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Belmont's First Jewish Student Faith Adviser



Belmont University hired a rabbi as its first Jewish student faith adviser.


Hiring Rabbi Emeritus Mark Schiftan is one step the “Christ-centered” institution is taking

to promote religious inclusivity.


Schiftan was not immediately available for comment.


As student faith adviser, Schiftan will collaborate with Jewish students to host calendar

observances like Shabbat, Yom Kippur and Passover and serve as a guide for their faith journey.


Belmont has been trying to improve its relationship with the Jewish community since 2020, launching the Belmont Initiative for Jewish Engagement, which included classes, lectures and trips to encourage discourse and mutual understanding between the two faiths.


The university also opened its medical, pharmacy and law school applications to Jewish faculty in Nov. 2022.


Jon Roebuck, executive director of the Reverend Charlie Curb Center for Faith Leadership, said the hire was extending the welcome mat and putting words into action.


“It was a very definitive way of saying we care enough that we will put a little skin in the game, that we’re going to create a position on campus that recognizes the ongoing relationship that we long to have with the Jewish community,” said Roebuck.


With only 1% of Belmont’s student population identifying as Jewish, finding community and representation on campus has been a long journey.


“A big motivating factor for me in starting this organization...is that you shouldn’t have to go off campus to be Jewish,” said Jewish Student Association president Isabella Marino.


With global tensions and antisemitic violence on college campuses, safety is an ongoing concern for Jewish students across the nation and at Belmont.


Seventy-three percent of Jewish college students were exposed to antisemitism in the 2023-2024 school year, according to a survey by the Anti-Defamation League, which fights antisemitism and civil injustice.


“I know there are family members that are concerned about my safety being a Jewish student leader on a college campus...I think Belmont’s done a really good job of taking care of us,” said Marino.


Jewish students who call Belmont home now have someone in their corner, serving as an on-campus presence and advocate.


“What this symbolically does, is it says to our Jewish students in particular, ‘We do care about you, and we will make sure you’re safeguarded on campus and feel like you have a voice on campus,’” said Roebuck.


Other religions are allowed to host spiritual WELL Core and non-Christian calendar holidays and observances can be excused absences for students.


However, the university has yet to confirm if this inclusion initiative and similar hiring will extend to more religions.


Professor of Religion Marty Bell has watched Belmont religiously diversify since the 1980s when it was formerly affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention.


Bell believes the university has a duty to emulate hospitality and practice what it preaches.


“We live in a world where people have a variety of differences, and unless we see others as fully human, and unless we enact, as a Christian school, the notion of loving God and loving neighbor fully, I think we’re falling short of our spiritual aspiration to be a Christian university.”


He also stressed the need for consistency and fairness among inclusion, extending the same hospitality to other world religions to avoid showing favoritism or mixed signals.


“I think saying we’re inclusive is misleading. Semi-inclusion is not inclusion.”


Belmont is taking the careful and necessary steps to consider all the implications, Roebuck said.


“Anytime you plow new soil, you find out where the rocks are.”


For now, the university hopes students find a place of belonging regardless of their religion.

“It was never our goal to say that every student who comes on campus in four years would walk away being a Christian,” said Roebuck. “But our goal is that, in the four years that a student is here, that they would somehow be confronted with the love of Christ in a positive way.”


This article was written by Jaymey Hedberg

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