Dr. Adam Ferziger - Getting a Grasp on the Contemporary Jewish World

How is intermarriage changing the fabric of American Jewish society? What role do interdenominational conflicts play in current Jewish religious life? Do ventures such as Birthright and heritage tours to Poland strengthen Jewish identity? How has the interaction between religion and Israeli society evolved over time?


Such hot-button Jewish issues are at the heart of the research and teaching pursued by Dr. Adam Ferziger, Vice Chairman of BIU's Graduate Program in Contemporary Jewry. "Jewish studies are as relevant as ever to today's Jews. Anyone who participates in our program will find that it gives greater meaning to intellectual life and personal existence," asserts Ferziger, who received rabbinical ordination from Yeshiva University and a PhD in Modern Jewish History (Summa Cum Laude) from Bar-Ilan.


With solid grounding in historical research and the evolution of the modern Jewish world, Ferziger adeptly teaches the Program's Jewish history component. "In order for Israel to continue to develop as a Jewish state, it's crucial that along with advances in technology, economics and security, Israel invests in the Humanities and, specifically, in research that relates to ongoing developments in Jewish life," maintains the American-born senior lecturer.


The Program in Contemporary Jewry – headed by Prof. Judy Baumel Schwartz, a leading expert on Jewish life during and after the Holocaust – is one of a select few worldwide that trains scholars and community activists to understand Jewish life since1945. With cutting-edge researchers from BIU's premier Jewish Studies Faculty and other Human Science disciplines, the Program exposes students to a broad core curriculum which includes history, Jewish thought, communications, sociology, Jewish art, education, and political theory. "Some of our graduates will become professors while others will work in an engaged framework, analyzing how globalization, immigration and the communications revolution affect contemporary Judaism and the Jewish collective," elucidates Ferziger.


Encompassing a range of ages and academic backgrounds, the student body includes prominent Israeli journalists, government and NGO officials and "all sorts of movers and shakers." Their MA and PhD dissertations reflect the Program's decidedly applied bent – contrasting Jewish identity of young Russian immigrants who reside in Israel and the US; Liberal synagogues and their influence in secular Tel Aviv; the social impact of religious groups that settle in Israel's distressed communities; and the self-understanding of children of ex-patriat Israelis who choose to enlist in the Israeli army. Expounds Ferziger, who previously was founding director of BIU's Preparatory Program for New Immigrants, "We want them to absorb knowledge that will facilitate creating policy and developing Israel's future. We're also attracting people from abroad – in Fall 2011 we hope to launch a program for French educators and community activists."


A past recipient of the Gwendolyn and Joseph Straus Faculty Development Fellowship and a senior research fellow at BIU's Rappaport Center for Assimilation Research, Ferziger has authored major studies and published books and articles in prestigious journals, which are read by Jewish leaders and may impact future directions. His study, Training American Orthodox Rabbis to Play a Role in Confronting Assimilation is considered the classic analysis and critique of that topic. His book, Exclusion and Hierarchy: Orthodoxy, Non-Observance and the Emergence of Modern Jewish Identity (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), probes the roots of the relation between Orthodoxy and non-Orthodoxy and was a finalist for the Best First Book Award of the American Academy of Religion.


A leading voice in the study of Jewish life in North America, Ferziger has been a communal projects advisor to Yeshiva University and sits on the steering committee of the influential annual Ashdod Conference on Immigration and Absorption, co-sponsored by BIU.  He served for over a decade as an army reservist in the IDF Educational Corps and as a historian for heritage tours to Eastern Europe, teaching thousands of American youth about the Holocaust and European Jewry.  Most recently he was chosen to receive Bar-Ilan's prestigious "outstanding lecturer" award, bestowed annually by the university.  Prior to embarking upon a full-time academic career Ferziger served as a pulpit rabbi, performing hundreds of weddings for secular couples. "I don't see detachment as criteria for doing good academic research," he opines, noting the urgency of developing "new dynamics and networks for communication for the Jewish People throughout the world."


"We want to position Bar-Ilan as a leading world center for the study of Contemporary Jewry," declares Dr. Adam Ferziger. "I am proud that we have created a program that is academically profound and which can make a difference in Israel and the Diaspora."