A BRIEF HISTORY OF BAR-ILAN UNIVERSITY
Keeping pace with the Jewish state, Bar-Ilan University took root despite the adversity of the 50s, flourished after the Six Day War, became seasoned and established in the 70s and 80s, burgeoned with the mass immigration of the early 90s, and became Israel’s fastest-growing and largest university at the turn of millenium.
1948. The modern State of Israel is established.
One man has a dream..... “to create an institution of higher learning in the newly-established Jewish republic in which Jewish learning and the Torah of Israel would be studied together with all the latest findings in the fields of human research”.
"A university demonstrating that", wrote Bar-Ilan's architect and founder Prof. Pinkhos Churgin, "Judaism is not a cloistered way of life, removed from scientific investigation and worldly knowledge.... A college of excellence that will strive to implant within the heart of each student an unswerving faith in the unity of our people with all of its diversity, in all of its divisions and parts".
Prof. Churgin, an American rabbi and educator, nourished the dream and pursued it relentlessly. A graduate of the famed Volozhin Yeshiva, scholar of Semitics, and professor of Jewish history and literature at Yeshiva University, Churgin gathered around him an elite group of American orthodox academics and leaders who shared his vision.
Central figures in this group were Rabbi Dr. Joseph H. Lookstein (later Bar-Ilan Chancellor), Rabbi Zemach Zambrowsky, Rabbi M. Kirshblum, Prof. Saul Lieberman and Rabbi Prof. Emanuel Rackman (later to become Bar-Ilan president), along with philanthropists Philip, Max and Frieda Stollman of Detroit.
1950. Getting Started.
Meeting in Atlantic City, the leadership of Mizrachi Religious Zionists of America enthusiastically endorsed Churgin's vision and adopted the project. An Israeli founders committee was established, involving national religious leaders Moshe Haim Shapira, Dr. Joseph Burg, Dr. Zerach Warhaftig, David Pinkas, Herman Hollander, M. D. Magid, Y. Karib, Rabbi Zev Gold and others.
The name Bar-Ilan was chosen, in honor of Rabbi Meir Bar- Ilan (Berlin), a spiritual leader who led traditional Judaism from the ashes of Europe to rebirth and renaissance in the Land of Israel.
1951. Churgin meets the Israeli Prime Minister David Ben- Gurion to inform him of the decision, and sets-out to raise funds among the Jewish communities in Canada and the US. At first, the Prime Minster was unenthusiastic about Bar-Ilan. "As long as it doesn't cost the government any money", he told Prof. Churgin. But he rapidly warmed to the institution, later charging Bar-Ilan with guidance of the National Bible Quiz, a project Ben-Gurion initiated and nurtured.
1952. The Government and the Jewish National Fund allocate land in Ramat Gan for construction of a campus; 1953. The university cornerstone is laid.
1955. Opening ceremonies are held followed by the beginning of classes (with 56 students). On May 10, 1955 The New York Times headlined the establishment of the university with a front page story:
"New Israeli University to Open in Fall Stressing Judaism Study. Bar-Ilan, Sponsored by Mizrachi Group, Regarded as Cultural Link Between the Republic and America".
US President Eisenhower and leaders the world over sent messages of congratulations upon the university’s founding.
Yet many Israeli editorialists and politicians, antagonistic to Bar-Ilan's traditional orientation and skeptical of its ability to excel, remained aloof. On the other side of the spectrum, ultra-orthodox elements fired missives at the young religious university, rejecting Bar-Ilan's synthesis of religion and modernity.
Prof. Churgin’s response to all this was that “if we’re being criticized from both the right and left, clearly we are doing something right..." Bar-Ilan, he felt, would breathe new life and a fresh Judaic perspective into the study of sciences and humanities in the 20th century; and at the same time, the university would augment and revolutionize the traditional study of Torah in the yeshiva world.
1956. In April, Bar-Ilan's first eight buildings are dedicated by President Churgin with the participation of Israeli President Yitzhak Ben-Tzvi. "Bar-Ilan serves as a bridge between Israel and the Diaspora”, Churgin said at the dedication. Indeed, more than half the students in Bar- Ilan's first class came from the US and Canada.
But Bar-Ilan 'turned Israeli' fast, and from the start placed community involvement high on its agenda. First-year students and teachers spent their vacation in the swamps of the Beit Shean Valley and in guard posts along the Jordan, in Jewish refugee camps and among new groups of immigrants, and in the nearby Tel Hashomer Hospital during the 1956 Suez campaign.
1957. Tragically, Prof. Churgin died shortly after the university’s third-year opening ceremony. In his last address, he sketched an outline for the future: establishment of a center for research into Jewish law, a holocaust studies center, new physics laboratories, a central library and regional colleges in the Galilee and Negev. Today, Churgin’s vision in entirety -- and beyond -- has become reality. Rabbi Dr. Joseph H. Lookstein succeeded Churgin at the university’s helm.
1958. Hebrew Author and Nobel laureate S. Y. Agnon received the university’s first Honorary Award.The 1960’s
1961. Minister of Education Abba Eban and the Israel Council for Higher Education grant recognition to Bar-Ilan. Prof. Baruch Kurtzweil, a scholar of literature, determinedly lead Bar-Ilan's struggle for academic accreditation.
1966. Bar-Ilan grows to 2,000 students and 360 faculty. Bar- Ilan becomes the first Israeli university to be granted a charter of academic recognition by American authorities (New York State).
1967. Large-scale aliyah after the Six Day War brought waves of new immigrants to Bar-Ilan, swelling the student body to over 5,000. Prof. Moshe Jammer, an internationally acclaimed philosopher of science, became Rector and acting President. Academic advancement in the university’s second and third decades established Bar-Ilan as the third largest academic institution in Israel.The 1970's.
The Wurzweiler Central Library was dedicated with over 500,000 books, many of them rare and priceless editions. In 1971, the Yaakov Herzog Faculty of Law was opened, which quickly became one of the most desired legal programs in the country.
In 1972, the biology department took possession of an electron microscope, the most sophisticated of its kind in Israel at that time. The Department of Social Work became a close partner with the Ministry of Defense in developing special programs for bereaved families. Bar-Ilan University Press, specializing in humanities, social sciences and Judaic studies publishing, was founded in 1977.
Torah Studies: Two institutions established in the late 1970s impacted significantly on the character of the university in the past two decades -- The Institute of Advanced Torah Studies and its counterpart, the Midrasha for Women. What began as a small and exclusive university framework for an elite group of yeshiva students has become an enormously popular program attracting close to one-tenth of all Bar-Ilan students. Institute and Midrasha students have been central in creating a traditional and tolerant atmosphere that pervades all aspects of campus life.
Basic Jewish Heritage Studies, required of all students, were expanded in the early 1990s, as well. Bar-Ilan University Chancellor Rabbi Rackman argues that these studies have played an important role in bridging the gap between religious and secular in Israel. "We have never attempted to create baali teshuva. Rather, Bar-Ilan has sought to develop educated alumni who will not be foreign to their heritage. At the very least, Bar-Ilan alumni are able to appreciate the wisdom of Jewish civilization".
"I believe our physicists are better physicists because they bring to their studies a spiritual perspective and the teachings of our people throughout the ages", says Bar-Ilan University President Prof. Moshe Kaveh (president since 1996 until today). "This is true in many other fields such as law and psychology”.
"And the next generation”, says former President Prof. Shlomo Eckstein (1992-1995), “will see increasing integration of Jewish tradition with research in scientific fields at Bar-Ilan. We will develop interdisciplinary research projects in medicine, communications and business”.
It is no wonder, then, that others today seek to learn and copy the Bar-Ilan model. Recognition of Bar-Ilan’s success in marrying tradition with open intellectual horizons has been expressed in the most surprising corners. Former Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan once remarked that he wished to study the Bar-Ilan model "in order to explore how religion and science are successfully combined without being fundamentalist”.The 1980's.
The Faculty of Jewish Studies grew to over 300 scholars, the largest academic concentration of such scholars in the world. Together with Bar-Ilan computer specialists, they developed the Responsa Project , which computerized on CD-ROM 2000 years of Jewish biblical and talmudic literature, including over 300 volumes of halachic Responsa.
Bar-Ilan University archaeologists assumed responsibility for excavations in Shilo and the Old City of Jerusalem. The School of Education mushroomed to become a central institution within the educational system.
All this growth was overseen by Presidents Prof. Emanuel Rackman (77-85), Prof. Michael Albeck (85-89) and Prof. Zvi Arad (acting president 89-92), along with Global Board chairmen Philip Stollman (1957-84), and Ludwig Jesselson (1985-1992).
Pillars of Bar-Ilan, leaders for over two generations, were Dr. Zerach Warhaftig MK, Israeli Minister of Religion for over two decades, who served until 1999 as chairman of Bar- Ilan's Executive Council. Rabbi Prof. Emanuel Rackman, too, was Bar-Ilan President for nine years, then Chancellor, and today is Chancellor Emeritus. Both men have had a defining impact on the character of the institution.
As Bar-Ilan matured, its role within Israeli society evolved and ripened. The university and student body initiated many social and community outreach projects, including a prisoner rehabilitation effort, a big-brother program, legal aid, study programs for senior citizens, educational counseling and a network of social counselors in development towns.
By the late 1980’s the small, experimental college established by Prof. Churgin had grown to a full-fledged university of international repute, with 12,500 students in 35 academic departments. 300 intensive research projects were underway in the natural sciences alone, and Bar-Ilan could credit important advances in cancer research, male fertility, pharmaceutical chemistry and more.The 1990's.
The wave of Russian immigration in the early 1990’s brought about a 90 percent rise in the student population and the Bar-Ilan expanded to meet the demand. A school of economic and business administration was opened. Regional colleges were opened in Ashkelon, Ariel, Acre, Safed and Tzemah. Study courses were opened at army bases around the country. Graduate studies were expanded, and inter-disciplinary centers of excellence were established.
University Presidents Prof. Shlomo Eckstein (1992-1995) and Prof. Moshe Kaveh (1996-present), and Executive Council Chairman Prof. Yaakov Neeman (1999-today) led the university through this period of astounding and rapid growth, leading to the definition of the university master plan to double in size by building some $200 million of new facilities on a campus extension north of the main campus in Ramat Gan.
Between 1995 and 2000, university fundraising doubled. $47 million was invested in new building construction – an expansion necessitated by the growth in the student body and the ever-increasing volume of scientific activity, especially graduate teaching and research, underway at Bar- Ilan U.
In the late 1990’s the university also began to play an ever- growing role in promoting Jewish identity and Jewish education, in Israel and in the Diaspora. In 1996, Prof. Kaveh established the International Center for Jewish Identity, along with more than three dozen educational centers at Bar-Ilan University with the purpose of reaching out to the Jewish world at-large, beyond the confines of academia. Through significant fundraising efforts, an operating budget of $3 million a year was created to support educational programming and research in this important field.
Among the major programs initiated were a Jewish university on the Internet, curriculum development and professional training for Jewish studies principals and teachers worldwide, religious-secular dialogue seminars, and intervention programs that teach Judaism and democracy as complementary value systems and that promote tolerance.
Also established were intellectual centers that promote a renewed Zionist agenda, research programs that seek to study and suggest anti-dotes to assimilation, and even a center to research “secular” Jewish civilization and its contribution to an enriched Jewish life.Beyond 2000
By the turn of the millenium, ten central buildings on the “new” campus grounds were in advanced stages of planning or construction, including facilities for brain research, music, psychology, Jewish philosophy and ethics, law, language studies, humanities, engineering, and interdisciplinary graduate studies.
The university’s master plan for 2001-2006 calls for $105 million of new construction, including new laboratories, dormitories, libraries, classrooms, concert halls, cafeterias, athletic facilities, hi-technology incubators, parklands and exhibition space. This makes Bar-Ilan University’s “new campus” the largest-ever educational construction venture in the history of the State of Israel.
Also in 2001, Prof. Moshe Kaveh was re-elected for a third term as university president, to oversee the continued rapid growth.
At the same time, Bar-Ilan University’s graduate student population grew by a phenomenal 48 percent. This was made possible by a sensational 420 percent increase growth in scholarship funds designated to support graduate study and research. The university plans to double the number of our Ph.D. students yet again, from 750 doctoral candidates at present, to 1,500 by 2005.
In 2001, the university opened a School of Engineering concentrating in computer and electrical engineering, with sub-specialties in signals processing, micro-electronics and electro-optics.
None of this growth would have been possible without the stalwart and generous support of Bar-Ilan University Friends worldwide. Global Board Chairmen Aharon Meir (1992-1994), Morris Green (1994-1997), Selig Wengrowsky (1997-1999) and Aharon Dahan (1999-today) were full partners to this expansion effort, along with the American Friends of Bar- Ilan University and other friends organizations around the world.
By the end of the century, the small college established by Prof. Churgin had grown to a full-fledged university of international repute, with close to 30,000 students in 40 academic departments and over 100 study tracks, scientific cooperation agreements with over 50 leading universities around the world, and 54,000 alumni. Bar-Ilan U. could credit important advances in cancer research, male fertility, pharmaceutical chemistry, research into Jewish law, and more.Key Public Figures Who Have Received
Honorary Doctorates From Bar-Ilan University
1968. Israeli President Zalman Shazar and US Jewish leader Max Fisher
1971. Prime Minister Golda Meir
1976. President Efraim Katzir, Chief Rabbi Nissim, and Prof. Saul Lieberman
1977. President Chaim Herzog
1983. President Yitzhak Navon
1993. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin
1978. Prime Minister Menachem Begin
1992. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and President Ezer Weizman
1973. Nobel laureate Eli Wiesel
1976. British Prime Minister Harold Wilson
1985. US Vice President George Bush
1986. New York Mayor Ed Koch
1992. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev
1994. US Vice President Al Gore, in Washington
1998. Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar, Singer Naomi Shemer
1999. Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel
2000. Bank of Israel Governor Prof. Jacob Frenkel
2001. Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein, Author A.B. Yehoshua