Jewish Studies

An academic discipline focused on the study of Jews and Judaism. 

Interdisciplinary Study

Although naturally a subset of religious studies, Jewish studies is also interdisciplinary as it focuses on the language, literature, culture and history of the Jewish people from their origins in the Ancient Near East to the present day.

Recent Courses

Sex and Gender in Judaism 

Although Jews have often been referred to as “people of the book,” a closer look at the book, or rather traditional Jewish texts, reveals Judaism is very much a “religion of the body.” This course will explore the Jewish approach to questions of gender, sexuality and the body as manifested 1) throughout history and in the present American context; and as formulated 2) in religious, legal, ethical and imaginative discourses as well as in lived experiences. We will look at topics such as women in the Bible, rituals of purity, standards of modesty, procreation, homosexuality, transgender issues, and gender stereotypes.

Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (RELS242-A)

Not only is the Bible a central and sacred text within the three monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, its influence is felt throughout contemporary, Western civilization. Laws, politics, ethical values, philosophy and even pop culture bear marks of the biblical legacy. For this reason, a study of the Hebrew Bible is not merely a historical endeavor, but necessarily takes on modern importance as well. As the scholar Timothy Beal puts it, “You can’t be culturally literate in our society without also being biblically literate.” This course will give students knowledge of the Hebrew Bible in terms of its subject matter, the many functions it serves as both a historical source and as a religious text, how it developed, and its position within the larger history of the Ancient Near East.

Revolts and Rabbis, Scrolls and Sects: 
The History of Jews and Judaism in Antiquity (RELS-309.A)

Mark Twain once wrote about Jewish history that “The Persians rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greeks and Romans followed and made a vast noise, and they were gone…The Jew saw them all, survived them all.” This course will trace exactly this time span of Jewish history (6th century BCE to 5th century CE) and explain how the Jewish people survived (and even thrived!) despite being continually ruled by foreign empires. As we shall see, their survival was partly due to their transformation of the religion of the Bible into rabbinic Judaism, the dominant form of Judaism until the 19th century. Our course of study will include this period’s many religious developments such as the appearance of different “sects”– Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, the Dead Sea sect, and early Christians. Attention will also be paid to the Jewish engagement with Greco-Roman culture and the resulting literary inventions, such as Hellenistic Jewish writings, and political developments, such as the Maccabean rebellion and the Hasmonean dynasty; the rise of Herod under Roman rule; and the two revolts against Rome. This course will, therefore, give students both an introduction to Judaism as well as a broad survey of ancient history. 

Judaism: An Introduction (RELS-234)

Attention is given to the history, traditions, and literature of the Jewish people from their origins in the second millennium B.C.E. to the present day. Stress is given to specific religious concepts and teachings which are pertinent to modern times.

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