Jordan Einhorn has always been interested in Judaism and religious philosophy, but it was a mandatory Honors College seminar, Professor Sergey Dologopolski's JDS 284: Justice in Bibles, Law and Philosophy, that set him on the path toward studying Jewish thought in an academic setting.
Einhorn, a White Plains native and junior at UB majoring in Political Science and dual minoring in Education and Jewish Studies, says that after taking this course, “I ended up going to an open house event for the department in the Samuel Friedman library, and within five minutes of meeting Dr. Marla Segol, she had the paperwork ready for me to sign.”
Since then, he has “jumped into the curriculum.” This fall he is studying Maimonides acclaimed work, Guide of the Perplexed, with Professor Alex Green.
“There’s so much information and meaning to be found in nearly every well-known book of Jewish thought, the Guide being just one,” Einhorn says.
Though the formidable size and scope of Maimonides' work would be inaccessible “in a broader curriculum with less focus,” Einhorn praises the department for doing it justice with a specialized course.
“I think everyone would agree that one semester is not enough time to truly understand everything about the Guide. The department gives it the attention it deserves and allows students to spend over three months studying the Guide on its own.”
Einhorn has also been impressed by the breadth and diversity of content in the JDS curriculum. In addition to discussing great Jewish philosophers, he has encountered a wide array of texts from non-Jewish traditions.
"In addition to learning about Maimonides or Rashi, I’ve spent time doing readings and engaging in discussions on individuals such as Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas and Al-Ghazzali to name a few,” Einhorn says. “I’ve even spent time learning about Pablo Picasso!”
The department encourages students to engage deeply with texts through a rigorous method rooted in Judaism's rich exegetical tradition, and in doing so helps to hone critical skills and foster open-minded dialogue.
“When we read works or talk about ideas that contradict preconceived ideas about Judaism or theology,” Einhorn explains, “it forces all of us to either figure out a way to reconcile that contradiction, or to come to terms with the fact different worldviews and interpretations of the same phenomenon can exist independently of one another.”
The coursework requires students to approach complex theological questions from many angles, and as a result students can walk away from the same class with vastly different interpretations of the answers to those issues.
“It’s always interesting to see how everyone works their way through reconciling various contradictions, or accepting that such a reconciliation may not exist for that particular issue,” Einhorn says. “I think this is a good thing as it facilitates dialogue, culturalism, and, ultimately, pluralism."
No matter what conclusions one comes to about the texts themselves, there's no denying that Jewish theology and philosophy can be “challenging terrain.” For Einhorn, the process of uncovering meaning and working toward common understanding as a class is one of the most rewarding parts of studying in the JDS department.
“Whether it’s a medieval exegesis on the implications of law or a 2015 essay which discusses reworking the way modern readers approach the Talmud, a lot of readings in JDS classes can be difficult,” he says. “I think this ultimately helps us and makes us better scholars of Jewish Studies. There’s nothing better than working through a particularly challenging reading with your classmates and eventually coming to an understanding that very few people had at the beginning.”
Einhorn describes his Jewish Thought professors as passionate experts who are committed to their students' personal and academic progress.
“I’ve always felt comfortable going to them and they clearly take a vested interest in my academic, individual, and professional growth,” he says. “Doing well in a class is so much easier when the professor is invested in their students’ success, and the JDS professors at UB have absolutely demonstrated that.”