Dropsie College

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DROPSIE COLLEGE , independent, nontheological, academic institution dedicated to graduate instruction and research in Jewish studies and related branches of learning. It was founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1907 as Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning. The establishment of the institution was provided for in the will of Moses Aaron *Dropsie, dated September 17, 1895. Dropsie stated: "The increasing need in the United States for a more thorough and systematic education in Jewish lore has long been felt, and is a matter of solicitude to true Israelites, who cherish the religion of their ancestors…. [Hence] I order and direct that there be established and maintained in the City of Philadelphia a college for the promotion of and instruction in the Hebrew and cognate languages and their respective literatures and in the Rabbinical learning and literature." The will directed "that in the admission of students there shall be no distinction on account of creed, color, or sex." The college offered the Ph.D. and, from 1952 onward, the M.A. degrees in areas such as Hebrew, Arabic, and other Semitic languages, biblical and rabbinic studies, medieval Jewish philosophy, Assyriology, and Middle Eastern studies. In 1962 it instituted a program in Jewish education leading to the Ed.D. The original president of Dropsie was Mayer Sulzberger, who directed the Board of Governors selected to execute Dropsie's will. The first operating president was Cyrus *Adler, who served from the opening of the college in 1909 until his death in 1940 while holding other important positions including the chancellorship of the Jewish Theological Seminary. He was succeeded by Abraham A. *Neuman (1941–66), Abraham I. *Katsh (1968–76), Joseph Rapaport (1979–81), and David M. Goldenberg (1981–86). In 1986 the college closed its doors as a graduate school and reopened two years later as the Annenberg Research Institute for Judaic and Near Eastern Studies, a postdoctoral research center and fellowship program in Judaic and Near Eastern studies. In 1993 the institution was incorporated into the University of Pennsylvania as the Center for Judaic Studies.

The college's importance lies in that fact that when it was founded, and for several decades afterwards, it was the only non-theological institution in the United States that offered the Ph.D. in Judaic studies. As such, it attracted many distinguished scholars to its faculty (such as Cyrus H. Gordon, Benzion Halper, Leo L. Honor, Henry Malter, Max L. Margolis, Ben-Zion Netanyahu, Moshe Perlmann, Solomon L. Skoss, Bernard D. Weinryb, and Solomon Zeitlin). The faculty produced close to 250 Ph.D.s, many of whom filled positions in Judaic and related studies throughout the United States, thus spurring the growth of Jewish studies programs in the country. From its beginnings the college published the Jewish Quarterly Review, continuing the publication begun in England in 1888 under the editorship of I. Abrahams and C.G. Montefiore. As the only American Ph.D.-granting school in Judaic studies for several decades, Dropsie acquired an important library collection (including manuscripts and incunabula) in biblical, rabbinic, and medieval Jewish literature, as well as early American Jewish imprints.

Ironically it was the success of the college that, to a significant extent, spelled its demise. With the burgeoning of Jewish studies programs in U.S. universities during the 1950s and 1960s, Dropsie found that with its limited resources it could not compete with the larger and well-endowed universities. By the early 1980s it appeared that the college would eventually be forced to close. An attempt at a revival was made in 1981 with the appointment of David Goldenberg to the presidency of the institution. Goldenberg, a recent Dropsie graduate and then faculty member, rebuilt the faculty with young promising scholars, revived the languishing Jewish Quarterly Review, attracted funding for the conservation of genizah manuscripts, and hired professional library staff to convert the collection to the Library of Congress cataloguing system and provide online access to the library's holdings. However, the general financial situation of the College did not much improve and, finally, in 1986 the Dropsie closed.

By this time, Albert J. Wood, a member of the Board of Trustees, had induced the American Jewish philanthropist and former ambassador to Great Britain, Walter H. Annenberg, to become involved with Dropsie's future. Wood saw that while a small graduate school was no longer feasible, a postdoctoral research center in Jewish studies would fill a need. Annenberg embraced the plan, funded the construction of a new building near historic Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and supplied the new institution's annual budget. Thus Dropsie was transformed into the Annenberg Research Institute for Judaic and Near Eastern Studies. Under its first president, Bernard Lewis, the scholar of Islamic studies, the Institute opened it doors in 1988 with an annual program of invited scholars from throughout the world to work on various themes in Jewish and related studies. This program continues today as the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Judaic Studies.


A. Neuman, Landmarks and Goals (1953), 255–356, passim; idem, in: Seventy-fifth Anniversary.

[Meir Ben-Horin /

David M. Goldenberg (2nd ed.)]