On April 24, 2020, Dr. Ari Berman, President of Yeshiva University, sent a message to the YU community declaring that, despite the obstacles thrown up by COVID-19, the University was “Always in Session.” As Dr. Berman said, “We are always in session because Yeshiva University does not just provide instruction, we provide an educational experience suffused with values. Our values may be easy to discuss when the world is calm, but they are most needed when the world is in disarray.”
The YU summer academic program is an excellent example of YU being “always in session.” Of special relevance is a trilogy of courses that cover the history, theology and science of COVID-19, our most current pandemic, taught by three exceptionally experienced instructors.
In Session I, which runs from June 1 to July 2, 2020, Dr. Jeremy Brown will offer “How Pandemics Shape the World,” a sweeping survey of the medical, social and religious impacts of epidemics from the Black Plague to COVID-19, with stops along the way for smallpox, cholera, influenza and HIV/AIDS, using eyewitness accounts, scientific writings, literature, public health policies and accounts by Jews, Christians and other religious believers.
Dr. Brown’s background makes him eminently qualified to teach such a class. He is the Director of the Office of Emergency Care Research at the National Institutes of Health, where he leads efforts to improve emergency care throughout the country. He is also the author of Influenza: The Hundred Year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History, which was published by Simon and Schuster. “While the science has evolved,” he observed, “the human reactions to pandemics have remained remarkably constant over the centuries. That history, together with that of the Jewish people during these pandemics, can help inform us about what is happening today.”
During that same session, students can also take Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Zuckier’s “Responses to COVID-19 in Jewish Ritual and Theology.” Where Dr. Brown’s course takes a more global view of the pandemic’s effects on the Jewish community, Dr. Zuckier’s course will examine the specific ways COVID-19 has prompted re-evaluations of Jewish teachings and practices. In the course, Dr. Zuckier will consider 12 topics in halakhah [Jewish ritual law] and Jewish theology that outline the relevant controversy or diversity of opinion on a subject and how the issues and values at stake can be resolved.
Dr. Zuckier, a five-time alumnus of Yeshiva University (BA, two MAs, semicha and Kollel Elyon), has lectured, written and taught extensively about Torah and Jewish scholarship on a broad range of concerns. “Leading scholars of Jewish law and thought, including some faculty at YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary,” he notes, “have produced a body of significant rulings and perspectives on COVID-19 about the nature and function of Jewish law and how Jewish leaders respond to crisis. This class is a first opportunity to consider these weighty issues that will occupy scholars for generations to come.”
During Session II, running from July 6 to August 7, Dr. Jeremy Wertheimer takes a journey into the world of proteins in his “Introduction to Covid-19 Drug Development.” A successful entrepreneur, former vice president of engineering at Google and the founder of several biotech startups, Dr. Wertheimer will teach his students how to use computational tools to search protein databases, model protein structure and begin to design potential drug leads. They will also learn about the lab techniques used to synthesize proteins and measure how well they bind target molecules and inhibit infection, and there will be opportunities for students’ promising drug lead designs to be synthesized and analyzed.
“The scientific community has responded to Covid-19 through widespread collaborative efforts to find therapeutics, vaccines and diagnostics,” he points out. “Perhaps by taking this course some students will become interested in careers using computation to fight future infectious diseases and other health challenges.”
History, science and religion are “always in session” at Yeshiva University. People interested in learning more about these three courses along with the 74 other undergraduate courses on offer (along with many options for high school students as well) can find all the information they need at yu.edu/summer