The PhD Degree

The PhD program provides advanced academic training in broad areas of Judaic scholarship with intensive specialization in one area in preparation for an academic career. The degree certifies that the recipient is qualified to teach a wide range of Judaica at the undergraduate level and to train graduate students in their fields of specialization. It also requires the knowledge of foreign languages and may require course work at other institutions participating in a consortium with The Graduate School. It is a full-time program. Students with excellent academic records and experience with Hebrew and Jewish studies who are interested in pursuing advanced Jewish studies at the highest level are the ideal fit for the PhD program. When applying to the PhD program, students will work in one of our four academic programs of study.

Programs of Study

Hebrew Bible and Its Interpretation
Rabbinic Literatures and Cultures
Medieval and Early Modern Jewish Studies
Modern Jewish Studies


"Apart from The Graduate School, practically no program of study in the United States could have given me the requisite training for my research on Jewish literature in the Middle Ages, and for my ability to be able to teach widely in the areas of Jewish studies and religion."

-Jonathan Decter
PhD, Medieval Jewish Studies, '02; Edmond J. Safra Professor of Sephardic Studies, Brandeis University


Hebrew Bible and Its Interpretation

The Hebrew Bible is a foundational text for both Judaism and Christianity and for Western culture as a whole, and the interpretive traditions of midrash and parshanut form the matrix in which various forms of Judaism create themselves anew throughout the centuries. The graduate program area on Hebrew Bible and Its Interpretation is geared to graduate students focusing on any form of biblical interpretation, ranging from the prebiblical context in which the Bible came into being, through the Bible itself, into classical midrash, medieval rabbinic and Karaite exegesis, and modern Jewish thought. Regardless of what area of focus they choose, all students receive thorough grounding in biblical texts as well as languages relevant to the area of study. Topics falling within this cluster include texts and versions of the Bible; literary analysis of the Bible; biblical theology; techniques of classical interpreters; the place of context in medieval interpreters; the connections between Jewish exegetes and the pagan, Muslim, and Christian scholars with whom they interacted; and the relationships between biblical commentary and other areas of Jewish culture.

Learn more about Hebrew Bible and Its Interpretations.

Rabbinic Literatures and Cultures

Rabbinic Literatures and Cultures represents the canonical core of Jewish history, yet it reflects a movement whose success was by no means guaranteed and whose character was contested from both within and without, from ancient origins through today. The PhD program at JTS addresses key questions in rabbinics such as: How can we characterize rabbinic ideologies, theologies, and textualities? What were the social and political settings in which the Rabbis produced their teachings? How did the Rabbis adapt and reframe those teachings in the course of transmitting them? Doctoral students are trained in a number of complementary approaches: source criticism (e.g., Mishnah/Tosefta, Bavli/Yerushalmi, stammaitic redaction); literary and cultural criticism (e.g., analysis of gender, ritual, authority, religious identity); historiography of late antique Judaism (e.g., emergence and development of the rabbinic movement, Jewish social history, Hellenization, Christianization); evolution of Jewish law (e.g., literary genres, legal topics, jurisprudence). Students work firsthand with the rich resources in rabbinics of the Rare Books Room in The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary, and draw on related JTS strengths such as Bible, medieval and modern Jewish literatures, and Jewish thought. Phd students generally focus in one of 3 areas.

Learn more about Ancient Jewish Studies, Midrash and Talmud and Rabbinics.

Medieval and Early Modern Jewish Studies

The medieval and early modern Mediterranean was a dynamic, mobile, creative, and innovative place in Jewish and world history. It was also an era of crisis and reorganization, migration and renewal. This cluster focuses on relations between religious groups (Jews, Muslims, and Christians); among Jewish subethnic legal and religious traditions; between rabbinic authorities and other groups of Jews; and between Jewish communities and the states in which they lived, with emphasis on Spain and Italy. Students have access to one of the world's most important collections of medieval and early modern Jewish manuscripts and early printed works from Spain, Italy, and the Ottoman Empire. In social history, students are trained in skills and methodological approaches for the use of archival sources and Jewish sources such as the Responsa literature. The cluster offers access to faculty and advanced courses in medieval and early modern rabbinic literature, Kabbalah, poetry, visual and material culture, and gender studies.

Learn more about Medieval and Early Modern Jewish Studies.

Modern Jewish Studies

The modern era has been a time of great challenge as well as extraordinary Jewish creativity and dynamism. This program area is devoted to the exploration of literary, cultural, religious, ethnic, and national movements-both their institutions and their ideas-created and experienced by Jews in modern times down to the present. Students can work in interdisciplinary fashion with a variety of faculty, or focus on more normatively defined disciplinary degrees  (e.g. literature or history). Students working in literature will take advantage of the program's strong grounding in modern Hebrew and Yiddish literary studies, in conjunction with cultural and literary theory.  Students working on the contemporary American Jewish community may utilize the tools and methods of religious studies and the social sciences. The program's faculty has research interests ranging from Jewish life and thought in Germany and Eastern Europe to American Judaism and Israel studies, and offers expertise in modern Jewish literatures, contemporary Jewish thought, identity, education, and communal institutions.

Learn more about Modern Jewish Studies.

Apply to The Graduate School

Explore The PhD Degree Requirements.

Merit Fellowships

The Graduate School offers a number of substantial merit fellowships for students pursuing PhD studies. All entering students are automatically considered for these fellowships. These include:

  • The Revson Fellowships, made possible through the Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • The Professor Saul Lieberman and Dr. Judith Berlin Lieberman Graduate Fellowships in Talmudic Studies, made possible by the Dr. Bernard Heller Foundation
  • The Dr. Bernard Heller Fellowship
  • The Rabbi Seymour Siegel Scholarship
  • The Rabbi Benjamin Plotkin Fellowship
  • The Gerson D. Cohen Fellowship
  • The Stroock Fellowship in Ancient Judaism
  • The Anna and William Blanksteen Fellowship for the study of European Jewish Civilization
  • The Robert Lee Kohns Foundation Graduate Fellowship
  • The Michael Klebanoff Graduate Fellowship
  • The Jacob Shatzsky Memorial Fellowship
  • The Stanley J. Friedman Graduate Fellowship in Jewish History
  • The Louis and Alice Shimberg Fellowship
  • The Betsy and Edward E. Cohen Fellowship
  • The Elbogen Fellowship

All entering and continuing PhD students are automatically considered for these fellowships.

Joint Doctoral/Ordination Program
Students who wish to study simultaneously for the PhD degree and rabbinic ordination may apply to The Graduate School and The Rabbinical School for admission to the joint doctoral/ordination program. Students currently enrolled in The Rabbinical School are also eligible to apply no earlier than the fourth year of rabbinical school. Each school will follow its own admissions procedures. Upon the approval of the student's doctoral adviser, the course requirements for the PhD can be met in part by courses taken in The Rabbinical School in the student's field of concentration. All requirements for the doctoral degree (course work, foreign languages, examinations, and dissertation) remain in effect. To be considered for fellowships, students must take a minimum of fifteen doctoral program credits per year.