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
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 Hasidism
The history of Hasidism is filled with salient questions: Who (and what) birthed Hasidism, and how much does it owe to previous Jewish experience and thought? How did the Mitnagdim help shape those they opposed (and vice versa)? This course will ask what innovations in ritual, practice, and beliefs can be attributed to Hasidism, what roles (if any) women played in its history, and how institutions and communities of uncompromising separatism could emerge from its roots. We will ask how Hasidism reinvented itself after the Holocaust in forms so myriad that they included Jewish Renewal among them.
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
Many Jews assume that the destruction of the Second Temple was a cataclysm threatening the survival of the Jewish people. They understand the Diaspora as a trauma and thank the rabbis for, presumably, stepping in to save Jerusalem. But history informs us that Judeans had long since developed thriving communities throughout the Mediterranean and Babylonian worlds. In this cours, we will explore the many ways in which Judeans creatively managed and co-created emerging forms of Judaism during Second Temple times and through the early centuries of the Common Era. We will discover why Jewish practice of this period can be described as vibrant, diverse, and confidently engaged in lively dialogues with surrounding cultures. Finally, we will look at how and when the rabbis and their work emerged as a critical part of the Jewish project.
Survey of Jewish History
Jews have adjusted, integrated, and reinvented what it means to be Jewish for thousands of years. In this course, we will explore how Jews have experienced the world as a tiny and vulnerable nation, as prosperous and thriving minority communities, and as the threatened (and threatening) "other." The survey will ask how Jewish communities from ancient times to our own age have defined themselves as "Israel." Our sources will include academic surveys, scholarly articles, and a wealth of primary sources ranging from steles to biblical texts, from ancient incantations to Talmudic texts, from first-person documentary accounts to journalists' opinion pieces, and more.
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.