The Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh, is the central text of ancient Israel and the foundational text for Judaism through the ages. You'll examine the various biblical genres, structures, concepts, theological and historical settings of the biblical world, and then explore selected topics, often integrated with rabbinic perspectives.
This sequence balances an overview of the Hebrew Bible with focused discussion of core texts, such as the Creation stories, the binding of Isaac, the Exodus story, the revelation at Sinai and the prophetic books. You'll analyze the primary biblical texts and secondary scholarly materials through various lenses: literary, historical-comparative and rabbinic commentary.
While you may be familiar with the Bible from childhood, this in-depth exposure to other texts and different modes of reading will challenge you — and may well lead you to reassess some long-held views.
The Rabbinic Period — the millennium from the Second Temple to the completion of the Babylonian Talmud (500 BCE to 500 CE) — refers to a time when new Jewish leaders, sages and rabbis emerged and developed rich texts of their own. Some of those texts took the form of extensive commentary about the earlier world of biblical Israel. During this seminal period, rabbinic scholars created a legal system, which led to a Jewish belief system that has informed and ordered Jewish community, culture and behavior for the past millennia.
Your instructor will guide you through enduring questions: What is the relationship between God and human beings? How do we understand Jewish history and Jewish ethics? What is the role of ritual, holy days and life-cycle events? Readings illustrate the development of the rabbinic mindset and talmudic beliefs. As with the Hebrew Bible sequence, you'll first cover selected historical, textual and conceptual areas, then examine core concepts in conjunction with Bible study to illustrate how beliefs and practices evolved over time.
Jewish life during the Middle Ages (about the seventh century through the 17th century) built upon earlier rabbinic foundations, making manifest in form and content what the rabbis of the Talmud had only begun: the construction of a rabbinic Jewish civilization, with distinctive approaches to community life, behavioral norms, and beliefs and values. As a result, Jewish culture and its genres expanded dramatically in several areas: philosophy, mysticism, liturgy and commentaries on the Bible and talmudic texts.
In this sequence, you'll engage in readings and discussions focusing on three dynamics of the Middle Ages:
- Jewish relations with non-Jews (e.g., political and cultural relations with Islamic and Christian civilizations)
- Modes of community that Jews constructed in the shifting diaspora
- Various genres of Jewish culture
Beginning with the 17th-century Age of Enlightenment, modernity posed a significant challenge to traditional Jewish culture, community and identity, creating new social and economic opportunities but also threatening traditional Jewish values and society. As in each of the previous eras, modern Jews remained preoccupied with sacred texts, suggesting that however great the impact of rupture and discontinuity, their passion for reading and rereading classical Jewish texts became the creative wellspring for modern Jewish thought.
You'll delve into some of these modern primary texts representing differing ideological viewpoints — works of Jewish philosophers such as Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, and Zionist thinkers such as Ahad Ha'am and Micha Josef Berdyczewski — that mirror the issues faced by Jews of that era. And you'll wrestle with the subtle points of comparison and contrast between Jewish modernity and the civilization we've inherited.