For the spring 2021 semester, Dr. Steven Fine, the Dean Pinkhos Churgin Professor of Jewish History and founding director of the Yeshiva University Center for Israel Studies, is teaching The Arch of Titus: Between Rome and Jerusalem. YU News sat down with Dr. Fine to discuss the course, which is being offered at Yeshiva College in collaboration with the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought.
Why did you decide to create a course specifically centered on the Arch of Titus? What is it about this landmark that makes it culturally and historically vital?
This course marks the conclusion of the Arch of Titus Project, which discovered the original yellow paint of the Arch of Titus menorah in 2012, scanned the Menorah panel, reconstructed it digitally, created a Coursera course with nearly 10,000 students, much scholarship, and finally the exhibition book, which will appear in a few weeks. Our students have been brought into this process, and will be part of the celebrations when the book is out.
How exactly are the students helping out with the upcoming celebrations?
We will have a public conversation run by our students with Marie-Thérèse Champagne, associate professor of history at the University of West Florida, and Galit Hasan-Rokem, the Max and Margarethe Grunwald Professor of Folklore and professor of Hebrew literature, emerita, at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, two authors of articles in our new book, The Arch of Titus: From Jerusalem to Rome— and Back (Brill and YU Press, 2021) and me on our Crisis and Hope: YU Voices Zoomcast. The event will take place on May 3, so stay tuned for more information.
What is the Arch of Titus’ relevance outside the Jewish world? How do other faiths and cultures view it?
The Arch is a Roman monument, an object of memory with great significance for Western Civilization broadly, from the Roman past to the history of Christianity and, of course, to Jewish history. It has grown in significance ever since the 19th century, especially with the decision to make the menorah the national symbol of sovereign Israel. In Israel itself it has developed many meanings, as broad and interesting as our Jewish world truly is.
How does this course exemplify the creed of Torah UMadaa?
The cultural synthesis that is Torah UMadaa is at the center of this project. The course readings include everything from Western literature and Talmudic passages to yesterday’s newspaper. Furthermore, the Arch of Titus Project’s pathbreaking use of technology created a moment of huge significance to us—literally Maddah and Torah together!
Why did you decide to teach this course? Why is it interesting and inspiring to you?
There is a reason past students called me the Menorah Man! I am enamored with the menorah, and I want my students to see both my excitement and my rigor—each in the service of the other. In other words, engaged scholarship in action.