This is Part 1 of an intensive year long survey of the major movements, themes and developments in the evolution of Israelite/Jewish civilization from the birth of Israelite religion and people to the end of the biblical period. The course covers the essential elements of biblical history, law, religion, culture and thought. Students will become familiar with the major methodologies and disciplines of biblical studies and will encounter the approaches of some of the most prominent scholars in the field of biblical studies. While the course will focus mostly on the scholarly and religious perspectives concerning biblical history, text and culture, there will also be opportunities to assess what we learn together from a spiritual perspective. We will also always consider how students can teach biblical history in ways that will make it meaningful and relevant to today’s Jews. Students need not have yet passed the “Sefer Barrier” course to take this course, though a working reading proficiency of the biblical text is expected. The description for Part 2 is listed under the TaNaCh course listings.
Study of Biblical, Rabbinic, Medieval, Modern and Contemporary historical periods.
Biblical History and Civilization Part 1
Biblical History and Civilization Part 2
This is the second part of an intensive two-semester survey of the major movements, themes and developments in the evolution of Israelite/Jewish civilization from the birth of Israelite religion and people to the end of the biblical period. Topics to be explored are: the nature of Israelite prophecy, the history of the Northern Kingdom especially in relation to its prophets (Eliyahu, Elisha, Amos, Hosheya, the history of the Southern Kingdom, especially in relation to its prophets, (Yishayahu (“First” Isaiah), Mikha, Yermiyahu) Sefer D’varim, the First Exile and “Second” Isaiah, Shivat Tziyon, Ezra and Nechemiah, Women and Gender in Ancient Israel, Wisdom Literature (Kohelet and Mishlei), Wisdom and Theodicy (Sefer Iyov), Tehillim, Megillat Rut and Megillat Esther. The course description for Part 1 may be found under History Courses.
Emergence of Jewish Historical Consciousness
History is an integral part of conscious experience that binds our present moments of awareness into a coherent pattern that provides a sense of personal and collective continuity that depends upon having an historically bound steam of consciousness. Paradoxically, the Jews came to examine their own history in the 19th century. That was when we came to realize that events and transformational change could be understood only by examining our past in order to appreciate the evolution of ideas, institutions and the changes in the condition of the Jewish people.
History of Hassidism
What conditions in Eastern Europe made it possible for Hassidism to emerge? Were there differences between the various rebbes and the emerging groups. What differences among the founders were there regarding study, prayer, meditation? What were the differences between the Hassidic movement and the Mitnagdim? These questions and more will be explored in this course. (Cross listed in both History and Kabbalah / Hassidut)
Jewish Emancipation Period
This course will focus on the external forces (political, cultural, and philosophic) that we know as “the Enlightenment” and the various responses that emerged from the forces of modernity.
Jewish Life in The Middle Ages: In the Worlds Of the Cross and the Crescent
For a thousand years in Diaspora, from about 500 C.E, Jews lived under the domination of the Cross and the Crescent. The focus of this course is the social, religious, economic, political and cultural conditions of life for Jews under Muslim and Christian rule and how they navigated a world that challenged them both internally and externally. Among the topics to be studied are:
- Jewish Life under the Muslim caliphate and life in the Genizah world
- The medieval Christian Church and the Jews (theological tensions, inter-religious polemic, disputation and dialogue as well as ecclesiastical measures focused on Jews)
- The impact of the Crusades on the Jews of the Rhine district of Germany
- The development of internal Jewish communal and intellectual life in medieval Europe
- Jewish life in medieval Islamic Spain (living as a ‘dhimmi’ or ‘protected’ people; the deep cultural interchange between Muslims and Jews, and the ‘golden age’ of medieval Jewry under Muslim rule)
- Myths and stereotypes of medieval Jewish women and family life
Judaism expresses it ongoing desire and hope for transformation through messianism. The forms that messianism has taken have changed and are changing along with our evolving reality-maps. The term that what was once used for the anointment of Cyrus and later the return of the Davidic messiah has now in stages morphed to Reb Zalman’s description of “moshiach as a transformative principle.” Reb Zalman teaches that messianism is for Jews our teleology. Messianism expresses the values that draw us into the future at any given time. We also will be mindful of Gershom Scholem’s warning that there is “a deep, dangerous and destructive dialectic in the messianic idea...we have generally chosen to ignore the fact that the Jewish people have paid a very high price for the messianic idea.”
Second Temple / Rabbinic Judaism
The Temple and its centrality for spiritual/religious expression was the first paradigm of our people. When the Temple was destroyed there emerged the 2nd paradigm for our people that still heavily influences Judaism to this day. This course will examine how Talmudic/Rabbinic Judaism succeeded. We will examine the major people and what constituted this paradigm. The general content of the paradigm will be examined.
Survey of Jewish History
For contemporary Jews, a conception of their past is vital to their self-definition. Identity is rooted in some view of the past which sustains them and serves as their basis for contemporary life. The great diversity of Jewish experience has enabled modern Jews to choose particular strands as paradigmatic of their own form of Judaism or Jewishness. This course will look at Jewish history through the prism of distinctive cultures of Judaism: Biblical, Talmudic, poetic-philosophic, Mystical-Hasidic, Rabbinic, Emancipation, National-Israel culture. We will also look at the three great tensions in Jewish history: Between nationalism and universalism, Between the Jewish individual and the collectivity, land, language, and vision of the future.
Varieties of Zionism
Many people are unaware that there are many varieties of Zionist ideology and approach. This course will explore the birth of modern-day Zionism from Theodor Herzl’s Der Judenstaat to Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Zionism, to Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook’s Religion, Mystical Zionist to Be’er Borochov’s Socialist Zionism to Ahad Ha’Am’s Spiritual/Cultural Zionism to Leon Pinsker’s Labor Zionism to Max Nordau’s ‘Muscle Zionism,’ and much, much more. Together we will explore voices that considered the so-called ‘Arab question,’ — those that sought to find just pathways to a Jewish homeland, and addressing the realities that an Arab population lived in the land called Palestine by the British Mandate, and those Zionists who ignored the problem entirely. We will also consider how ancient and new Messianism played into the Zionist drama. Though the geopolitical unfolding of events in the Middle East from the late 19th century until the birth of the State of Israel in 1948 will serve as a backdrop to our deliberations, this course will focus on the foundational ideologies of earlier Zionist thinkers (until about the 1930's and 40's) and these thinkers' articulation of their ideas.