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Jewish Studies

Jewish Studies aims to foster knowledge of Jewish civilization--the history, religion, and culture of the Jews. Interdisciplinary in nature, the Program employs a variety of methodologies to examine a history of more than three thousand years in the land of Israel and in diaspora communities around the world. It enables students to acquire a broad knowledge of the field along with some of the fundamental tools required for its further study. These skills include the ability to read and comprehend core texts of the Jewish tradition, as well as a command of methods for interpreting other materials relevant to the study of Jewish history and culture and of Judaism.

Major: The Jewish Studies major consists of at least 30 hours of Jewish Studies and elective courses. Majors complete a core of four courses, and then further course work concentrated in either religion or history. All majors are required to complete the following core courses:

JWST 111 Classical Hebrew I
JWST 112 Classical Hebrew II
JWST 131 (Jewish History from Biblical Times to 1492) or JWST 132 (Jewish History from the Spanish Expulsion to the Present)
JWST 150 Medieval Jewish Thought and Culture

Majors are urged to complete these four core courses during their first two years of study. They must choose a concentration in religion or history. All majors are required to take an additional three courses from the Program's offerings. Majors with a concentration in religion are required to select three additional religion courses, including at least one 300-level seminar. Majors with a concentration in history are required to select three additional history courses, including JWST 131 or 132 (whichever was not taken for the core requirement), and one 300-level seminar. The Program Director must approve these three additional courses, insuring that the major attains breadth as well as depth in the field.

In addition, all majors may, in consultation with their adviser, choose up to three elective courses to complete their major. The Jewish Studies major at Oberlin places emphasis on acquiring reading knowledge of Hebrew texts. Students who have completed JWST 111 and JWST 112 (or the equivalent) may have the opportunity to use their reading knowledge of Hebrew texts in 200- and 300-level courses or in private readings supervised by the Jewish Studies faculty. Majors are encouraged to live in Johnson House, the Program House of Jewish Studies.

In order to develop facility in Modern Hebrew, all Jewish Studies majors are strongly encouraged to take advantage of Hebrew language study at Oberlin. The Program further encourages majors to spend at least part of their junior year at one of the authorized programs in Israel in order to deepen their knowledge of Hebrew, other areas of Jewish Studies, and the contemporary Jewish experience.

Minor. A minor in Jewish Studies consists of a minimum of 15 credit hours in JWST courses. Students are encouraged to take at least one course in Jewish history and one course in Jewish religion.

Honors. Qualified students are invited to enter the honors program in their seventh semester. Students wishing to be considered for honors should consult the Jewish Studies Program Director in their sixth semester.

Transfer of Credit. Students may transfer up to 14 hours toward the major, or 7 hours toward the minor, from accredited institutions and at the discretion of the director of the Program.

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Course Offerings

111. Classical Hebrew I 3 hours
3HU, CD

Geared to quickly bringing the student to reading comprehension of Biblical texts, this course emphasizes Biblical grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. No prior knowledge of Hebrew is required but the course will move briskly beyond the basics. Enrollment Limit: 15.

Sem 1 JWST-111-01 TuTh 11:00-12:15 Ms. Magnus

112. Classical Hebrew II 3 hours
3HU, CD

Essentials of post-biblical Hebrew, with an emphasis on acquiring skills necessary for reading and translating mishnaic, medieval, and early modern Hebrew texts. Selected readings and discussion of texts. Prerequisites: JWST 111 or consent of instructor. Enrollment Limit: 15.
Sem 2 JWST-112-01 TuTh 9:35-10:50 Mr. Socher

131. Jewish History from Biblical Antiquity to 1492 3 hours
3SS, CD, WR

Survey of Jewish history from the biblical origins through the medieval period in the Christian and Islamic realms until 1492. Covers biblical society and its literary expression; the emergence and development of rabbinic Judaism; Jewish sects, including early Christianity; Hellenistic and Roman rule; Jewish religio-political attitudes and behavior toward non-Jewish powers; the Jewish community and family; the Crusades; the Spanish and other expulsions; and medieval Jew-hatred. Identical to HIST 131. Enrollment Limit: 45.

Sem 1 JWST-131-01 TuTh 9:35-10:50 Ms. Magnus

132. Jewish History from the Spanish Expulsion to the Present 3 hours
3SS, CD, WR

Survey of Jewish history from 1492 to the present, focusing on cultural and political challenges of modernity and Jewish responses. Covers messianic movements; Hasidism; emancipation; religious reform and modern traditionalism; socio-economic transformation; assimilation and cultural revival; modern anti-Semitism and Jewish responses; Zionism; Jewish radicalism; the Shoah; the State of Israel; and American Jewry. Identical to HIST 132. Enrollment Limit: 45.

Sem 2 JWST-132-01 TuTh 11:00-12:15 Ms. Magnus

150. Medieval Jewish Thought & Culture 3 hours
3HU, CD

An introductory study of Jewish religious traditions from the end of the Talmudic period through the 15th century. Theoretical issues of exegesis, philosophy and mysticism will be considered together with such subjects as ethics, religious symbolism and practice, and relations with Christianity and Islam. Identical to RELG 250. Enrollment Limit: 40.

Sem 1 JWST-150-01 MWF 10:00-10:50 Mr. Socher

151. Judaism in the Modern Period: Tradition and Crisis 3 hours
3HU, CD

A study of the breakdown of traditional Jewish life in Europe, and the development of modern Jewish thought, from the expulsion of Spanish Jewry at the end of the 15th century through the profound dislocations of recent history. Readings will include philosophical, mystical, literary and political texts, beginning with selections from the Sephardic diaspora, including Spinoza's philosophical heresy, Lurianic Kabbala and accounts of the false Messiah, Shabbatai Tavi. Identical to RELG 251. Enrollment Limit: 40.

Sem 2 JWST-151-01 MWF 10:00-10:50 Mr. Socher

233. Jewish Memoirs and Memory: Writing the Self in Jewish Society 3-4 hours
3-4SS, CD, WR

Explores cultivation of memory in Jewish tradition and the emergence of a genre of writing about the self in a culture that emphasizes the collectivity. Readings about memory and writing, and selected memoirs from early Jewish modernity to the present, looking at motivation; intended and actual audience; the role of gender and class to memory and writing; the relationship between personal and collective experience; and memoirs as sources of Jewish history. Some prior study of Jewish history (HIST 131 or 132 or equivalent) recommended. Identical to HIST 233. Enrollment Limit: 25.

Sem 1 JWST-233-01 TuTh 3:00-4:15 Ms. Magnus

234. Good & Evil: Decision-Making in the Holocaust 3-4 hours
3-4SS, CD, WR

Not a course on the destruction of European Jewry, this course focuses on the decision making of Jews, Allies, Churches, "Righteous Gentiles," and bystanders, during the Nazi era; on the often unconscious value judgments that we bring to the study of this subject; and the basis for the expectation that individuals, groups, or governments behave ethically in extreme situations. Aside from readings, some films and possible additional lectures by guest specialists required. Previous study of the Holocaust highly recommended. Identical to HIST 234. Enrollment Limit: 25.
Sem 2 JWST-234-01 TuTh 1:30-2:45 Ms. Magnus

258. Introduction to the Talmud: Argument & Interpretation 3 hours
3HU, CD

The Talmud is a sprawling multi-volume compendium of rigorous legal argument, ingenious and fanciful biblical interpretations, rabbinic anecdotes, jokes and deep moral and theological investigations. Compiled between 200 and 600 C.E., it has been the most important generative force in Jewish religion and culture for the following two millennia. Exemplary texts will be studied (in English translation) with an emphasis on developing students' skills in close reading and critical discussion. Identical to RELG 258. Enrollment Limit: 25.

Sem 1 JWST-258-01 MW 12:00-1:15 Mr. Socher

353. Moses Maimonides: Philosophy & Law 3 hours
3HU, CD, WRi

Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) is the pivotal thinker of the Jewish middle ages. He is the author of the most influential work of Jewish philosophy, The Guide of the Perplexed, and the most comprehensive code of Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah. These works have engendered both controversy and commentary from the 12th century through the 20th. The seminar will focus on selected Maimonidean texts together with classical commentaries and modern scholarship. All readings in English. Identical to RELG 353. Enrollment Limit: 12.

Sem 2 JWST-353-01 W 2:30-4:20 Mr. Socher

500, 501. Honors Project 1-3 hours
1-3 HU, CD

Students wishing to do Honors in Jewish Studies during their final year should consult their Major Advisor or the Chair of the Jewish Studies Program. Projects sponsored by Mr. Socher. Consent of instructor required.

502, 503. Honors Project 1-3 hours
1-3 SS, CD

Students wishing to do Honors in Jewish Studies during their final year should consult their Major Advisor or the Chair of the Jewish Studies Program. Projects sponsored by Ms. Magnus. Consent of instructor required.


995. Private Reading 1-3 hours

1-3HU, CD

Consent of instructor required. Staff

996. Private Reading 1-3 hours
1-3SS, CD

Consent of instructor required. Staff

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