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September 01, 1978 - Image 56

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1978-09-01

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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56 Friday, September 1, 1978

Bar-Ilan's Noteworthy Role in Israel

University's Religious and Secular Responsibilities


Jerusalem Post Feature Writer

RAMAT GAN — How do
you create a religious in-
stitution without turning it
into a ghetto? This is
perhaps the most difficult
problem that Bar-Ilan Uni-
versity has had to contend
with since-ii was founded in
The mere description, "a
religiously-oriented" rather
than a "religious" univer-
sity suggests a policy of
compromise. Bar-Ilan is
neither a yeshiva in the
traditional sense, nor a sec-
ular institute of learning.
Its student body contains an
almost equal proportion of
observant and non-
observant Jews, and the de-
gree they receive will reflect
achievements in religious
as well as secular studies.
It is not, surprising, then,
that the religious character
of the university is a con-
troversial topic. Should the
university create a suitable
atmosphere by obliging its
male students to wear a
head covering, its female
students to dress "mod-
estly" and both to take a
number of courses in Judaic
studies? Or maybe the
stress should be on en-
couraging communication
between religious and non-
religious students, in bridg-
ing the gap of suspicion and
Bar-Dan's new presi-
dent, Rabbi Emanuel
Hackman, a recent im-
migrant from the United
States, thinks that the
university is not doing
enough to promote integ-
ration between the two
camps. He feels that too
many sectors of Israeli
life (schools, settlements,
politics) are split into re-
ligious and non-religious
categories. Bar-Ilan is
potentially one place
where everyone can re-
late on an academic level.

His biggest worry is "the
large number of religious
students who are only in-
terested in saving their own
souls." He would like to see
them taking a more active
interest in their fellows,
meeting them in discussion
groups, maybe helping
them with Jewish studies.
To him, it isn't important
exactly how many religious
students are admitted each
year; what counts is
whether they are fired with
any "religious zeal."
Canadian-born Gerry
Yampolsky said that when
he first came to Bar-Ilan he
wasn't religious. Through
friends and teachers he is
now observant and studying
in the university'_ yeshiva
stream, where extra hours
are spent on Talmud.
Reliable statistics on how
many students have actu-
ally become more positive
about Judaism at Bar-Han
are unobtainable. But resi-
dent campus rabbi, Yisrael
Hess, has taught some 70
ba'alei tshuva (literally
"repenters") in the last
three years, and knows of
Rabbi Hess frankly
concedes that one cannot
prove it was Bar-Ilan that
brought these students to
Orthodoxy. But he does
feel that at least in this
university, anyone in-
terested in Judaism "has
someone to talk to."
"This is my most impor-
tant task — one which also
takes up most of my time,"
he said in an interview fre-
quently interrupted by
telephone calls about the
Jewish philosophy clubs he
runs, or by students popping
in to ask questions ("Should
I lay tefillin at home as
Student Council head
Shalom Hadad thinks one of
the most striking charac-
teristics of the campus is the
difference between week-

Bar-Ilan University

Phillip Stollman, global chairman of the board
of governors of Bar-Ilan University, released the
following facts about the university prior to the
opening of the new scholastic year towards the
end of this month:


Number of countries of origin
MA students
PhD students



Thirty percent of the student body is of Orien-



Latest Aerial View of Bar-Dan Campus

days and Shabbat, when
there's a special atmos-
phere. On Friday night the
restaurant is decked with
white table-cloths and the
students sit at a communal
table singing the tradi-
tional hymns.
When meat is being
served in the main restaur-
ant, the adjacent cafeteria
won't serve milk with cof-
fee. And on Hanuka, classes
adjourn early to allow stu-
dents to get home in time to
light candles.
But one religious girl
studying computer sci-
ences, thinks the only
special characteristics of
Bar-Ilan are "a lot of pre-
gnant women, a lot of
girls wearing skirts, and
a large proportion of
married women covering
their hair."
She admitted, though,
that had she been looking
for a boy friend, she might
have chosen Bar-Ilan as
providing a wider choice
than other universities.
(She presumably did not
know that the university's
nickname is Bar-liana —
suggestive of a higher per-
centage of female students.)
Curiously enough, the
question of whether to com-
pel all boys to wear a kippa
has a lot to do with the girls.
Prof. Rackman is torn bet-
ween the wish to protect re-
ligious girls from being mis-
led by a kippa and con-
sequently dating unsuita-
ble boys, and the feeling
that to allow freedom of
choice would lead to segre-
gation . . . and Rackman
hates demonstrative
He also thinks the com-
pulsory Jewish studies
(some 25 percent of a stu-
dent's timetable) should lay

When she invited one
less emphasis on text and
more on class discussion of home, the girl declined any
food for kashrut reasons.
relevant problems of today.
If Prof. Rackman is an And certain subjects—such
example of the more as boy-girl relationships —
liberal-minded people on were taboo.
But Yael is glad that the
campus, then Prof. Avrom
Saltman, a veteran history university has compelled
lecturer, tends in the other her to acquire some know-
ledge of Jewish tradition .. .
"I don't believe in this
even if she resented the
integration idea ... Bar- extra work at first.
While Yael is convinced
Han was founded to serve
that her opinions won't
the religious ... the fewer
irreligious students the change under the univer-
sity's influence, others
better." He thinks that
other universities can are less certain.
Criminology student
provide meeting places
Vered Rotfogel, who is not
for students of opposing
observant, suddenly asked
Somewhere between
her husband re cently to
these two positions stands
start making kidush for
the rector, Prof. Milton the sake of their son. A Rus-
Sprecher. As one who has
sian immigrant said that,
for her, actions weren't im-
been with the university
since its foundation, he says portant, but in Bar-Han she
had become aware of the
Bar-Dan's primary role is to
importance of the Jewish
provide higher education
for Israel's religious intel-
But the university is not
ligentsia. Its second role is
concerned only with break-
"the presentation of the
Jewish tradition to students
ing down religious barriers,
or providing a framework
whose background is weak,
as well as to the public."
where religious youth can
But ensuring that one
"feel at home." Its mission is
role is not detrimental to also to apply its knowledge
the other is "like doing a
to a useful end in Israel's
society, says Hackman.
constant balancing act,"
Bar-Ilan's rehabilita-
admits Sprecher.
And, indeed, there are
tion clinic for brain-
injured soldiers, its man-
many students who feel that
Bar-Dan is leaning too far to
agement retraining
one side or the other of the
courses and its local gov-
tight-rope. For some, "no
ernment studies are all
ballroom dancing" is too reflections of this
strict a rule; for others, so philosophy. More fun-
are the obligatory kippa for damentally, the univer-
men, and the 14-18 credits
sity tries to educate as
of Jewish studies. Others well as teach, to "provide
feel the university doesn't
higher education that
have enough religious stu- will contribute to the
dents or enough activities
survival of the Jewish
for those who are enrolled.
heritage as much as to the
In general, however, it survival of the Jewish
is the non-religious stu- People," he says.
dents who are most vocal
But such a mission, ad-
mits the president, is not
about the religious as-
pects of the campus.
without its difficulties. One
Yael Harosh is in her is finding suitable faculty
third year of French. She and administrative staff.
comes from a completely For lectureships in educa-
non-observant home and tion and Judaica, as well as
some administrative posts,
during her time at Bar-Ilan
has realized there is some- only observant applicants
thing that will always pre- are accepted. Tags for park-
vent her "from being really ing within university con-
good friends with religious fines are only issued to ob-
servant staff.

The dean of humanities,
Dr. Richard Sherwin, who
teaches English literature,
recalls being asked whether
he had a religious
background. "I came here as
a Conservative Jew, and
told them I had a religious
grandfather." "So did we
all," replied the questioner.
Sherwin joined Bar-Ilan
with the intention of coming
closer to Judaism and has
become much more religi-
ous. He is in favor of all the
obligatory religious studies,
remembering the Christian
university he had once
taught in, where "chapel at-
tendance was watered down
til it came to nothing."

Sherwin presents both
Jewish and Christian
points of view to his stu-
dents. "Kids ought to
know where they stand
and how to stand there,"
he says.
However, one senior lec-
turer commented, "We have
enough trouble teaching
our students the history of
English literature without
going into Jewish
philosophy as well."
In the sciences, teachers
who are capable tackle the
theological arguments
against evolution, says
Prof. Sprecher_ The School
of Social Work pays special
attention to the Halakhic
viewpoint on all subjects in-
cluding birth control and
It is surprising that none
of the faculty mentioned a
quality of the university
that almost all students in-
terviewed brought up. The
latter emphasized the par-
ticularly friendly relation-
ship that exists between
students and teachers. "The
personal touch," was an ex-
pression frequently used.
And if, in Sherwin's
words, "religion is the in-
strument of caring," then
Bar-Han has succeeded in
transferring some Jewish
warmth to its students.
The annual dinner of De-
troit Friends of Bar-Ilan
University will be held at
Cong. Shaarey Zedek on
Sept. 20.


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