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Thursday, August 16, 2012 - Judaic Studies director looks to expand understanding, outreach
By Dave Groves, contributing writer

Student interest in the Judaic Studies program at Oakland University has grown steadily in recent years, and its new director is looking to boost that growth by expanding the breadth of topics the program explores and reaching out to community groups with vested interests in Jewish history and culture.

Michael J. Pytlik, a professor teaching in both the departments of religion and anthropology at Oakland, officially took the reigns of the Judaic Studies program this week. With a bachelor's degree in history and a master's degree in Jewish studies and Jewish education, he is currently working on a doctorate in Jewish studies. He has traveled to Israel nearly 20 times, where he has worked on several archaeological sites and explored hundreds of ancient sites.

Pytlik said he looks forward to helping expand knowledge of the Jewish tradition among people of all faiths and heritages.

"Certainly the Oakland program is and has been of interest to Jewish students, but we know that we have to keep an eye on the larger community as well," he said. Emphasizing the point, he noted that there is a relatively small population of Jewish students at the university.

Judaic Studies faculty strive to make courses focusing on history, culture and language relevant to all students. Pytlik explained that these efforts often result in students learning to more effectively understand and analyze historic texts they read, as well as look at modern problems and issues from perspectives other than their own.

"The contributions of Judaism and the Jewish people to civilization have been immense, and many people are unaware of this," Pytlik explained.

"Our goal is not to convince students of anything, but to expose them to the world of ideas. There is a deep need in today's world to address the whys of things, and religious thinking and theological thinking can help students begin to do that. Judaism and Jewish thinking, in particular, have much to add to many of today's challenges and even modern vocations."

Much of the Judaic Studies program currently centers on the Introduction to Judaism course, but there is, of course, much more to it. Oakland offers courses in Jewish history, sacred texts, basic theology, biblical studies and Jewish philosophy.

Immensely popular is an annual study abroad program that has students participate in an archeological dig in Khirbet Qeiyafa, Israel, where a 10th century BCE fortress attributed to the time of King David has been dug by students from Oakland and Hebrew University, Jerusalem. Interest is also growing in Hebrew language courses, which now include a second-year option, as well as a new course that focuses on the Holocaust.

Faculty in the program have included prominent local rabbis and professors. They have worked to allow both Jewish and non-Jewish students pursue a minor that will complement almost any academic major or vocational program.

"The rich history of Judaism has much to add to today's complex problems," Pytlik explained.

The new program director said he hopes to expand collaboration with Oakland's Islamic Studies and Christianity Studies programs, as well as to establish partnerships with Jewish day schools and high schools throughout the region. Over the long term, he hopes to see the establishment of a still more focused program at OU.

"We know that we don't have a Center for Judaic Studies at this point, but I don't see any reason why we shouldn't look in that direction," Pytlik said.

In addition to a minor in Judaic studies, Oakland currently offers an exploratory option in Jewish Studies comprised of three courses, as well as an optional major in religious studies. To learn more, visit or contact Pytlik at