learning, 2) M.S.W. students in what was then the Drachler Program who wanted to add a deeper Judaica component to their studies at Michigan;

3) recent B.A.s who wanted to pursue a doctoral degree in Judaic Studies but did not yet have the academic preparation to do so, and 4) retirees and other non-traditional students who wanted to pursue study for its own sake (torah lishma). The program admitted its first students in the winter term 2002, but, though it was the only one of its kind in the state, it never attracted the numbers of students it was hoped it would, perhaps because the Center lacked funding to provide financial aid for those whom it admitted. Those who graduated from the program tended to fall into the first and third categories of students: educators and communal workers and prospective Ph.D. students.

The third significant initiative in graduate education was the introduction of the certificate in Judaic Studies for Ph.D. students in 2008. Hitherto, doctoral students who associated with the Center did so informally and on ad hoc basis. Their degrees were from the departments in which they enrolled. There was no official certification of their preparation in Judaica more generally and across the disciplines. The certificate program introduced a mandatory introductory course, required fifteen hours of course work, and culminated with a capstone research course in which students presented work in progress on their dissertations. In addition to broadening the Judaica preparation of the students and forging social and intellectual ties between students from different departments, the certificate also documented the students’ suitability for appointments with a formal Judaic studies component, an asset in an ever more competitive job market. In its first six years (2008-2013), four students received the certificate on graduation. In addition, another nine doctoral students were enrolled in the program as of summer 2013.

The most transformative event in the recent history of the Center was the establishment of the Jean and Samuel Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies. The concept of an institute for advanced studies, hosting and supporting visiting scholars while freeing them from teaching and administrative responsibilities so that they might devote themselves wholly to their own research and writing, was no longer novel at the start of the twenty-first century. The institute at the University of Pennsylvania, which was founded in 1986 as a freestanding, private institution (the Annenberg Research Institute), and then later, in 1993, when it ran into financial trouble, merged with Penn, had a high professional profile. In 2004, in the midst of a major University-wide fundraising campaign, Todd Endelman, who had returned to the directorship in 2002, proposed to Stanley Frankel that he fund a similar institute at the University of Michigan in honor of his parents.  Frankel pledged $20 million to the Center to establish the Institute, which would operate under the administrative umbrella of the Center.

In 2005, Deborah Dash Moore, a historian of American Jewry who had received her Ph.D. at Columbia University in 1975 and had taught at Vassar College for many years, was hired to replace Endelman as director of the Center and under her guidance the Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies came into being. The first cohort of Fellows arrived in September 2007, and in its first six years, the Institute hosted 88 fellows. Of these, 17 were from the University of Michigan, 47 were from other North American universities, and 24 were from Israeli and European universities. They also included a mix of both senior and junior scholars, as well as post-doctoral students.

The Institute provided them with financial support, research assistance, library privileges, an office and a computer, and, above all, the freedom to pursue their own research with (relatively) few distractions. The fellows met formally twice a week – on Wednesdays for a fellows-only workshop at which they discussed pre-circulated papers and key works on the year’s topic and on Thursdays for a public colloquium at which they presented work-in-progress for faculty, graduate students, and members of the public. The Institute fulfilled two functions.  For the Fellows, it combined the benefits of a sabbatical with the advantages of an ongoing conversation with scholars with similar research interests. For the Judaic Studies faculty more generally and for their graduate students, it offered a way to keep abreast of the state of Judaica scholarship in Europe, North America, and Israel. In all, the Institute both intellectually enriched Judaic Studies at Michigan and professionally enhanced its national and international profile.

The appointment of Deborah Dash Moore as director also signaled a new direction in the expansion of the Judaic Studies faculty. Outside the core faculty of Judaic Studies (those whose training was in an area of Jewish studies and whose teaching was largely in the same area), there were faculty who from time to time offered courses touching on Jewish themes and/or whose research interests increasingly encompassed topics in Jewish history, literature, and culture. The question of whether they should enjoy a formal relationship to the Frankel Center was much debated, particularly the question of the extent to which they should be involved in the hiring and tenuring of Judaic Studies faculty. In the end, the faculty approved a three-tier system of affiliation. Faculty with FTEs in Judaic Studies were considered to hold “wet” appointments. Those who taught both Judaic Studies courses and courses in other areas were deemed to hold “dry” appointments. Those who were even further removed from teaching Judaic Studies courses were given “associate” status. At the start of the academic year 2013-14, there were ten “wet” appointments, nine “dry” appointments, and fourteen “associate” appointments.

The faculty grew through new hires as well. In 2009, Maya Barzilai, who had just received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, in Comparative Literature, replaced Ruth Tsoffar, on the latter’s transfer from Near Eastern Languages and Cultures to Comparative Literature. Hired jointly by Judaic Studies and the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures to teach Hebrew literature and Jewish culture, Barzilai further strengthened the already strong cohort of faculty in modern Jewish literatures. In 2012, following a successful application to the Office of the President for a cluster hire in Mediterranean studies, Jessica Marglin, who had received her Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University that year, joined the Judaic Studies faculty to offer classes in the history of Jews in the orbit of Islam.  Her appointment was the first in the history of the Frankel Center in which the entire FTE was in Judaic Studies. This was made possible by the College’s rewarding the Center’s “enhanced status” that allowed it, like Women’s Studies and American Studies, to hire and tenure faculty on its own. Finally, in 2013, Jeffrey Veidlinger, a specialist in Russian Jewish history who had received his Ph.D. in 1997 from Georgetown University and had been teaching at Indiana University, where he had headed their Jewish studies program, replaced Endelman, who retired in 2012.


IV.    Public Programming

Public programming has been a major imperative for the Frankel Center in its first quarter century. For the most part, academic units at the University take little interest in and devote few resources to bringing their scholarly expertise to persons outside the academy. While most units sponsors conferences and seminars that are open to the public, the “public” in their eyes consists of faculty outside the unit sponsoring the event. From its inception, Judaic Studies at Michigan made public programming a priority and, almost without exception, those faculty with “wet” appointments were skilled at translating their expertise into terms accessible to a college-educated public. It is doubtful whether any other unit in the University can make this claim with the same degree of confidence.  At times, the Center organized lecture series at synagogues and community centers in the Detroit suburbs and its faculty taught adult education classes in various settings as well. The annual Belin Lecture, which was always widely advertised outside the University, also drew a broad audience. In an interesting experiment in the mid-1990s, the Center cooperated with the (now defunct) Agency for Jewish Education in Detroit to offer classes in modern Jewish history and culture to high school students from Detroit and Ann Arbor. Three or four times a semester the Detroit students travelled by chartered bus to the Ann Arbor campus, where they and the Ann Arbor students were taught by faculty from the Frankel Center. The spring 1996 Teen Scholars Program, as it was known, culminated in a three-day “field trip” to Jewish sites in New York, led by Todd Endelman and Zvi Gitelman. The group visited major Jewish landmarks, including Ellis Island, the Lower East Side, Central Synagogue, Congregation Shearith Israel, Yeshiva University, and the Jewish Theological Seminary, and also received guided tours of Brighton Beach and Borough Park. There was also time for a meal at the celebrated but now deceased dairy restaurant Ratner’s.

The presence of the Frankel Institute Fellows in Ann Arbor also allowed the Center to expand its public programming. Thursday noontime presentations by the Fellows, usually enhanced by PowerPoint, drew non-faculty listeners from the Ann Arbor area. In addition, beginning in 2009, Deborah Moore organized an annual “Day at the Institute” for the public, showcasing short presentations by the Institute’s Fellows.

These programs were held both in the Detroit suburbs and on campus, usually in conjunction with a Detroit Jewish agency. She also organized several art and photographic exhibitions and musical concerts that, by virtue of their broad appeal, drew large numbers of visitors.  In 2011, for example, these included “The View from the Below: Photography, Innovation, and the Lower East Side” (in conjunction with the Humanities Institute) and “Voices of the Italian Holocaust: A Recital of Vocal Music by Mario Castelnuevo-Tedesco, Vittorio Rieti, Guido Albert Fano, and Leone Sinigaglia,” with soprano Caroline Helton, an affiliate of the Frankel Center from the School of Music.


V.   In Conclusion

In the early 1970s, when Zvi Gitelman, Edna Coffin, and Herbert Paper took the first steps toward establishing Jewish studies at the University of Michigan, they did not envision the extent to which it would grow and flourish in the following four decades. Indeed, few Jewish studies scholars anywhere foresaw or prophesied the explosive growth of Jewish studies in the American academy. Some of the success of Judaic Studies at Michigan mirrored broader developments in American society, as I wrote earlier: seismic shifts in culture and society, including, above all, greater toleration of persons once excluded and stigmatized. But this was only the context in which Judaic Studies developed; it alone does not explain the success of Judaic Studies at Michigan, which was more striking than elsewhere, at comparable research universities.

Contingency was just as decisive. The extraordinary generosity of the Frankel family, the energy and determination of successive directors, the visibility of Jews among alumni and undergraduates, the mostly positive attitudes of successive administrations, and the lack of hidebound attitudes that inhibited similar developments at some private universities – all of these contributed as well to the successful outcome of the initiatives of the early 1970s. By the bicentennial year of the University, the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies was among the strongest programs in the United States, both by virtue of its size and breadth and by virtue of its scholarly reputation – which is not to say, however, that further growth would be superfluous. Important fields remain neglected or understaffed – especially, classical Judaica (religious thought, philosophy, midrash, and halakhah) and medieval and early modern history (with the exception of the Sephardi diaspora). While no program can hope to offer comprehensive coverage of the entire sweep of Jewish culture and civilization from its origins to the present, much remains to be accomplished in the decades to come.

I wish to thank Katherine Rosenblatt for her invaluable research assistance on this project, especially for her interviews of the pioneers of Judaic Studies at Michigan.