Undergraduate Courses

Talmud Set

Comparison of American and Talmudic Law
Syllabus (PDF)

The current trend toward globalization has renewed interest in comparative law. The era of legal isolationism is coming to an end, and there has been an increased focus on the similarities between legal systems in forging global discourse across jurisdictions. By comparing the structure of the Jewish legal system with the American one, students will come to understand the foundational concerns that go into creating any legal system, and to better analyze – on an ideological plane –what the law should be.

Malbim

Malbim and Modernity
Syllabus (PDF)

The aim of this class is to explore the thought of one of the most well-known Jewish exegetes of the nineteenth century—Malbim—with a heavy emphasis on his historical and intellectual context. We will briefly survey the major intellectual movements of modern Europe, the Enlightenment and Romanticism, through the prism of some of the key texts that defined the respective projects. We will then consider their impact on the role of the Bible in European life generally, and the resulting crises which faced the newly emancipated Jews of Europe. After succinctly examining the attempts of Mendelssohn, Meklenburg, and Hirsch, to protect and conserve Jewish tradition, we will turn to Malbim. The theses of his sermons and the themes of his exegesis will be contrasted with some of the biblically inspired literature of the age—including Lord Byron’s Cain and Rossini’s Moses in Egypt. We will conclude the course with an assessment of how Malbim’s claims have fared over the past one hundred and fifty years.

 

Jewish Manuscript

Jewish Illuminated Manuscripts 
Syllabus (PDF)

Jewish illuminated manuscripts are among the treasured artifacts that have survived the trials of Jewish history and whose imagery provides a window into the Torah worldview of the Jews that commissioned them hundreds of years ago. Using the Leipzig Mahzor as a basis, the students will gain an appreciation of the historical background in which the mahzor and other illuminated Jewish manuscripts were produced, while also understanding how their imageries reflect the outlook of the Jewish communities in which they were drafted. Students will be exposed to varieties of illumination styles and become familiar with concepts related to iconography and visual culture. Additionally, students will study excerpts of the major texts authored at the time, including Sefer Hasidim and the Hilkhot Rokeah, and will employ critical reading skills in analyzing these texts and related imagery.

 

 

Kant

Ethics and Character 
Syllabus (PDF)

20th century ethical theory was dominated by approaches concerned exclusively with duty or with utility. In recent years philosophers have evinced a renewed interest in virtue, i.e. character formation, the good life and the like.  This entails greater attention to the concrete ways that ethical theory expresses the ideas and ideals of particular cultures. The cogency and relevance of philosophical argument is enhanced by attending carefully to implicit, unacknowledged presuppositions that require an understanding of social, psychological and religious practices and goals, not only as external influences, but as constituents of philosophical positions themselves.

We begin by examining three representative thinkers—Mill, Kant and Aristotle—with special attention to the place of character in their ethics and their cultural context. We then turn to other major thinkers, like Maimonides, Hume, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. The third part of the course introduces the late 20th century debate and, time permitting, interdisciplinary themes relating to ethical emotions like honor, shame, guilt.

 

Aristotle

Great Political Thinkers: Introduction to Western and Jewish Political Thought
Syllabus (PDF)

Political philosophy deals with questions and aspirations at the center of the western tradition. Great Political Thinkers introduces students to the central concerns and ideas of political philosophy such as virtue, justice, regime, government, and nature. It also familiarizes the students with historical changes in political understanding from the ancient world to the 20th century, including Greek political thought, early modern liberalism and critics. Readings include Herodotus, Aristophanes, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Nietzsche

Wholly Moses

Wholly Moses—in Art, Culture and Jewish Thought
Syllabus (PDF)

No Hebrew biblical figure has exercised as much fascination throughout history as Moses. Prophet, leader, lawgiver, Moses is considered a precursor and model for the Pope and a revered figure within Christianity, Islam and the Abrahamic faiths. He has been a rich source of interpretation for writers, scholars and leaders across cultures, from Greek philosophers to America’s founding fathers, and disciplines, from politics to psychoanalysis. Artists from the ancient period through the Renaissance and early modern artists, from Botticelli and Michelangelo to Rembrandt and Poussin, have found in the figure and story of Moses an unparalleled, multifaceted source of visual imagery and exegesis. For Jews, Moses is, arguably, the most important biblical figure – the person who led the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land and who received the Torah from God and gave it to the people of Israel. Moses is also a flashpoint of theological and philosophical debate. This interdisciplinary course explores the figure of Moses both within the context of art and visual culture and of theology and philosophy – in order to arrive at a richer understanding of Moses within history and world culture.

 

Zionist Political Thought
Syllabus (PDF)

This course will consider the fundamental ideas and debates underlying modern Zionism and the state of Israel. The course will look at the different intellectual currents of modern Zionism—including Political Zionism, Cultural Zionism, Labor Zionism, Revisionist Zionism, and Religious Zionism—and also chart their impact on modern Israel. Questions to be discussed include: How did Zionists conceive of the relationship between religion and state? What were their views on economics, international relations, and education? The course will focus on works by political thinkers and politicians such as Theodore Herzl, Ahad Ha’am, A.D. Gordon, Ber Borochov, Rav Kook, Vladimir Jabotinsky, David Ben Gurion, and Menachem Begin. The course will conclude with an in-depth study of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

Athens and Jerusalem: A Study of Greek and Jewish Philosophy
Syllabus (PDF)

By “Athens and Jerusalem,” modern thinkers refer to two worldviews and cultures that fundamentally formed the west: that of the thinkers of classical antiquity, and that of Judaism. This course seeks to compare and contrast these perspectives through a careful reading of Greek philosophers and dramatists and Jewish philosophical texts. Questions will include: What is man’s status, role and responsibility on earth, and vis-à-vis the divine? What is the nature of the political community? How should we define heroism? In what way do ethical obligations bind us? Is friendship central to human flourishing, or is it a distraction from our religious duties? How ought human beings respond to their mortality?

lone tree in a field; sun is setting behind it

Belief & Religious Commitment
Syllabus (PDF)

Throughout this course, students will examine certain issues and texts relating to the nature of belief, its place and significance in human thought in general, and with regard to religious commitment in particular. This course will delve into texts and methods of thought, belonging to the disciplines of Jewish thought, Western philosophy, theology and literature.

 

 

16th-19th Century Jewish Intellectual History
Syllabus (PDF)

In this course students use primary and secondary sources to examine Jewish intellectual thinkers and the 16th-19th century movements from which they emerged. The course addresses and examines the philosophical ideas born from the context of this historical setting, and attempts to do justice to a variety of problems and personalities that these ideas inspired. The course materials and lectures guide students through Eastern European thought to the West and back again, and familiarize them with the continued development of Orthodox thought and the rise of non-Orthodox groups and views within Judaism.

Rembrandt & The Jews: Art as Midrash in 17th Century Amsterdam
Syllabus (PDF)

Acclaimed for his Protestant-influenced interpretation of Scripture, Rembrandt van Rijn’s art – paintings, prints and drawings – demonstrate a rich sensitivity to specifically Jewish ideas and concerns. The artist's association with Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel and other members of Amsterdam’s Jewish community influenced his approach to Hebrew Biblical subjects, as well as his understanding of Christian theology. This inter-disciplinary course explores the character of Rembrandt’s depictions of Hebrew Biblical and Christian subjects by examining their relationship to Jewish exegesis, including Talmudic, Midrashic and Kabbalistic literature, and to contemporary Jewish life in Amsterdam. Students are encouraged to examine Rembrandt’s connections to the Jewish community of Amsterdam, his knowledge of and perspective on Jewish sources and customs, and the master’s place within the larger context of art history and theological discourse.

 

composite image of the American flag, Holy Bible, and the Declaration of Independence

Topics: Judaism and Democracy
Syllabus (PDF)

This seminar brings classic Jewish texts about government into conversation with the foundational works of American political thought. In so doing, students consider the following questions: How did Jewish notions of politics, the social contract, and covenant impact the eventual structure and nature of the United States? How did the Bible figure in the debates about democracy and monarchy that took place during the time of America’s founding? What tensions exist between the notion of religious authority and the modern conception of personal autonomy? In what way is the United States different from European democracies, and what is the role of religion in American public life?

 

Bible on top of American flag

The Bible in America
Syllabus (PDF)

Antiquity, English republicanism, enlightenment philosophy, and the Bible all influenced the founding and culture of the United States. But what role does the Bible play in American culture and politics and how does it relate to the other strands of cultural influence? Are there different roles played by the Hebrew Bible and the Christian testaments? What role should the Bible and religion play in American public life? Should we think of the 1st Amendment as enshrining freedom of, from, or for religion?

This course examines these questions by studying foundational texts in American history as well as important philosophical works that influenced the culture of the founding. Readings include the books of Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Samuel, the New Testament, John Locke, Puritan Writings, Thomas Paine, George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr. Students are introduced to First Amendment law by reading Supreme Court Cases dealing with the establishment and free exercise clauses of the Constitution.

Epistemology of Religion
Syllabus (PDF)

This course explores foundational questions in the epistemology of religion. Some of the question are very old: can we know that God exists, and if so, how? Can we reasonably believe in God in the absence of evidence, and if so, why? Is it better to know that God exists or to accept it “on faith”? What is faith, anyway? Some of the questions are of more recent vintage: does the fact of religious disagreement between apparently reasonable people undermine everyone’s religious knowledge? How about the fact that if religious folks had been raised in a non-religious home, they very likely would not be religious? The readings are drawn from both the Western and the Jewish philosophical and theological corpora.

The Kuzari and Contemporary Jewish Thought
Syllabus (PDF)

This seminar carefully studies Halevi's great work The Kuzari in its entirety, and considers the implication of its unique worldview for Judaism and Jewish thought in the age in which we live. In particular, it focuses on two twentieth century Jewish theologians profoundly impacted by Halevi: Franz Rosenzweig and Michael Wyschogrod. We also, in this context, study with fresh eyes the thought of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Rabbi Soloveitchik’s engagement of philosophy is often associated with, and compared to, that of Maimonides; we ponder, in our seminar, the similarities that exist between his worldview and that of Halevi.

 

 

 

 

 

Menachem Begin

Zionist Perspectives from Herzl to Begin
Syllabus (PDF)

Throughout its history, two different facets of the Zionist project have either existed in tension with each other, or complemented one another. On the one hand, Israel is, and seeks to be, a flourishing democratic state that makes manifest the modern Jewish right to national self-determination. On the other hand, Zionism has long claimed to represent the covenantal, religious longings of Jews over millennia. The goal of this course is to examine how these two facets of the Zionist project are reflected in the worldview and career of one of the most influential leaders of modern Israel: Menachem Begin.

Comparisons of American and Talmudic Law II: Great Cases of Conflict
Syllabus (PDF)

The course focuses on substantive issues – including circumstantial evidence, capital punishment, and duress – and analyzes the difference between the American legal approach and the halachic approach. The focus of the independent readings is on primary sources including several cases and Talmudic excerpts. Through understanding the differences between the American and Jewish legal systems, students develop a critical understanding – and concomitantly, an appreciation – for the nuances of the law as well as the legal structure as a whole.

the words 'love' and 'hate' superimposed on one another

Love and Hate
Syllabus (PDF)

This course examines the values of Love and Hate through a prism of Jewish and Western thinkers and texts, including the writings of Michael Wyschogrod, Maimonides, Kierkegaard, C.S. Lewis, Shakespeare, and Rabbi Ahron Soloveichik. Through these valuable texts and discussions students enhance their knowledge and understanding on the topics of Divine Love and Election; Love of Neighbor; Love of Friend, Community and Nation; Justice, Equity, and Anti-Semitism; Love and Hate; and Evil and Ethics in Times of War.

gavel on white pillar with grey background

Civic Versus Religious Identity in the Philosophy of Law
Syllabus (PDF)

This course considers some of the following key questions: What is the relationship between civic (or political) and religious identity? How does religious identity contribute to or detract from the common life of a polity? What values and goals must citizens share in order to ensure a flourishing society? In a liberal democracy, what values and goals must be shared in order to ensure the preservation of core principles such as liberty and self-government? Is there a need for a shared civic identity, and, if so, what is its content? Does religious identity have a place in the public square, or is it an impediment to robust civic unity? Are religious views legitimate in the public square only if they are (or can be) justified in purely secular terms? Does the translation of religious views into universal moral claims undermine the particularity of religion and the distinctiveness of religious identity? How does the relationship between civic and religious identity differ in non-Western and non-liberal societies? What can modern Islam contribute to the understanding of the relationship between civic and religious identity?

The Image and the Idea: An Interdisciplinary Seminar on Art History and Jewish Thought
Syllabus (PDF)

As beings rooted in a physical world governed by laws of nature, we achieve sanctity through tangible and sensory means: acts of charity, song, prayer, text study – and art. At the same time, the Tanakh and Talmud express constant concern lest we give in to the human temptation to render the Divine in finite form. This interdisciplinary course explores the process through which art and artists make use of physical means to achieve spiritual or intangible ends; and the ways Judaism and Jewish sources deal with the tension between the physical and the spiritual, between external act and internal meaning, between the visual and the intellectual, the image and the idea.

circle diagram of ethics; surrounding properties are rules and regulations, values, research, moral principles, ethical practices, rules of conduct

Moral Philosophy
Syllabus (PDF)

This course explores classic works of Western moral philosophy and some key texts of Jewish moral thought. The course means to enable students to understand some of the enduring, fundamental problems of moral philosophy and some of the most important approaches to formulating and addressing them. It is also—and equally—intends to highlight some of the significant resources in Jewish thought and the sorts of contributions they make to the main issues of moral philosophy. Rather than being mainly a survey, aiming at surface acquaintance with several thinkers, the course is built around two centrally important questions. The first is, “what is the nature and locus of moral value?” and the second is “what is the nature of moral motivation; how and why would a person be motivated to act on the basis of moral considerations?” Those questions pervade the history of moral philosophy, and different thinkers’ approaches to them shape key elements of their thought. These thematic concerns supply a helpful architecture to our discussions.

Jewish and Western Philosophies of Law
Syllabus (PDF)

This seminar examines the contours of the interface between Jewish and Western philosophies of law. A running theme of the course is the interrelationship between reason, revelation, and natural law, and topics treated throughout the semester include Noahide law, the role of law in Judaism and Christianity, and mishpat ivri. Students are assigned readings from medieval halakhists and legal theorists (e.g., Maimonides, Rabbi Nissim Gerondi), modern legal philosophers (e.g., HLA Hart, Ronald Dworkin, Richard Posner), and modern halakhists and thinkers (e.g., Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin)