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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.|
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