“God shall enlarge Yafet, and he shall live in the tents of Shem.” (Genesis 9:27)
Yafet was blessed by his father Noah with a broadening of horizons. The very word ‘Yafet’ comes from yafe, meaning beautiful; Noah is blessing this son – the progenitor of Greece – with a legacy encapsulating physical beauty, aesthetics, the arts, philosophy, culture and the sciences.
Shem was the father of the Semitic people, from whom the Jewish people descend. According to the mainstream interpretation of the passage, Yafet was indeed blessed with expansive external beauty – but the essence of God was to reside exclusively amongst the tents of the progeny of his brother Shem.
A second approach to the verse is that “he” refers not to God, but rather to Yafet. In this interpretation, God will enlarge Yafet’s contributions to the world and those contributions, in turn, shall reside amongst the people of Shem. Indeed, it is upon the cornerstone of this view that the Monique and Mordecai Katz Academic Studies Program was established.
The Katz academic program provides future Jewish leaders with an understanding and appreciation of the cultural and intellectual influences of the world around them. The curriculum teaches other world religions to examine where we can intersect and where we are different. Gender studies are taught to determine how they affect halakahic issues of modern times. Modern science is introduced to inspect how it can improve Jewish learning and living, and more.
For OTS rabbis-in-training and hesder yeshiva students, these academic courses are not separate addenda or even a complement to the Torah being studied. Rather, the accredited courses are fully integrated, so that students live out a fascinating interface between Judaism and the humanities, philosophy, social sciences, approaches to morality and law, history, political and economic thought.
In this manner, the Katz Program is harnessing the beauty of Yafet to better illuminate God’s presence within the tents of Shem.