Jewish Studies

Jewish Studies is a multidisciplinary approach to the diversity of Jewish experience.  This approach involves studying the creation and reproduction of Jewish culture in multi-ethnic societies in the ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary world as well as such subjects as languages and translations, texts and images, diaspora and Zionism, law and religion, and the cultural construction of Jewish identities.

Programs

Major

Correlate Sequence in Jewish Studies

Approved Courses

Courses

Jewish Studies: I. Introductory

101a or b. Politics, Law, Story (1)

The course examines the political dimensions of Jewish thought, approaching questions of power and powerlessness through the concept of authority. Drawing on classical Jewish understandings of law and story, this multidisciplinary study takes up a wide range of texts, from Biblical narratives and classical rabbinics, to the modern novel and contemporary critical theory. Mr. Bush.

Not offered in 2015/16.

Two 75-minute periods.

110b. Latin American and Spanish Literacy and Cultural Topics (1)

(Same as HISP 110) Topic for 2015/16b: Sephardim. This course surveys the cultures of the Sephardim, that is the Jews of the Iberian Peninsular and their heirs, across several centuries and several lands. Study begins with both the medieval Christian, and especially Muslim kingdoms of what is now Spain, continues through the long century of forced conversion culminating in the expulsion of 1492, and follows the exiles from Iberia to two centers of Sephardic culture in early modern Italy and Amsterdam. There is also an epilogue, turning further east and to more recent times, considering Sephardic Jews of the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Thus, the course is organized and contextualized historically, but the primary materials, principle methodologies and theoretical constructs are drawn rather from literary and religious studies and philosophy. Mr. Bush.

Two 75-minute periods.

120b. God (1)

(Same as RELI 120) Whether we are furious with it, love it, or think it does not exist, the figure that western civilization calls "God" is one of our most powerful root metaphor, an intellectual category that requires interrogation and understanding. As a literary figure, God has a personality, a biography, and a history; and like all of us, a great deal to say about how he has been understood and misunderstood. Through analysis of primary materials (Biblical, Ugaritic, Canaanite, Mesopotamian, and Greek) we explore the origin and development of this complicated figure in Biblical literature. Ms. LiDonnici.

Open only to freshmen; satisfies the college requirement for a Freshman Writing Seminar.

Not offered in 2015/16.

Two 75-minute periods.

150a and b. Jews, Christians, and Muslims (1)

(Same as RELI 150) An historical comparative study of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The course focuses on such themes as origins, development, sacred literature, ritual, legal, mystical, and philosophical traditions, and interactions among the three religions.  Mr. Epstein and Ms. LiDonnici.

Two 75-minute periods.

Jewish Studies: II. Intermediate

201a. Jewish Textuality: Space and Place (1)

This course addresses characteristic forms of Jewish texts and related theoretical issues concerning transmission and interpretation. On the one hand, canonical texts--Bible, Midrash, Talmud--will be considered, including some modern (and postmodern) reactivations of these classical modes. On the other hand, special attention will be given to modern problems of transmission in a post-canonical world. Mr. Bush.

Prerequisites: JWST 101 or by permission.

214b. The Roots of the Palestine-Israel Conflict (1)

(Same as HIST 214) An examination of the deep historical sources of the Palestine-Israel conflict. The course begins some two centuries ago when changes in the world economy and emerging nationalist ideologies altered the political and economic landscapes of the region. It then traces the development of both Jewish and Arab nationalism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries before exploring how the Arab and Jewish populations fought---and cooperated---on a variety of economic, political, and ideological fronts. It concludes by considering how this contest led to the development of two separate, hostile national identities. Mr. Schreier.

216a. Israeli Media (1)

(Same as RELI 216) This course provides students with an in-depth understanding of current political, social and religious developments in Israel by reading and analyzing Israeli media including newspapers, web sites, blogs, TV clips and more. During the first part of the course students learn the development of the Israeli media from the birth of Israel until today as well as the connection between different newspapers to different political parties and religious sectors and the role they play in contemporary political and social debates. Through the study of historical texts and current media, students gain an understanding of Israel's complex multi-party political system, key political actors, the economic structure and the differences between the religious and political sectors in Israeli society. Mr. Yoked.

Two 75-minute periods.

217a. Film, Fiction and the Construction of Identity -- Israeli and Palestinian Voices (1)

(Same as HEBR 217 and RELI 217) This course explores the emergence and consolidation of collective identities in modern Israel and Palestine. Through a close examination of Israeli and Palestinian literary texts in translation and select movies students are introduced to an array of competing and complementing narratives that Israelis and Palestinians have relied on to understand themselves and their relationship to the other. Special attention is given to issues related to class, gender, ethnicity, religion and ideology.

Not offered in 2015/16.

220a. Texts and Traditions (1)

Not offered in 2015/16.

221a. Voices from Modern Israel (1)

(Same as HEBR 221 and RELI 221) An examination of modern and postmodern Hebrew literature in English translation. The course focuses on Israeli voices of men, women, Jews, Arabs, Ashkenazim and Mizrahim to investigate such topics as memory, identity, alienation, community, exile. Authors may include Yizhar, Yehoshua, Oz, Grossman, Kanafani, Almog, Katzir, Liebrecht, Ravikovitch, Zelda, Zach, Amichai, Darwish and el-Kassim.

Not offered in 2015/16.

222a. Psychological Perspectives on the Holocaust (1)

(Same as PSYC 222) The Holocaust has spawned several now classic programs of psychological research. This course considers topics such as: anti-Semitism and stereotypes of Jews; the authoritarian and altruistic personalities; conformity, obedience, and dissent; humanistic and existential psychology; and individual differences in stress, coping and resiliency. The broader implications of Holocaust-inspired research is explored in terms of traditional debates within psychology such as those on the role of the individual versus the situation in producing behavior and the essence of human nature. The ethical and logical constraints involved in translating human experiences and historical events into measurable/quantifiable scientific terms are also considered. Ms. Zeifman.

Prerequisites: PSYC 105 or PSYC 106.

Not offered in 2015/16.

240a. The World of The Rabbis (1)

(Same as RELI 240)

Prerequisites: JWST 101, JWST 201, RELI 150, or permission of the instructor.

Not offered in 2015/16.

255b. Western Mystical Traditions (1)

(Same as RELI 255) Textual, phenomenological and theological studies in the religious mysticism of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. May be taken more than once for credit when content changes.
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Topic for 2015/16b: Kabbalah. A survey of the historical and phenomenological development of the theoretical/theosophical and practical/magical dimensions of the Jewish mystical tradition from its biblical origins to postmodernity. Mr. Epstein.

Tw0 75-minute periods.

270a. Diasporas (1)

(Same as INTL 270 and POLI 270) Topic for 2015/16a: Borderline Jews. Latin American postcolonial theorist Walter Mignolo tells of delivering a lecture in Tunis on colonialism, only to encounter a fundamental misunderstanding. He thought he was talking about the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in the Americas, but when his Tunisian colleagues heard the word "colonial," they thought instead of nineteenth- and twentieth-century impositions and resistances in North Africa. Mignolo's remarks both did and didn't fit. But the step from misrecognition to lively discussion is the work of hermeneutics, which is the basis of this course, too. We take our point of departure from Mignolo's conception of "border gnosis" or "border thinking," but we overhear his word "border" with a Jewish difference. Jews have sometimes created geo-political borders in Mignolo's sense, but more often have found themselves on both sides of any border (e.g., Europe and its boundaries) as internal Others within larger host communities, and also along fractures within Jewish communities themselves. This study in political theory proceeds toward an understanding of what we will call "borderline Jews" by attending carefully to stories told from, in relation to, and across those many and varied borders. Texts (all either written in English or in English translation) include theoretical and autobiographical writings, poetry, traditional tales and modern fiction. Mr. Bush and Mr. Davison.

Two 75-minute periods.

276a. Diasporas (1)

(Same as RUSS 276   ) As far back as antiquity, Jews have formed alliances, and sometimes rivalries, amongst themselves that have crossed boundaries of hegemonic powers: long-distance legal consultations and commercial relations, shared reading lists and life practices, and mass population movements through exile and immigration. This course maps correspondences, both literal and figurative, between Jews otherwise separated by political geography, and so enables a critical examination of the commonalities and differences that constitute the alternative understandings of Jewish "peoplehood" and Jewish "community."

Not offered in 2015/16.

280a. Re-presenting the Holocaust: Religion, Media, Literature, and the Arts (1)

(Same as MEDS 280 and RELI 280) This course will examine contemporary re-considerations and representations of the Holocaust. What, exactly, was it as an historical and political event?  What are its moral, philosophical, theological and religious implications? How has it been represented via various religious, artistic, political and social mediations? Theoretical and philosophical approaches will comprise selections from the work of James Young, Dominick LaCapra, Marianne Hirsch and Sidra Ezrahi. We will also consider artistic representations in films, literature and graphic novels from the work of Primo Levi, Aaron Appelfeld, and Claude Lanzmann to Art Spiegelman's Maus and Spielberg's Schindler's List. Some central religious and theological issues under consideration will be those of representation, authenticity, appropriateness and uniqueness, the role of memory and post-memory, the problems and limits of language, questions of trauma, and the development of post-Holocaust identities. Ms. Veto.

Two 75-minute periods.

281b. Borderline Jews (1)

(Same as INTL 281 and POLI 281   ) Latin American postcolonial theorist Walter Mignolo tells of delivering a lecture in Tunis on colonialism, only to encounter a fundamental misunderstanding. He thought he was talking about the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in the Americas, but when his Tunisian colleagues heard the word "colonial," they thought instead of nineteenth- and twentieth-century impositions and resistances in North Africa. Mignolo's remarks both did and didn't fit. But the step from misrecognition to lively discussion is the work of hermeneutics, which is the basis of this course, too. We take our point of departure from Mignolo's conception of "border gnosis" or "border thinking," but we overhear his word "border" with a Jewish difference. Jews have sometimes created geo-political borders in Mignolo's sense, but more often have found themselves on both sides of any border (e.g., Europe and its boundaries) as internal Others within larger host communities, and also along fractures within Jewish communities themselves. This study in political theory proceeds toward an understanding of what we will call "borderline Jews" by attending carefully to stories told from, in relation to, and across those many and varied borders. Texts (all either written in English or in English translation) include theoretical and autobiographical writings, poetry, traditional tales and modern fiction. Mr. Bush.

Two 75-minute periods.

282b. Walking With God: Mystical Approaches in Genesis (0.5)

(Same as RELI 282) The biblical book of Genesis is the font and origin of so many ideas and scenarios that are intrinsic to culture, from theodicy (wondering why bad things occur in the world) to sibling rivalry, from the gender binary to the concepts of the Self and the Other. The stories are too important to be ignored, too bizarre to be taken literally, and too inconsistent to be explained with any coherent logic. Into the breach step the mystics-Jewish, Christian and Muslim- interpreting and reinterpreting these primal texts, turning and turning them until they become mirrors of the soul, of society and of the very inner life, so to speak, of Divinity. Mr. Epstein.

Second six-week course.

283b. Queering Judaism: Contemporary Issues (1)

(Same as RELI 283) Jews in postmodernity encounter myriad challenges to traditional religious structures in the areas of sex and gender, family life, social life and political power - to name just a few.  We will explore how these challenges were dealt with by a variety of strata of contemporary Jewish society in Europe, Israel and America, charting the various negotiations between religious observances and openness to changing social values among a variety of Jewish groups. Ms. Veto.

Two 75-minute periods.

290a or b. Field Work (0.5or1)

298a or b. Independent Work (0.5to1)

Jewish Studies: III. Advanced

300a or b. Senior Thesis or Project (1)

Optional for students concentrating in the program. Must be elected for student to be considered for Honors in the program.

Permission required.

315a. Jews, Jewish Identity, and the Arts (1)

This course is an exploration of the American Jewish literary imagination from historical, topical, and theoretical perspectives.  Among the genres we cover are novels (such as Henry Roth's Call it Sleep and Dara Horn's A Guide for the Perplexed), plays (Sholem Asch's God of Vengeance), stories (by Isaac Bashevis Singer, Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, Grace Paley, Melanie Kaye-Kantrowitz, and others), poems (by Celia Dropkin, Moyshe-Leyb Halpern, Irena Klepfisz, and others), essays (Adrienne Rich's Split at the Root), comics and graphic novels (Superman, Vanessa Davis's Make Me a Woman), and films (The Plot Against Harry).  Topics include the lineages of Talmudic hermeneutics and Midrash, the development of Yiddish American modernism, Jewish feminisms, the (anti)conventions of queer Jewish literatures and the intersections of Jewishness and queerness, the possibilities and limitations of a diaspora poetics, and contemporary representations of the Holocaust.  Mr. Antelyes.

Two 75-minute periods.

320a. Studies in Sacred Texts (1)

(Same as RELI 320) Examination of selected themes and texts in sacred literature.

May be taken more than once when content changes.

Prerequisites: one 200-level in Religion or Jewish Studies, or permission of the instructor.

Not offered in 2015/16.

One 2-hour period.

340a. Women in the Classical Jewish Tradition (1)

Not offered in 2015/16.

346b. Studies in Jewish Thought and History (1)

Advanced study in selected aspects of Jewish thought and history.

May be taken more than once for credit when the content changes.

Topic for 2015/16b: Jews & Art. (Same as RELI 346) This course investigates the ways in which Jews have used visual culture to express religious ideas and address political circumstances, primarily in the premodern era. It interrogates the ideas of creation and creativity, the permissibility or impermissibility of the image in Judaism, the authorship of "Jewish" visual culture and whether/why this matters, the construction of individual and communal Jewish identity through art, architecture, and texts, and relations-collusions as well as collisions- between Jews and non-Jews as they play out in the realm of visual and material culture. Mr. Epstein.

Prerequisite: any 100-level Religion course.

One 2-hour period.

350b. Confronting Modernity (1)

Topic for 2015/16a: Archiving Einstein.  The Vassar Library holds an archive of some of the private papers of Albert Einstein, providing an excellent resource for research in Jewish social history.  The course pursues three areas of study: 1) close reading of the documents in the archive; 2) historical contextualization of the German-Jewish refugee community in the U.S. in the mid-twentieth century; and 3) theoretical consideration and literary elaboration of the archive as a thought-figure and of the process of archiving.   The principle disciplines engaged are history, philosophy and literature (not physics).  In addition to Einstein and his correspondents in the papers in the archive, readings include texts by such authors as Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Hélène Cixous, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and American Jewish poet Philip Schultz. Mr. Bush.

Two 75-minute periods.

366b. Memoirs, Modernities, and Revolutions (1)

(Same as ANTH 366) Autobiographical narratives of growing up have been a popular way for Jewish and non-Jewish writers of Middle Eastern origin to address central questions of identity and change. How do young adults frame and question their attachments to their families and to their countries of birth? For the authors and subjects of the memoirs, ethnographies and films we consider in this class, growing up and momentous historical events coincide, just as they did for young people during the recent revolutions in the Middle East. In this seminar, the autobiographical narratives-- contextualized with historical, political, and visual material--allow us to see recent events through the eyes of people in their twenties. A major focus of the course will be post-revolutionary Iran (readings include Hakkakian, Journey from the Land of No; Khosravi, Young and Defiant in Tehran, Sofer, The Septembers of Shiraz, and Varzi, Warring Souls). Ms. Goldstein.

Prerequisite: previous coursework in Anthropology or Jewish Studies.

Not offered in 2015/16.

One 2-hour seminar.

383b. Tel Aviv-Jaffa and Jerusalem in the Israeli Cultural Imagination (.5)

(Same as URBS 383) This course examines the importance of urban space in Israeli culture, focusing on two paradigmatic sites: Tel Aviv-Jaffa and Jerusalem.  The course proceeds in chronological fashion, examining the depiction of each city and its history in literary texts and - time permitting -- other cultural artifacts (film, fine arts).  We read primary sources in light of recent critical theory on space and consider the following questions: How do ideas of sacred space explicit in Jerusalem's historical authority complicate Tel Aviv's own more modest claims as an urban center?  How are notions of exile and homeland, always central to Jewish conceptions of space and identity, transformed as they are grounded in actual geographic sites?  How does Jerusalem's status as a contested site complicate the meaning of competing national, social and religious claims?  Students will learn how to think critically about urban space and its cultural meaning.  Critical theory on space and historical background will be presented through short lectures, with most of the class session conducted seminar style. Ms. Mann.

Selected primary sources:  S.Y. Agnon, Yehuda Amichai, David Grossman, Dalia Rabikovitch, Avot Yeshurun, Etgar Keret, Ayman Sikseck.

Selected critical/historical sources:  Henri De Certeau, Zali Gurevitch, Meron Benvenisti, Dali Manor, Alona Nitzan-Shiftan.

Second six-week course.

One 2-hour period.

399a or b. Advanced Independent Work (0.5or1)

Prerequisite for all 300-level courses unless otherwise specified: one unit at the 200-level or permission of the instructor.