An oft-cited section of Pirkei Avot introduces the idea of machloket l’shem shemayim – “an argument for the sake of heaven.” At its core, this refers to an exchange in which the participants are not debating to win, but rather discussing to understand. An “argument for the sake of heaven” doesn’t result in a zero-sum defeat of other ideas or opinions, but instead leads to greater insight into the question at hand. It is, essentially, a communal endeavor to learn. In our 21st century parlance, we might call this a “constructive discussion.” This is, to me, at the very heart of the Center for Jewish Studies at UNC Asheville. Through its many undertakings – supporting students, hosting Jewish thinkers and artists, maintaining rich archival materials on Jewish life in Western North Carolina, and offering numerous academic courses in Jewish studies – the CJS is a site of vibrant intellectual inquiry for students, faculty, and Asheville residents alike, a community where both Jews and non-Jews can engage with complex and nuanced questions regarding Jewish history, culture, and religion, as well as the myriad of fields and topics that intersect with Jewish life.
Under Professor Rick Chess’s leadership, the CJS has thrived, becoming a lively and vital presence on our campus and in our community. During his three decades as director, Professor Chess has achieved remarkable success fostering many such “arguments for the sake of heaven” on topics including literature, spirituality, history, culture, language, music, politics, and more. My intention is to build on Professor Chess’s remarkable legacy and to further energize the efforts of the CJS, strengthening ties with groups across campus and beyond. Among my priorities is to create greater connection between UNC Asheville students and the wider Asheville community, as well as to develop our curriculum of Jewish studies courses into a minor. As a relative newcomer to Asheville, it has been both a privilege and a delight to get to know this region through its Jewish community. I am at once both humbled and honored to have this opportunity to work with you and to ensure that the CJS continues to flourish in the years ahead.
Sam Kaplan, Ph.D., Director
firstname.lastname@example.org | 828-232-5192