In July 1970, the University of Pittsburgh established a University Committee on Jewish Studies (UCJS) to administer a grant from the United Jewish Federation (UJF) to determine the feasibility of faculty appointments in Jewish studies. Hebrew language courses at the introductory level had already been introduced in 1969 and intermediate-level Hebrew was added to the curriculum in fall 1970. A course on Jewish mysticism taught by a part-time instructor was offered in the winter term of 1971, and a lecture series sponsored by UCJS was well received by the campus and general community. In its final report of March 1972, UCJS recommended that a program in Jewish studies be inaugurated, that a full-time director be engaged, and that the University commit to maintaining and expanding the program beyond the initial seed monies made available to it through the community. Following through on this recommendation, the University, with the help of a seed grant from the UJF, invited Bernard R. Goldstein, a historian of science and an expert on medieval Jewish culture, to join the faculty in January 1973 as associate professor of Jewish studies. A second tenure-stream position, established with an additional seed grant from the UJF dedicated to Jewish studies, was introduced in the fall of 1977 and Alexander Orbach, a specialist in Russian Jewish history, was recruited to join the faculty in the field of modern Jewish studies. Following Dr. Goldstein’s move to emeritus status, Adam Shear, whose research focused on medieval and early modern Jewish cultural and intellectual history, joined the faculty in the fall of 2001. When Dr. Orbach retired in 2010, Rachel Kranson joined the faculty teaching modern Jewish history and American religious history.
In the mid-1990s, with the help of a gift from the Perlow family, Dvora Weisberg was appointed as a visiting faculty member in classical Judaism. After her successful development of new courses in this area, the Perlow family and other donors established the Perlow Lecturership in Classical Judaism. Over the years, the Perlow lecturership has been one of the most important and prestigious postdoctoral positions in classical Judaism in North America, launching the careers of several excellent scholars. After six years at Pitt, Dr. Weisberg relocated to Southern California and to a tenure-track position at Hebrew Union College. Other Perlow lecturers have been David Brodsky, now at Brooklyn College, Andrew Gross, at Catholic University of America; and Jason von Ehrenkrook, now at University of Massachusetts--Boston. In 2017, with generous support from a new endowment from Jerry and Shoshana Rosenberg, a new tenure-track position in classical Judaism was established as an Assistant Professorship in the Department of Religious Studies and the Perlow-Rosenberg Fellowship in Classical Judaism.
As a result, the program has a core of three full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty in the Department of Religious Studies, representing the full chronological scope of Jewish history, and a full-time instructor of Hebrew, also appointed in the Department of Religious Studies. Another dozen or so faculty members from across the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences engage in teaching and scholarship in Jewish studies and form the Jewish Studies Faculty Committee, which manages the program.
Professor Goldstein served as director of the program from the time of his arrival through August 1991. Professor Jerome L. Rosenberg served as acting director of the program from October 1991 through April 1992, and as director of the program from May 1993 through April 1999. Alexander Orbach served as director of the program from May 1999 to June 2010, when he was succeeded by Adam Shear whose term ended in August 2018. Irina Livezeanu became director beginning with the 2018-2019 academic year.