Jewish Thought: An Introduction

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To have gained an understanding of religious and secular definitions of Jewish identity. Scope and syllabus This course will introduce students to the varieties of Jewish thought which developed from the time of the Enlightenment, French Revolution and eventual Jewish Emancipation onwards. Suggested reading Show Required reading list.

Understanding Jewish Mysticism. A Source Reader.

Introduction to Judaism

New York, Cohen, S. American Modernity and Jewish Identity. New York and London, Frank, D. London and New York, Gillman, N. Sacred Fragments. Recovering Theology for the Modern Jews.

How Judaism Became a Religion An Introduction to Modern Jewish Thought

Philadelphia, Golding, J. Rationality and Religious Theism. Aldershot, Giuttman, J. Philosophies of Judaism. London, Leaman, O. Jewish Thought: An Introduction. Leibowitz, Y. Judaism, Human Values and the Jewish State.

Malino, J. Judaism and Modernity. The Religious Philosophy of David Hartman. Meyer, M. Response to Modernity. Although the readings sparked interesting conversations in class, what they appreciated most was their visits to synagogues, Shabbat dinners, and the museum. In the class discussions following these visits, it was clear that they now understood concepts and facts more deeply and in more personal ways.

By engaging all of their senses — eating chicken soup and kugel, dancing with the hakafot, listening to Jewish music from around the world, and feeling the schach of a sukkah where we held class one day — they experienced lived Judaism in ways that would have been impossible in a class based solely on texts. My experience teaching Intro to Judaism showed me that I was better off rethinking the class according to my own scholarly and pedagogical approach.

Even if the students did not come away with a deep knowledge of Jewish history and rabbinic literature, they gained a sense of what it means to live as a Jew in the contemporary world. Course Syllabus.


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Considering that my field is Second Temple Jewish history, my first inclination was to begin at the beginning with Ancient Israel how can we start anywhere but with the Hebrew Bible? For example, what would happen if we were discussing Sabbath observances and I wanted to refer to biblical laws, Orthodox practices and Reform innovations?

Students need to be able to grasp and differentiate between the many historical manifestations of Judaism.

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Therefore, I divided the course into three parts: 1 history, 2 beliefs, and 3 practices. The history section of the course is structured chronologically and emphasizes a dichotomy between traditional and non-traditional Judaism, a dichotomy that is based on the assigned book Judaism in America by Marc Lee Raphael. We then fast forward to modern Jewish movements of the past two hundred years sorry to my Medievalist friends!

For example, we discuss how various ante-bellum rabbis understood the authority of the Torah in their efforts to condone or condemn slavery in the United States. As we delve into the next two sections on beliefs and practices, the classes are arranged topically.


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Doing so allows me to emphasize the fact that there are indeed common ideas and experiences that traditional and non-traditional Jews share. To use my earlier example, Shabbat is an aspect of Judaism that could be said to be axiomatic to Jewish life. The same is true of our study of beliefs. On a final note, I have found collaboration with other Jewish studies colleagues to be extremely beneficial in teaching this course.

My previous syllabus organized content around the chronological presentation of evolving expressions of Judaism. Inspired by the Ask Big Questions project, the new Introduction to Judaism syllabus asks students to consider fundamental questions they face as individuals and members of larger communities as the lens for studying Judaism. While I still plan to cover much of the same content covered in previous years, my primary object is to impart the idea that Judaism is a religious tradition that grapples with enduring human issues.

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Students who come looking for what Judaism teaches should leave the course appreciating that asking questions defines Judaism as much as insisting on answers. In each of the three sections, I ask students to consider the framing question to gain a personal perspective on the Jewish theme we will discuss. I also assign havruta groups of students for the entire quarter so the theoretical idea of asking questions happens in practice during each class period.



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