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Department of Jewish Thought achieves academic standing at UB

The University at Buffalo’s Institute of Jewish Thought and Heritage is evolving into the newest academic department on campus.

The Department of Jewish Thought, housed in the College of Arts and Sciences, will be dedicated to the academic study of the Jewish intellectual tradition in the development of Western civilization.

The interdisciplinary department will seek to build on the institute, which was created in 2008 and has been offering a bachelor of arts degree in Jewish studies since 2012. It will be oriented toward theory and philosophy, with an emphasis on ethics, the central and unifying feature throughout the long and diverse history of Judaism.

“We are deliberately being called the Department of Jewish Thought because that is our particular orientation of Jewish studies,” said Richard Cohen, professor of philosophy and director of the institute. “There are many departments of Jewish studies engaged primarily in history and philology, but at UB as a department within the humanities, we’re highlighting ethics, which relates us to philosophy and to some of the greatest philosophers of the last 150 years, such thinkers as Henri Bergson, Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig and Emanuel Levinas.”

The institute hired five full-time faculty members, with expertise ranging from the Jewish philosophical tradition, the Talmud, Jewish mysticism and the Kabbalah, rationalist Jewish thought and comparative study of Jewish literature. Two professorships already have been endowed by gifts from the Western New York Jewish community.