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Straus Center Courses

Undergraduate Courses

The Thought of Rabbi Sacks

The Thought of Rabbi Sacks (Rabbi Dr. Dov Lerner)

The Thought of Rabbi Sacks Syllabus (PDF)

This class explores the thought of perhaps the most renowned and influential teachers of Judaism at the start of the twenty-first century: the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. With such a wide-ranging and voluminous oeuvre, this course divides his thought into three distinct but intersecting fields—theology, ethics, and politics—and reads selections of his writing in those areas. It covers parts of his Reith Lectures, Covenant & ConversationThe Home We Build TogetherTo Heal a Fractured WorldThe Great PartnershipNot in God’s Name, and Future Tense, along with a number of smaller stand-alone essays—with an eye toward considering his sources and examining his central theses, while assessing his unique contribution to the history of Jewish thought.  

Tehilim and the Human Condition

Tehilim and the Human Condition (Dr. Shaina Trapedo)

Tehilim and the Human Condition Syllabus (PDF)

This course covers the authorship, canonization, style, and significance of Sefer Tehillim and the central position it has come to occupy in Jewish thought and practice. Using classical meforshim, students come to understand the literary features and distinct genres (including mizmor, shir, maskil, etc) of the timeless biblical text at the core of personal and collective religious expression from the Temple era until today. In addition to Tehilim’s lyrical texture, the class examines the range of human emotions voiced in its carefully crafted chapters—from grief to gratitude, desire to despair, anger to atonement, and shame to salvation—as well as its unique capacity to furnish wisdom and exert theurgic influence over divine decrees as laid out in rabbinic literature and midrashim. The course concludes by surveying the reception and appropriation of Tehilim in Western culture. The particularism of Israel’s experience encapsulated in the Psalms has found universal appeal and applicability in various communities and contexts. From Renaissance poetry to American abolition to international diplomacy, individuals and institutions have been turning to Tehilim for evocative imagery and moral inspiration for centuries and continue to do so today.

Maimonides and His Enemies

Maimonides and His Enemies (Rabbi Dr. Dov Lerner)

Maimonides and His Enemies Syllabus (PDF)

This course explores the legacy of perhaps the most renowned and influential Jewish thinker in history: Maimonides. Over the first half of the class, we examine his historical and intellectual context and then survey his major works—attending to their central claims and innovations. The second half of the course is devoted to the study of a series of thinkers— ranging from Nachmanides to Spinoza and the Netziv—who opposed at least a portion of Maimonides’ thought and, through the lens of their critique, deepen our grasp of what’s at stake in the Maimonidean imagination that shaped Judaism as we know it today, in so many ways.


Great Political Thinkers (Dr. Neil Rogachevsky)

Great Political Thinkers Syllabus (PDF)

Political philosophy examines the fundamental problems faced by human beings both as individuals and as members of associations that, in the Western tradition, have come to be called political. They ask two fundamental questions: “how should I live my life?” and “how can and should we live together?” The great thinkers of the Western tradition have explored these and related questions with tremendous depth. In this class, we will study three seminal thinkers in the history of Western political thought: Plato, Aristotle, and Machiavelli. Plato and Aristotle produced the central writings of ancient political philosophy, while Machiavelli was the founder of modern political philosophy. Between the study of Plato and Aristotle on the one hand and Machiavelli on the other, students will be introduced to both the “ancient” and “modern” perspectives on politics.

Psychology and Jewish Thought

Psychology and Jewish Thought (Dr. Mordechai Schiffman)

Psychology and Jewish Thought Syllabus (PDF)

This course will explore the connections between Torah sources and modern psychological theories and research on essential topics of human nature. Topics will cut to the core of what it means to be human, including whether we are born good or evil, the nature of evil, the relationship between cognition and emotion, the necessary ingredients to flourish and live the good life, the components of developing good character, and the nature of mental illness and the challenges of therapeutic treatment. An array of opinions in both the Torah and psychological sources will be presented and analyzed, noting inter and intradisciplinary similarities and differences. Areas of synthesis will be highlighted and conceptual conflicts accentuated. 

Shakespeare and the Talmud

Shakespeare and the Talmud (Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik and Dr. Shaina Trapedo)

Shakespeare and the Talmud Syllabus (PDF)

Shakespeare’s plays were composed and performed in a time of extraordinary religious ferment, debate, and war; he wrote not long after Luther, the Reformation, and the transformation of religion in England. The central text at the heart of these debates was the Bible, and as so many of Shakespeare’s plays focus on political themes, the Bible and politics are often profoundly intertwined in his work. In this seminar, we will see how this is so in some of Shakespeare’s most famous works. 


The Rav

The Thought of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik (Rabbi Shalom Carmy)

The Thought of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik Syllabus (PDF)

This course focuses on the readings in the HaRav ztl''s major writings, with emphasis on "those that students are afraid to tackle on their own." The course begins with Halakhic Man and U-Vikkashtem, followed by The Lonely Man of Faith, Ma Dodekh miDod, and Halakhic Mind. Serious attention is also given to serious attention to Emergence of Ethical Man and Halakhic Morality. The lecture will supply background material and contrast in general and Jewish philosophical reflection.


Jews of Early America

The Jews of Early America (Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik)

The Jews of Early America Syllabus (PDF)

What unique opportunities and challenges did the Jews encounter in America in its first 100 years? How did the connection between early American culture and the Hebrew Bible impact the Jewish experience and the founding and policies of America itself? What lessons can we draw from early American history to guide American Jewry today? This course engages these questions through the study of original texts: the letters, memoirs, sermons, and speeches of some of America’s first Jewish families and communities. It also focuses on the writings of the Founders that they composed to American Jewry and about them. 

Genesis and Ethics

Genesis & Ethics (Rabbi Dr. Dov Lerner)

Genesis & Ethics Syllabus (PDF)

This course provides a comprehensive survey of and meditation on the book of Genesis, specifically through the lens of ethics. It begins with some introductory material concerning the genre of Genesis and narrative, more broadly, as a mode of ethical instruction. And then it turns to a section by section analysis of the text’s structure, themes, characters, and theologies, as seen through the readings of major exegetes, from the sages to the commentators of today—with a central focus on the claims of Leon Kass’s The Beginning of Wisdom. From the dawn of life to the death of the Egyptian viceroy, the class assesses the ethics embedded in the text and the tales that have shaped the Jewish imagination for millennia. 

Modern Political Thought

Modern Political Thought (Dr. Neil Rogachevsky)

Modern Political Thought Syllabus (PDF)

What is the nature of liberty? What is the nature of equality? How do economic rights relate to political rights? What relationship should religion have to politics? How should we conceive of the individual’s relation to his peers and the state? What role should ideology play in politics? This course will examine these questions through a deep reading of important thinkers of the later modern period. Thinkers to be studied include Edmund Burke, Joseph de Maistre, Benjamin Constant, Alexis de Tocqueville, Karl Marx, and Mary Wollstonecraft. Through an in-depth study of the core texts, students will, in addition to thinking about the questions posed at the outset, learn about the origins of ideologies still relevant in the contemporary world, including liberalism, conservatism, and socialism.


Economics in Jewish Law and Philosophy (Rabbi Daniel Feldman)

Economics in Jewish law and Philosophy Syllabus (PDF)

This course endeavors to consider perspectives of Jewish Law and philosophy toward the issues of social and economic questions, including the role of money and property, communism vs. capitalism, shmita, marketplace regulation, minimum wage legislation, competition, communal responsibilities toward providing for the needy, healthcare, labor relations, and education, intellectual property, as well as insights from behavioral economics.


John Rawls

Rawls' Theory of Justice (Rabbi Dr. Itamar Rosensweig)

Rawls' Theory of Justice Syllabus (PDF)

This course is an in-depth seminar on John Rawls' Theory of Justice. We'll begin with a survey of the social contract tradition leading up to Rawls, including Hobbes and Locke, as well as Hume's criticism of the tradition. Then we’ll read Rawls' Theory of Justice and analyze the core components of his theory: the original position, the veil of ignorance, the two principles of justice, the difference principle, and Rawls' conception of distributive justice. We’ll also consider Rawls' criticism of utilitarianism and Rawls' Kantianism. In addition to Theory of Justice, we’ll read selections from Rawls' Justice as Fairness: A Restatement and Political Liberalism.


Metaphysics of Judaism (Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik and Dr. David Johnson)

Metaphysics of Judaism Syllabus (PDF)

For centuries, Jewish philosophers, theologians, and mystics have pondered the nature and attributes of God. Utilizing the Bible, the Talmud, and medieval and modern philosophical texts, we will consider (in great detail) the nature of God’s perfection, love, omnipotence, the nature of His omniscience, and the nature of His omnipresence.  We will meticulously examine Maimonides's arguments for the incorporeality of God, how that impacted his understanding of biblical texts, and what other Jewish thinkers offer as interpretations in response.


Dante's Moral Philosophy (Rabbi Dr. Dov Lerner)

Dante's Moral Philosophy Syllabus (PDF)

The aim of this course is to examine the philosophical arguments presented through the medium of Dante's poetry. After an introduction to Dante's biography and his historical, political, religious, and literary context, we will explore in depth—Canto by Canto—his celebrated work The Comedy, focusing primarily on the first section, The Inferno. Toward the end of our study, we shall also explore the work of Dante's Jewish contemporary, Immanuel of Rome. Focusing on his HaTofet VaHaEden ("Hell and Heaven")—a Hebrew work, modeled in many ways on Dante's Comedy—we shall examine how he channels Maimonidean rationalism through his poetic construction.


Psalms and Sonnets (Dr. Chaya Sima Koenigsberg)

Psalms and Sonnets Syllabus (PDF)

This course will survey the interplay between poetry and prayer in Jewish tradition from Tanakh to the modern era. Using classical meforshim, we will examine the style and significance of biblical prayers and poetry to understand the important power Jewish tradition places on poetry and song as forms of personal and national religious expression. The centerpiece of our course will be Tehillim, whose many lyrical and timeless psalms were recited as part of the temple service and became the foundation and inspiration for the formalized liturgy of the Siddur. In addition to tracing the impact of the poetry of Tanakh on the religious expression of Jews in varied lands and times in Jewish history, we will note their impact on secular Renaissance writers.


Belief and Religious Commitment (Rabbi Shalom Carmy)

Belief and 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.




Great Political Thinkers: Ancient Political Thought (Dr. Neil Rogachevsky)

Great Political Thinkers: Ancient Political Thought Syllabus (PDF)

This course aims to offer an introductory tour through the political thought of several of the greatest minds of Greece. But their insights are not only "Greek" insights; they remain relevant and in need of reckoning in our times. Those insights relate to questions including: what is the relationship between individual excellence and communal excellence? Is thought superior to action or is action superior to thought? What is justice and how much justice can be realized in the world? What does war teach us about human nature? What is virtue and what is its relation to laws? To what extent are knowledge and politics tied together?

Resurrection of the Dead

Jewish Thought and the World to Come (Rabbi Dr. Dov Lerner) 

Jewish Thought and the World to Come Syllabus (PDF)

The aim of this class is to explore the ways in which Jewish texts and thinkers have understood the experience of the soul after death across the ages. We will begin with a range of approaches taken to the afterlife in civilizations around the Ancient Near East, and then turn to Jewish thought as it evolved over time starting with the Biblical text and ending in the modern world. We will cover debates concerning truths about which the stakes could not be higher and survey some of the most compelling and imaginative pieces of Jewish literature ever produced, correcting popular misconceptions and shedding light on areas rarely discussed.

Shakespeare, the Bible, and Political Philosophy

Shakespeare, the Bible, and Political Philosophy (Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik and Dr. Matthew Holbreich)

Shakespeare, the Bible, and Political Philosophy Syllabus (PDF)

Shakespeare’s plays were composed and performed in a time of extraordinary religious ferment, debate, and war; he wrote not long after Luther, the Reformation, and the transformation of religion in England. The central text at the heart of these debates was the Bible, and as so many of Shakespeare’s plays focus on political themes, the Bible and politics are often profoundly intertwined in his work. This seminar will see how this is so in two of Shakespeare’s most famous works. One, The Merchant of Venice, infamously utilizes a fictional, utterly unfair representation of a Jewish money-lender to allow the playwright to opine on some of the central questions of political philosophy: the relationship between justice and mercy, commerce and charity, and the meaning of the law in Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Meanwhile, a second play, Hamlet, Shakespeare’s most cited work, is linked to a biblical and Talmudic debate that impacted the very course of British history, a fact unknown today but well-known in Shakespeare’s era. We will consider how these biblical-political themes allow for a renewed understanding of these plays, and how the plays themselves can inspire renewed reflections on these political and philosophical subjects.  

Philosophy of Law

Philosophy of Law (Rabbi Dr. Itamar Rosensweig)

Philosophy of Law Syllabus (PDF)

This course will cover four areas of philosophy of law: the nature of rights and duties, property theory, distributive justice, and analytic jurisprudence. The main focus of the course is philosophy of property law, which can be divided into four sections. The first section of the course situates property debates within political philosophy. In the second section, we will discuss whether property is a natural right or a social convention. The third section takes up the justification of private property rights. The fourth section analyzes the idea of property as a concept. In addition to property, the course will cover the nature of rights and their relationship to duties, as well as the notion of natural rights and natural duties. We will also cover some of the central questions of analytical jurisprudence, including the nature of law, legal positivism, and the relationship between law and morality. Throughout the course, we will draw parallels and contrasts between general philosophy of law and Jewish law.


The Architecture of Election: Temple Architecture in Judaism and Western Thought (Dr. Joseph Angel)

The Architecture of Election: Temple Architecture in Judaism and Western Thought Syllabus (PDF)

The temple of Jerusalem stood at the center of ancient Jewish society for a millennium. Even after the physical destructions in 586 BCE and 70 CE, the image of the temple continued to exert a powerful influence, reflecting fundamental religious and social trends within Judaism and beyond. This course explores the relation between temple architecture and the expression and development of religious values and social identity in Jewish and Western tradition. The course is less concerned with architectural realities than with exploring the meaning behind the varying representations of the temple by different authors, thinkers, and artists from biblical Israel to modernity. In analyzing portrayals of the temple from vastly different time periods and places, we will aim not only to deepen our appreciation of the cultural importance of temple architecture in Jewish and Western thought, but also to understand how the image of the temple, the supreme symbol of divine presence on earth, was deployed in order to capture, embody, and reflect deep-seated religious, political, and social values throughout the ages. 


Matriarchs and Memoirs (Dr. Chaya Sima Koenigsberg)

Matriarchs and Memoirs Syllabus (PDF)

This course centers around the memoirs of Glikl bas Judah Leib (also known as Glückel of Hameln) written between 1691 and 1719. This literary work, written by a family matriarch for her progeny, rich in historical details and reminiscence, will be our guide through the challenges, changes, and developments of early modern Jewish life in Germany (and beyond). The ethical teachings, whether directed openly to the reader or more subtly conveyed through story and parable, will be put into conversation with texts from the broader corpus of Jewish philosophy that grapple with similar issues. Glikl’s memoirs will also be contextualized within contemporaneous works written for and by Jewish women related to morals, Halakhah, and women’s prayer and supplication.


Exploring Midrash (Dr. Chaya Sima Koenigsberg)

Exploring Midrash Syllabus (PDF)

This course will provide an overview of the wide range of midrashic literature to familiarize students with the historical background, literary styles, and functions of various types of midrashim and midrashic collections and their relationship with Mikra. We will cover both Midrash Halakhah (legal) and Midrash Aggadah (homiletic), analyzing their style and form through hands-on assignments. In addition to textual study and analysis of midrashic selections, conceptual issues related to the study of midrash will be addressed, including the role of homiletics in the religious experience; the "problem" of polysemy (a text with multiple interpretations); and the parameters of literal vs. allegorical readings. In conjunction with these overarching questions, we will survey the historical reception of midrash and the use of midrash in Torah commentaries from Chazal to modern collections like Hayim Nahman Bialik. Finally, our hope is to explore and rediscover the comforting messages and lessons the Sages imparted to the generations through their homilies.


Spiritual Autobiographies (Dr. David Lavinsky and Dr. Ronnie Perelis)

Spiritual Autobiographies Syllabus (PDF)

In this interdisciplinary core course, students will explore the diverse literary and historical dimensions of spiritual autobiography. Our investigation will begin in late antiquity, with Josephus and Augustine, before focusing on material produced within the medieval and early modern cultural matrix. Authors to be considered include Herman the Jew, Guibert de Nogent, Luis de Carvajal, Rabbi Hayyim Vital Calabrese, Richard Norwood, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and Glikl of Hameln. Course readings—memoirs, wills, testimonies, confessions, interrogation transcripts, and other materials stylized as first-person narrative accounts—will attest to the lived experience of their authors and the spiritual selves they attempt to fashion using the conventions of autobiographical writing; central here are topics such as religious identity, conversion, Jewish-Christian relations, biblical exegesis, and the circulation of texts and ideas in the age of print. At the same time, however, such self-fashioning draws on literary practices that demand a critical sensitivity to language, form, and rhetoric. 


Enlightenment and Its Critics (Dr. Neil Rogachevsky)

Enlightenment and Its Critics Syllabus (PDF) 

This course will consider the deepest and most important political thinkers who shaped the terms of the Enlightenment and debated the project. Thinkers to be studied include Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Mary Wollstonecraft. Jewish perspectives on the Enlightenment and enlightenment will be considered along the way. Through careful study of the works of these political philosophers, students should come away with an appreciation of the major political- theoretical tensions and problems that have defined modern life.

American and Talmudic Law

Comparison of American and Talmudic Law (Dr. Adina Levine)

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 and Modernity (Rabbi Dr. Dov Lerner)

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, Mecklenburg, 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 Illuminated Manuscripts

Jewish Illuminated Manuscripts (Dr. Chaya Sima Koenigsberg)

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.


Ethics and Character (Rabbi Shalom Carmy)

Ethics and Character Syllabus (PDF)

Twentieth-century ethical theory was dominated by approaches concerned exclusively with duty or 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 Mill, Kant, and Aristotle—focusing on the place of character in their ethics and their cultural contexts. We then turn Maimonides, Hume, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche. The third part of the course introduces the late 20th-century debate and interdisciplinary themes relating to ethical emotions like honor, shame, and guilt.

Political Thinkers

Great Political Thinkers: Introduction to Western and Jewish Political Thought (Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik and Dr. Neil Rogachevsky)

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. This course introduces students to the central concerns and ideas of political philosophy, including 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 and early modern liberalism. Readings include Herodotus, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Nietzsche.


Wholly Moses — in Art, Culture, and Jewish Thought (Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik and Dr. Jacob Wisse)

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.

Ahad Ha'am

Zionist Political Thought (Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik and Dr. Neil Rogachevsky)

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 (Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik and Dr. Neil Rogachevsky)

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 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? 

Jewish Intellectual History

16th-19th-Century Jewish Intellectual History (Rabbi Shalom Carmy)

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 (Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik and Dr. Jacob Wisse)

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 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 interdisciplinary 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.


Bible in America

The Bible in America (Dr. Matthew Holbreich)

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 First 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 (Dr. Aaron Segal)

Epistemology of Religion Syllabus (PDF)

This course explores foundational questions in the epistemology of religion. Some of the questions 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 (Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik)

The Kuzari and Contemporary Jewish Thought Syllabus (PDF)

This seminar carefully studies Halevi's great work The Kuzari in its entirety, and considers the implications 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.


Zionist Perspectives from Herzl to Begin (Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik)

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 (Dr. Adina Levine)

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.

Love and Hate

Love and Hate (Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik)

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 antisemitism; love and hate; and evil and ethics in times of war.


Class 2

Moral Philosophy (Dr. Jonathan Jacobs)

Moral Philosophy Syllabus (PDF)

This course explores classic works of Western moral philosophy and some key texts of Jewish moral thought. The course aims 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 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.

Class 1

Jewish and Western Philosophies of Law (Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik)

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).

Graduate Courses

Judaism and Democracy

Judaism and Democracy (Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik and Dr. Neil Rogachevsky)

Judaism and Democracy Syllabus (PDF)

This seminar brings classic Jewish texts about government into conversation with the foundational works of American political thought. In doing so, 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?

Zionist Arguments

Zionist Political Thought: Arguing Zionism (Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik, Dr. Neil Rogachevsky and Dr. Liel Leibovitz)

Zionist Political Thought: Arguing Zionism Syllabus (PDF)

What is Zionism? The question is trickier than it seems. On the surface, it is a movement advocating for the establishment of a national Jewish homeland as a sovereign state. Yet even now, seven decades after this movement achieved its goal, arguments continue about Zionism’s aims and essence. Rightly understood, these contemporary debates are rooted in arguments that occurred early in Israel’s history, between thinkers, writers, and rabbinic figures. This course aims to illustrate how Israel today can be best understood by an in-depth study of the history of these debates, and of the original writings of those who partook in them. Over the semester, we will analyze various arguments that have historically defined Zionism and that continue to shape it today.

Image and the Idea

The Image and the Idea (Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik and Dr. Jacob Wisse)

The Image and the Idea 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 persistent 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.


Lincoln, the Bible and the Law (Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik and Dr. Harold Holzer)

Lincoln, the Bible and the Law Syllabus (PDF)

The law and the Bible are interwoven themes in Lincoln’s life. The young lawyer from Illinois made some of the most remarkable legal arguments about the nature of America, including the indissolubility of the Union, the power of the president to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, and the role of the Declaration in constitutional interpretation. At the same time, as he formulated these arguments, the man who was once known for his lack of religious devotion used increasingly theological language, referencing the King James Bible, a work most well-known to his fellow Americans. In this seminar, we will study the lessons and legacy of this feature of Lincoln’s life.


Civic Versus Religious Identity in the Philosophy of Law (Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik)

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?

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