The 20,000-volume personal library of Salo Baron, acclaimed by many as the most accomplished Jewish historian of the 20th century, would become, in December 1985, thecornerstone of Stanford’s Taube-Baron Collection of Jewish History and Culture and a key resource for a new discipline of study at Stanford. Just six months earlier, the chairman of Stanford’s Department of Religious Studies won approval from a donor to convert what had been a visiting professorship in Jewish Studies to a permanent professorship – a change that now stands as the official beginning of the Taube Center for Jewish Studies.
The collection and the center represented important steps for Stanford, and for Hillel@Stanford. The substance and visibility of all three was synergistic and reflected a common theme: That there was a place at the university – and in the world – where the words, thoughts and actions of Jews of all minds and cultures, throughout history, were available and valued.
The Taube-Baron Collection of Jewish History and Culture
“Stanford’s libraries have long worked closely with the university’s faculty and students across many disciplines,” said Zachary Baker, Stanford’s Reinhard Family Curator of Judaica and Hebraica Collections and Assistant University Librarian for Collection Development – Humanities and Social Sciences. Starting in the mid-1980s, when Jewish Studies emerged strongly as an academic program, the libraries made an effort to build research support for that program, through the acquisition of the Taube-Baron Collection and the Reinhard family’s endowment of the Judaica and Hebraica curatorship.
Thirty years of acquisition and development have produced a group of collections, totaling 80,000 volumes that support research and instruction in all forms of Jewish Studies: history, literature, linguistics, cultural studies, and contemporary social, political and cultural developments in the United States, Israel and the world.
The Taube-Baron Collection
stands alone, however, in its significance, Baker said. “The book portion is an encyclopedic collection of a scholar whose accomplishments in the field of Jewish history are broad-ranging – and there is no equivalent to it at Stanford.”
Baron held the first chair in Jewish history at any secular university outside of Eastern Europe. He was the author of 13 books, many of multiple volumes, on Jewish history. The first version of his magnum opus, “A Social and Religious History of the Jews,” was published in 1937. With revisions, it grew; Baron was working on a nineteenth volume at his death in 1989 at age 94. Shortly afterwards, the Salo W. and Jeanette M. Baron Foundation donated his personal papers to Stanford.
“Baron was not just a scholar,” Baker said, “but also a significant figure in the American Jewish community. He was especially well known for his activism and for helping to secure permanent homes for Jewish cultural resources and assets that had been looted and dispersed by the Nazis.” That effort was one he led and is reflected in his papers, Baker said, which have been used by numerous scholars researching the topic.
Baron was also known as the person who upended what had been
the traditionally lachrymose view of Jewish history as a litany of suffering. Baron argued that Jews hadsurvived because they could live without a state. Jewish history was more importantly about the social, cultural, religious and economy history of its people, he said, and should be studied in the context of the challenges Jews faced. Baron would come to be seen as one of the founding fathers of the academic field of Jewish studies and his influence would be seen in the establishment of Stanford’s Jewish Studies program.
Over the course of the next decade or two, Jewish Studies at Stanford acquired major collections in Hebrew and Yiddish literature, in rabbinic, bible, Israel studies, and other areas making it among the finest and most comprehensive collections of its kind in North America.
The Taube Center for Jewish Studies
The Jewish Studies program at Stanford started later than those at peer institutions – decades after those at Harvard and Columbia – but quickly achieved prominence. The teaching of Jewish Studies at Stanford, encouraged by a major gift in the early 1970s by Miriam Roland, created the Aaron-Roland Fund that, together with a major donation from Tad Taube – Jewish Studies' most consistently vigorous supporter – and with the further generous support of Eli Reinhard and others, created the Taube Center for Jewish Studies.
The Center has been the catalyst for many major conferences and sponsors dozens of courses annually. It has three endowed Chairs affiliated with it, and faculty in History, Religious Studies, Classics, Comparative Literature, Slavic Languages and Literatures, German Studies, Biology, and Music. Its many dozens of PhDs now teach in universities across the United States and elsewhere.
The Taube Center's relationship with the larger community and with Stanford's Hillel, in particular, has been warm and intellectually vibrant. Hillel,
said the founding director of the Jewish Studies Center Steven J. Zipperstein
, Daniel E. Koshland Professor in Jewish History and Culture, "has the potential of serving as a real intellectual breeding ground, an epicenter of Jewish cultural vibrancy. This happens best when there is honest, ongoing exchange between Hillel and the larger university. We look forward to seeing Stanford's estimable Hillel grow in this respect from strength to strength."
School of Education Concentration in Education and Jewish Studies
In 2012, the Jim Joseph Foundation provided major support to Stanford's School of Education to create a concentration in Education and Jewish studies focused exclusively on preparing doctoral scholars and researchers. In addition to endowing a faculty chair, the milestone gift funds fellowships for graduate students, and underwrites seminars and conferences on questions at the intersection of education, religion, and civil society. The unique interdisciplinary initiative was conceived as a special opportunity to create and enhance a nascent area of research that spans the social sciences, humanities, and education. Students are encouraged to link theory and practice, to be methodologically and conceptually creative, and to contribute to the growing body of scholarship at the intersection of Education and Jewish Studies.
Campus Visitors from Buber to Heschel
Stanford’s intellectual life has been enriched by distinguished Jewish speakers who have had a significant impact on students, faculty, alumni and community members.
In February 1952, the Stanford Daily announced two upcoming lectures by Dr. Martin Buber
, describing him as “one of the day’s five most influential religious thinkers.” The renowned author of I and Thou spoke on “Religion and Philosophy” and led a faculty seminar at Green Library. Hillel student president Jack Fine, ’54
recalls receiving a special invitation. “The most significant thing for me was that the Stanford administration somehow respected the Jewish students on campus enough to invite me, as the Hillel president, to attend and be part of what was an important academic and interreligious event,” he said. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
delivered the Fred West Memorial Lectures at Stanford in May 1963. Subsequently published by the Stanford Press in a volume titled Who is Man?, the lectures attracted a diverse audience. Oscar Firschein
, who was taking engineering classes through a Stanford arrangement with local industry, still remembers Heschel’s opening words more than 50 years later.
“What a lovely campus,” Oscar and his wife Theda recall Heschel saying, “And what a wonderful group of young people have come here to learn together.” The audience reacted appreciatively. Then he added, “But you are youngsters without life experience. How can you ever really understand what I am saying?” The students appeared to visibly pull back from their initial feelings of awe at this sudden unprovoked slight. He waited a moment, and then continued. “Do you see what just happened?” Heschel asked. “We were communicating as one, until I destroyed that relationship by demeaning you.” He then went on to engage and elevate the students, as he did for countless individuals and the nation.
In the turbulent sixties, Heschel marched with Martin Luther King, opposed the war in Viet Nam and brought the dynamic messages of the Hebrew prophets into the greater public arena on pressing social, political and religious issues.
Heschel had a profound impact on a generation of Jewish leaders. Among them is leading Jewish scholar and former Stanford Professor of Religious Studies Arnold Eisen
, who currently serves as Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary where Heschel taught from 1945-72. After seeing Heschel speak when he was a 19-year-old college newspaper reporter in 1971, Eisen sought a personal meeting. “He changed my life that day,” Eisen said in a 2012 “On Being” broadcast titled “The Spiritual Audacity of Abraham Joshua Heschel.”
Recent visitors to Hillel@Stanford have included New York Times columnist and author Tom Friedman
; journalists and authors Ari Shavit
, Yossi Klein Halevi
and Jeffrey Goldberg
; former Secretaries of State George Shultz
, Henry Kissinger
and Condoleezza Rice
; former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul
and former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold
; and Ruth Messinger
, president of American Jewish World Service. Their visits have continued a long tradition of opportunities for face-to-face dialogue between students and leading contemporary thinkers.