Touro College’s Graduate School of Jewish Studies Partners With Bar-Ilan University and Machon Lander at Recent Academic Conference in Israel

Date: February 04, 2010
Media Contact:

Barbara Franklin
Director of Communications
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New York, N.Y. - In its fourth major conference since 2006, Touro College’s Graduate School of Jewish Studies recently partnered with Israel’s Bar-Ilan University and Machon Lander in hosting a conference on the history of the interpretation of Aggadah (non-legal rabbinic literature).

Titled, “Aggadah and Aggadic Interpretation Throughout the Generations,”the conference was held at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan on January 18 and at Machon Lander in Jerusalem on January 19. Those participating were scholars from a variety of disciplines from almost all of Israel’s universities as well as from the U.S. and Canada.

The latest conference underscores the Graduate School’s move toward broadening the scope of its academic activities as it works towards developing a Ph.D. program in Jewish studies, according to Dr. Michael Shmidman, dean and professor at the Graduate School of Jewish Studies.

“The purpose of the conference was to provide a multi-faceted exploration of the diverse methodologies of interpretation of Rabbinic Aggadah over the centuries, and the impact of these varied interpretations on the development of Jewish thought, culture, and society,” Dean Shmidman said. “It’s a topic that is intrinsically interesting yet has not been fully explored.”

The January 2010 conference was chaired by an academic committee consisting of Professor Shmidman; Professor Meir Bar-Ilan of Bar-Ilan University; Professor Jacob Elbaum of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Professor Carmi Horowitz, rector of Machon Lander; and professor Yosef Tabory, dean of Jewish studies at Machon Lander. Among the numerous distinguished speakers who delivered more than 20 lectures were Professors Shulamit Elizur and Sara Yefet of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Moshe Hallamish of Bar-Ilan University, and Eric Lawee of York University.

Carmi Horowitz, rector and professor of Jewish History and Literature, Machon Lander, Jerusalem Academic Center, said that Aggadah, or the non-halakhic, or non-legal, portions of Talmudic and Midrashic literature “greatly influenced the way Jews thought about God, religion, metaphysics and ethics. In post-Talmudic history, Aggadah was the subject of a variety of methods of interpretation, and played a major role in the way Jews understood and experienced their religion.”

Conference sessions explored attitudes towards the authority of Aggadot, the methods used to interpret them, the use of Aggadah in biblical commentary, Aggadah in philosophic and non-philosophic contexts, the relationship between Aggadah and Halakhah, as well as the use of Aggadah in poetry and religious polemics.

Dr. Shmidman discussed the Jerusalem conference and how Jewish education has changed throughout the years in a recent interview on Talkline with Zev Brenner. During the interview, Dr. Shmidman gave a brief history of the graduate Jewish studies program established in New York in 1981, and described the Manhattan-based master of arts program, with a concentration in Jewish history. He also pointed out that a new master of arts track is being offered at Lander College for Men in Queens to provide rabbinical students with the opportunity to enhance their careers as educators and administrators. The interview can be found here:

The Graduate School of Jewish Studies also has begun distributing audio tapes and DVDs of recent conferences. Some of the presentations have subsequently been published as articles, with two of them appearing in TURIM: Studies in Jewish History and Literature Presented to Dr. Bernard Lander (Touro College Press, 2007-08), a two-volume series of scholarly essays on medieval and modern Jewish history and literature published in honor of Touro College founder and President Dr. Bernard Lander.

Further information about the Graduate School of Jewish Studies can be found at or by emailing Dr. Shmidman at