In a piece of proud rhetoric, the bulletin of Columbia College proclaims
that the Core Curriculum is the College's "intellectual coat of arms". A
coat of arms is a symbol displayed both on one's armor and on one's flag,
in the the context of defense and in the context of decoration. More and
more, the Core is being forgotten as a personal defense against ignorant
participation in society, and is criticized as a decoration, an
intellectual ornament whose shine has rusted.
We have seen many people in the universities raise their
goblets to make a cheerful toast, to each his own book. But at Columbia,
we continue to respect a collection of Great Books, books that have
endured as commentaries on society and on the condition of the individual
within society. As Jews, however, we raise our own cup to our own great
books, the biblical and rabbinic texts. In doing so, we might fear
Isaiah's criticism: that we
have mixed our wine with water. In the essays that follow, three
students and a professor reflect on this mixture.
Judaism already has
its own core curriculum, though it is not an academic curriculum. It is a
curriculum of books and of deeds, of study and of action. To this
program, nothing is extra-curricular. Every event and every part of
the environment is material which our curriculum engages. Our religion
directs us to a goal: an attempt to understand that every part of the
world carries potential for sanctity. Sanctity is a transformative
capability, in that we change the mundane to the holy. This is a dual
attempt, in which we try at the same time,to discover an intelligible
world around us and to dedicate ourselves to improving that world.
On the first day of my Literature Humanities (Lit Hum) class, my
professor, James Mirollo, set a critical formula to use as a tool to
start the course. "Ask yourselves", he said, "what is Greek in this book,
then ask yourself what is universal in this book." Professor Mirollo
wanted us to learn that some ideas and values are local, and that some
are universal. For the Jew studying the Torah, the local is the
In the educational process, we can never, like Goethe's Faust in his
opening soliloquy, say that we are educated; such a declaration opens us
to a destructive influence. Nor can we continue with Faust to say that
our study amounts to nothing. Such a declaration denies the human dignity
toward which we move as we study. As Maimonides writes, we are not
permitted to call ourselves ignorant. We are never finally fixed in any
single state of knowledge; we are always moving, attempting to learn
The seal of Columbia displays the University's motto in Latin, the words
from Psalms, In Lumine Tuo Videbimus Lumen. These words find, in one of
our school songs, a beautiful translation: in Thy radiance we see light.
Often, we forget in whose radiance we see light. We think, sometimes,
that it is our own light, or the light of our professors, which
illuminates our world. A more exact translation of the Psalmist's words
is, accounting for the Hebrew tenses, "in Thy radiance we will see
light". The illumination is a goal and a hope, not necessarily the
current reality. We can attempt the goal through fair discussion and
honest study, both of which require the exchange of ideas.
In the following discussion, Jonathan Nathan explores his reaction to
the differences between two worlds of study. Julie Yufe discusses the
clarification of values which is provoked by Contemporary Civilization
(CC) and Lit Hum. Jonathan Levin explains that this discussion engages us
in a process. And as Joshua Rosenstein finds, the process is a struggle.
Ben Spinner is a Columbia College junior.