Department Head: Prof. Basilius Bawardi

בסיליוסProf. Basilius Bawardi, Head of the Department of Arabic

BA in Arabic Language and Literature and International Relations, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

MA in Arabic Literature, University of Haifa

PhD in Arabic Literature, University of Haifa

How many times have you been asked: “What will you do with a degree in humanities?” How has your answer evolved over the years, and what is your response today?

From the moment I started learning humanities, I felt like I belonged, in a place that focuses on esthetics and the evolution of the human soul. I believe the choice to study humanities indicates a personality that wishes to contribute to society and bring bliss to the world. No wonder that in the current reality, humanities are constantly facing challenges stemming from technological developments that are ever-changing humanity. My answer to those trying to underestimate these fields was and always will be that humanities are the eternal essence in the development process of each and every field of science. In humanities lies the possibility of a better understanding of man; thus, they consolidate a solid basis for all other sciences. Any scientific development relies, to some extent, on human creativity and the extent of our ability to understand the human soul. No other field of knowledge enhances and enriches this trait as much as humanities do. Only through the humanities can we effectively weave the complexity of human threads on the path to a tapestry of happiness.

What attracted you to the field?

I love the Arab language with all my heart, and even as a boy, I was enchanted with it. I grew up in Nazareth, where Arabic gained its most genuine existential value. As my mother tongue, Arabic is an essential part of my daily conduct and spiritual life. The source of my love of Arabic was my grandfather, the late priest Basilius Bawardi, after whom I was named. In addition to his service in the clergy, he was also a poet and an intellectual, and in the immense library he had built, I discovered the assets of Arabic. I love writing and reading fine literature, but most of all l love to unveil the treasures of the Arabic literary heritage, dating back generations and encompassing different cultures. Studying the Arabic language and culture exposes the students to one of humankind’s most important chapters—Arab and Islamic history. Moreover, it equips them with the capacity to understand the texts and master the analytic methods of both literary and humanistic concepts.

Tell us an anecdote from your academic life that can reveal something about the nature of research in the field.

In one of my modern Arab literature lessons, I taught a poem by the Lebanese poet Ounsi el-Hajj (1937–2014). Here it is:



الأحرف تتلاحق. عوض ذلك يجب أن تتداخل.

الصمت يشبه حروفا يسكن يركب بعضها بعضا

في التصاق تحت غارة. ليست الحروف قطارات. عوض أن تصت متْ.




            تحت الحلق. وراء قشرتك


Loosely translate into English:


For The Warmth

The letters succeed each other, whereas instead they should overlap.

The silence looks like letters dwelling riding on each other

adhesively beneath a raid. The letters are not trains. Instead of keeping silent, die.



Underneath the throat. Behind your rind


With its complexity and abstractness, this poem requires rereading and exercising a mature analytical capacity to be encoded. Unaccustomed to such poetry in Arabic, the students struggled throughout our discussion in class, mainly in comprehending the thematic contexts and artistic structure. It was an intriguing challenge through which I tried to present my students with distinct thinking values that shed light on the dark corners of our souls. This poem is a journey to the depths of the soul, but its structure binds us to delve into an unusual inquiry to unveil its essence—and so we did. After a somewhat exhausting analysis process, one of my more active and exceptional students approached me and excitedly said that he had never understood his soul and the complexity of his self as he did that day, thanks to our deciphering of this complex poem. The analytic process, insights, and multiple interpretations have opened his eyes and mind to a new existential perception he had never seen for himself. ‘I have changed,’ he said; ‘my perceptions of people, the universe, others and myself have changed; today I can think differently, or at least be open to the possibility of thinking differently.’ This event embodied a fact I already knew: Humanities are important tools not only for imparting knowledge but also, and mainly, for encountering the soul, changing thinking patterns, and developing unique perceptions of life.

Which academic studies do you think fit best with the Department of Arabic? What is the added value, professionally, of these combinations?

Arabic studies in particular, and humanities in general, can be fused with any other field: Philosophy and Mathematics, Music and Theater, and even Exact Sciences. Humanities can contribute to and enrich any subject, especially in the contexts of esthetics and the expression of a genuine self and the value of human life and freedom. Humanities graduates, including graduates of Arabic studies, gain a profound understanding of human sensitivity and can bridge the differences that keep people apart. Humanities graduates, in particular, are open-minded, inclusive and able to connect opposite ends of a spectrum.

What distinguishes the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University from others?

The Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University provides students with access to one of the most interesting branches of the Arabic language and culture: Judeo-Arabic dialects, Hebrew language written in Arab letters by Jews from Arab countries. In my opinion, these dialects prove beyond any doubt the fruitful cultural fusion of all cultures and the unquestionable fact that there is no such thing as a pure, single-origin culture. The entire world is one massive, branched, and diverse culture. I find that the Department of Arabic diligently exposes its students to challenging classical and modern materials that shape their abilities and enable them to delve into the essence of literary text and artistic work.


What are the most important tools or abilities for those specializing in humanities?


Mainly, and in my humble opinion, the ultimate tool is the ability to engage with the literary text, which develops analyzing and interpreting skills that constitute solid academic support in understanding religion, social, artistic, and existential processes.


Peeking into your workbag or study, what interesting, perhaps surprising, object might we see there?

My laptop, which contains thousands of books and texts, and a photo of my family.