The UK’s only Jewish studies and Hebrew department, at University College London, has been officially rated as one of the country’s top research centres in the field of religion.
UCL was ranked third with Oxford and Cambridge out of the UK’s theology and religion departments after the latest Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), the system used by government to evaluate universities for funding.
The top institution in the country was Durham.
Dr Ada Rapoport-Albert, head of UCL’s Hebrew and Jewish studies department, said the result was particularly notable.
She said: “We are a small department with seven and a bit people, whereas some others have 50.”
She explained: “Government funding for allocating research, as opposed to teaching, is dependent on the RAE results. So this will open up new opportunities for us.”
According to the RAE, 30 per cent of the department’s research represented “quality that is world-leading”; 40 per cent “quality that is internationally excellent”; 20 per cent “quality that is recognised internationally”; and 10 per cent “quality that is recognised nationally”.
Whereas other universities teach courses in Hebrew, these form part of larger departments such as theology or Oriental studies.
UCL is unique in having a stand-alone department which goes beyond theology and teaches a wide range of subjects including Jewish history, Israeli culture and literature, Yiddish and Ladino.
The department has around 75 students, almost equally divided between graduates and undergraduates.
Its specialist research projects include the Zohar, the central text of the Kabbalah, and medieval Hebrew calendars.
Dr Rapoport-Albert — who is an expert on Chasidism — explained that the department chose to be assessed under the category of theology and religion because “in the past we have been assessed by panels only partially able to assess our diverse range of subjects and we were badly treated”.
She added: “We are happy — and relieved.
“We felt if we hadn’t done well, they would have allowed us to shrink. Now we feel much more confident that there is room for growth and development.”