For courses in Modern Hebrew, visit the Modern Hebrew and Israeli Society department.

Courses in Jewish Studies

Courses offered in the past four years. Courses offered currently are as noted.

Course Description

Independent Study
Approval required.

Terms Taught

Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2023

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Course Description

Jewish Traditions
“Traditions” are not static, but a constant interplay between continuity and creativity. What do classical Jewish texts (Bible, Rabbinic literature) tell us about Judaism’s origins? How have the core concepts and practices of Judaism morphed into a cluster of traditions that has endured over two millennia? With these questions in mind, we will study central ideas in Jewish thought, rituals, and their transformations, culminating in individual projects involving the investigation a contemporary movement, congregation or trend in contemporary Jewish life, e.g. Reform, Reconstructionism, mystical (neo-Kabbalistic) revivals, or “secular” Judaism. 3 hrs. lect./disc.

Terms Taught

Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

Requirements

HIS, PHL

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Course Description

Modern American Jewish History
What characterizes the modern American Jewish experience? Is it the effort to assimilate into the American mainstream? Is it about the struggle to preserve Jewish distinctiveness? Drawing on historical scholarship and primary sources (films, art, cartoons, newspapers, literature), we will consider the many meanings of American Jewish identity, particularly its religious, racial, ethnic, and national connotations. We will begin in the 1880s, during the largest wave of Jewish immigration to the U.S. Topics will include “Americanization,” labor, political activism, religious reform, World War II and the Holocaust, “Jewish continuity,” gender roles, race relations, urbanization, suburbanization, and the relationship of Jews to white flight, Zionism, anti-Semitism, and philanthropy. 3 hrs. lect.

Terms Taught

Fall 2021, Fall 2024

Requirements

AMR, HIS, NOR

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Course Description

Zionism and the "Roads Not Taken" (1880-1948)
An Arab-Jewish binational state in Palestine was only one of the possible paths that the Zionist movement considered before taking the road that led to Israel’s 1948 establishment. Using various primary and secondary sources, we will critically engage with alternatives to the nation-state within the Zionist movement, unfolding key debates in its history. In the introductory units, we will position Zionism alongside other forms of Jewish nationalism, such as Simon Dubnow’s Diaspora Nationalism. We will then zoom in on post-World War I Zionism, discussing Imperial, anti-Imperial, pan-Asian, and binationalist-federalist alternatives to the Jewish nation-state program. In the concluding units, we will examine the processes by which these possibilities became marginalized, and the vision of a Jewish nation-state prevailed.

Terms Taught

Spring 2023, Spring 2024, Spring 2025

Requirements

CMP, EUR, HIS

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Course Description

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in Film
In this course we will examine representations of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a wide range of cinematic works and the ways in which films reflect and construct social, cultural, and political realities. Following an introductory unit on Palestinian and Jewish nationalisms, we will address core issues of the conflict (e.g., refugees, settlements, and Jerusalem), everyday life under occupation, and forms of resistance. By discussing fiction films and documentaries we will critically explore social processes, diverse ideologies, unique point of views, and various Israeli and Palestinian narratives. The course is based on lectures, film screenings, class discussions, and student presentations. 3 hrs. lect.

Terms Taught

Fall 2020, Fall 2021

Requirements

AAL, CMP, MDE, SOC

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Course Description

The Holocaust
Why did the Holocaust happen? How could the Holocaust happen? In this course we will consider several aspects of the Holocaust, including the long-term conditions and events leading up to it, the measures employed in undertaking it, and the aftermath of the atrocities. Beyond a general survey, this course introduces students to the many varying interpretations and historical arguments scholars of the Holocaust have proposed and invites them to discuss and debate these issues in class. 3 hrs. lect./disc.

Terms Taught

Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2024, Spring 2025

Requirements

EUR, HIS

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Course Description

Jewish Thought and Culture: The Modern Era
Contemporary Jewish life poses many questions: why do many Jews say they are “Jewish, but not religious”? What is distinct about Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and Ultra-Orthodox Judaism? What do the terms “Zionist” and “anti-Zionist Jew” mean? What is the place of the State of Israel in Jewish life? To answer these questions we will study the history of Jewish culture in the modern era: the Enlightenment critique of religion, Jewish-Christian relations, changes in Jewish practice, the revival of Hebrew, concepts of nationalism, assimilation and the problem of “Jewish politics.” Sources will include classical and modern texts, literature and art. 3 hrs. lect.

Terms Taught

Spring 2021, Spring 2022

Requirements

EUR, PHL

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Course Description

Sex, Money, and Violence – an Introduction to the Talmud
The Talmud is the defining book of Jewish culture. Incredibly rich and varied, it has something to say about almost everything, usually something surprising. It is a book not simply to read, but to engage within dialogue. Due to its idiosyncratic language and unique form, it is not always easily accessible for the beginner. In this course we will learn about the fundamentals of the Talmudic text and then delve into selected passages, discovering together what the Talmud has to say about sex, money, violence, and an array of other topics relevant to modern life. 3 hrs. lect./disc.

Terms Taught

Winter 2022

Requirements

PHL

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Course Description

Sociology of Modern Antisemitism
In this course, we will explore modern antisemitism from a sociological perspective. Drawing on theories and empirical research from sociology and related fields, we will analyze the logic of antisemitic narratives, how antisemitism differs from other forms of racism, how antisemitism has changed after the Holocaust, whether antisemitism and anti-Zionism are related phenomena, and how prevalent antisemitic attitudes and discrimination remain today. We will also explore what role antisemitism plays in contemporary conspiracy theories and far-right movements but also whether there are forms of antisemitism specific to the Left. Overall, we will consider how to integrate an analysis of antisemitism into contemporary theories of racism, such as Intersectionality or Critical Whiteness. 3 hrs. lect.

Terms Taught

Fall 2024

Requirements

SOC

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Course Description

American Jewish Life
In this course we will explore American Jewish life during a period of rapid change. We will begin with a survey of American Jews’ 20th century ethnic, racial, and religious identities. We will then focus on scenes of contemporary religious and communal innovation across a wide spectrum of American Jewish life, including case studies of Hasidic, Queer/progressive, Orthodox and Reform Jews, and Jews of Color. Throughout, we will examine how diverse Jewish collectivities incorporate broader American and global ideas, creating new amalgamations and contributing to social change. In the final unit, we will explore contentious issues related to Israel, antisemitism, gender, and American politics. Sources will include books, articles, films, and a study tour in New York City.

Terms Taught

Spring 2024, Spring 2025

Requirements

AMR, SOC

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Course Description

Jewish Oral History
In this weekly seminar students will learn the basics of oral history—research, interview skills, processing, archiving, and presentation—by conducting interviews with members of Kolot Chayeinu, a Brooklyn-based Jewish congregation. Students will work with congregants to create an oral history archive. Depending on student interests and abilities, additional outcomes may include films, audiowalks, social media presence, listening parties, or podcasts. Students will also study oral history theory, the evolution of American Jewish spirituality, and New York City social movements. An oral history of Kolot encompasses Jewish histories of feminism, LGBTQ and AIDS activism, peace and human rights work, death and dying, childhood and adult education, antiracism, theatre, art, music, nonprofit development, politics, rabbinical training, coalition work, and more.

Terms Taught

Fall 2022

Requirements

AMR, HIS

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Course Description

The Book of Job and the Problem of Evil
Why do the innocent suffer? The Book of Job asked this question millennia ago, giving not an explicit answer, but at least a response. Framed by a prose tale on the patient Job, the book is mainly a debate in poetry between an impatient Job and his “friends” that has continued to our day, in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic thought, and in philosophy. We will study the debate on the meaning of Job in philosophy and religion through the works of Maimonides, Kant, Hume, Voltaire, William Blake, Jung, and others. Familiarity with Biblical studies or philosophy of religion is helpful, but not required. 3 hrs. sem.

Terms Taught

Spring 2022

Requirements

PHL

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Course Description

"In the beginning: Reading Genesis"
The book of Genesis is about origins: of humans, nature, family conflict and reconciliation, of war and moral confusion. It poses questions: why, having created the world (“and it was good”), does God seek to destroy it? Why does he command Abraham to kill his only son (Isaac)? We trace these and other questions from their biblical foundations through the Western tradition, examining their expression in religion, philosophy, literature and art. We probe the origins of Western ideas of human rights, of nature and the environment and of God. Readings range from the Bible and early Jewish and Christian texts to modern philosophical, psychological and feminist interpretations.

Terms Taught

Fall 2024

Requirements

LIT, PHL

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Course Description

Black and Jewish Feminist Perspectives
Feminism has a rich history in the United States. In this course we will study feminism from the perspectives of two distinct, sometimes intersecting groups: Black Americans and Jewish Americans. We will explore major feminist texts, writers, and collectives, from Angela Davis, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, and the Combahee River Collective to Shulamith Firestone, Judith Plaskow, B’Not Esh, and Di Vilde Chayes. Through their work and activism, we will study in this reading-intensive course how race, class, spirituality, and sexuality have shaped and reshaped feminist concerns. 3 hrs. sem.

Terms Taught

Spring 2022, Spring 2025

Requirements

AMR, HIS, SOC

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Course Description

Merchants of Venice
In this class we will read Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice from different perspectives, including those of race, religion, gender, staging, and form, engaging the play at the level of rhetorical analysis, textual history, character analysis, source analysis, stage and film history, and current performance. We will study contemporaneous dramas resembling The Merchant of Venice (e.g., Three Ladies of London, Jew of Malta, Othello). Throughout, we will consider the multiple attitudes towards Jewishness and Judaism implicit in the play, its performance history and its literary and cultural influence. Finally, we will study the literary legacy of The Merchant of Venice, from the early modern period up to our own times. The class should also give us an opportunity to enhance our skills in rhetorical analysis, writing, speaking, and research. 3 hrs. sem.

Terms Taught

Spring 2023

Requirements

EUR, LIT

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Course Description

Philosophy of Fascism in the work of Adorno, Arendt and Benjamin
Was the previous US administration fascist? Was it comparable to 20th century European fascism? Upon finding refuge in America, several German-Jewish philosophers sought to understand the terms fascism, authoritarianism and totalitarianism. They focused on morality, participation and subjectivity rather than the figure of the dictator. They asked if this could happen in America. We will begin with a survey of contemporary debates and then read selections from Adorno/Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947), Adorno, The Authoritarian Personality (1950), and Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). We will conclude with Benjamin’s Thesis on the Philosophy of History (1940).

Eric Levi Jacobson has taught philosophy and Jewish Studies in London and Berlin. He is the author of Metaphysics of the Profane: The Political Theology of Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem, New York: Columbia University Press, 2003./

Terms Taught

Winter 2022, Winter 2023

Requirements

PHL, WTR

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Course Description

Prophets and Politics
The prophets of ancient Israel cared less about predicting the future than about shaping it. Political pests, radicals, pacifists and protesters, they were diverse, agitating against the abuse of power, against poverty, economic inequality, and war crimes, long before these abuses were the rallying cries of modern political movements. We will read selections from the prophetic books (Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, I-II Samuel), as well as the writings of activists whom the prophets inspired: Martin Luther King, Abraham Joshua Heschel and Dorothy Day. Students will be challenged to write on the meaning of prophetic ethics for our own times.

Terms Taught

Winter 2022

Requirements

HIS, PHL, WTR

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