Spring 2008

Instructor: Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus, x3694, (H): 401-273-0536
Knapton 102
Office Hours:
M 10:30-12:30, 1:30-2; W 10:30-12:00; F 10:30-12:30, and Tu Th by appointment.

This course seeks to introduce the major religious and cultural dimensions of the Jewish world, both those that express its diversity and those that express its continuity. Emphasis will be given to the development of classical Jewish institutions and ideas as well as the diverse forms of Jewish religious and cultural life. The course has two major purposes: (1) to provide students with a better and deeper understanding of the importance of the Jewish past upon the Jewish world today and (2) contemporary Jews' own self-understanding of their system(s) of religious faith and practices, and ethnicity . While it is not a history course, anyone taking it should come away with a basic grasp of the larger historical framework within which Jewish civilization has developed. Moreover, students will learn from American Jews themselves what it means to be a Jew - particularly in the modern American context - by visiting local synagogues, observing celebrations of Jewish holidays, and by the option of conducting interviews ("oral histories") of members of the local Jewish community in Providence, RI and Attleboro, MA.


David Ariel, Kabbalah:The Mystic Quest in Judaism (Rowman and Littlefield, 2006) (paper)
Ruth Fredman Cernea, The Passover Seder
Samuel J. Freedman, Jew Versus Jew: The Struggle for the Soul of American Jewry

Judah Goldin, trans.,The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan  
Abraham Joshua Heschel,
The Sabbath

Jacob Neusner, A Short History of Judaism: Three Meals, Three Epochs (Fortress Press, 1992) paper

Readings on EReserve:

Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, The Particulars of Rapture: Reflections on Exodus (commentary on the weekly Torah portion)

Food and Judaism: Studies in Jewish Civilization
, Volume 15 (Studies in Jewish Civilization) Creighton U. Press, 2005(Paperback)

Assignment Schedule

The reading specified for a class meeting is supposed to be finished by the
class meeting, and will be the subject of class discussion. Each reading
assignment has associated Study Questions.

Week One: Jan 24
Thursday: Introductory Class. Read and discuss Zornberg, “Parashat Yitro,” Particulars of Rapture
 in class

Week Two: Jan 29, 31
Tuesday: Read the Liturgy for the Sabbath Day on EReserve (or distributed in class)
Thursday: Read Chapters 1 and 2 in Heschel's The Sabbath;
Zornberg, “Parashat Mishpatim Particulars of Rapture

Week Three: Feb 5,7
Tuesday: Read Chapters 3 and 4 in Heschel's The Sabbath;
Read Neusner, A Short History: Three Meals, Part I, pp. 1-48.
Thursday: Read pages 1-53 in
The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan; Zornberg, Parashat Terumah” Particulars of Rapture

Week Four: Movies: Feb 12,14
Tuesday: Read pages 101-128 in The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan
Thursday: The Talmud and the Scholar (about Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, spirituality of Torah study); Neusner, A Short History: Three Meals, Part II, pp. 49-83; Read Zornberg, "Parashat Tetzaveh” Particulars of Rapture

Saturday: Shabbat field trip to synagogues in Providence?

Week Five: Feb 19, 21
Tuesday: Half the Kingdom
(feminist perspective on women's roles in Judaism): Read Neusner, A Short History: Three Meals, Part II, pp. 84-139.
You should have contacted your interviewee and made an appointment by this week.
Thursday:  Midterm Exam;
Zornberg, "Parashat Ki Tisa” Particulars of Rapture

Week Six: Feb 26, 28
Tuesday: Read pages 1-46 in The Passover Seder.
Thursday: Read pages 47-73 in The Passover Seder; Zornberg, "Parashat Vayakhel” Particulars of Rapture

Week Seven: Mar 4,6
Tuesday: Read pages 75-127 in The Passover Seder
Thursday: Read Brumberg-Kraus, "Does God Care What We Eat? Jewish Theologies of Food and Reverence for Life” and "Meals as Midrash: A Survey of Ancient Meals in Jewish Studies Scholarship" in Food and Judaism
(on 2 hr Reserve); Zornberg, "Parashat Pekudei” Particulars of Rapture


Week Eight: Mar 18, 20
Tuesday: Read pages 17-63 in The Mystic Quest;
Neusner, A Short History: Three Meals, Part II, pp. 123-166.
Thursday: Read pages 65-88 in
Kabbalah: The Mystic Quest.

MAR 20 EREV PURIM Evening Field trip to Temple Emanuel, Providence RI for Purimshpil

Week Nine: Mar 25, 27
Tuesday: Read pages 89-109 and 139-162 in Kabbalah: The Mystic Quest
Thursday: Read pages 163-189 in Kabbalah: The Mystic Quest.

Week Ten: Apr 1,3
Tuesday: Read Arthur Green's "The Zaddik as Axis Mundi" in the Course Reader: “Holy Kugel”  in Food and Judaism
(on 2 hr Reserve).

Thursday: Read pages 104-129 of Arthur Green's "Hasidism: Discovery and Retreat" in The Other Side of God: A Polarity in World Religions, ed. by Peter Berger

Week Eleven: Apr 8,10
Tuesday: Read Neusner, A Short History: Three Meals
, Part III, pp. 167-215.
Thursday: Read Freedman, Jew vs. Jew,  Prologue and Chapter 1, pp. 13-70 Student Presentation ___________________

Week Twelve: Apr 15,17
Tuesday: Read Freedman, Jew vs. Jew
,  “Who is a Jew?”, Chapter 2, pp. 71-114 Student Presentation ___________________
Thursday: Read Freedman, Jew vs. Jew
,  “Judaism and Gender,” Chapter 3, pp. 115-161 Student Presentation ___________________

APR 19 -27 PESAH; 1ST, 2ND SEDER APR 19,20

Week Thirteen: Apr 22,24
Tuesday: Read Freedman, Jew vs. Jew
,  “Israel and America,” Chapter 4, pp. 162-216. Student Presentation ___________________
Thursday: Read Freedman, Jew vs. Jew
,  “Who Owns Orthodoxy?,” Chapter 5, pp. 217-74 Student Presentation ___________________

Week Fourteen: Apr 29, May 1
Tuesday: Read Freedman, Jew vs. Jew
,  “Unity vs. Pluralism,” Chapter 6, pp. 275-337. Student Presentation ___________________
Thursday: Read Freedman, Jew vs. Jew
,  “Epilogue: The Jewish Reformation,” pp. 338-359; Review for the Final Exam, conclusions

MAY 2 (Friday)  YOM HA-SHOAH (Holocaust Remembrance Day)

MAY 8 (Thursday) YOM HA-ATZMAUT (Israel Independence Day)


1. Class attendance (including film viewing) and full participation in class discussion. For each week, EACH STUDENT will have read the material and prepared a double-spaced typed one-page response paper due by midnight Monday on Blackboard. Each Thursday a discussion group will be led by a student who is not required to write a response paper but instead will comment on all the response papers of the group. 

Late response papers or papers from people not present at discussions are not acceptable (unless by prior arrangement with the instructor.)

Absences will have an extremely adverse effect on this portion of the grade. If you know in advance that you must be away, please notify me of this. The first two absences and the lowest response paper grade will be dropped in the final grade computation, Attendance, discussion work and preparation will be 20% of the course grade, There may be some evening showings of films to augment the course which will make up for my expected absences. There will also be at least two field trips scheduled outside of class time,  Thursday evening 3/20 (for Purim) and one Saturday morning to observe Shabbat Services. Lectures presume prior familiarity with the assigned readings,

2. Hands on project: Making Challah (5% of course grade)
a. Read Jewish Catalogue article on Challah, Tkhine of Three Gates (woman’s petitional prayer) on making challah (on EReserve)
b.  Baking session outside of class time TBA

c. 1-2 page reflection paper

3. A one hour midterm examination covering the first seven weeks of the course in a term identification and essay format. The midterm is a sample of the kind of preparation needed for the final exam. Both will focus on comprehension and understanding of the material of the course other than sheer memorization of material. Study sheets will be handed out the prior week. It will be 20% of the course grade.

4. In class presentation of a chapter of Jew vs. Jew   (5% of course grade)

5. One essay (6-8 pp., typed, double-spaced) is to be based on one or more of the required primary texts assigned for the weekly discussion. Students may choose one of the ten topics covered on the syllabus for their paper. The essay will be 25% of the course grade.

The purpose of this essay is to think about the source material at length, both in the light of one's own interests and ideas and in respect to the secondary readings, lectures or any other information that helps one elucidate a particular text or idea in the reading(s) under discussion. Attention will be given to form as well as content. Use a manual of style and be consistent. Important: everyone must rewrite this essay The rewrite grades will offer the student a chance to improve his or her essay grade.

OR: Students may participate in an oral history project, involving:
a. assigned preparatory readings in oral history, focusing on use of interviews for "thick" cultural description; arranging, preparing, and conducting the interview; asking questions; writing up transcripts; ethical and legal ramifications of oral history; and examples of oral histories of Jews living in America.
b. practice assignment interviewing a friend or family member
c. interview of member(s) of a local Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, or Reconstructionist synagogue
d. make transcript of the interview
e. 5-6 page reflection paper relating their experience to concepts or procedures covered in prior class readings, lectures, or discussions.

Students have the option of working in teams of 2 where labor could be divided - one student performing and recording the interview; the other transcribing it - if some students feel more comfortable with a behind-the-scenes role. Still, while steps (c) and (d) may be divided, all students will be responsible for (a)-(b) and (e).

The project requires at least 2 visits to synagogues or homes outside regular class time (Friday night, Saturday morning, plus an additional time that does not fall on Shabbat [it is not permitted to write or use electronic recorders on Shabbat according to Jewish law]) on dates TBA.

The completed project will be 25% of the course grade.

Please consult with me first about whatever assignment or topic you choose, by the 4/14/08.

6. A Self-scheduled final examination will be given during exam period. It will be 25% of the course grade.

Final Exam Study Guide


Last Update 1.22.08