Fontbonne offers semester on Judaism


For the first time in its history, Fontbonne University will offer a “dedicated semester” to studying Judaism with 14 new or previously taught courses this fall semester.

From “Judiasm and the Foundations of American Law” to “History of Jewish/Catholic Relations: From the Gospels Through Hitler,” Fontbonne’s dedicated semester will include courses across several curricula for students interested in learning more about “Judaism and its Culture.”

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Nancy Blattner, Fontbonne’s vice president and dean for academic affairs, said some of the courses have been taught on a regular basis before, such as the Hebrew Bible course.

“The courses run a range from business, communication, fine arts, both arts and music, government, history, religion, law and sociology,” Blattner said.

“We asked faculty to emphasize a topic in their area. For instance, the Middle East conflict class in communication is a debate class. It has been redirected for the focus on Judaism. At least half a dozen others have been created new for the semester upcoming,” she said.

Since Fontbonne is predominantly a Catholic school, choosing Judaism as the topic of its dedicated semester may seem atypical, but the school’s Judeo-Christian roots were the reason for Fontbonne’s pick.

“We were interested in looking at a way that Fontbonne could highlight and give emphasis that talks about our mission statement involving Judeo-Christian tradition,” said Blattner.

While Blattner said the campus community gives credence to the Christian part of that statement on a daily basis, the semester helps value the Jewish roots.

“Pope John Paul II talked about Jews as our elder brothers and sisters, and all Christian traditions derive from Jewish traditions,” she said.

Choosing Judaism as the topic of study was also something the university’s president felt Fontbonne should honor with serious dialogue between Jewish and Christian communities, said Jason Sommer, English professor at Fontbonne and a Jewish author.

“The literature course I’m in the process of putting together now is not an upper division course. It’s an introductory course. We know most students often have no experience with Jewish writers and how religion and ethnicity play a part in literary tradition,” Sommer said.

Blattner said some classes are full, including a crash course in the Hebrew language that Rabbi Lynn Goldstein is teaching. About 150 students have registered in the classes so far, Blattner said.

Some of the courses will continue be taught in the future periodically, Blattner said.

In addition to the courses, throughout the semester, Jewish films will be shown in the evening, panels of rabbis will come to the Fontbonne campus for discussions from different perspectives, ranging from conservative Judaism to liberal approaches. Fontbonne will also celebrate the Jewish holidays during the fall semester.

Freshman will also be asked to read a novel The Chosen before their orientation in August. During orientation, the freshman will participate in discussion groups with faculty and staff to “talk about the themes in the novel, ask questions, show how they mark connections with the novel and there will also be an essay contest,” Blattner said. “They should understand this is the topic of the semester.”

“The highlight of the semester will be the commencement speaker, Dr. David Marwell, director of Jewish Living Heritage Museum in Battery Park, New York,” Blattner said.

Batya Abramson-Goldstein, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, called the dedicated semester an exciting initiative.

“It’s very consistent with what we look to in community life, the efforts for various groups in St. Louis to understand each other better and find those commonalities that we can work on together,” she said.