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Courses

The following information is from the 2017-18 Vassar College Catalogue.

Jewish Studies: I. Introductory

101 Politics, Law, Story 1

The course examines the political dimensions of Jewish thought, approaching questions of power and powerlessness through the concept of authority. Drawing on classical Jewish understandings of law and story, this multidisciplinary study takes up a wide range of texts, from Biblical narratives and classical rabbinics, to the modern novel and contemporary critical theory. Andrew Bush.

Not offered in 2017/18.

Two 75-minute periods.

150a and b. Jews, Christians, and Muslims 1

(Same as RELI 150) An historical comparative study of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The course focuses on such themes as origins, development, sacred literature, ritual, legal, mystical, and philosophical traditions, and interactions among the three religions.  Marc Michael Epstein, Kirsten Wesselhoeft.

Two 75-minute periods.

180 Interrogating Religious Extremism 1

(Same as RELI 180) Where is the center in religion? And what defines the fringes, borders, margins and extremes? The aim of this course is to the concept and category of religious "extremism" and how it relates to the equally fraught idea of "mainstream religiosity:" to what extent does it draw on it and yet differ from it? What is the difference between "extreme" and "marginal"? After investigating these categories, we identify beliefs and social practices of contemporary Jewish, Christian and Muslim groups that depart from what we have identified as "mainstream" bodies of tradition in significant ways and seek to understand the complex theological and social agenda behind them. We also investigate how these groups portray themselves and construct their identity vis-a-vis the more centered groups by simultaneously laying claim on tradition and radically deviating from it. Agi Veto.

Open only to freshmen; satisfies the college requirement for a Freshman Writing Seminar.

Two 75-minute periods.

Jewish Studies: II. Intermediate

201a. Jewish Textuality: 1

(Same as RELI 201) This course addresses characteristic forms of Jewish texts and related theoretical issues concerning transmission and interpretation. On the one hand, canonical texts–Bible, Midrash, Talmud–are considered, including some modern (and postmodern) reactivations of these classical modes. On the other hand, special attention is given to modern problems of transmission in a post-canonical world. Andrew Bush.

Prerequisite(s): JWST 101 or permission of the instructor.

214b. The Roots of the Palestine-Israel Conflict 1

(Same as HIST 214) An examination of the deep historical sources of the Palestine-Israel conflict. The course begins some two centuries ago when changes in the world economy and emerging nationalist ideologies altered the political and economic landscapes of the region. It then traces the development of both Jewish and Arab nationalism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries before exploring how the Arab and Jewish populations fought---and cooperated---on a variety of economic, political, and ideological fronts. It concludes by considering how this contest led to the development of two separate, hostile national identities. Joshua Schreier.

216a. Israeli Media 1

(Same as RELI 216) This course provides students with an in-depth understanding of current political, social and religious developments in Israel by reading and analyzing Israeli media including newspapers, web sites, blogs, TV clips and more. During the first part of the course students learn the development of the Israeli media from the birth of Israel until today as well as the connection between different newspapers to different political parties and religious sectors and the role they play in contemporary political and social debates. Through the study of historical texts and current media, students gain an understanding of Israel's complex multi-party political system, key political actors, the economic structure and the differences between the religious and political sectors in Israeli society. Tzach Yoked.

Two 75-minute periods.

220 Texts and Traditions 1

Not offered in 2017/18.

222 Psychological Perspectives on the Holocaust 1

(Same as PSYC 222) The Holocaust has spawned several now classic programs of psychological research. This course considers topics such as: anti-Semitism and stereotypes of Jews; the authoritarian and altruistic personalities; conformity, obedience, and dissent; humanistic and existential psychology; and individual differences in stress, coping and resiliency. The broader implications of Holocaust-inspired research is explored in terms of traditional debates within psychology such as those on the role of the individual versus the situation in producing behavior and the essence of human nature. The ethical and logical constraints involved in translating human experiences and historical events into measurable/quantifiable scientific terms are also considered. Debra Zeifman.

Prerequisite(s): PSYC 105 or PSYC 106   .

Not offered 2017/18.

245b. Jewish Traditions 1

(Same as RELI 245) An exploration of Jewish practice and belief in all its variety. The course traces the evolution of various "Judaisms" through each one's approaches to the text of scripture and its interpretations, Jewish law and the observance of the commandments. It analyzes the Jewish life-cycle, calendar and holidays from a phenomenological perspective, and traces the development of the conceptualization of God, Torah, and the People and Land of Israel in Jewish life, thought, and culture from antiquity through the present day.  Marc Epstein.

Prerequisite(s): RELI 150, JWST 101, JWST 201 or permission of the instructor.

Not offered 2017/18.

Two 75-minute periods.

255 Western Mystical Traditions 1

(Same as RELI 255) Textual, phenomenological and theological studies in the religious mysticism of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. May be taken more than once for credit when content changes.

Topic for 2017/18b: Kabbalah. A survey of the historical and phenomenological development of the theoretical/theosophical and practical/magical dimensions of the Jewish mystical tradition from its biblical origins to postmodernity. Marc Michael Epstein.

Prerequisite(s): any 100 level course in Religion or Jewish Studies or permission of the instructor. 

Two 75-minute periods.

270b. Diasporas 1

(Same as INTL 270 and POLI 270) Topic for 2016/17b: Borderline Jews. Latin American postcolonial theorist Walter Mignolo tells of delivering a lecture in Tunis on colonialism, only to encounter a fundamental misunderstanding. He thought he was talking about the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in the Americas, but when his Tunisian colleagues heard the word "colonial," they thought instead of nineteenth- and twentieth-century impositions and resistances in North Africa. Mignolo's remarks both did and didn't fit. But the step from misrecognition to lively discussion is the work of hermeneutics, which is the basis of this course, too. We take our point of departure from Mignolo's conception of "border gnosis" or "border thinking," but we overhear his word "border" with a Jewish difference. Jews have sometimes created geo-political borders in Mignolo's sense, but more often have found themselves on both sides of any border (e.g., Europe and its boundaries) as internal Others within larger host communities, and also along fractures within Jewish communities themselves. This study in political theory proceeds toward an understanding of what we will call "borderline Jews" by attending carefully to stories told from, in relation to, and across those many and varied borders. Texts (all either written in English or in English translation) include theoretical and autobiographical writings, poetry, traditional tales and modern fiction. Andrew Bush and Andrew Davison.

Not offered 2017/18.

Two 75-minute periods.

283 A Hundred Gospels and the Confusing, Conflicted Life of Jesus 1

(Same as RELI 283) Who was Jesus? What does the Bible say about him? How did it come to say what it does? Was he a humble carpenter? A divine being? A revolutionary? A rabbi? Was he learned in ancient wisdom, or simple and charismatic and fresh in his teaching? The sources dance in, about and around the issues as they alternately confirm and confound definitions. The canonical Gospels-accounts of Jesus' life accepted as authoritative by Christians-number four. But even these four contradict each other and require "harmonization" in the eyes of believing Christians. And they are only four out of ten completely preserved examples. In addition to these ten, there are a further six Gospels describing only the childhood of Jesus, four partially preserved Gospels (including the Gospel of Mary Magdalene), and tens of fragmentary, reconstructed, and completely lost Gospels. Once thing is certain from all of these documents: Jesus wasn't a Christian. How, then, did he come to be regarded as the founder of a new religion, a religion that would be called Christianity? And how did he come to be understood as God, the Son of God, or both at the same time? Marc Michael Epstein.

Two 75-minute periods.

285 Judaisms 1

(Same as RELI 285) The changing social and intellectual landscape of contemporary Jewry has made it impossible to speak of a singular or monolithic  "Judaism" in the twenty-first century. But it has also made us realize that historically there never was such a singular or monolithic Judaism. This course addresses the development of Judaisms, along with their basic texts and concepts including Torah, Talmud, midrash, legal codes, polemics, and forms of expression from autobiography to literature to poetry, in oral, written, dramatic and cinematic media. We also observe the broad range of ways in which Jewish life has been lived in the Middle East, Europe, South and East Asia, Africa and America. Emphasis is placed both upon those groups that adhered to the basic texts and concepts as well as upon those which rejected them in favor of alternate interpretations or of secularisms. We examine the relationship of Jewish religious cultures with the religious cultures of the populations among which Jews have found themselves living as demographic (and sometimes as ethnographic) minorities. Agi Veto.

Two 75-minute periods.

290a or b. Field Work 0.5 or 1

298a or b. Independent Work 0.5 to 1

Jewish Studies: III. Advanced

300a or b. Senior Thesis or Project 1

Optional for students concentrating in the program. Must be elected for student to be considered for Honors in the program.

Permission required.

305 Advanced Hebrew 1

Expansion of language proficiency through intensified study of conversation, culture, literary texts, and other Israeli media.  Readings are arranged according to thematic topics and course may be repeated for credit if topic changes.  

Three 50-minute periods.

315b. Jews, Jewish Identity and the Arts 1

Topic for 2017/18b: Diasporist Manifestos. Late 20th-century painter R. B. Kitaj theorized and practiced what he conceived of broadly as "diasporist art," and more specifically, in his own case, as "Jewish art."  The course examines his practice, and that of other artists (such as Judy Chicago, Guillermo Kuitca and Helène Aylon), through a close reading of Kitaj's Diasporist Manifestos, including discussion of some of his principal theoretical sources in the work of Walter Benjamin, Aby Warburg, Gershom Scholem, and Emmanuel Levinas. Andrew Bush.

One 2-hour period and individual conferences with the instructor.

346 Studies in Jewish Thought and History 1

(Same as RELI 346) Advanced study in selected aspects of Jewish thought and history.

May be taken more than once for credit when the content changes.

Prerequisite(s): any 100-level Religion course.

Not offered in 2017/18.

One 2-hour period.

350b. Confronting Modernity 1

Topic for 2017/18a: American Jewish Literature. This course is an exploration of the American Jewish literary imagination from historical, topical, and theoretical perspectives. Among the genres we cover are novels (such as Henry Roth's Call It Sleep, Philip Roth's The Counterlife, and Dara Horn's A Guide for the Perplexed), plays (Sholem Asch's God of Vengeance), stories (by Isaac Bashevis Singer, Bernard Malamud, Grace Paley, Philip Roth, Melanie Kaye-Kantrowitz, and others), poems (by Celia Dropkin, Moyshe-Leyb Halpern, Irena Klepfisz, and others), essays (Adrienne Rich's "Split at the Root"), artists' books (Tana Kellner's Fifty Years of Silence), and graphic collections (Vanessa Davis's Make Me a Woman). Topics include the lineages of Talmudic hermeneutics and Midrash, the development of Yiddish American modernism, the (anti)conventions of queer Jewish literatures and the intersections of Jewishness and queerness, the possibilities and limitations of a diaspora poetics, and contemporary representations of the Holocaust. Peter Antelyes.

One 2-hour period.

371 The Fishman Seminar 0.5

The course is offered by the Fishman Fellow in Jewish Studies, appointed annually to lecture on his/her scholarly concerns in the field of Jewish history, texts or culture. Students are encouraged to take note of the fact that each Fishman Seminar is uniquely offered and will not be repeated. Since the topic changes every year, the course may be taken for credit more than once.

Topic for 2017/18b: Legacy of Blood: Jews, Pogroms and Ritual Murder in Eastern Europe.This course explores two crucial manifestations of antisemitism during the modern period, namely ethnic violence and ritual murder accusations against Jews. By focusing in particular on Russia and Eastern Europe, this course studies the specific social, economic and political context that led to the emergence and persistence of these manifestations of antisemitism during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The course also investigates the multilayered responses of individual Jews, as well as Jewish communities, to instances of antisemitism, including rape and sexual violence carried out in the context of the pogroms, and to modern permutations of the "blood libel." Readings include a variety of historical studies, memoirs, diaries and eyewitness accounts. Elissa Bemporad.

Second six-week course.

One 2-hour period.

399a or b. Advanced Independent Work 0.5 or 1

Prerequisite(s): Prerequisite for all 300-level courses unless otherwise specified: one unit at the 200-level or permission of the instructor.

Hebrew: I. Introductory

105a. Elementary Hebrew 1

Introduction to the language. Basic phonics and grammatical structures. Stress on development of reading comprehension, simple composition, and conversational skills. For Hebrew 105, no background in the language is assumed; admission to HEBR 106 is possible with the demonstration of previous work equivalent to Hebrew 105. Tzach Yoked.

Open to all students.

Yearlong course 105-HEBR 106.

106b. Elementary Hebrew 1

Introduction to the language. Basic phonics and grammatical structures. Stress on development of reading comprehension, simple composition, and conversational skills. For HEBR 105, no background in the language is assumed; admission to Hebrew 106 is possible with the demonstration of previous work equivalent to HEBR 105. Mr. Yoked.

Open to all students.

Year long course HEBR 105-106.

Hebrew: II. Intermediate

205a. Intermediate Hebrew I 1

Formal study of Hebrew language with emphasis on oral practice and writing skills. Tzach Yoked.

Prerequisite(s): HEBR 105-HEBR 106, or equivalent of two years in high school.

206b. Intermediate Hebrew II 1

Formal study of Hebrew language with emphasis on oral practice and writing skills. Tzach Yoked.

Prerequisite(s): HEBR 205 or equivalent of three years in high school.

Not offered 2017/18.

290 Field Work 0.5 or 1

298a or b. Independent Work 0.5 to 1

Hebrew: III. Advanced

305 Advanced Readings in Hebrew: Genres and Themes 1

Expansion of language proficiency through intensified study of culture and literary texts and examination of different Israeli media. Readings are arranged according to thematic topics and course may be repeated for credit if topic changes.  Tzach Yoked.

399a. Independent Work 0.5 to 1

Note: A self-instructional introductory course in Yiddish language exists. See Self-Instructional Language Program (SILP).