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Straus Center Courses

Gold Background

Graduate Certificate in Jewish Social and Political Thought

At the graduate level, the Straus Center offers a Graduate Certificate in Jewish Social and Political Thought. The Certificate's curriculum consists of five Straus Center courses taken at Yeshiva University. Past courses have included:

To apply, click here

Undergraduate Courses



Misnagdic Jewish Thought (Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik)

Misnagdic Jewish Thought Syllabus (PDF)

The term “Misnagid,” or “one who opposes,” is one that defined the leaders of the Lithuanian Yeshiva world by highlighting its differentiation from the Hasidic way of life. The problem with the term is that it summarizes a worldview solely in way it opposed another. In fact, those whose intellectual lives was linked to the Yeshiva of Vilozhin and its worldview have given us a classics of Jewish thought, all making the case for the study of Torah, and the rigorous observance of halakha, as lying at the center of the spiritual life. This course will examine three different complex works, each of which can be considered a classic of Misnagdic Jewish thought: the mystical Nefesh Ha-Hayyim of Rabbi Hayyim of Vilozhin, with a focus on the fourth part; the Ha’amek Davar of Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, known as “the Netziv,” with its focus on Humash, Midrash, and Talmudic texts; and Rabbi Joseph. B. Soloveitchik’s Halakhic Man, which describes the worldview of his ancestors utilizing a philosophical idiom. We will discuss what these works have in common, how they differ, and what each of them has to teach us today.


Philosophy of Art (Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik and Dr. David Johnson)

Philosophy of Art Syllabus (PDF)

Utilizing both classical and modern philosophical texts, as well as works of theology and biblical exegesis, this course will address the nature of beauty, the possible moral dangers inherent in art, the nature and meaning of music, the relationship between ethics and aesthetics, the nature and meaning of literature and drama, the way in which a work of art can embody a philosophical thesis, and more. The class will also examine the work of modern Jewish thinkers that engaged in deep study of philosophical texts and then, in their own work, contrasted the Hebraic approach to art and the image with that of several different philosophical schools.





Josephus’ The Jewish War (Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik)

Josephus’ The Jewish War Syllabus (PDF)

Josephus’ The Jewish War documents, from the author’s perspective, every aspect of the Jewish revolt against Rome from 66-70, which concluded with the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. The war between Judea and Rome can be seen as a series of military episodes, to be analyzed from the perspective of military history; and it can be understood as embodying a clash between paganism and monotheism, between two very different religious, moral, and cultural worldviews. As the seminar proceeds, we will be assess some of the following questions: Why military mistakes were made by Jewish leaders of the Revolt, and what might have been done differently? What role did internecine infighting play in the fall of Jerusalem? What were the social, religious, and intellectual conflicts that lay at the heart of the outbreak of the Revolt? How does our enhanced understanding of Jerusalem’s geography and archeology allow us to better understand what occurred during the war two millennia ago? And what lessons from the Revolt are most relevant today?

White House

The American Presidency (Dr. Tevi Troy and Dr. Matthew  Incantalupo)

The American Presidency Syllabus (PDF)

The U.S. president is commonly referred to as the most powerful person in the world, and there’s some truth to that. But the president governs in a system of deliberately separated and shared powers. The checks that are imposed on presidents are serious and frequently prevent them from getting what they want. And yet, some presidents clearly succeed more than others. What explains this variation? Why do some presidents succeed while others fail? In this course, we will examine the process by which a president is nominated and elected, and explore theories that explain presidential power and success. We will also learn about what really goes on inside the White House and how presidents demonstrate their leadership styles and capacities.



Epics and Ethics of the Middle Ages (Dr. Shaina Trapedo)

Epics and Ethics of the Middle Ages Syllabus (PDF)

The literature of the Middle Ages, roughly marked as a period of European history from the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century to the fall of Constantinople in the 15th century, is unlike any other period of literary history. Crafted during an epoch of commodious circulation and exchange—of goods and resources, as well as peoples, languages, and beliefs— the poetry, epics, prose, and dramas of the medieval period are as rich and diverse as the cultures from which they emanated. In seeking to understand when and how English literature began, we will survey works in translation, originally composed in a variety of languages from Europe, North Africa, and the Near and Middle East, such as Beowulf, The Divine Comedy, The Tale of Genji, and The Thousand and One Nights.



Jewish Perspectives on Work and the Good Life (Rabbi Dr. Ari Bergmann)

Jewish Perspectives on Work and the Good Life Syllabus (PDF)

This course will explore and analyze the various perspectives of the Talmud and various other seminal Jewish works regarding important aspects of work and the good life in contemporary times. These perspectives will be contrasted and debated in relation to various worldviews of influential thinkers and the top works on these subjects. We will explore the importance and the value of incorporating the Humanities into professional work and daily life, by analyzing the rich perspective of the Talmud and various rabbinic authorities, as well as of the top contemporary thinkers, on these issues. We will be reading excerpts of the most influential works by top thinkers who have imparted their wisdom and experience. Topics to be covered are: life mission; Torah and mundane life; time management; the fallacy of control, Jewish identity and observance of halakhah; hurtful and improper speech; economic perspectives and the value of money; wealth, income inequality and social responsibility; among others. Primary texts will be learned together in class and translations will be provided.


Maharal (Rabbi Shalom Carmy)

Maharal Syllabus (PDF)

This course surveys the thought of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, also known as the Maharal of Prague, an important Talmudic scholar who served as a leading rabbi in the sixteenth century. We will begin with Maharal's Be'er Hagolah, dealing with questions about Torah she’b’al Peh. The course will also include a general survey of traditional aggada interpretation, as our focus will be on textual analysis of Maharal and his approach to aggada.





John Locke

Natural Rights and the Origins of Modern Politics (Dr. Neil Rogachevsky)

Natural Rights and the Origins of Modern Politics Syllabus (PDF)

This course will be a careful study of three principal founders of modern political thought, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Despite important differences between them, the two Englishmen and the Frenchman all were rebels—against the dominant political thought and practices of the times in which they lived, against medieval Christian political thought, and against the political thought of classical antiquity. Turning away from the ancient emphasis on prudence and the medieval emphasis on natural law, these political thinkers sought to ground government in new theories of human nature and natural rights. Their goal: making government sturdier and more legitimate than it had hitherto been.



Abarbanel: Exile & Exegesis (Rabbi Dr. Dov Lerner)

Abarbanel: Exile & Exegesis Syllabus (PDF)

This course will explore the life and thought of one of Jewish history’s most celebrated figures. Fifteenth century diplomat, economist, historian, exegete, and refugee Don Isaac Abarbanel led an illustrious life defined by exile and exegesis, and left a legacy that shaped generations of Jews to follow. We’ll examine the historical circumstances that set the parameters of his geographic, political, and intellectual context, and then turn to his voluminous output—touching on topics from mourning and monarchy to miracles and messianism—which revolutionized biblical commentary and lay the foundations for Jewish survival over the course of the age of the ghetto. We’ll conclude with a study of his son Judah’s contribution to Jewish thought and a sense of how Abarbanel influence is felt to this day.




Suffering and Evil (Rabbi Shalom Carmy)

Suffering and Evil Syllabus (PDF)

How are we to make sense of a world in which suffering and evil are conspicuous features? Our goal is to tackle a set of problems surrounding this question, utilizing the resources of Jewish thought and Western philosophy, also appealing to other sources of insight and culture, most notably imaginative literature.







White House

Health Policy (Dr. Tevi Troy)

Health Policy Syllabus (PDF)

This is an introductory course to health policy in the United States. The course will examine how policy is made, implemented, and reformed, and will examine the role government plays in various aspects of health policy, in areas like innovation, protecting the public health, and defense against bioterrorism. Students will engage in the discussion, analysis, and critique of various policy options for addressing challenging health care problems and will gain working experience by completing activities and assignments that mirror real-life situations in the public policy realm.






The Jew in the Western Literary Imagination (Dr. Shaina Trapedo)

The Jew in the Western Literary Imagination Syllabus (PDF)

From medieval blood libels to Ulysses' Leopold Bloom, the figure of the Jew has loomed large in the Western literary imagination. This course examines how authors through the ages have represented Jewishness in poetry and prose for their predominantly Christian readers. How are Jews positioned in relation to law, commerce, community, morality, sexuality, wisdom, and faith in the fictional worlds they inhabit? What technical or thematic purpose do Jewish characters serve in the construction of text as a whole? Through deep engagement with a variety of texts, we'll consider to what extent these works reflect, reinforce, challenge, and/or change the existing archetypes and assumptions about Jews in their respective historical and cultural moments, and how these characterizations reverberate in the social history of antisemitism (and philosemitism).



The Hebrew Bible on the World Stage (Dr. Shaina Trapedo)

The Hebrew Bible on the World Stage Syllabus (PDF)

This course considers how popular stories from the Hebrew Bible and their interpretative traditions influenced the biblical dramas that emerged from the 12th-century and onward. Due to the concise and compact nature of scripture, playwrights who craft dramas for the public based on biblical narratives must make certain interpretive decisions about how to develop the plot, characters, and dialogue; in doing, they function as both creative writers and commentators, often drawing from their own imaginative powers, personal knowledge of scripture, exegetical traditions, and homiletic.





Kuzari (Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik)

Kuzari Syllabus (PDF)

The goal of this seminar is to carefully study Halevi's great work The Kuzari in its entirety, and to consider the implication of its unique worldview for Judaism and Jewish thought in the age in which we live.  Every week, students will join a reading from The Kuzari with a selection from modern Jewish thought. In particular, we will focus on two twentieth century Jewish theologians profoundly impacted by Halevi: Franz Rosenzweig and Michael Wyschogrod.  We will also, in this context, study with fresh eyes the thought Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Rabbi Soloveitchik’s engagement of philosophy is often associated with, and compared to, that of Maimonides; we will ponder, in our seminar, the similarities that can be seen between his worldview and that of Halevi. 



Mount Sinai

Nature of God (Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik & Dr. David Johnson)

Nature of God Syllabus (PDF)

Using medieval and modern philosophical sources, we will rigorously and extensively examine traditional Judaism’s philosophical and theological views on the nature and attributes of God. For centuries, Jewish philosophers, theologians and mystics have pondered biblical passages that speak of complex subjects such as: God’s love for Abraham and his children Israel; God dwelling within the tabernacle, and the Temple in Jerusalem; God’s foreknowledge of all human events, but also His anger at Israel’s sin, His regret following sin and His forgiveness following this anger. 




Rav Kook

Rav Kook (Rabbi Shalom Carmy)

Rav Kook Syllabus (PDF)

In this course, students study R. Kook's writings and their intellectual and literary background. The course sets out to explore R. Kook's views of history and nationality, ethics and religion (using his letters and sections of Orot haKodesh). Students will learn to master R. Kook's writing and learning to read him microscopically. The course will also examine some of the (ab)uses to which R. Kook's writing has been subjected over time.






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.




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.  



Caspar David Friedrich

Book of Genesis (Rabbi Dr. Dov Lerner)

Book of Genesis 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  introductory material concerning the genre of Genesis and narrative, more broadly, as a mode of ethical instruction, and then turn 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, we will assess the ethics embedded in the text and the tales that have shaped the Jewish imagination for millennia.




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.



Ethics in Artificial Intelligence

Ethics in Artificial Intelligence (Rabbi Nathaniel Wiederblank and Rabbi Dr. Mois Albert Navon)

Ethics in Artificial Intelligence Syllabus (PDF)

This course offers an introduction to the ethical issues inherent in the technologies spawned by big data and artificial intelligence. In particular, it seeks to understand the Torah's perspective on these timely and controversial questions. As these fields enter every area of human existence, the ethics surrounding them are becoming ever-critical. The course—seeking to touch upon all the prominent technologies driven by big data and artificial intelligence—is divided into five parts. The first part focuses on ethics, what it is and why it is important. This includes an overview of various approaches to ethics in general and the ethics of technology in specific. The course then dives into the big issues in big data. The third part focuses on the ethical dilemmas involved in the autonomous systems driven by these technologies. Following this, students examine the ethical issues of robotics and then conclude with a look into the future to discuss the ethical issues surrounding "the singularity."


King Solomon

The Wisdom of Solomon: Love, Learning, Leadership (Dr. Shaina Trapedo)

The Wisdom of Solomon: Love, Learning, Leadership Syllabus (PDF)

At the tender age of 12, Solomon ascends the throne and is invited by God to make a request. Noting his inexperience, the young king asks for “an understanding heart to judge thy people” and in return is granted chochma (1 Kings 3:5-11). While chochma in the Hebrew Bible and Jewish thought has a variety of meanings, in the life and literary legacy of Solomon, wisdom is linked to love, learning, and leadership. During Solomon’s 40-year reign, Israel enjoyed a golden era of wealth, peace, and political power, which fostered the building of the Beit HaMikdash, a project of enormous civic and spiritual proportions. And yet, despite unparalleled knowledge and success, by the end of Solomon’s reign, idolatry was on the rise and the Israelite monarchy was beginning to fall. So how are we to understand the writings of King Solomon? How was he able to turn struggle into song, longing into leadership, and suffering into sagacity? This course surveys the three sapiential texts of Tanakh that Solomon composed throughout his lifetime: Shir HaShirimMishlei, and Kohelet. Using classical meforshim and midrashim, students access the profundity of biblical parables, proverbs, meditations, and manifestos, and their centrality in Torah and importance in cultivating relationships with oneself, others, and Hashem. The course also traces how far and wide Solomon’s wisdom has carried across epochs, from Egyptian princesses to Renaissance poets to U.S. Presidents, aiming to emulate his good governance and find solace in his social/moral vision.

Schools of Aggadah

Schools of Aggadah (Rabbi Dr. Ari Bergmann)

Schools of Aggadah Syllabus (PDF)

The Babylonian Talmud, known simply as the Bavli, is the collaborative effort of generations of sages and the foundational legal and ethical document of rabbinic Judaism. Part of the magnetic pull of the Talmud is the fact that it not only contains legal discussions and rulings but also encompasses theology, magic, rabbinic stories, medicine, and history. These non-legal narratives are an essential part of the Talmud, and their interpretation was always as varied as the schools of interpreters. It evolved creatively throughout the generations. This course examines several demonstrative Talmudic narratives (Aggadah) through the lens of the evolution of the major critical schools of the past century and contrasts them with the interpretative approach of the various traditional schools throughout the ages. The course starts with an analysis of the definition of Aggadah and its distinction from the legal content of the Talmud, moving on to analyzing narratives and evaluating chronologically how the various interpretative schools dealt with the text. The course further investigates how these various scholars dealt with the evolution of sugyot between the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds. 


Rashi and Rembrandt: Art as Commentary in Early Modern Amsterdam (Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik and Dr. Jacob Wisse)

Rashi and Rembrandt: Art as Commentary in Early Modern 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. At the same time, the artist's work broke new stylistic ground and established an original approach to interpreting subjects and engaging with artistic traditions in general. 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, to contemporary Jewish life in Amsterdam, and to the art historical tradition. Students 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.

The Liberty Bell

American Political Thought (Dr. Neil Rogachevsky)

American Political Thought Syllabus (PDF)

This course aims to introduce students to the key debates and questions in American political thought from the time of the founding until around World War I. As has been frequently remarked, political writing and political debate have, in the United States, played the role that “national literature” has played in European countries. For the American political tradition has concerned itself not only with the evaluation of this or that policy or this or that candidate; it has frequently been the venue for the most important theoretical examinations of vital questions of statecraft, war and peace, morality, identity, and other matters. Through close study of essential essays, books, and speeches, students will begin to reflect on political-theoretical subjects such as the nature of rights and of equality, the purposes of government and the state, the nature of democracy and republicanism, and the role of religion. Concrete but also theoretical questions such as slavery and liberation, progress and the role of the Constitution, poverty, the role of “Old Europe,” and women’s rights and suffrage are also addressed. 


Repentance and Forgiveness

Repentance and Forgiveness (Rabbi Shalom Carmy)

Repentance and Forgiveness Syllabus (PDF)

This course examines both Jewish and non-Jewish views and sources on the concepts behind repentance and forgiveness, and attempts to discover, where pertinent, how Torah resources tacitly respond, in effect, to contemporary insights and attitudes. The Jewish components include literary and diachronic elements related to the construction of Jewish theology in general and repentance specifically, and involve the study of major Jewish thinkers of the medieval and modern periods. Non-Jewish philosophy includes a variety of sources and methods from classical works, 20th-century continental philosophy, and contemporary analytic philosophy, as well as Christian and irreligious creative writers. 




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. The course briefly surveys 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. It then considers 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, the spotlight turns to Malbim. Students contrast the theses of his sermons and the themes of his exegesis with some of the biblically inspired literature of the age—including Lord Byron's Cain and Rossini’s Moses in Egypt— and asses how Malbim's claims have fared over the past one hundred and fifty years.


John Locke

Modern Political Thought (Dr. Neil Rogachevsky)

Modern Political Thought Syllabus (PDF)

This course studies one prominent origin point of modern liberalism in John Locke’s political thought as well as key writings of successors of Locke who sought to expand on or challenge his teachings. In our study of Locke, students gain a great understanding of individual natural rights, the separation of powers, and the origins of modern constitutional government. Turning to Lessing, we consider how individual natural rights relate to questions of religious practice and religious toleration. In our study of Montesquieu, we focus on his view of the dangers and possibilities inherent in liberal commercial politics of the kind Locke sought. Finally, in studying Rousseau, we examine perhaps the most memorable critique of liberal modernity ever put to page. 

Previous Versions of the Course

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.

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. 





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.





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.





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



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.



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?




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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