50th Anniversary

History of Jewish Studies at Cornell

Cornell University has a long and distinguished history of fostering the study of Judaica. Felix Adler, who is perhaps best remembered for his later role in founding the Society for Ethical Culture, joined the Cornell faculty in 1874 as a professor of Hebrew and Near Eastern literatures. 

Photo of Felix Adler in black and white
Felix Adler Cornell University Faculty Biographical Files, #47-10-3394. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.

He was succeeded by Nathaniel Schmidt, who taught Semitic languages and history at Cornell from 1896-1932. The Department of Semitic Languages and Literatures (now Near Eastern Studies), was founded in 1965 by Isaac Rabinowitz, a professor of Biblical literature and an authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Jewish Studies Program was founded in 1973 and attained the status of an intercollegiate program in 1976. 

The program celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, 2023, as well as the addition of an undergraduate major in Jewish Studies. 

Exhibit Celebrating 50 Years of Jewish Studies at Cornell: Highlights of RMC’s Judaica & Hebraica

This exhibition, a collaboration between the Jewish Studies Program and the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, is co-curated by Rachel Cilia-Werdmölder, Jason Mokhtarian, and Patrick Stevens, and the exhibition coordinator is Kate Carlin. Visitors are welcome to view the physical exhibition in the Michael T. Sillerman ’68 Rotunda at level 2B of Carl A. Kroch Library. The exhibit is viewable now until August 1, 2023. 

The exhibit can be split into two major parts, one archival and one containing a variety of materials that scholars of Jewish studies work on. The archival component documents the early years of Jewish Studies at Cornell and the long process towards the official establishment of the Jewish Studies Program. This includes letters of appointment for Isaac Rabinowitz and Benzion Netanyahu, as well as letters from S.D. Goitein, Gershom Scholem, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg that refer either to Cornell Jewish Studies affairs or their experiences at Cornell. The second section includes objects from 5th century BCE Iraq to 20th century New York City via Yemen, Italy, Germany, England, and more. Some highlights include a tractate of the Talmud printed by Daniel Bomberg in Venice less than 70 years after movable type arrived in Europe, an Aramaic magic bowl from ancient Mesopotamia intended to protect its owner from demons and diseases, and an extraordinarily beautiful 1939 Passover haggadah illustrated by Arthur Szyk and edited by Cecil Roth.

Jewish Studies Events

Film Series: Filming Jewish Life

This series celebrates the 50th Anniversary of Jewish Studies at Cornell University as well as the launch of a new undergraduate major starting in Fall 2023. It features three recent films—a historical drama, a dark comedy, and a Hollywood epic—that reflect the plurality and rich diversity of traditional and contemporary Jewish life.

This series is sponsored by the Jewish Studies Program at Cornell University and presented in collaboration with Cornell Cinema.


Tuesday, April 25 at 7pm
Directed by Ady Walter (2022, France and Ukraine)
Featuring Q&A with lead actor Moshe Lobel and Cristina Florea, Assistant Professor of History at Cornell!

Wednesday, April 26 at 7pm
Directed by Olivia Peace (2020, United States)

The Fabelmans
Thursday, April 27 at 7pm
Directed by Steven Spielberg (2022, United States)
Featuring introduction by Elliot Shapiro, Senior Lecturer in the Knight Institute and the Knight Foundation Director of the Writing in the Majors Program at Cornell