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Intensive Text Courses during the 2017-2018 Program

Studying the Hebrew Bible, Prof. Yair Zakovitch, 30 teaching hours

What is the Hebrew Bible? What genres does it contain? We will study representational texts from the Bible’s different literary genres and ideologies, compare and contrast parallel texts, and learn about innerbiblical interpretation.

Rabbinic LiteratureHalacha, Aggadah, Midrash, Targum and Liturgy, Prof. Avigdor Shinan, 30 teaching hours

This course aims at introducing the students to the rich and variegated post-biblical Jewish literature: The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, Jewish-Hellenistic literature, the Dead Sea scrolls, ancient Christianity and mainly and foremost the literature of the Rabbis (Aggadah, Midrash and liturgy).  In the first week most of the texts studied with Prof. Zakovitch will be re-read in light of their post-biblical interpretations. (The combination of the two teachers aims at showing the continuity from pre-biblical traditions to late rabbinical traditions. )The second week will be devoted mainly to rabbinic texts not related to the bible, such as stories about the rabbis, fables and parables, prayers etc.

The Jewish Society in Modern Era – Between Tradition and Modernity, Prof. Motti Zalkin, 30 teaching hours

The course will concentrate on the main religious, educational, social and economic processes which had a crucial impact on the Jewish collective consciousness and way of life from the mid 18th century to the Holocaust.

Reading the Bible with Medieval Eyes, Dr. Eran Viezel, 30 teaching hours

We will dedicate the lessons to discuss interesting and essential aspects in the work of some of the most important medieval Jewish exegetes. We will analyze their exegetical motivation and methodology; discuss their attitude and contribution in fundamental questions and their role in the history of biblical exegesis.

Talmudic Stories and Debates, Prof. Shulamit Valler, 30 teaching hours

The course focuses on a closed reading of Talmudic texts with the purpose of exploring their ideas and concepts. In each Sugiah we will first study the part of the debate in order to understand the moral and social intentions of the Sages. Then we will study the part of the stories  and explore  the connections between the stories’ construction and language,  and their massages.  At last we will try to reveal the linkage between the two different parts of the Sugiah and to comprehend how the stories were designed with respect to the Sages’ intentions which were expressed in the debates.

Four Medieval Andalusi Poets and Their Wonderful Complications, Dr. Ariel Zinder, 15 teaching hours

A golden age of poetic and intellectual activity took place within the Jewish community of medieval Andalusia during the 11th and 12th century. One of the gifts this age has left is an immense body of Hebrew poetry, hundreds of poems by dozens of poets, written both for the synagogue and for social circles. Our course will approach this vast sea of poetry through brief encounters with four major poets of this age: Isaac Ibn Mar Shaul, Shmu’el Hanagid, Shlomo Ibn Gabirol and Moshe Ibn Ezra. These encounters will serve as an introduction to the history and poetics of this unique era. Special attention will be given to the tensions and contradictions that these poets addressed and sought to resolve in their poems: the tension between the individual and society, between the secular and the sacred, and between exile and homecoming.

Introduction to Jewish-Christian Relations: From Sour Grapes to Sacrament, Prof. Jesper Svartvik, 15 teaching hours

It is often said that the twentieth century contained both the worst and the best moments in Jewish-Christian relations. On the one hand, the Shoah besmirches not only the European Continent and Modernity, but also Christendom. On the other hand, the post-war European dialogue between Jews and Christians—characterised by an unsurpassed mutual respect and candour—belongs to the most promising phases ever in European religious history. The course From Sour Grapes to Sacrament (an expression coined by Dr. Peter Pettit at Muhlenberg College) surveys the most important phases of Jewish-Christian encounters in history (Antiquity, Middle Ages, Reformation, Modernity, the Shoah and Postmodernity), seeks to identify stumbling blocks in the past and present, and also presents how a growing number of Jews and Christians define and describe their religions no longer over against each other but as two authentic expressions of faith.

Judaism and Islam: Contact and Conflict as reflected in the Qur’an and Muslim tradition, Prof. Meir Bar-Asher, 15 teaching hours

The aim of this seminar is to offer the historical and doctrinal outlines of the relationships between Judaism and Islam throughout the ages. The seminar shall be based on reading and analyzing texts from the Qur’an, the corpus of Hadith (Muslim tradition), and doctrinal and historical writings dealing with Jews and Judaism. Muslim affinity to Jewish sources, the attitudes of Islam toward the Jews and their religion and the legal status of Jews under Muslim rule will also be dealt with. The seminar will finally include a survey of Judeo-Arabic literature, namely the literature written in Arabic, composed by Jews under Muslim rule over more than a millennium.

Philosophy and Polemics in Medieval Jewish Thought, Prof. Daniel Lasker, 30 teaching hours

In response to the development of systematic theology by Christians and Muslims, medieval Jewish thinkers also produced a body of thought which presents Jewish beliefs by means of philosophical methods and ideas. At the same time, Jews were aware of the intellectual, political and social challenges presented by the rival religions, and they developed a polemical literature to meet these challenges. This course will examine medieval Jewish philosophical and polemical concepts and how the two were closely entwined together.

Jewish Law from the Ancient Near East to the Israeli Supreme Court, Prof. Phillip I. Lieberman, 30 teaching hours

In this course, we will survey the development of Jewish law from its origins in the Ancient Near East to its flowering in the contemporary period. As we explore the history of Jewish law, we will pay particular attention to the literary genres of Jewish legal writing and the interplay between these genres. By the end of the course, students should have a clear understanding of how rabbis bring positive law and precedent to bear in offering their opinions, as well as the distinctions to be drawn between Jewish law as one might find it in classical legal materials and as it is actually lived on the ground–including within contemporary Jewish reform movements. Finally, we will discuss the effect that renewed Jewish political sovereignty with the founding of the State of Israel has had on Jewish law, and how Israel’s place as a Jewish state has brought it into dialogue with Jewish law. At the end of our course, we will have a short take-home written exam.

Modern Jewish Philosophy, Dr. Yael Lin, 30 teaching hours

The notable events of the 20th century, among them the Holocaust, the growth of Zionism as a cultural and political movement, the founding of the State of Israel, as well as the development of philosophical streams such as existentialism have influenced and shaped the thoughts of prominent 20th century Jewish philosophers. We will examine existential themes such as temporality, death and the relation with the other person; consider the affect of the Holocaust on the problem of theodicy; revisit the notion of the banality of evil; explore the relation between Judaism and ethical responsibility; and conclude by examining the relation between ethical responsibility, Judaism and the State of Israel.

Kabbalah Mysticism and early Hasidism, Prof. Rachel Elior, 30 teaching hours

The course will explore the development of the medieval mystical thought known as Kabbalah and its connection to exile and redemption.  The students will reflect on the origins of Kabbalah and will discuss the major historical and theological turn points along the second millennium and the groundbreaking innovations that were created by Kabbalists, Sabbateans (teachers of Sabbateanism), Hasidim and Misnagedim.

Judaism/Judaisms: An Introduction to Religious Jewish History from 586 BCE to 640 CE, Dr. Meir Ben Shahar, 30 teaching hours

During the Second Temple period there were different approaches regarding the nature of Judaism, the identity of the Jews and the nature of the religious act. At the end of a long and complex process, Rabbinic Judaism was created as practically the exclusive religious option in the Jewish world. The course will review the theological approaches and the Halakhic praxis of the various competing groups which were active during the Second Temple period. We will start with the question of ‘who is a Jew’ in the age of Restoration (Return to Zion) and the separation between the Jews and the Samarians. We will then deal with the various sects of the Second Temple: Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes of various kinds. We will learn about the nature of Diaspora Jewry and specifically the institution of the synagogue which can be identified with this Judaism. We will explore the beginnings of Christianity and the eventual separation from Judaism. Finally, we will analyze the characteristics of Rabbinic Judaism as they are expressed in Talmudic literature. The course will also require a fully researched term paper. You may choose your own topic (anything related to “Ancient Jewish History”), but do not hesitate to consult with me concerning topic or bibliography; you are also invited to submit preliminary drafts on an informal basis if these are ready on time. Term papers will be due at the last session of the course.

Perspectives on the Jewish Calendar, Barbara Spectre, 15 teaching hours

How a people organize its calendar, what it celebrates and mourns, how it understands time, are signposts that can serve as indicators of a cultural perspective. These indicators can then serve as a platform by which to build an understanding of the celebratory and ritualistic aspects of Judaism. This course has a two-fold purpose. It is designed to analyze various holidays within the Jewish calendar cycle and uncover their historic and conceptual underpinnings. The underlying concepts are then available for the understanding of the development of observance and ritual. The course will analyze a series of concepts that stand in a paradoxical relationship one to another, for example: accident/fate; obedience/responsibility; faith/doubt. The ways in which these paradoxes are expressed in the Jewish calendar will be studied, utilizing a wide variety of sources, including the Bible, Midrash, Talmud, Maimonides, Kabbalistic sources, and contemporary literature.  Comparisons will be made with various philosophic and religious traditions.

Power and Sentiment: Modern Hebrew Literature and its Subjects, Prof. Uri Cohen, 30 teaching hours

This two week course will alternately engage two fundamental conceptual areas that give shape to the sensibilities of Modern Hebrew literature: power and emotions. By reading major works in prose and poetry along these lines it will be possible to engage the formation of Modern Hebrew subjectivities whose very modernity lies in the novelty of power and its emotional world. From its earliest formations in Europe to the current dystopian moment, we will map and examine the textual figures and narratives that give Hebrew literature its historical form and changing social place. Love, hate, friendship, revenge and other emotions will be read in context of self and nation as the Hebrew heart becomes the national organ.

Jews and Words: A Secular, Cultural Perspective, Prof. Fania Oz-Salzberger, 30 teaching hours

If we respectfully leave divine providence out of Jewish history, how can we explain the unique continuum beginning with ancient Hebrews or Israelites, and proceeding along a textual line all the way to 21st-century Jews? Does “Judaism”, a modern term, refer to a religion, an ethnic group, a culture, or a nation? What is “textual nationhood”? Can one be secular and remain Jewish? Such questions, and many others, will be discussed in this course as we read ancient and modern texts.

Year Long Paideia Courses

Parashat Hashavua, Eiran Davies, 45 teaching hours

According to the Talmud (Berachot 8a), one should always complete the weekly Torah reading for oneself, twice in Hebrew and once in translation. This custom achieves a real fluency in the language of the Torah, and an intimate acquaintance with its content. Each week we will be following the traditional sequence of readings and examining them from a variety of perspectives. We will be developing tools for responding to the text of the Torah as a consistent literary form with a view to each of us presenting a short talk on one of these responses.

Methodology of Talmud, Rabbi Ute Steyer, 45 teaching hours

This course teaches the student how to undertake the critical study of selected talmudic texts. The course focuses on texts from the Mishna, Tosefta and Babylonian Talmud Tractate Sukkah. The course introduces the student to the tools necessary for the study of these texts and guides the student in the explanation and analysis of selected pericopae with attention to the Talmudic reasoning and methodology in the Babylonian Talmud. Prior knowledge of Aramaic is not necessary, relevant terms and phrases will be explained.

Modern Hebrew, Frida Schatz, 120 teaching hours
Intensive Ulpan studies in Modern Hebrew on three different levels geared towards a deeper understanding of the Hebrew language and its literature.