• The Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought

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    2013-2014 Inaugural Address (PDF)

    Courses

    Undergraduate Courses

    Philosophy of Law: Civic vs. Religious Identity
     Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program at Yeshiva College
     Syllabus (PDF)

    Love and Hate
    S. Daniel Abraham Honors Program at Stern College
     Syllabus (PDF)

    Civic Versus Religious Identity in the Philosophy of Law
    Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program at Yeshiva College
    Syllabus (PDF)

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

    The Image and the Idea: An Interdisciplinary Seminar on Art History and Jewish Thought
     S. Daniel Abraham Honors Program at Stern College
    Syllabus (PDF)

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

    Moral Philosophy
    Syllabus (PDF)

    This course will explore classic works of Western moral philosophy and some key texts of Jewish moral thought. The course is meant to enable students to understand some of the enduring, fundamental problems of moral philosophy and some of the most important approaches to formulating and addressing them. It is also—and equally—intended 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 will be 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. Those thematic concerns will supply a helpful architecture to our discussions.

     Biblical Ideas and American Democracy 
    Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program at Yeshiva College
     Syllabus (PDF)
    The purpose of the seminar is to bring classic Jewish texts about government into conversation with the foundational works of American political thought.   In so doing, we will 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?

     

    RIETS Courses

    On Jewish Ideas and American Democracy 
     Syllabus (PDF)


    Straus Semikha Seminar on Judaism, Just War, and National Security:

    The purpose of the seminar is to consider the similarities and differences between Jewish and Western approaches to the subjects of justice, law, war and terrorism, and to ponder thereby how Jewish tradition would approach the critical national security questions of our age.  In so doing, we will discuss the following questions:  What is Judaism’s notion of justice, national sovereignty and international law?  What is the difference, for the halakha, between tzedek and mishpat?  What can Jewish scholars learn from some of the most influential classical and modern texts about war, politics and foreign affairs?  What role should religious leaders in general, and rabbanim in particular, play in debates in America and Israel about national security? 

    The seminar will be overseen by Rabbi Soloveichik, and will feature visiting scholars who have written on the subjects under discussion.  These visitors will include poskim, American and Israeli public intellectuals, national security and foreign policy experts, and jurists. 


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