The Institute of Jewish Thought & Heritage

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk



Jewish Scholarship in Erie County, NY


     The Institute of Jewish Thought and Heritage was established at the State University of New York at Buffalo in 2009.  For the Erie County Jewish community this means that we have indeed been given a “shot in the arm,” inasmuch as our community has lost more than half its membership in the past forty years. In the 1970’s there were approximately 30,000 Jews in Erie County, NY. Today, in 2011, we are only 13,500. This has led to the merger of Temple Beth El with Temple Shaarey Tzedek to form Temple Beth Tzedek. It is also anticipated that other congregations may have to merge for a lack of membership.

     Therefore this community is immensely fortunate to have become the locale of the Institute. Not since the retirement and death of Rabbi Isaac Klein (1905-1979) have we had the good fortune of hosting any major scholars in Judaism and Jewish studies until now.

     The chairman of the new department is Professor Richard Cohen, who is also a professor of philosophy. His special interest is the Lithuanian-French-Jewish philosopher Emanuel Levinas (1906-1995), best known for his formulation of philosophy as the philosophy of love. Dr. Cohen has just published a new book Levinasian Meditation: Ethics, Philosophy and Religion. Dr. Cohen is also the author of books dealing with the great German Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig and  others. He teaches an “Independent Study” course at the institute, which allows students to gain access to upper level study with this distinguished scholar.

     The institute has also appointed Dr. Aaron Hughes as associate director. Professor Hughes is “Gordon and Gretchen Gross Professor of Jewish Studies” and professor of history at UB. Dr. Hughes, a native of Canada, teaches a major course in “Jewish Civilization,” which should be of interest to anyone wishing to connect to Jewish history. Dr. Hughes is the author or co-author of seven books and numerous journal articles and a major scholar in his field. He is fluent in Hebrew, Arabic, and other semitic languages and an “intellectual feast.”

     Professor Sergey Dolgopolski is the third member of the full time faculty at the institute. He is also professor of comparative literature at UB.  His latest book is called What Is Talmud? Dr. Dolgopolski  is an expert on Talmud. He has written extensively in this area and teaches a course on “Great Jewish Books” which promises to deal with “historical, literary and intellectual worlds.”

     In addition to these scholars, Dr. Cohen has assembled a number of adjunct professors teaching Hebrew, the History of Zionism and Independent Study. Among these is Dr. Daniel Kotzin, who has recently published a new book on the life and work of Judah Magnes.

     The institute is supported by a distinguished group of advisors. In particular, the $1 million gift to the institute by Gordon and Gretchen Gross has made it possible to launch this important new program in this community.

     The institute also hosts a number of lectures during the year. These lectures are supported by the generosity of Wolf Blitzer, a native of Buffalo and graduate of the University of Buffalo, who hosts a news program every day on CNN called “The Situation Room.” These lectures are conducted by the most prominent of scholars in Judaica, beginning in November and ending in May each year.

     The institute also has its own library, which is only in its infancy and needs books on Jewish subjects. Unfortunately, the Milton Plesur Library, at one time housed inside the Jewish Community Center, has been distributed among the millions of books in the Lockwood library. Therefore it is certain that contributions to the Friedman library at the institute are welcome.

     P.S. Who said Judaism in Buffalo is on its way out?

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including The American Criminal Justice System (2010).

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