Guidelines for Paper Assignment
REL 322: Judaism: Faith and Practice
Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus

The goal of this assignment is for you to review and evaluate several Jewish perspectives on the topic you chose from among the topics we studied in the Judaism course. It is more a critical ""review of the literature" paper than a report or long research paper.

THERE ARE THREE STEPS IN THIS ASSIGNMENT:

First, you must find and give a critical review of two works on your topic (Steps 1-2). Then, you are to assemble your critical reviews in a single, coherently organized, 6-8 page paper, in which you provide and introduction, conclusion, and overall evaluation of the different perspectives you analyzed. (Step 3)

1. Use at least two different perspectives on the topic in the study of Judaism you chose (at least one book and either another book or substantial article [from journals, or collections of essays]). The books and/or article must be by two different authors, and only one may be from among the assigned texts in the course. N.B.: If you choose one of the assigned texts from the course, you must choose two other articles or books to review critically. For suggestions, see me.

2. Give a critical review of the work of each of these two (or more) authors which includes:

a. A brief summary of the their argument., no more than a page, preferably a few paragraphs. Summarize the argument, not the book or article as a whole. What does the author want you to believe when you finish reading her/him?

b. Locate this particular book/article in the context of our course reading. Does the perspective belong to a particular school of thought or ongoing debates we have covered (i.e., liberal, traditionalist, secularist, religious, nationalist, messianic, feminist, apologetic, assimilationist, etc.)? How is it similar to or different from anything else we've read in class?

c. Evaluate both the argument and the contribution of the book to the understanding of Jewish faith.
i. What are the assumptions regarding the "core" or most important elements of Jewish faith? Does it present its particular subject as normative, or marginal to Judaism (e.g., Passover and eating rituals, messianism, Kabbalah, Shabbat, Hasidism, etc.). What problems of Jewish experience or the human condition in general does the author believe her/his subject addresses, tries to solve? What effect has modernity had on the aspect of Judaism your author stresses? Is your author presenting the material as an objective outside observer, or as an engaged participant - is your author primarily descriptive or prescriptive?

ii. Does the argument convince you that the author's perspective is valid? Why or why not? Are there serious flaws in the author's choice of data, logic, interpretation, etc.? What biases, subtle or otherwise, are evident in the author's analysis? Here's your chance to "take the book apart."

iii. Does this book/article challenge any of your own assumptions about Jews or Judaism, or does it confirm them? Does it make you want to learn more about Judaism, or does it paint Judaism in an unattractive light? Does it "do more harm than good"? Did it help you understand your own non-religious or religious perspective better?

You will hand in these separate evaluations as a kind of first draft.

3. Assemble your critical reviews in a single, coherently organized 6-8 page (typed, double-spaced) paper, in which you provide an introduction, clear thesis statement, conclusion, and overall evaluation of the different perspectives you analyzed. Which provided "the best," "the worst" - the most and least persuasive positions on the topic you chose? by what criteria did you reach your conclusion? What made them "good" or "bad"? Where do you stand on the issue, at the end of your review of the positions.

 

Optional 1st draft: You may also hand in a version of this stage of your paper as a 2nd draft, to get my comments and suggestions.

The final draft is due no later than the last day of class.