I usually have a pretty good idea of what to expect from the websites I visit regularly.
So I was surprised to spot an article on Haaretz describing the funeral of, and eulogizing, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel. That Haaretz wrote about a Haredi Rabbi is not inherently noteworthy. But the newspaper’s editorial decision to describe Rabbi Finkel as ‘inspirational’ – in its headline, no less – along with the generally positive tone of Raphael Ahren’s article, struck me as atypical, to put it mildly.
I was also interested to note Haaretz’s inclusion of the following clause:
Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the head of the capital’s Mir Yeshiva, which is considered the Harvard of the Haredi world
Ahren is providing his reader with a basis for positioning the Mir within a heirarchy of its peers, and he is using ‘Harvard’ to denote the pinnacle of a given system of education. Forget for a moment that any sort of objective comparison between Harvard and the Mir is intrinsically specious. I understand what Ahren is trying to say. You understand what Ahren is trying to say. Joe Biden understands what Ahren is trying to say: the Mir is a Big Fucking Deal.
But enough about the Mir. That phrase – “the Harvard of” – reminded me of something that has always amused me about Israel. We’re talking about a country of 7.8 million people (כן ירבו), with a grand total of nine universities, and to hear Israelis – and other Zionists – tell it, every institution of higher education in the country is basically in the Ivy League.
Off the top of my head, I knew I had often heard people describe Hebrew University as “the Harvard of Israel”, and Technion as “the MIT of Israel”. But I was curious to learn just how deep the rabbit hole goes. So I busted out my copy of the US News & World Report, 2012 Edition, and set out to investigate the ties between Israeli universities and their American counterparts.
Most importantly, I intended to discover just which American institutions of higher education could use some help with international branding.
My methodology was simple and straightforward. Here is a representative sample:
Here is what I learned:
1. Harvard, 96 results
96 is hardly an enormous number of hits, yet they manage to fall into five clearly identifiable subgroups:
1) There are a few Christians who reserve the term for “the Galilee… the area that Jesus began his ministry.”
2) There is the President of Bar Ilan, who aspires to turn his university into – what else? – the Harvard of Israel. (Too late.)
3) There is one academic article behind the paywall at JSTOR that seems to make a claim to the title on the basis of something to do with Bar Ilan’s music program.
4) There is an interesting back and forth between one Jake Eckstein, who goes out of his way to claim the title for the Raphael Recanati International School, and a rather insistent set of results associated with the same school that “it isn’t the Harvard of Israel, but…” yeah, we did just plant that association in your head.
5) All told, the results reveal a rather broad consensus that Hebrew University can legitimately lay sole claim to the title “Harvard of Israel”. Considering that the results were so conclusive, I was surprised that the search landed only 96 of them
1. Princeton, 0 results
Serves Princeton right for the intense rivalry it seems bent on fostering with Penn
1. Yale, 0 results
Not even any results for “the Harvard of Israel at Yale”
4. Columbia, 6 results
These referred to the space shuttle, which is kind of depressing. Moving on…
5. MIT, 2040 results
5. Caltech, 9 results
Every result referred to Technion as the “MIT or Caltech of Israel” or “MIT/Harvard/Caltech” of Israel. Sounds to me like someone’s using the Technion as a ladder for some academic social climbing. There’s a reason there are 2040 hits for the “MIT of Israel”, and not a one for simply the “Caltech of Israel”.
5. Stanford, 3 results
This search turned up only spam. I did discover elsewhere, however, that the Weizmann Institute campus “very much has a Palo Alto/Stanford University feel to it.”
It was somewhat difficult to treat that article as credible, however, as it also described said institution as having “a reputation as ‘the Harvard of Israel'” and as “akin to Caltech.” Caltech is such a desperate third wheel.
5. Chicago, varied
There are a lot of ways to write University of Chicago; I tried many of them without a great deal of success. I did learn that there is some dispute between Haifa and Ashdod for the not-very-coveted title of “Chicago of Israel”.
5. Penn, 2 results
I learned about French Jews’ support for Jean-Marie le Pen. Only in France is Jean-Marie a guy’s name. Or a name at all, really.
NB: I was tempted to also try “Penn State of Israel”, but I was worried it would turn up… I’ll stop here.
10. Duke, 2910 results
These results were mostly Bible verses translated as is their wont. I learned that Korah was a “Duke of Israel” and Avigdor Leiberman is the “David Duke of Israel”. I would pay a lot to be the one to tell David Duke he had been reincarnated in the form of a Russian Jew.
I was surprised that only Harvard and MIT had it sufficiently together to lay claim to an Israeli university of their own. There is a tremendous branding opportunity out there for any elite American university bold enough to claim Bar-Ilan for the Princeton or Yale of Israel.
*I had a bit of difficulty determining what would qualify as the “Harvard of Written Material” – and a google search turned up no results – so I abdicated