YU’s Commentator reports that Revel dean Dr. Arthur Hyman will be stepping down from his administrative post, but will continue teaching courses in Jewish Philosophy. To some students, Dean Hyman gave the impression of a grandfatherly adviser, one of Yeshiva University’s many eccentric characters. This perception and the Commentator’s relatively light coverage1 neglect Dean Hyman’s contributions and tireless efforts to improve Revel’s academic reputation.
Of his most notable accomplishments, Dean Hyman revamped the PhD program, not only reinstituting a PhD in Talmud, but changing the attitude towards accepting students. Dean Hyman once told me that his goal was only to accept students who were good enough to get jobs afterwards, otherwise it would be a disservice to both the school and the student. I don’t have numbers, I do know of several recent Revel PhD’s who did in fact secure academic positions, even in more respected institutions.
Dean Hyman hired several new professors, adding fresh talent to the established faculty. This also included importing professors from Israel for not only the summer semester but also the regular fall and spring program.
On a personal note I can attest to Dean Hyman’s genuine desire to accommodate a serious student’s academic wants and needs. As a Talmud major, myself and a few other students felt it reasonable to request a graduate level class in Aramaic, the logic being if Bible students get to take Biblical Hebrew, Talmud students should get to take Aramaic.2 In a matter of days we had arranged and received Dean Hyman’s approval for Dr. Richard Steiner give a class in the Talmud department on Galilean Aramaic thereby adding a new course to a relatively thin Talmud curriculum.
To borrow an academic trope, Dean Hyman’s accomplishments are more impressive when we consider the historical context. Under the previous administration YU was well known for its near impregnable bureaucracy and general obstinacy even at the expense of educating its students. I found that Dean Hyman consistently and sincerely put the interest of the students first – even if some students didn’t realize it at the time.
Also consider that maintaining a serious academic Judaic studies program in Yeshiva University is not a simple as one would expect. Ironically it is partially because of the religious nature of YU that academic activity is often stifled, especially when academic research contradicts the religious agenda.3 To put it another way, Dean Hyman worked to improve Revel’s academic credibility, despite internal opposition from his own University system.
The Commentator reports that the new vision of Revel involved combining it with the undergraduate program, presumably a future center for Jewish studies. As I see it, this can have two possible effects. If this new program assimilates the undergraduate culture, then Jewish studies at YU will irrevocably regress into the intellectual ghetto for which it is already stereotyped. Alternatively, the merger could drastically improve the Judaic studies system and provide the serious student with similar opportunities that one would find in other university departments.
My past experiences with YU have led to reactive skepticism. However, I hope that the new administration recognizes Dean Hyman’s accomplishments and continues to build on his unheralded work.
1. There is no mention of how long Dean Hyman held the position, nor of any mention of his accomplishments: just the typical sanitized pablum.
2. I requested to take an Aramaic grammar class, because yes, I am I geek. Thankfully there were five others in my chevra who not only helped organize the class, but provided much appreciated alternative perspectives.
3. As I often cite from one of my professors, “Brisk works if you accept all its premises and ignore all contradictory data.” This was regarding Talmud study, never mind Bible criticism.