Bar-Ilan University

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Bar-Ilan University (BIU, אוניברסיטת בר-אילן) is a university in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv, Israel. It opened in 1955 and now has 32,000 students and staff. It aims to forge closer links between religious and secular studies.

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Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan

Bar-Ilan University is named for its founder, Rabbi Meir Berlin, who Hebraized his name to "Bar-Ilan", hence Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan. He was the younger son of the head of the Lithuanian Volozhin Yeshiva, Rabbi Naftoli Tzvi Yehuda Berlin known as the Netziv. Rabbi Meir Berlin studied in German Orthodox seminaries in Berlin and anticipated the need for an institution providing a dual curriculum of secular academic studies and religious Torah studies. This resulted in 1950 with the establishment of the university which now carries his name.

History of Bar-Ilan

The founders of Bar-Ilan hoped to create alumni with three commitments: to the Jewish tradition, to the Zionist ideology and to science. As the president of Bar-Ilan stated in 1965, "I can say that all the professors and lecturers are religious Jews and so is the majority of students".

At first, the plan was for a four year course of study for the B.A. degree (not three years as elsewhere in Israel) in order to include a great number of courses in Jewish studies as a requirement for graduation. Today the studies last three years but every Jewish student (who didn't learn in a Yeshiva) must finish seven courses in Jewish studies.

Bar-Ilan didn't limit admission of secular students (although candidates with a background in yeshiva take precedence). The result is that most of the students don't observe a religious lifestyle. Consequently, the rule that every Jewish male student must cover his head was abandoned. The senior lecturers, however, still obey that custom.

While selecting senior academic staff, the university holds explicit preference for religious Jewish scholars. It was even said that some of the lecturers pretend to keep religious lifestyle, hoping to have tenure. Still, many of the professors are avowed secular people.

The question about the character of the university rose again in the time of heavy immigration from the USSR in the 1990s. Some said that "flooding" of immigrants, being people of no religious Jewish background, can result in significant change in the religious image of Bar Ilan. In the end that attitude was not accepted. Moreover, Bar-Ilan desperately needed financial assistance from the state, depending on number of students, and couldn't afford too much selection.

Yossef Burg, one of the prominent leaders of the religious Zionist movement warned that admission of too many non religious into the university could undermine its character: "If you spill too much water into a wine bottle, you will have no wine."

In order to strengthen the orthodox identity of Bar-Ilan, the university founded Kolel, yeshiva for men, and Midrasha, for women. The Kollel holds traditional Yeshiva-like studies which accentuates Talmud. In the Midrasha, women study Jewish Philosophy and Torah, also according to the tradition that prevents females from studying Talmud.

The students in those two institutes don't have to pay for their academic studies. They even enjoy a stipend.

There is a significant difference between the traditional way of studying being in use in the Kolel and Midrasha and the academic attitude taken in the faculty of Jewish studies, where even discussion of the historicity of the Bible is not forbidden.

While the Israeli academic circles are identified with a dovish attitude to the Arab-Israeli conflict, in Bar-Ilan, things are different.

In the great controversy which accompanied the leading of the peace process by Yitzhak Rabin, hawkish movements were very active in the campus.

Rabin's convicted asassin, Yigal Amir, was a student of law and computer science at Bar-Ilan. The assassination shocked the university authorities, who had to cope with accusations of extremism from the public and press.

One of the steps taken by the university following the assassination was to encourage dialogue between religious and non-religious people, even by giving academic credit for taking part in mutual discussions.

Programs for Overseas Students and New Immigrants

Bar-Ilan has a preparatory program which prepares new immigrants for Israeli college. In addition to that, it has a One Year Overseas Program called Tochnit Torah Im Derech Eretz, which combines traditional Kollel Torah studies in the morning separate for men and women and co-ed general university studies and Jewish History classes in the afternoon. Many American students in the Israeli university program take these Jewish History clases to fulfill their Jewish studies requirements. Bar-Ilan is unique among Israeli universities in that it has many Americans in the Israeli university program who make up a big part of the student population. Most of these Americans are religious Jews who have made aliyah (immigrated to Israel).

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External links

id:Universitas Bar Ilan pt:Universidade Bar-Ilan

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