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The Jewish religion includes a fascinating array of rituals, laws, holidays, and life-cycle events. This course is designed to introduce Judaism as it exists today around the world, including Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews, Middle Eastern and African Jewish communities, and diverse Jewish communities in the U.S.
This course will explore secular Jewish experiences in the modern west. We will examine how traditional Jewish society has been transformed by new ideas and new social realities by exploring the many and multifaceted ways that Jews have constructed modern, secular identities in the wake of those transformations. Using a variety of primary and secondary sources, as well as film and literature, this course will consider the ways in which Jewish identity has been defined and redefined in the modern period across Europe and the United States. Particular attention will be paid to questions of gender and the ways that men and women each experienced processes of modernization and secularization. (Also offered as a cluster as JST 110)
At least two courses in the area of Jewish Religion, Literature and Thought:
A survey of Hebrew literature from the post-biblical era of the second century B.C.E. to the period of emergent modernism in the seventeenth century C.E. Readings embrace the genres of prose fiction, drama, and selections from the Talmud and medieval and religious prose, poetry, and prayers.
The Hebrew Bible is the most significant touchstone of western literature and civilization and serves as a foundation for the three major western religious traditions. In order to appreciate many aspects of western culture, from an etching by Rembrandt to a novel by Steinbeck or even an episode of the Simpsons, not to mention the religious life and thought of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, it is often necessary to be familiar with the text of the Hebrew Bible. This course is designed to provide an opportunity for students to read and understand some of the most important and fascinating parts of the Hebrew Bible from the narratives of Genesis and Exodus to the histories of the Kings of Israel to the poetry of the Prophets and Writings. In addition to biblical narrative, we will also explore the historical life and setting of the biblical world through archeological evidence, some of which has only very recently been discovered. No previous study of Hebrew Bible expected.
This course studies the distinctive scriptural foundation of Christianity in its literary, historical, and theological contexts. Topics may include Jesus as an historical figure and as the object of early Christian faith; the relationships of various early Christian communities to one another and to contemporary Judaisms, Greek religions, and philosophies; the place and role of Paul; the gospel genre and its several examples; the definition of the canon; approaches to interpreting the New Testament. No prior study of the New Testament is expected.
In this course we will examine how issues relating to gender and sexuality have influenced Jewish experience. We will discuss a wide range of Jewish history and literature, extending from the Bible to contemporary Jewish culture, in order to gain a broad perspective on how gender and sexuality have played a role in Jewish life and thought over time. We will consider how gender and sexuality relate to questions of power and authority and discuss the ways that bodies, both gendered and sexual, become meaningful in different Jewish contexts.
An historical and thematic consideration of leading thinkers and way of thought in the Jewish tradition. Topics to be considered include the relationship between the Jewish people and Judaism, relations between Judaism and other religions, faith and reason, the problem of evil, and Judaism and politics. Students will be exposed to primary sources including the Bible and Talmud and medieval and modern Jewish thinkers.
Human identity, individually and collectively, is shaped in significant ways by the presence, the perception, and the definition of the Other. In the case of Jews and Christians, the mutual heritage of biblical Israel and its covenant with God demands that each continue to articulate its relationship to the other explicitly or implicitly . In this course, we examine the dynamics of the relationship from antiquity to the present, focusing on key transitional periods and major figures, and analyzing the impact of “the other” on their respective self-understandings and interactions.
At least two courses in the area of Jewish History, Experience and Culture:
This course will offer a history of Jewish life in the United States. It will examine the different ways that American Jews have defined Jewish life in America and consider the challenges faced by Jewish immigrants as they worked to build a distinctly American Jewish culture. The tension and balance between religious meaning and the value placed on secularism in America form a vital part of this study. (Also offered as a cluster as JST 200)
The very words Zion and Zionist have become powerful political signifiers both within and without Jewish communities, as well as in international discourse. Why are these words so hotly contested, and what do they signify? This course examines the historical evolution of modern Zionism. It considers the different religious, political, and cultural forms that Jewish nationalist thought has taken over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and situates these ideas within their historic and geographic contexts. Students will read the works of Jewish nationalist thinkers like Theodore Herzi, Max Nordau, Ahad Ha’am, Yitzchak Baer, Simon Dubnow, and Louis Brandeis and analyze their competing visions of Jewish nationhood and the specific historical concerns that fuel the emergence of different nationalist ideologies.
A history of the Middle East in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Topics covered include attempts at reform in the Ottoman Empire and Iran, the impact of developing nationalisms and European imperialism, the impact of World War I and World War II, the emergence of new states, and the Arab/Israeli conflict.
This course studies the movement of Jewish people from Spain and Portugal to Latin America and the Caribbean, traces the adaptation of Jews and their descendents to multiple environments, and reflects upon the diversity of Jewish communities and traditions across the region. Major themes include Diaspora, Ethnicity, Race, Gender, and Memory. Topics include consolidation of Catholic Spain in 1492, expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal, and the Inquisition; the effect of Jews on modern Latin American national identities; and the surge of twentieth century anti-Semitism in political and cultural realms.
Every day the news is filled with stories of the violent struggle between Israel and the Arabs. This course will examine the origins and development of that conflict. We will discuss a range of topics, including the emergence of Zionism, pan-Arabism and Palestinian nationalism, the wars between Israel and the Arab states, the rise of terrorist groups, the role of the world community and especially the United States, and the continuing efforts to find a peaceful settlement to the region’s problems. Particular emphasis will be placed on the diversity of perspectives regarding the conflict, its history, and potential solutions.
This course will examine the domestic politics and international relations of the Middle East. In particular, the course will examine the effect of historical culture, economic conditions, and colonial penetration upon the current political conditions of the area.
Students will study the distinctive relationship between these two religious traditions in recent decades. Topics will be drawn from the current public discourse of Judaism and Christianity. Among the many factors shaping the self-understandings and mutual understandings of the two communities we will consider particularly the legacy of the Holocaust, increased religious diversity in Europe and North America, the State of Israel, and the postmodern critique of religious claims. Both Jews and Christians ground their religious self-understandings in biblical revelation - however conceived. Both receive that revelation mediated through an interpretive tradition - however explicit. This opens an avenue to introduce the ideas of revelation, hermeneutics, tradition, social location, and identity politics in relation to significant theological and communal factors in both traditions.
This course will examine the Holocaust and its historical context by considering both the pre-war position of Jews in Europe and the factors that led to the destruction of European Jewry during WWII. Religious context and responses to these events within affected communities will be studied through a variety of sources, including literature, film, and memoirs.
In Europe, until the middle of the nineteenth century, Jewish characters (with a few minor exceptions) only appeared in stage productions created by non-Jews. In general, these performances of “Jewishness” perpetuated extremely negative stereotypes that were a major factor in the development of the virulent anti-Semitic attitudes that led to mass migration and the almost complete destruction of the vibrant European Jewish community by the middle of the twentieth century. In spite of this dark history, a profound change occurred with the coming of the enlightenment at the end of the eighteenth century and the integration of many newly emancipated Jews into western intellectual and artistic life during the late nineteenth century. Through a tiny minority in most western nations, including the United States, Jews, often barred from participation and employment in many areas of the economy, became major players in the development of the modern art theatre and the growing urban entertainment industry. Jews were welcomed in the relatively liberal “show business.” By exploring the Jewish drama and examining a range of Jewish plays, films, and broadcasts, students in the course will, hopefully, gain significant insights into important issues of ethnic identification and assimilation, political repression, Jewish self-hatred, gender construction, and the influence that popular performance culture, both lowbrow and highbrow, has had on Jewish history, western social history, and our own performance of self.
Special topics courses are also offered that can fulfill either the Jewish Religion, Literature and Thought or Jewish History, Experience and Culture requirements.
All majors must take two semesters of Hebrew, or complete Hebrew 204. Students may be exempted from this requirement on the basis of demonstrated proficiency.
Senior Capstone seminar
All majors must take the CUE seminar and produce a culminating research project during the final semester of the major.
Courses outside Muhlenberg
Courses taken abroad, as well as courses taken at the Jewish Theological Seminary during the Spring Semester program, can be counted towards the major, including the Hebrew requirement. All transfer credits must be approved by the program director.