Jewish Studies at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy

Traditions of Jewish Studies at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy have roots in the 17th century. Jewish Studies became a comprehensive academic discipline only in the 19th century, in the earlier period they were represented mainly by Hebrew Studies, including studies in Hebrew language, history, and the Holy Writ.

According to Professor Valeria Nichyk, “Studies in Jewish history, language and tradition were established in this educational institution by its founder Petro Mohyla. In the post-Renaissance period nobody could be taken for an educated and cultural person without being competent in Hebrew, Latin and Greece. Approaches to Hebrew were caused first of all by academic and educational needs, as it was necessary for studying and interpreting the Bible, which was among the most important topics of academic studies in Humanism and Reformation epochs”. (Нічик В. Симон Тодорський і гебраїстика в Києво-Могилянській академії. – К.: Видавничий дім «КМ Академія», 2002. – С. 13–14).


After the old Academy was closed, Hebrew Studies continued within its walls when the Kyiv Academy of Theology was functioning here (1819–1919). In the Soviet period, especially after the 1948th, neither Hebrew nor Jewish Studies could develop properly. Both Modern and Ancient Hebrew were associated with Zionist and Jewish nationalism by the Communist’s ideology, so nobody would allow teaching them.


Only after the Soviet Union disintegration, Jewish Studies were resumed in independent Ukraine. In 1990s, a Judaic Department opened in a Kyiv private educational institution International Solomon University; it kept being the most notable centre of Jewish Studies till the early 2000th. But later the slack was poked up by the renewed in the early 1990s Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, intended to revive the best traditions of the previous centuries and to establish a modern and competitive centre for teaching and researches in Jewish Studies.


An Interdisciplinary Certificate Program in Jewish Studies was launched at the NaUKMA in 2003; within the program, students of the NaUKMA and other universities of Kyiv could take a special set of courses at the Faculty of Humanities. The leading specialists of Jewish Studies in Kyiv participated in the program. The first graduation was held in 2006; in 2012 the program already had 35 certified graduates, and over 120 students audited particular courses in the period from 2003 to 2012. In 2008, due to efforts of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities (VAAD) of Ukraine, which has been a reliable partner of NaUKMA from the very beginning, all the necessary facilities and equipment for functioning and development of Jewish Studies at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy were provided. Two classrooms with up-to-date equipment for studies and a library opened for students and researchers.

In 2006, the Centre for Studies of the History and Culture of East European Jews opened under the NaUKMA. During the past 6 years it prepared and published, in common with the university publisher Dukh i Litera, scores of important for Jewish Studies books and became a Ukraine’s leader in this field. One of the last years’ most important publications was the Ukrainian translation of the Oxford textbook on Jewish studies The Jewish Civilization, which can be used by any student interested in the field.


Finally, in 2010, the NaUKMA President Serhiy Kvit initiated preparing to the launch of the first in Ukraine two-years Master’s Program in Jewish Studies, which was opened by a decision of the NaUKMa Senate in May of the 2012th; a few months later the first competitive admission to the Program was held. Launching of the Program was possible due to support of a well-known Canadian philanthropist and a long-time friend and partner of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy James C. Temerty.  Currently, the Program is functioning as a specialization in Jewish Studies within the Master’s Program in History; nevertheless, the task for the nearest future is to obtain a license and to launch Jewish Studies as a separate comprehensive speciality, for the first in Ukraine.


For further development of Jewish Studies, the NaUKMA is planning to establish connections with foreign leading centres in the field and to provide a solid platform for researches. For this purpose, the representatives of the NaUKMA Jewish Studies develop communications and collaboration with their colleagues in Israel, USA, Canada, Russia and other countries. This year the Academy began a dialog for endorsing an agreement on cooperation with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the leading Jerusalem HEI which has been keeping its positions in the Top-100 world’s universities during the previous 10 years.


Besides that, a NaUKMA alumnus and Instructor of the Department of History Vitaliy Chernoivanenko initiated publication of the first in Ukraine periodical on academic Jewish Studies «Judaica Ukrainica», which is to start this year. The periodical will have an international status, an expert editorial board of well-known academicians from different countries, and will undergo independent reviewing. The articles will be published in three languages.


As we can see, Jewish Studies today belong to the priority trends of the NaUKMA development, because they are not just a sign of liberal education, but also make a necessary part of a modern European university.


Oleksiy Khamrai, Doctor of Philology, Head of Master’s Program in Jewish Studies at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy

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