Jewish Studies

University of California, Berkeley

About the Program

The Designated Emphasis (DE) in Jewish Studies provides curricular and research resources for students who want to concentrate on Jewish Studies within their respective disciplines and have their work formally recognized in their degree designation. Designed to bring together faculty and students from different departments, the DE is administered by the Graduate Group in Jewish Studies and provides a unique context for rigorous cross-disciplinary research. Students applying to the DE must be prepared to integrate high-level research in Jewish Studies into their coursework, qualifying exam, and dissertation.

In keeping with UC Berkeley requirements for a Designated Emphasis, students must be admitted to the DE prior to taking their qualifying exams. We strongly encourage students to attend an informational meeting describing the program in their first year of graduate studies and formally apply for admission to the DE in their second year. The informational meeting takes place in the fall semester. The application deadline for the DE is in the fall semester (the exact date is announced each fall), with admission effective the following spring semester.

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To be admitted to the Designated Emphasis in Jewish Studies, an applicant must already be accepted into a PhD program at the University of California, Berkeley. For further information regarding admission to graduate programs at UC Berkeley, please see the Graduate Division's admissions website.

Students will be required to fill out an application requesting admission to the DE, listing their prior preparation in the field, and their projected pathway through the program. In addition, they should submit a brief essay stating interests and reasons for applying, a CV, a writing sample, and a letter of recommendation from a faculty member in the student’s home department indicating why and how the student would benefit from the DE in Jewish Studies.

Designated Emphasis Requirements

Normative time considerations

Given the flexibility of the program, the completion of the DE will have no impact on Normative Time to degree.

Requirements for Designation

Students admitted to the Designated Emphasis in Jewish Studies must complete the following requirements before applying for their qualifying examination:

  1. Students will be required to complete the course JEWISH 290 Modern Jewish Scholarship: History and Practice, which will serve as the integrative course for the program regarding methodology and research skills. This course can be offered by any faculty member of the Graduate Group in the DE in Jewish Studies, and will likely rotate among core faculty. The course topics will thus vary in accordance with the specific expertise of individual faculty member(s). The course is worth 4 units. 

    The course will be a combination of standard seminar format with shared readings and discussion, and individualized research and writing. The goal of this course is thus two-fold: to provide cohort cohesion and intellectual exchange across disciplines, and to provide the necessary intellectual background for top quality scholarship in the field of Jewish Studies. The course will have a strong practical component, including engagement with bibliographical resources and scholarly practices essential to doing work in the field of Jewish Studies. A final paper will be required. 

    This course will be offered once every two years. The faculty members offering JEWISH 290 are core members of the Graduate Group for the Designated Emphasis in Jewish Studies.
  2. Students in the DE will also complete three additional course electives related to Jewish Studies, which must be approved by the Graduate Group’s Curriculum Committee. These courses will support the interdisciplinary nature of the program with attention paid to the individual students' research interests. At least one of these courses must be taken in a department outside the student's major area of study or chronological period. In general, electives are graduate seminars, but an appropriate upper division undergraduate course may be approved if the student completes a graduate-level assignment for the course. One of the three electives may be fulfilled by repeating JEWISH 290, under the condition that the topic of this course differs from the previous JEWISH 290 they will have taken. Students will be provided a list of potential electives offered by the different departments sponsoring the DE. A student may petition to the advising committee to approve a course not on the established list.


A member of the Graduate Group in Jewish Studies must be a formal member of the PhD qualifying examination committee. Under most circumstances, the graduate group member in the student’s home department will serve in this function. A member of the graduate group may also serve as the Academic Senate representative on the qualifying exam committee if not a faculty member of the student’s major. A Jewish Studies topic must be included as a subject on the qualifying examination. Satisfactory performance on the qualifying examination for the PhD will be judged according to the established rules in the student’s major program.


A member of the Graduate Group in Jewish Studies must be a formal member of the dissertation committee. The dissertation must relate to Jewish Studies (history, literature, culture, arts).

Faculty affiliated with the DE are Robert Alter, (Emeritus) Comparative Literature and Near Eastern Studies; Lilla Balint, German; Kenneth Bamberger, Boalt School of Law; Karen Barkey, Sociology; Robert Braun, Sociology;  Benjamin Brinner, Music; John Efron, History; Ronald Hendel, Near Eastern Studies; Ethan Katz, History; Chana Kronfeld, Comparative Literature and Near Eastern Studies; Ronit Stahl, History.


Jewish Studies

Faculty and Instructors


Lila Balint, Assistant Professor.

Kenneth A. Bamberger, Professor.

Karen Barkey, Professor.

Robert Braun, Assistant Professor.

Benjamin Brinner, Professor. Indonesia, Java, Bali, Israel, musical memory, situated musical cognition, musical interaction, improvisation, gamelan, music and oral narrative.
Research Profile

John M. Efron, Professor. Cultural and social history of German Jewry.
Research Profile

Ronald Hendel, Professor. Textual criticism, Hebrew bible, ancient Near Eastern religion and mythology, Northwest Semitic linguistics.
Research Profile

Ethan Katz, Associate Professor. Jewish history, modern France, empire, Jewish-Muslim relations, secularism.
Research Profile

Ethan Katz, Associate Professor. Jews of France and the Francophone world, Jewish-Muslim encounters, minorities and citizenship, religion and secularism, Jews and colonialism, Jews and law, Holocaust studies, cultural memory.

Chana Kronfeld, Professor. Comparative literature, modernism, Hebrew, Yiddish, modern poetry, minor literatures, politics of literary history, feminist stylistics, intertextuality, translation studies.
Research Profile

Francesco Spagnolo, Adjunct Associate Professor.

Ronit Stahl, Assistant Professor.


Rutie Adler, Lecturer.

Yael Chaver, Lecturer.

Visiting Faculty

Tomer Persico, Visiting Assistant Professor.

Stephanie Rotem, Visiting Assistant Professor.

Emeritus Faculty

Robert B. Alter, Professor Emeritus. Comparative literature, Near Eastern studies, 19th-century European and American novel, modernism, literary aspects of the bible, modern and biblical Hebrew literature.
Research Profile

Joan Bieder, Senior Lecturer SOE Emeritus. History of Jewish communities in South East Asia.
Research Profile

Claude S. Fischer, Professor Emeritus. Social networks, American social history, technology, urban sociology, sociology.
Research Profile

Ann Swidler, Professor Emeritus. Religion, culture, Africa, AIDS, political sociology, theory, development, NGOs.
Research Profile

Contact Information

Center for Jewish Studies

4401 Dwinelle Hall

Phone: 510-664-4154

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Faculty Director, Center for Jewish Studies

Benjamin Brinner, PhD (Department of Music)

4401 Dwinelle Hall

Graduate Advisor, DE in Jewish Studies

John Efron, PhD (Department of History)

Executive Director

Etta Heber

4401 Dwinelle Hall

Phone: 510-664-4154

Program Coordinator

Elana Sabolch

4401 Dwinelle Hall

Phone: 510-664-4138

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