Only chair of Jewish studies at Soas survives cuts

Jewish studies academics around the country had launched a petition to save Professor Catherine Hezser's post


The only chair in Jewish studies at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies has been saved after fears that it may have fallen victim to cuts.  

Professor Catherine Hezser had feared her position was at risk as the institution sought to make £17 million of savings over the next year in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.  

The British Association of Jewish Studies rallied to her side, urging SOAS to spare her post.  

A spokesman for SOAS said this week, “We have had to make tough decisions on our finances, like scores of other universities dealing with Covid-19’s fallout.   

“We’ve protected academic posts wherever possible, thanks to targeted savings. This means we can retain the full range of teaching and research disciplines, including Jewish studies.”  

It was understood that one option mooted in order to secure Professor Hezser’s post was to raise £100,000 to develop a new programme within Jewish studies.  

But the university confirmed that it had “received no external funding” in regards to the Transformation and Change project which was instigated after the identified need to make savings.  

A specialist in rabbinic Judaism and the early history of Judaism in the Near Middle East, Professor Hezser teaches courses on Jewish identity, the Holocaust and modern Jewish thought.  

She said this week, "Hopefully, it will be possible to develop a new Jewish studies degree programme at Soas that will combine modules in Jewish studies, Jewish music and Israel studies that are currently scattered amongst three different departments.  

"Ideally, a programme in Jewish and Islamic civilisations can be offered that allows students to also study Jewish history, tradition, and culture from its beginnings in the Middle East, rather than starting with Zionism in the 19th century, while early Islam has always been part of the Near Middle East programme.  

"Only such a broader and more diverse view will enable students to properly understand the modern Middle East and prevent wrong, Eurocentric perceptions that tend to associate Zionism with European colonialism. Whether the new structures will facilitate such a programme remains uncertain at this stage".  

The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Daily Life in Roman Palestine, which she edited, was recently reissued.  


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