TORONTO — York University professor Martin Lockshin and his wife Ruth will fulfil a longstanding dream when they make aliyah at the beginning of the summer. He will be on a one-year sabbatical as of July 1 before retiring next year.
While the Lockshins look forward to joining two of their adult children and four grandchildren who live in Israel (the other two are in the United States), he said, “It is with great sadness that we’re anticipating leaving.”
Lockshin, who grew up at Beth Tzedec Congregation, has family roots in the city dating back more than 100 years. His grandparents were married here in 1906.
Now winding up a stint as chair of York’s humanities department, Lockshin, who turns 64 this month, has been on the faculty since 1978. A former director of the school’s Centre for Jewish Studies and a former co-ordinator of its Jewish Teacher Education Program, his main area of academic expertise is the history of Jewish biblical interpretation.
As well, Lockshin, who has smichah from Yeshivat Mercaz Harav Kook in Jerusalem, is a CJN columnist and has served as rabbi and halachic adviser for the Toronto Partnership Minyan (TPM) – one of a small subset of Orthodox congregations offering increased ritual participation for women – since its inception in 2008. The congregation will honour him and his wife on April 19 at an event celebrating the donation of a Torah that Lockshin’s late father Louis, a former president of the Jewish National Fund of Canada, bought many years ago.
Over the coming year in Israel, Lockshin’s research will focus on the history of pshat, the “plain meaning” interpretation of biblical text. He expects to continue writing and researching after his sabbatical year.
As a Jewish studies professor on a campus that has seen its share of high-profile anti-Israel activity, Lockshin said, “It’s a challenge, [but] people have to remember that universities are such better places for Jews now than they were 50 or 60 years ago… There were quotas for Jews entering into university. It was almost impossible for a Jew to become a professor.”
When Lockshin was growing up, university-level Jewish studies, as a rule, were only offered at Protestant or Catholic schools of theology, he said.
It wasn’t until he was in his early 20s that he met David Berger – then a professor of Jewish studies at Brooklyn College, now the dean of the graduate school of Jewish studies at Yeshiva University – and realized he might be able to pursue an academic career in Jewish studies.
To a certain degree, Lockshin said, he sees the amount of on-campus opposition to the State of Israel as “my fault – our fault – that we’re not getting across [Israel’s] message well enough.” A founder of Canadian Academic Friends of Israel, Lockshin has also met with senior colleagues at York, representing only himself, to discuss issues facing students who are “made to feel uncomfortable” for supporting Israel.
“It’s not a problem that was created by the universities,” Lockshin said. “It’s a problem that exists in Canadian society, and we have to figure out better how to solve it.”
To the best of his knowledge, in his early years at York, Lockshin was the only person to wear a kippah on campus. Even among his Jewish studies colleagues at other universities, it was a rarity, he said. But no one ever gave him a hard time about it, he noted, adding that York is “truly a multicultural place.”
Neither has it been a problem for him to be an observant Jew in a department where most of his colleagues are not Jewish, he said.
A firm believer in the value of liberal arts and humanities, Lockshin said that those studies “give you a wonderful education that will help you in life in everything you’re doing.” He said that a former student of his, now a lawyer, told him that learning to read and interpret biblical text has helped him to critically read law texts.
“I still believe in this enterprise called the liberal arts,” Lockshin said. Many years ago, as a student at the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, he didn’t imagine that his Latin courses would be useful in his future career. “You never know what’s going to be practical.”