A root to be recognized

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Photo by Patrick Vitale

The University of Dallas’ Jewish Studies Program is intrinsic to UD’s Catholic identity, though unfortunately it is not widely known. 

The Jewish Studies Program at UD is a six-course concentration focusing on “theological, philosophical, and historical aspects of Jewish thought and tradition” (University of Dallas 2019-20 Bulletin, 193). 

These courses include a required introductory course on Judaism, a course in Hebrew and four electives on topics such as the Pentateuch, Wisdom and Psalms, the Jewish philosopher Maimonides, another Hebrew Course, another introductory course or a Psychology class on the Holocaust. 

Many are perplexed by a Catholic university’s interest in the history of another religion, but Judaism is just as relevant to our western tradition as any other topic, if not more so. 

“If we are truly concerned with the roots of Western Civilization, we can’t ignore the noble olive root that brought Christianity into being. Ignorance of the roots means that we don’t fundamentally know who we are or where we came from, and the Jewish Studies Concentration is a way of…correcting that ignorance,” said Fr. Thomas Esposito, Assistant Professor of Theology. 

As a Theology major and Jewish Studies Concentration myself, the Jewish Studies courses I have taken thus far have altered my perspective in radical ways. 

As we all know, we cannot truly be close to someone if we never learn their roots and core beliefs. Jesus was Jewish. Ignorance of the religion He was raised in and practiced, is ignorance of the Church He built upon it. 

The history of the Jewish people radically impacts our world today and their religion sprung forth to be the dominant religion throughout Western Civilization. As Christians and Catholics especially, however, we have an obligation to learn about our fathers in faith.

“The Church cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament by way of that people with whom God in his inexpressible mercy established the ancient covenant,” reads Nostra Aetate 4.

As Dr. Goodwin always stresses, “Judaism is ‘intrinsic’ to Catholic faith and identity…it is intrinsic to the Catholic faith in a way that no other religion can claim,” quoting St. Pope John Paul II.

The University of Dallas is the Catholic University for Independent Thinkers, which means that we are concerned with having real conversations in search of wisdom and broadening our view of the world to better understand where we came from and where we hope to go. 

When asked why he hopes to remain at UD until he retires, Dr. Goodwin (Co-Director of the Jewish Studies Program) said, “What distinguishes UD is that the students here expect to have their intellectual horizons changed and expanded: through a class, through a course, through their studies…There’s a seriousness here…about self-discovery that you don’t find in other places.” 

If students at the University of Dallas are so serious about learning, why is the Jewish Studies Program, in particular, not as well-known as others? 

Dr. Goodwin and Fr. Thomas Esposito both spoke of the wide variety of options UD offers. Fr. Thomas mentioned that Jewish Studies is a very specific concentration to devote 18 hours towards. Even if there was interest, many cannot fit it in their schedule. 

Dr. Goodwin, as Co-Director, asserted that the interest pattern is cyclical, and in the 15 years he has been doing this he’s seen varying amounts of attention paid to the program. Dr. Goodwin also said that he’s had a lot of students come up to him this year saying they wish they could take his Judaism II course this semester, but that they have other classes that conflict with it. 

Unfortunately, it is true that there is not enough time to take every class or study every subject. 

However, there are talks, trips and conversations to be had outside of the classroom concerning Jewish Studies. Speak to Dr. Goodwin, Dr. Parens or Fr. Thomas Esposito if you are interested. 

I hope that, as a university, we can all be more aware of where we came from, so that we may find where we should go!

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