Fall 2017 Courses

Introduction to Jewish Cultures

This introductory course focuses on the global diversity and the cultural syncretism of Jewish experience from the Bible to the present. It examines how Jewish culture has emerged through the interaction of Jews and non-Jews, engaging a wide spectrum of cultures throughout the Jewish world, and following representations of key issues such as sexuality, suffering, or mystical experience in different contexts and eras. Topics include Bible and Talmud, kabbalah, Zionism, Jewish cinema, music, food, modern literature, and comics. All readings and films are in English.

Modern Jewish History: 1750-Present

This course surveys the breadth of Jewish experience from the era of the Enlightenment to the contemporary period. Tracing the development of Jewish cultures and communities in Europe, the Middle East, and the United States against the background of general history, the lectures focus on themes such as the transformation of Jewish identity, the creation of modern Jewish politics, the impact of anti-semitism, and the founding of the State of Israel.

Black, Queer, Jewish Italy

This seminar approaches the two most studied phases of Italian history, the Renaissance and the 20th Century, by placing otherness at the center of the picture rather than at its margins. We will look at pivotal events and phenomena (the rise of Humanism, the rise of fascism, courtly culture, the two World Wars, 16th century art, the avant-garde) from the point of view of non-white, non-Christian, non-heterosexual witnesses, authors, and fictional characters. We will adopt a trans-historical, intersectional, and interdisciplinary perspective: themes will be analyzed at the crossing of the two historical phases and of the three topics in exam.

Elementary Biblical Hebrew I

Students will achieve a basic ability to read the Hebrew Bible in the original language. During the semester, students will learn the script and the grammar, develop a working vocabulary, and read a selection of Biblical passages. The course is designed for beginners with little or no previous knowledge of the language. Students with extensive experience in the language should contact the instructor about course alternatives.

Yiddish in America

This course examines the place of Yiddish in America from the late 19th century to the present and considers the dynamics of the language's significance in modern American Jewish life. Topics include immigrant Yiddish culture, press, political activism, theater, music, and literature at the turn of the 20th century; hybrid Yiddish-English cultural works of the interwar years, American Yiddish responses to the Holocaust; Yiddish in postwar Hasidic and yeshiva communities; and contemporary engagements with Yiddish by performing artists, queer activists, and postmodern intellectuals. All materials in English.

The World of the Cairo Geniza

The importance of the Cairo Geniza, a cache of texts discovered in the attic of a medieval Egyptian synagogue, goes beyond Jewish history, crossing the breadth of the medieval world and offering an intimate view of commerce, slavery, heresy and seafaring; of what people wore, ate, rode, believed and did all day; of who married whom and why; of a Shi'ite state ruling over Sunnis, Christians and Jews; and of a society that remains the best documented of its period. Students in the course will read unpublished primary sources to gain an insider's glimpse of what we can know and can't know in premodern history.

Who Wrote the Bible

The course will introduce students to the Hebrew Bible ("Old Testament") in its ancient Near Eastern setting. Key concepts often associated with the Hebrew Bible, such as God, damnation, sin, and history, will be scrutinized through a careful reading of a selection of Biblical texts including the Creation and Garden of Eden narratives in Genesis, the laws of Leviticus, the prophecies of Ezekiel and the poetry of Song of Songs. Particular attention will be paid to the transformations that the texts underwent through a continuous process of transmission and interpretation.

Ancient Judaism from Alexander to the Rise of Islam

This course offers an introduction to the development of ancient Judaism during the eventful millennium from the establishment of the Torah as the constitution of the Jewish people in the fifth century BCE--an event that some have seen as marking the transition from biblical religion to Judaism--to the completion of the other great canonical Jewish document, the Babylonian Talmud, in perhaps the sixth century CE.

Migration, Religion, and Literature: From Genesis to Toni Morrison

Problems of mass migration are among the most pressing of our times. What does it mean to be a stranger in a strange land? What do we owe foreigners and what might foreigners owe their host nations? This course focuses on biblical depictions of strangers and migration, with particular attention to the story of Joseph, the Exodus from Egypt, and the Book of Ruth. The course explores the use of these biblical texts in modern literature, art, film, theology and political theory, with particular attention to debates about exile, acculturation, race, and gender.

Jewish Ethics: Philosophy, Interpretation, Practice

This course considers fundamental questions in Jewish ethics: What are the relationships in the Jewish tradition among ethics, law, and theology? How does Jewish ethics relate to Western philosophical ethics? What are the interpretive issues involved when traditional texts are made to address contemporary problems? In addition to conceptual and methodological concerns, the course will also inquire into several normative issues from the perspective of Jewish ethics.