History 419R/JWST 419R

The Construction of Jewish Knowledge

Spring Term, 2008

Symons Hall 0209

Mondays & Wednesdays 2-3:15


Bernard D. Cooperman

Taliaferro 2130




This course asks two kinds of questions. The first, and most important in terms of your research deals with what Jews mean when they say that they “know” something. What may appear a simple and straightforward statement is, in fact, a very complex claim that is based on intertwined epistemological, historical, and sociological assumptions and multiple constructions of meaning. The second kind of question in this course is more general: what is knowledge per se and how is it socially organized? This broader issue is not one we will explore systematically, but it is always implied in our discussions and it is


Questions about Jewish Knowledge:

We will be looking into several aspects of this question. Here are a few examples:


a) The term “knowledge” is a claim to authority, to legitimacy, to the right to decide between truth and non-truth. What are the theoretical or cultural assumptions that are made by Jews in order to grant that authority and legitimacy? Is this authority God-given? charismatic? institutionalized?


b) To say something is “knowledge” is inherently to imply that there are other things that are not knowledge. What are they? Error? Heresy and sin? “Mere” opinion? Or might they be something else, simply something not worth knowing? This course will ask: what are the criteria by which something is defined as knowledge in the Jewish tradition? Are these criteria different for Jewish thinkers than they are for others?


c) What makes something specifically “Jewish” knowledge: The language in which it is expressed? Its relation to sacred text(s)? The ethnic origin or gender of the author? The level of his/her religious practice? Must Jewish knowledge adhere to universal categories of proof, or does Jewish (and for that matter, any other specific cultural realm of knowledge) create its own categories of truth, of relevance, and of association within which it literally “makes sense”?


d) Who is the Jewish intellectual (sage; teacher)? What is his/her source of authority, and what is the extent of that authority? Who is allowed to call him/herself a sage and how does Jewish society agree on who are its sages?


In class sessions, we will analyze some of the core issues involved in the Jewish claim to knowledge. We will be looking for both the content of the claim and how that content changed over time. Students are expected to read extensively in both primary and secondary materials, and will be called upon to summarize and critique these texts in class.


Questions about Knowledge in general:


The course also asks a broader, and paradoxically more personal, set of pedagogical/epistemological questions related, but not identical, to what was mentioned above.

a) What is the cutoff point for expertise? We all hope that our physicians and auto mechanics, not to mention the airplane pilots and taxi drivers ferrying us around, really “know” their fields. But how do we determine that someone is an expert and really knows? Perhaps we rely on the document (a diploma or license) proudly displayed in their places of work (remember Dorothy’s scarecrow?) or perhaps we put our faith in their special uniforms. But do you feel that you really know the subjects you have studied in high school or university? What do you think you “know”? What do you have to do to “know” something? Is preparing for an examination the same as really knowing something? (If you only get a “D”—do you know the subject? How long did it take you to forget what you “knew” in your freshman math course? Now that you’ve forgotten it, can you still say you “know” it?)


b) Knowledge involves organization. It is the organizational system that allows us to retrieve our knowledge. There are many elaborate kinds of “filing” systems with which to keep track of what we know and to make sure we can find it again. We can use an alphabetical system (as in a dictionary or encyclopedia), a set of numbers and letters arbitrarily assigned to subjects (as in a library), or other visual signs like colors or icons (as in sports teams). But any organizational format is these days quickly being overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of available data. You may feel that computers have solved that problem: cheap memory has made it possible to store everything in multiple and redundant copies, and powerful search engines will recover information quickly. In a sense, the world wide web is a filing system for all human knowledge, and the great thing about it is that we don’t seem to need a filing system: just use a search engine. A search engine will find the information wherever it is, won’t it? Perhaps not, if what we are looking for is on the 10,000th site out of the 3,000,001 (Ī42) hits that Google found. Do you know something if you can’t find it? Is it knowledge?


c) But the issue is not just one of retrieval, of keeping track of knowledge. Organization is also central to the presentation of facts, to the discovery of relationships between facts—in other words to the creation of knowledge out of isolated data. Which is more truly knowledge—a list of all students at the university by name and birthday, or a summary paragraph that tells you how many men, how many women, how many 18-year-olds, 19-year-olds, 20-year olds, etc. there are?


Often we discover “new” knowledge not by finding new facts but by changing the organization format for old ones. (For example, if we consider Jewish women as a sub-category of all women, we might decide that Jewish women are especially privileged, with extensive rights, a prominent social role, and high levels of education and income. But if we consider Jewish women as a sub-category of all Jews our generalizations about them might be quite different and we might consider them the victims of systematic persecution and injustice.)


Think again about the world wide web. We just noted that it is our organizational system that gives relevance and significance to facts, that makes them meaningful in the first place, that makes them “knowledge.” If we rely on a search engine to give facts significance, then we should ask how our search tool imposes order on the list of hits it generates. Remember that the order of “hits” on your Google page is determined by very sophisticated algorithms (organizational principles) that are supposed to be guided by the “relevance” of the site to your query. But what determines relevance? For one thing we know that Google’s order may well be determined by commercial considerations rather than any logical theory of meaning or set of ethical values. Remember: Google won’t reveal its algorithms!



Do a search on the word “torah” using the tree view of tafiti [http://www.tafiti.com/original], a user interface that uses Microsoft’s search engine Windows Live to search the web. What does the tree metaphor tell you about what you found? Does it organize your knowledge in a significant way?


While the bulk of your work for this course will focus on the history of Jewish knowledge, you should never forget these broader issues. A number of exercises will ask you to explore contemporary definitions of knowledge and to explain how these may differ from understandings that were common in times past.


The Social Context of Knowledge

This course begins with the assumption that knowledge is socially defined and conditioned.[1] Something you know may be of significance in one context and yet will be totally irrelevant in another. Authority similarly varies with context. (For instance, a rabbi might expect to be applauded if he tells a congregation that the world was created in six days less than 6000 years ago, citing Genesis 1 as his source. But if he (or she) made the same statement at a convention of physicists, neither his professional title nor his proof text would be considered significant, and the statement would probably be ignored.)


The production of scholarship is just as socially organized as is its reception. Each discipline, for example, has its own jargon or dialect, and using the dialect makes you part of an “in group” with shared intellectual experiences; those who can’t use the dialect are excluded as “outsiders” without communal standing[2] Political scientists and historians will ask different questions about the same phenomenon and won’t necessarily value the answers given by the other group; medical doctors and sociologists understand events differently and may find the other group’s interpretations insignificant or even ridiculous.



What are the social conditions that determine your knowledge? Do you “know” the same things with your parents as you do with your friends? How has your major affected the way your understand things? In general, how do specifics of language, time, and geography change the meaning of your words, the valence of your ideas, the paradigms of significance upon which you call.



Contemporary society seems to like to “medicalize”—that is, to treat as medical problems—things that were once understood as moral problems or inherent characteristics. Are little boys who can’t sit still in class just “little boys” or are they undisciplined or do they suffer from ADD and in need of Ritalin? Are the poor lazy, addicted to living off the welfare state by their nature, or merely suffering from depression that can be cured with Prozac? At the same time, we know that the medical profession can change its mind about whether something is a problem at all: homosexuality was labeled a disease to be cured by the psychiatric profession until 1973, but is now not even considered a problem. Find two personal conditions or social issues that have been “medicalized” or “unmedicalized” in this way.


Though we won’t be able to explore these questions in depth, over the course of the semester we will ask ourselves what social institutions lie behind the claims to authoritative knowledge made by Jews in various places and times. How have Jewish societies institutionalized the knowledge of a prophet, a priest, or a rabbi? What impact has denominationalism (especially in North America) or the state-recognized rabbinate (especially in the State of Israel) had on the authority of modern-day rabbis?


Assignments and Grading


In addition to preparing for class discussion, presenting assigned topics to the class, and completing four short written assignments, students are required to write a longer research paper (approximately 15–20 pages including bibliography and footnotes) exploring a theme linked to the class topic. Topics must be chosen in consultation with the instructor. Formatting must follow an accepted set of academic standards. (I prefer Chicago Style Manual but will accept the MLA style guidelines if you insist.) The first draft of your paper is due on Monday April 28. Please meet with me early in the semester to begin picking your paper topic.


Your grade for the course will be calculated as follows:

Class preparations and presentations: 20%

Four short assignments: 30%

Research paper: 50%


Even though readings for the class will be available in English, students are expected to read texts in the original Hebrew if they are able to do so. If students feel they would like a tutorial to help them with rabbinic and medieval Hebrew, I will be happy to arrange an extra weekly session devoted to that.


Short Assignments

The first exercise is required. Choose three others, but you may not submit two topics from the same category. All work must be typed and follow standard style manual rules for text, foot/endnotes and bibliography.) More options for exercises will be added later in the semester, so check back often if you don’t like these.


I. Bibliographical Exercise:

Using RAMBI, electronic databases (both full text and other), and library catalogues at McKeldin, Library of Congress, and at least one other university library develop a research bibliography for a topic of relevance to this course. (You might try to pick something about which you think you would like to write your research paper.) Preface your bibliography with a statement of one paragraph explaining your topic and the methodology you expect to use. Your bibliography must include at least ten different items, including both primary and secondary sources, books and journal articles (including one not available electronically), and at least one item that you will have to order through Inter-Library Loan. For each item, describe briefly why your have included it and what you expect to find. At the end of your list, explain in one or two paragraphs how you understand the arrangement of books on your topic in McKeldin (why are they located where they are?) and what subject headings are assigned to them in bibliographies and library catalogues. How are subject categories developed, and are they useful?

II. Encyclopedia Article

What is an encyclopedia? Pick a topic related to the theme of Jewish biblical exegesis generally or to one of the exegetes we will read in this course (see especially the material assigned for February 25). Find an entry on this item in at least three encyclopedias (the Jewish Encyclopedia is online on the web; the second edition of the Encyclopedia Judaica is available to you through Research Port or directly if you are dialing in on campus) and then compose your own entry. It should be between 300 and 600 words. Submit the entry to Wikipedia. Students are encouraged to discuss their topic with me before starting.

III. Traditional Thinking. Study a traditional text be-havruta (with a partner) and answer the question. Your answer should be approximately two pages (600 words).

(1)  What is the relationship between Mishna, Tosefta, Talmud and commentaries? What did the authors think they were doing in composing these texts? For whom did they write? What presuppositions can we discover beneath the texts? [Specific texts and questions to be announced.]

(2)  How does halakhic ritual organize the natural world? Use a single topic of Jewish ritual law to investigate the differences between how halakha categorizes the natural world, and how we might do so in our every-day (or our scientific) descriptions of the world. Suggested topics include the following. To pick something else, please consult with me. The bibliography after each suggested topic is offered by way of suggestion because I know these books are in McKeldin. You are of course free to pick other sources.

a) The Laws of Milk and Meat. A good starting point might be the idea of bitul be-shishim or “nullification in a ratio of one to sixty.” When and why does something normally forbidden become halakhically irrelevant?

Yehoshua (Jeffrey) Cohen, The Laws of Meat and Milk. New York: Judaica Press, 1991. [=Annotated translation of Abraham Danzig, Hokhmat Adam (1812), Chapters 40–50].

Binyomin Forst, The Laws of Kashrus. Brooklyn, NY: 1993.

b) The Laws of Blessings. A good starting point might be the blessings for bread and bread products. What makes something bread? What takes bread out of this category?

Yisroel Pinchos Bodner, Halachos of Brochos. Jerusalem: Feldheim, 1996.

c) The Laws of Eating Legumes on Passover.

Sh. D. Eider, Halachos of Pesach. Jerusalem: Feldheim, 1998. Section IVa, pp. 49–51.

Alfred S. Cohen. “Kitniyot in Halachic Literature, Past and Present,” in Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society 6 (1983), pp. 65–77. KitniyotInHalachicLiterature.pdf

d) Laws Governing Sexual Activity.

B. Freundel. “Homosexuality and Judaism,” in Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society 11 (1986), pp. 70–87. HomosexualityinJudaism.pdf

e) Laws of the Sabbath. A good starting point might be the laws of borer [sorting; II, pp. 381 ff.] or ofeh [baking; II, pp. 551 ff.]

David Ribiat. The 39 Melochos. Jerusalem: Feldheim, 2001. Sorting: II, pp. 381 ff.; baking: II, pp. 551 ff.

IV. Structuring Jewish Education (Pick one from the following list. Your reply should be approximately two pages in length.)

(1)  Find a syllabus for a university-level course in some aspect of Jewish history, literature, or thought. Identify and evaluate the analytical categories and, if you can, the rhetorical devices around which the instructor used to create the course. (Think in terms of discipline, social context, foci, and the like.) Suggest and justify an alternate structure with a completely different required reading list of at least ten items.

(2)  What are the goals of a Jewish education? By examining curricula and curricular change in various kinds of Jewish schools, we can begin to understand the purpose and dynamics of Jewish education. Contact a local Jewish school, meet with a teacher or administrator, and by examining the syllabus and text books, decide what the educational goal of the course was, whether it could be realized, what the limits of that particular approach might be.

(3)  Visit a museum that has an exhibit of relevance to Jewish history. Analyze the underlying assumptions of the exhibit designer. What did he or she think significant? What was the point they were trying to make? What did they omit that could have been usefully added? Baltimore has a Jewish museum; Washington has a museum of local history (Small Museum) as well as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. There are many others.


Honor Code

The University of Maryland, College Park has a nationally recognized Code of Academic Integrity, administered by the Student Honor Council.  This Code sets standards for academic integrity at Maryland for all undergraduate and graduate students.  As a student you are responsible for upholding these standards for this course.  It is very important for you to be aware of the consequences of cheating, fabrication, facilitation, and plagiarism. For more information on the Code of Academic Integrity or the Student Honor Council, please visit http://www.shc.umd.edu.


To further exhibit your commitment to academic integrity, remember to sign the Honor Pledge on all examinations and assignments: "I pledge on my honor that I have not given or received any unauthorized assistance on this examination (assignment)."




All readings are available in McKeldin Library on Reserve. To the extent possible, we have also made them available electronically via this syllabus and/or in a course packet.


In a few cases, a reading may be available only through McKeldin library’s “Course Reserves”. [Go to the library’s home page; click on “catalogue”; click on “course reserves”; from the drop down menu choose Search by “Course number” and enter “hist408c”. In order to view those items available online, you need to use the course password which we will give you as necessary.


Some articles are attached directly to this syllabus. Click on the link to read them.

Several books, to be read in their entirety, are in the book store. All students are expected to have prepared readings for the class under which they are listed.


Available at the Book Store.

Jeffrey L. Rubinstein. The Culture of the Babylonian Talmud. Baltimore MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.


Steven Harvey. Falaquera’s “Epistle of the Debate.” An Introduction to Jewish Philosophy. Cambridge Ma: Harvard University Press, 1987.


Class booklet. Available for purchase.


Students are urged to own, read regularly, and use a usage manual such as the Merrian Webster Dictionary of English Usage or Paul M. Lovinger, Penguin Dictionary of American English Usage and Style. There are many others. This is in addition to a good thesaurus and a good dictionary.


Schedule of Classes


Jan. 28                  Introduction.


Jan. 30                  The Jewish Claim to Traditional Knowledge.


Mishna, Tractate Avot.[3] MishnaTractateAvot.pdf Skim the entire text but pay special attention to I:1–2 and VI.

Maimonides, Mishneh Torah. Introduction. We will use the English translation of Moses Hyamson, Mishneh Torah. The Book of Knowledge. [Course packet and online: MishnehTorah.pdf]


Feb. 4                    Were Talmudic Rabbis Intellectuals?


Jeffrey L. Rubinstein. The Culture of the Babylonian Talmud. Baltimore MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003. [available for purchase at the bookstore]. We will discuss the “Introduction” and Chapter 1 in class. Other chapters will be assigned to individual students for presentation to the class.

Richard Lee Kalmin, The Sage in Jewish Society of Late Antiquity.  New York: Routledge, 1999. [On reserve in McKeldin BM177 .K35 1999]. Pages 5–13. [scanned into course packet]


Suggested further reading:

Jacob Neusner, “The Meaning of Torah she-Be’al Peh.” The Solomon Goldman Lectures. I (Chicago: Spertus College of Judaica, 1977), pp. 29-41. MeaningofTorahshe-Be-alPeh.pdf

Jeffrey L. Rubinstein, Rabbinic Stories (New York: Paulist Press, 2001), “Introduction,” pp. 1–22,RabbinicStories1.pdf and chapters 10, 12–14, and 17 RabbinicStories2.pdf.


Feb. 6                    The Nature of Halakhic Thought. Is the Halakha Aware of Change over Time?


Ephraim E. Urbach, The Halakhah, Its Sources and Development . ([Ramat Gan]: Masadah , 1986) BM520.5.U7313 1986

Louis Jacobs. “Historical Thinking in the Post-Talmudic Halakhah.” History and Theory 27, No. 4, Beiheft 27: Essays in Jewish Historiography (December, 1988), 66-77 [JSTOR]


Feb. 11                  Halakha and Aggada


Marc Bregman. “Isaak Heinemann’s Classic Study of Aggadah and Midrash,” available online at: http://www.uncg.edu/rel/contacts/faculty/Heinemann.htm

Hayyim Nahman Bialik. "Halachah and Aggadah" in idem, Revealment And Concealment: Five Essays with an Afterword by Zali Gurevitch (Jerusalem: Ibis, 2000). PJ5053.B5 A23 2000[4]


Feb. 13                  The Medieval Jewish Intellectual. I. Faith and Reason; Jewish and Alien Wisdom; Permitted and Forbidden Knowledge


Moses Maimonides, Guide to the Perplexed, trans. by Shlomo Pines (Chicago, 1963), Opening Letter (pp. 3–4); Introduction (pp. 15–17); Book III:51: "The Parable of the Palace."[5] [McK BM545.D33P5]

Idem, “Letter on Astrology,” published by Alexander Marx in HUCA [Hebrew Union College Annual] 3 (1926), pp. 349–58 in R. Lerner and M. Mahdi, eds., Medieval Political Philosophy: A Sourcebook (New York: Free Press, 1963), pp. 227–236.[6]

“Faith vs. Reason. Letters from the Struggle between Maimunists and anti-Maimunists,” translated in Franz Kobler, ed., Letters of Jews Through the Ages I (1952), pp. 248–259.

“The Ban of Solomon ben Adret” translated in Jacob Marcus, ed., The Jew in the Medieval World (1937), pp. 214–218.


Feb. 18                  Faith and Reason (cont.)


Obadiah Sforno, “Introduction to the Commentary on the Ethics of the Fathers,” (Brooklyn, NY: Mesorah Publications, 1996).

Isaac Abravanel. Introduction to Wellsprings of Salavation.

                              Strauss, Leo. Persecution and the Art of Writing. (Glencoe, Ill., Free Press, 1952). Chapters 1–2, pp. 7–37. If you have time, you might also skim chapter 3 on Maimonides’ Guide. [McK B65 .S8]


Suggested further reading:

Haggai Ben-Shammai, “Saadia’s Introduction to Daniel: Prophetic Calculation of the End of Days vs Astrological and Magical Speculation,” Aleph 4 (2004), pp. 11–87. [Available online through Project Muse.] Ben-Shammai reconstructs the Judaeo-Arabic text of Saadia’s introduction to a lost commentary on Daniel, and on pp. 63 ff. he provides an English translation.


Feb. 20                  The Medieval Jewish Intellectual. II. The Religious Function of Rationalism

Steven Harvey. Falaquera’s ‘Epistle of the Debate.’ An Introduction to Jewish Philosophy. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1987. McK B759.F33 I3534 1987. This title is available in the bookstore.

Aviezer Ravitzky, “Some Remarks on the Study of Jewish Philosophy in the Middle Ages” in Baruch M. Bokser, ed., History of Judaism. The Next Ten Years. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1980. Pages 63–80. A slightly updated version was published as “Al Heker ha-Pilosofiya ha-Yehudit bi-Ymei ha-Beinayim” [Hebrew] in Ravitzky, Al Daat Ha-Makom (Jerusalem: Keter, 1991), pp. 129–141.


Feb. 25                  Exegesis or Isogesis? Approaching Sacred Text


Abraham ibn Ezra, “Introduction to Commentary to the Torah” in Irene Lancaster, Deconstructing the Bible:  Abraham Ibn Ezra's Introduction to the Torah (London and New York: Routledge Curzon, 2003). BM755.I24 L36 2003

Moses ben Nahman, “Introduction to Commentary to the Torah,” in Perushe ha-Torah le-rabenu Mosheh ben Nahman (RaMBaN), ed. Hayyim Dov Shavel, rev’d edition (Jerusalem: Mosad ha-Rav Kuk, 1959–60) [McK BS1225 .M6655 1959[7]] and in English as Commentary on the Torah [by] Ramban (Nachmanides), translated and annotated by Charles B. Chavel (New York: Shilo, [1971–76]) McK BS1225 .M66553.


Feb. 27                  Mysticism’s Claim to Knowledge


Zohar III: 149a–b; 152a; 27b–28a. Annotated English translation in Isaiah Tishby, The Wisdom of the Zohar. An Anthology of Texts, tr. David Goldstein (Washington and London: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 1989), III, pp. 1124–27 and 1133–37.

Ira Robinson. Moses Cordovero's Introduction to Kabbalah: An Annotated Translation of His Or Ne'erav. (New York: Ktav Pub. House, 1994).  [McK BM525 .C65413 1994]  Pp. 3–5; 19–23; 39–43.

Gershom Scholem. “Three Types of Jewish Piety,” in On the Possibility of Jewish Mysticism in Our Time & Other Essays (Philadelphia:  Jewish Publication Society, 1997), pp.  McK BM45 .S44132 1997: pp. ?? (also available in Ari’el 32 (1973) which the library owns and which is also online at http://www.israel-mfa.gov.il/mfa/go.asp?MFAH01pa0 ). A Hebrew version appeared in Dvarim be-Go (2nd revised edition, 1976), pp. 541–556 [McK DS102.5 .S361].


March 3                A New Kind of Jewish Intellectual? The Maskil and the Rabbi. Education and Career.

Naphtali Herz (Hartwig) Wessely, “Words of Peace and Truth,” in J. Reinharz and P. Mendes-Flohr, eds., The Jew in the Modern World, 2nd edition (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1995), pp, 70–74.

Moses Mendelssohn. Jerusalem, or On Religious Power and Judaism, tr. Allan Arkush (Hanover, NH and London: Brandeis University Press, 1983), pp. 59–75.


Suggested further reading:

Kenneth Hart Green, "Moses Mendelssohn's Opposition to the 'Herem': The First Step toward Denominationalsim?" Modern Judaism 12 (1992), pp. 39–60.


March 5                Solomon Maimon and the Art of Intellectual Self-Fashioning



Solomon Maimon, An Autobiography, with Introduction by Michael Shapiro (U. of Illinois Press, 2003)

Dagmar Barnouw, “Origin and Transformation: Salomon Maimon and German-Jewish Enlightenment Culture,” in Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 20,4 (Summer 2002), pp. 64-80 [available online through Project Muse]


March 10              The Literary Invention of the Rabbi: Satire, Hagiography, and Rivalry



Aksenfeld, Israel, Dos shtern-tikhl [The Headband] (Buenos Aires: YIVO, 1971) [PJ5129 .A67 1971] available in The Shtetl, translated and edited by Joachim Neugroschel. (New York: Rcihard Marek, 1979; reprint 1989) [PJ5191.E8 S5]

Perl, Joseph. Megale Temirin, translated as Joseph Perl’s Revealer of Secrets: the First Hebrew Novel, translated with an introduction and notes by Dov Taylor (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997) [PJ5051.P4 M4413 1997]. Look at the title page (1), the Prologue (9–19), and the first letter (21–23). Note that the notes at the bottom of the page are part of the original Hebrew book. The translator's notes are indicated by asterisks.

Bialik, H.N. “Short Friday” in Random Harvest: The Novellas of C. N. Bialik tr. David Patterson and Ezra Spicehandler (Boulder, Colorado: Westview, 1999)  [PJ5053.B5 A6 1999], pp. ??; “Ha-matmid” and “Kulam Sahaf ha-Ruah”

Roth, Philip. “Eli the Fanatic,” in Goodbye Columbus


March 12              The Reinvention of Judaism in Modern Terms. Wissenschaft des Judentums. Jewish Studies and Jewish Encyclopedias.


Gershom Scholem. “Reflections on Modern Jewish Studies [1944],” in On the Possibility of Jewish Mysticism in Our Time & Other Essays (Philadelphia:  Jewish Publication Society, 1997) pp. 51-71. [McK BM45 .S44132 1997] A Hebrew version appeared in Dvarim be-Go (2nd revised edition, 1976), pp. 385–403 [McK DS102.5 .S361].

Franz Kafka, “Before the Law” in The Complete Stories, ed. Nahum N. Glatzer (New York: Schocken, 1971), pp. 3–4.


March 17              Spring break


March 19              Spring break


March 24              The Modern Jewish Intellectual in an Alien Context. “Non-Jewish” Jews?


Paul Mendes-Flohr, Divided Passions. Jewish Intellectuals and the Experience of Modernity. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. 1991. McK DS 113.M424 1991. Pp. 23–53: “The Study of the Jewish Intellectual: A methodological Prolegomenon.”

Abrams, Nathan “A Profoundly Hegemonic Moment: De-Mythologizing the Cold War New York Jewish Intellectuals,” Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 21,3 (Spring 2003), pp. 64-82.

Thorstein Veblen, “The Intellectual Pre-eminence of Jews in Modern Europe,” Political Science Quarterly 34 (1919), pp. 33–42

Isaac Deutscher, “The Non-Jewish Jew” in The Non-Jewish Jew and Other Essays (London: 1968), pp. 25–41.

Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1987), pp. 47–67.

Saul Bellow, Ravelstein (New York: 2000), pp. 160–181.

Michael Mack. German Idealism and the Jew. The Inner Anti-Semitism of Philosophy and German Jewish Responses (U. of Chicago Press, 2003).

David A. Hollinger, “Jewish Intellectuals and the De-Christianization of American Public Culture in the Twentieth Century,” in Science, Jews, and Secular Culture. Studies in Mid-Twentieth-Century American Intellectual History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), pp. 17–41.

Allan Gould, “Homage to Cohen. Nathan Cohen Remembered” (1981) http://www.allangould.com/magazines/profiles/nathancohen/magazines_profiles_nathancohen.html


March 26              Tradition Reclaimed and Immutable. The Concept of Daat Torah.



Lawrence Kaplan. “Daas Torah: A Modern Conception of Rabbinic Authority,” in Moshe Sokol, ed., Rabbinic Authority and Personal Autonomy (Northvale, NJ and London: 1992), pp. 1–60.


Jacob Katz. “Da’at Torah. The Unqualified Authority Claimed for Halachists.” The Harvard Law School Program in Jewish Studies. The Gruss Lectures. Available on-line at http://www.law.harvard.edu/programs/Gruss/katz.html. Reprinted in Jewish History 11 (1997), pp. 41–50. [McK PerStk DS101.J46556]


March 31              Rabbinic Intellectuals: Isolated in America and in Israel. Yesha’ya Leibowitz. Joseph Soloveitchik. Tradition and Scientific Thought.


Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Halakhic Man. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1983), pp. 3–29 [BM723 .S6613 1983]; The Halakhic Mind. An Essay on Jewish Tradition and Modern Thought New York: Free Press, 1986 BL51 .S6165 1986; “The Lonely Man of Faith,” Tradition 7:2 (Summer 1965), republished in book form (New York: Doubleday, 1992).

Moshe Sokol, “How Do Modern Jewish Thinkers Interpret Religious Texts?” Modern Judaism, 13,1 (Feb., 1993), pp. 25-48. Available through JSTOR

Sol Schimmel, “The Tenacity of Unreasonable Beliefs in Modern Orthodox Jews: a Psychological Analysis.”

Jeffrey S. Gurock. “How ‘Frum’ was Rabbi Jacob Joseph’s Court? Americanization Within the Lower East Side’s Orthodox Elite, 1886–1902,” Jewish History (1994), pp. 1–14; reprinted in Gurock, American Jewish Orthodoxy in Historical Perspective (New York: Ktav, 1996), pp. 103–116, and notes pp. 399–403 [McK BM205.G87 1996].[8]

Gil Perl and Yaakov Weinstein, “A Parent’s Guide to Orthodox Assimilation on University Campuses.” An on-line pamphlet.


Students should by now be well on their way with their papers. Please make an appointment with me and bring a thesis statement, rough outline, and your proposed bibliography.  


April 2                  Gendered Knowledge. Women as Intellectuals.


Hannah Arendt. Rachel Varnhagen. The Life of a Jewish Woman. revised edition (New York and London: Harcourt Brace, 1974); an expanded version was edited by Liliane Weissberg (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1997).


April 7                  Gendered Knowledge. Orthodox Women as Intellectuals

Tamar El-Or. Next Year I Will Know More. Literacy and Identity among Young Orthodox Women in Israel. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2002.

Idem, Educated and Ignorant. Ultraorthodox Jewish Women and their World. (Boulder. Lynne Rienner Publishers. 1994). BM390 .E4 1994


Suggested further reading:

Women Rabbis—a blog for a high school class in Modern Jewish history created by Laura Shaw Frank provides useful links to articles and statements about the ordination of women rabbis.


April 9                  Jewish Historical Knowledge. History and Memory.


Yosef H. Yerushalmi. Zakhor (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press: 1982) pp. 81–103.


April 14                The Constructed Nature of Jewish Memory. Anti-Semitism as an Organizing Principle of Jewish Knowledge


April 16                The Holocaust, and its Deniers. Historical Knowledge for Contempoary Jews


Alon Confino, “Collective Memory and Cultural History: Problems of Method,” in AHR (1997), pp. 1386–1403. The paper, published as part of a “forum” on “History and Memory” includes a useful bibliography on the debate about Israeli memory (n. 1). Available through JSTOR.

Robert Wistrich, “Israel and the Holocaust Trauma,” European Judaism 29,2 (1996), pp. 11-19.[9]


April 21               Pesach. No class.


April 23                In the Service of the Nation. Zionist and Israeli Intellectuals. The Debate over Memory in Israeli Historiography. Orientalism.



Menachem Brinker, “Jewish Studies in Israel from a Liberal-Secular Perspective,” in Seymour Fox, et al., eds., Visions of Jewish Education (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 95-121.

Podeh, Elie “History and Memory in the Israeli Educational System: The Portrayal of the Arab-Israeli Conflict in History Textbooks (1948-2000),” History & Memory 12:1 (Spring/Summer 2000), pp. 65-100. Available on-line.


April 28                In the Service of the Nation. (cont.)


April 30                In the Service of the Nation. (cont.)


May 5                   Review


May 7                   Paper Presentations. Bring enough copies of a one-page summary of your paper for everyone in the class.


May 12                 Paper Presentations. Bring enough copies of a one-page summary of your paper for everyone in the class. (Continued.)


May 19                 Final Corrected Papers due in my office at 1 pm. Note: this date and time is based on the assumed date and time for final examinations for courses meeting at this hour. If the official exam time is changed, the day and hour that the paper will be due will change accordingly.

[1] By this I do not mean to claim that any knowledge is meaningful only relative to certain underlying claims to power and authority of a given society. Such claims to extreme relativism (often stated as the principle that knowledge is “constructed” in accordance with power structures and interests) are, for now, outside the scope of our course, though you are free to explore them in your paper. At this point, I am simply interested in pointing out the social conditions under which claims to authoritative knowledge are made.

[2] Many sub-groups within society identify themselves by dialect: think of African-American speech rhythms, grammar, syntax and vocabulary or, if you know it, the dialect used among yeshiva students (so-called “Yeshivish” that mixes vocabulary and syntax from English, with words and phrases taken from Yiddish, Ashkenazi-Hebrew, and talmudic Aramaic. A very common example of this phenomenon is the invention of new phrases and idioms by teen-agers. Using these makes the teens feel “cool” (i.e., members of an “in-group”); necessarily if most adults were to use that dialect, they would look and feel awkward and immediately be identified as interlopers. Yet another example is provided by medical doctors who often react with suspicion if their patients use sophisticated medical language to ask about their condition.

[3] Tractate Avot has been printed often, both in complete editions of the Mishna (it is the second last tractate in Seder Nezikin—The Order of Damages) and as a separate volume. The common English title, “Ethics of the Fathers” is what might be called a “euphemistic” or even a wishful translation; the Hebrew means only “Chapters of the Fathers.” [When and why did this English translation first come about?]

[4] Also available as Chaim Nachman Bialik. Law and Legend or Halakah and Aggada. Translated from Hebrew by Julius L. Seigel (New York: Bloch, 1923) and in Nahum N. Glatzer, Modern Jewish Thought. A Source Reader (New York: Schocken, 1977), pp. 55–64 from Contemporary Jewish Record 7 (1944), pp. 663–67, 677–80.

[5] M. Friedländer’s (1904) English translation of Maimonides’ entire Guide is available online at http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/gfp/index.htm. The selection from book III, chapter 51 from the more recent, preferable translation by Pines is available online here.

[6] An abbreviated version is available in I. Twersky, ed., A Maimonides Reader (New York: Behrman House, 1972), pp. 463–473.

[7] A vocalized version of the Hebrew text is available as Perush ha-Ramban 'al ha-Torah le-Rabenu Mosheh ben Nahman (Jerusalem: A. Blum, 1992 or 1993) McK BS1225.M67 1992.

[8] Gurock’s “Resisters and Accommodators: Varieties of Orthodox Rabbis in America, 1886–1983,” American Jewish Archives (November, 1983), pp. 100-187, reprinted in The American Rabbinate: A Century of Continuity and Change, 1883-1983, ed. Jacob R. Marcus and Abraham J. Peck (New York: Ktav, 1985), pp. l0- 97, and in Gurock, American Jewish Orthodoxy in Historical Perspective, pp. 1–62 (nn. pp. 352–385) is a much fuller treatment.

[9] Other versions appeared in Jewish Studies Quarterly 4 (1997), Jewish History 11 (1997) and (in Hebrew) Zionut ve-Hinukh le-Zionut 7 (1997).