Infusing Business Expertise with Jewish Values

Sy Syms School of Business Announces New Judaic Studies Curriculum

State-of-the-art education, top-level analytic skills and hands-on experience are critical to succeed in today’s business world. But to succeed as an Orthodox Jew, spiritually and ethically, even more is necessary. From the technical details of Jewish law—how much interest can one charge?—to the broader expanses of Jewish morality and values, the Jewish business leader faces new and unique challenges as a professional each day.

At Yeshiva University’s Sy Syms School of Business, a new academic Jewish studies curriculum for Wilf Campus students, focused on imparting an ethical and moral framework to students rooted in the great works of Jewish thought through the ages, seeks to prepare the next generation of Jewish professionals and entrepreneurs for these challenges.

Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter will teach Jewish Encounters, the first-year course in the new Judaic studies curriculum at Sy Syms
Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter will teach Jewish Encounters, the first-year course in the new Judaic studies curriculum at Sy Syms

“The goal of a Sy Syms education is to prepare students to become well-rounded business professionals,” said Sy Syms Dean Dr. Moses Pava. “This means providing students not only with technical skills but with an unmatched understanding of Jewish values and how to apply them in the real world. Our business school is unique in that as part of Yeshiva University we have access to some of the leading authorities and professors in the world on Jewish ethics and its relevance to the contemporary world.”

Those authorities, including celebrated Roshei Yeshiva from YU-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and scholars from The Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, will lead four two-credit courses which students will take as a cohort each year. Titled Jewish Encounters, Jewish Values in the Contemporary World, Jewish Public Policy, and Business and Jewish Law, the courses will replace the current Judaic studies requirements (with the exception of required Hebrew classes).

“Today, more than ever, business demands a deep knowledge of how to apply authentic values in a practical and workable way,” said Pava. “This is where the Sy Syms School of Business has a tremendous comparative advantage and I know it is something that our current students are very interested in learning.”

First-year students will enroll in a course called Jewish Encounters, taught by Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter, University Professor of Jewish History and Jewish Thought and Senior Scholar at YU’s Center for the Jewish Future. It will rigorously examine the relationship between Judaism and general culture through the lens of ancient, medieval and modern sources, covering such topics as the concept of tikkun olam [the obligation to better the world around one], the role of non-Jews and Christianity from the perspective of Jewish practice and theology, how Judaism views the rapidly-changing technological realities of science and medicine, and the theological significance of the State of Israel, among many others.

“The goal is to sensitize the students to think more clearly, forensically, thoughtfully and introspectively about what it means for them to have a commitment to Jewish life and Jewish learning in a profound way, which they obviously have by virtue of the fact that they’re students at YU, while at the same time fully recognizing the tremendous centrality and importance that living in the larger world has to them and to help them navigate in a thoughtful and strategic way the nature of this dual commitment,” said Rabbi Schacter.

“This new curriculum will help them unify multiple identities and give students an opportunity to grapple with these issues within the calmness of the undergraduate college experience and classroom, so they will be prepared when they inevitably arise later in life,” said Rabbi Schacter. “It gives them the framework and tools to bring together all of their business education, the realities of living within the business world, with a deeply-rooted, strong core commitment and conviction to Jewish life and values.”

Dr. Daniel Rynhold, associate professor of Jewish philosophy, will teach Jewish Values in the Contemporary World, a second-year course that will take students through some of the greatest works of medieval and modern Jewish philosophy, examining the role of ethics in Judaism, the nature of faith and how post-Holocaust theology informs that understanding.

“My course will be looking at some of the best available material on questions that modern Jews in the workplace might find themselves grappling with regardless of their interest in academic Jewish philosophy,” said Rynhold. “It will expose students to some ideas that they have never heard before, and they might be surprised at some of the philosophical options that are put out there by modern Orthodox philosophers. Hopefully, students will come away with some interesting theories and ideas that they might carry with them in the future.”

Serving as a capstone of the new program will be Jewish Public Policy, a third-year course designed by Rabbi Saul Berman, professor of Jewish studies. The class will examine broad social issues concerning income inequality in the United States and Israel, healthcare policy, corporate social responsibility and individual responsibility in matters of national morality, among other topics.

RIETS Roshei Yeshiva Rabbi Ozer Glickman and Rabbi Daniel Feldman will teach two tracks of the fourth course, Business and Jewish Law. Glickman’s track focuses on the immediate applications of Jewish legal concepts, drawing on primary sources in the Torah, Talmudic literature and other commentaries to address topics such as when Jewish law permits the charging of interest, how the halachic [Jewish legal] procedure for transferring property relates to the trading of derivative securities, and how contemporary economic theory relates to the halachic definition of overcharging. Feldman’s course will explore the underlying values of the Jewish legal system, such as lifnim mshurat haDin [the precept to go above and beyond the letter of the law] or dina d’malchuta dina [complying with the law of the land], as well as the fundamentals of interpersonal relationships, and examine how the details of both function in the daily life of a Jew in the business world.

sysyms3Students enrolled in these courses will also participate, as members of a cohort, in discussion sessions led by graduate students from Revel and rabbinical students at RIETS.

“The business world, like every aspect of life, is a venue for holiness, Kiddush Hashem, and the core fulfillment of our missions as Jews,” said Rabbi Feldman. “The most advanced education in the structures and techniques of business is incomplete unless it can place that within the context of a moral system and a worldview of integrity, responsibility, and awareness of the values that need to be balanced. Providing this is part of the fundamental mission of Yeshiva University.”