2011-12 Catalog

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Offering Description

Jewish Lives and Literatures


Fall 2011 quarter

Richard Benton linguistics, Bible, religious studies
Fields of Study
cultural studies, history and religious studies
Preparatory for studies or careers in
history, literature, sociology, community organizing, education, and law.

In this all-level program, we will ask the following questions: How have writing and interpretation determined and reflected what Jews and Judaism(s) are? What makes someone Jewish? What is Judaism? Is there just one, or are there multiple Judaisms? How have Jews interacted with polytheists? Christians? Muslims? How has traditional Jewish thought answered persistent questions about the existence and nature of G-d and the existence of evil? What do the traditional texts tell us in the face of new ethical challenges?

For three thousand years, Jews have witnessed history through writing. Life under and alongside the empires of Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Muslims, and Northern Europeans provided the context for Jews’ deep and consistent written reflections over the nature of G-d and of humans, and the relationship between the two.

Jewish writings connect ethics with literature, religion, and historical reality. They constantly interpret historical experience through the lens of G-d and Torah (Hebrew Bible), bringing ancient literature to bear on current ethical and philosophical problems, as well as on the problem of how to live everyday life.

We will read and interpret the Hebrew Bible to develop literary and philosophical sensitivities that shed light on interpretations of historical experience. The Bible lies at the basis of all classical Jewish thought. Knowledge of and ability to interpret the Bible will provide the foundation for interpreting later writings. We will also read a range of Jewish commentaries, which will develop students’ abilities to follow arguments and understand writers’ presuppositions. We will explore the major genres of Jewish works—Midrash (biblical interpretation), Talmud (legal texts), Maimonides (medieval philosopher), and The Zohar (medieval mysticism)—and learn the idiosyncrasies of each genre. We will examine how individuals have understood their historical circumstances with reference to Jewish writing and look at Jewish life in a number of historical contexts. Each student will develop a research project on a topic that involves Jewish culture and writing.

Previous work in history, literature, ethics, religion, and/or other related fields is suggested.

Online Learning
Hybrid Online Learning < 25% Delivered Online
Greener Store
Offered During

Program Revisions

Date Revision
July 25th, 2011 The description has been updated.
June 30th, 2011 This program is now a single-quarter, single-faculty offering.