Welcome to the Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies!

The department offers a rich program with five undergraduate majors in Biblical Studies, Hebrew language (both Classical and Modern), Yiddish, and Jewish Civilisation, Thought and Culture. It is the only department in Australia to offer a full program in Classical Hebrew, as well as teaching all the ancient Semitic languages, including Aramaic, Akkadian and Syriac, and a full three-year Yiddish program. It has an outstanding graduate program with a significant number of doctoral students and a general Masters degree as well as a Masters in Holocaust Studies taught jointly with the Department of History. The University of Sydney also offers a Hebrew and Jewish Studies teacher education program in conjunction with the Faculty of Education, focussing on both primary and secondary levels.

The programs offered through the department are sustained by some generous benefactors. The late Stefan and Felicia Einhorn left a major bequest which supports the entire Modern Hebrew Program, one full-time lectureship in Classical Hebrew/Biblical Studies as well as casual teaching in these areas, and casual teaching in Jewish Civilisation. The Henroth Foundation supports the Roth Lectureship in Holocaust Studies, presently filled by Professor Konrad Kwiet, and Mr Dan and Nora Goodridge have been generous supporters of Yiddish. In addition, the Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund supports student and academic exchange between the University of Sydney and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

History of the Hebrew Biblical and Jewish Studies department

The Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies was founded in 1945 as the Department of Semitic Studies, and was headed by Evan MacLaurin until his retirement in 1978. During this period, the department developed programs in Classical Hebrew and Arabic along with other ancient Semitic languages such as Aramaic and Ugaritic. Both Modern and Mishnaic Hebrew were taught as options within the Classical Hebrew program. Upon Professor MacLaurin’s retirement, Professor Rifaat Ebied was appointed Foundation Professor of Semitic Studies and has remained in this position until the present day. He also acted as Department Head until the appointment of Professor Emeritus Alan Crown, who, until his retirement in 1997, served as Head of Department as well as a personal chair. Professor Crown is Master of Mandelbaum House, the Jewish residential college at the University of Sydney, which was opened in 1995 and provides support for the department’s postgraduate programs as well as the Archive of Australian Judaica in Fisher Library.

In July 1999, the present Chair of Department, Associate Professor Suzanne Rutland succeeded Dr Samar Attar, the senior lecturer in Arabic. Following the creation of separate schools in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences in January 2003, the Department of Semitic Studies separated into Arabic and Islamic Studies and Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies within the then School of European, Asian and Middle Eastern Languages and Studies. After being housed in the main quadrangle for a quarter of a century, the department moved into Brennan MacCallum in June 2004. It is now part of the School of Languages and Cultures, which has its office on the fifth floor of the building.