Gratz College

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GRATZ COLLEGE , oldest independent college of Jewish studies in North America. In 1856 Hyman *Gratz, Philadelphia merchant, philanthropist, and scion of one of America's earliest Jewish families, established a trust indenture of approximately $150,000 to provide an annuity for his adopted son and, if the son died without issue, for a nephew. By 1893, both son and nephew had died childless. According to the deed of trust, the estate was then assigned to Congregation Mikveh Israel to establish "a college for the education of Jews residing in city and county of Philadelphia."

The limitations of the trust's income led Mikveh Israel to establish Gratz College for the more specific mission of educating Jewish teachers. Gratz's founders wanted it to serve the entire Philadelphia Jewish community and thus from its inception, Gratz accepted women, the first institution of higher Jewish education to do so. In that same spirit, even before the college opened classes, the Orthodox Mikveh Israel inaugurated the institution with public presentations by the leaders of Reform and Conservative Judaism.

Dedicated to the methodology of *Wissenschaft des Judentums and to being nondenominational, Gratz's mission was to teach Hebrew texts, train teachers for Jewish schools, and provide adult education. In 1909, it established a "school of observation practice" that allowed students to take college courses, while observing and practicing teaching in a Jewish elementary school. As Gratz's leaders were also dedicated to Zionism, the college introduced courses conducted in Modern Hebrew in 1922. As the Jewish community of Philadelphia expanded under the Jewish Federation model, Gratz College merged with the older Hebrew Education Society in 1928. Founded in 1848 by Isaac *Leeser, the Hebrew Education Society had received a state charter that allowed it to "furnish to graduates and others the usual degrees of Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts and Doctor of Laws and Divinity." The merger thus conveyed to Gratz College the right to offer academic degrees, but despite faculty support, decisions of Gratz's governing board delayed Gratz's issuing of such degrees until 1952, when it awarded its first Bachelor of Hebrew Literature (bhl).

During the 1920s, Gratz's founding commitment to all streams of Judaism as well as to the Wissenschaft approach led to debates and compromises particularly regarding the training of Reform Jewish teachers. These concerns were ultimately resolved in 1960 by Gratz's establishment of the Isaac Mayer Wise program within its normal school, a unique development that produced educators specifically qualified to teach in Reform religious schools and recognized by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now the Union for Reform Judaism).

In 1967, Gratz College received full accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. By 1987, Gratz had introduced master's degrees in Hebrew literature, Jewish music, Jewish education, Jewish studies, and Jewish liberal studies, as well as various graduate certificates. Self-study occasioned by the accreditation process more clearly defined Gratz's secondary school offerings eventually leading to the establishment of its Jewish Community High School (jchs). Consolidating the Isaac M. Wise program with the large array of courses on topics ranging from intensive text and language to service learning to classes designed for Jewish students with special needs, the jchs grew to 13 sites and almost 1,000 students by 2005.

As Gratz College developed, its funding by the local Jewish federation lessened. Thus, from the 1960s through 2005, the percentage of its funding from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia declined from 78% to 12%. This reduction was both relative and absolute, yet it did not prevent Gratz from expanding its offerings and personnel.

Gratz's broad communal commitment extended to its academic resources. Its Tuttleman Library was opened to the public in 2003 and contains a research collection covering all areas of Judaic scholarship as well as specialized holdings such as rare Judaica beginning with the dawn of Hebrew printing, a major collection of Jewish music, and an archive of oral histories of the Holocaust that was among the first to be assembled in the United States. In the 1990s Gratz College inaugurated a Master of Arts in Education for teachers in public and private schools throughout eastern Pennsylvania. By 2005, some 900 graduate students had matriculated in that program.

From the 1990s Gratz College students had come from communities throughout the United States as well as from Israel, Europe, and occasionally East Asia. Building on its original mandate, Gratz College had become a transdenomi-national institution where Jews from all streams taught and studied together as members of its faculty, student body, and public audiences. In 2005 they pursued graduate certificates and professional degrees that provide advanced credentials for serving the Jewish community and general education and could also earn the baccalaureate. By 2005 Gratz's adoption of technology allowed it to offer more online courses in Jewish studies than any other institution as well as the first online Master of Arts in Jewish Studies. It also developed video conference courses and week-long intensive immersion courses while strengthening its on-campus offerings.


D.A. King, "A History of Gratz College, 1893–1928" (Ph.D. diss., Dropsie University, 1976); J. Kutnick, "Serving the Jewish Community, Pursuing High Jewish Learning: Gratz College in Historical Perspective," in: R.M. Geffen and M.B. Edelman (eds.), Freedom and Responsibility: Exploring the Challenges of Jewish Continuity (1998), 321–48.

[Jonathan Rosenbaum (2nd ed.)]