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Courses

The following information is from the 2018-19 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 2018/19.

Two 75-minute periods.

150 Jews, Christians, and Muslims 1Semester Offered: Fall

(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.

Two 75-minute periods.

180 Interrogating Religious Extremism 1Semester Offered: Fall

(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. Agnes Veto.

Open only to first-year students; satisfies the college requirement for a First-Year Writing Seminar.

Two 75-minute periods.

Jewish Studies: II. Intermediate

201 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.

Not offered in 2018/19.

214 The Roots of the Palestine-Israel Conflict 1Semester Offered: Spring

(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.

216 Israeli Media 1Semester Offered: Fall

(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. 

Two 75-minute periods.

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.

Not offered in 2018/19.

245 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 in 2018/19.

Two 75-minute periods.

254 A Hundred Gospels and the Confusing, Conflicted Life of Jesus 1Semester Offered: Fall

(Same as RELI 254) 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.

255 Western Mystical Traditions 1Semester Offered: Spring

(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 2018/19b: 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.

270 Diasporas 1Semester Offered: Spring

(Same as INTL 270 and POLI 270) Topic for 2018/19b: Jews of German-Speaking Lands. The course concentrates on two moments in the formation of Jewish modernity in the Diaspora of German-speaking lands: the era of Emancipation and the creation of a modern historical consciousness in the late eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century; and the remarkable burgeoning of literature and philosophy in the early twentieth century in which quite modern Jews departed from, returned to and transformed the old traditions. Hannah Arendt offers a hinge between the two topics in her twentieth-century study of the turn-of-the-nineteenth-century literary salon of Rahel Varnagen. Other authors under consideration include: Mendelssohn, Hess, Freud, Kafka, Benjamin and Scholem and the recent scholarship of Olga Litvak.  Andrew Bush.

Two 75-minute periods.

280 Surviving Fascism: Jewish Life in Pre-war and Post-war Italy 1Semester Offered: Fall

(Same as ITAL 280) In this course we study the socio-cultural history and historiography of Italian Fascism and the Nazi camps, asking how memory and resistance in play a paradoxical role in Italian-Jewish lterature and Italian cinema in relation to the the Holocaust. The methodology is interdisciplinary, including such philosophy, psychoanalysis, and Shoah studies. By employing various theories of the Other and applying them to texts, we examine the Jewish "catastrophe" through close readings of Primo Levi, Natalia Ginzburg, and Giorgio Bassani, and through in-depth analysis of cinematic works such as Federico Fellini's Amarcord, Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist, Lina Wertmüller's Sevean Beauties, Francesco Rosi's The Truce, and Oren Jacoby's My Italian Secret, among others. Taught in English. Rodica Blumenfeld.

Open to Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors. May be counted towards the Italian major.

Two 75-minute periods accompanied by film screenings.

289 The Hebrew Bible 1Semester Offered: Spring

(Same as RELI 289) The Bible is one of the most important foundational documents of Western civilization. This course surveys the literature of the Hebrew Bible (Christian 'Old Testament') within the historical, religious and literary context of ancient Israel and its neighbors. What social and religious forces created these books, and how did they shape the lives of the ancient Israelites, their descendants, and all those they influenced for three thousand years? All texts are read in English translation.  Agi Veto.

Two 75-minute periods.

290 Field Work 0.5 or 1Semester Offered: Fall or Spring

298 Independent Work 0.5 to 1Semester Offered: Fall or Spring

Jewish Studies: III. Advanced

300 Senior Thesis or Project 1Semester Offered: Fall or Spring

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.  

Not offered in 2018/19.

Three 50-minute periods.

315 Jews, Jewish Identity and the Arts 1Semester Offered: Fall

Topic for 2018/19a: Screen Memories.  A course on film exploring different conceptions and projections of memory work, beginning with Freud's psychoanalytic theory of "screen memories" and including H. Bergson's philosophical account of memory and sociologist M. Halbwach's understanding of "collective memory." There is a wide selection of films with regard to the time and place of production, focusing on the intersections between general questions about the construction and representation of memory and Jewish memory practices. Andrew Bush.

 

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

330 Religion, Critical Theory and Politics 1Semester Offered: Spring

Advanced study in selected aspects of religion and contemporary philosophical and political theory. May be taken more than once for credit when content changes.

Topic for 2018/19b: Religion, Art and Politics​. (Same as RELI 330) Nowadays, we accept the idea that religion, like so much else, is political. It makes sense, then, that visual culture, which can be used, situated, manipulated and exploited in the service of religion can serve to affirm and in some cases to subvert the political messages of religion. This class  explores examples of the collusions of religion, art and politics, as well as their collisions in the productions of majority and minority culture in Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the West, from antiquity to postmodernity. Marc Michael Epstein.

Prerequisite(s): any 100- or 200-level course in Art or Religion. 

One 2-hour period.

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 2018/19.

One 2-hour period.

350 Confronting Modernity 1Semester Offered: Spring

Topic for 2018/19b: Jews, Comics, and Graphic Novels. An in-depth exploration of the contributions of Jewish writers and artists to the field of comics and graphics novels from historical, regional, and topical perspectives.  Issues and texts may include: Jews, Assimilation, Aniconism, and the Comics: the Jewish creation of the American superhero (Superman, Funnyman, and the Golem); Reading/Writing in Jewish: satire from a Jewish eye (Jules Feiffer's Voice comics); Gender: Second Wave feminism and the rise of the Jewish woman's graphic novel (Aline Kominsky's Love that Bunch and Diane Noomin's Didi Glitz), contemporary women's graphic art (Keren Katz's "My Skeleton Week," Liana Finck's A Bintel Brief, and Vanessa Davis's Make Me a Woman); History: reimagining the great migration (Leela Corman's Unterzakhn), comics and the Holocaust (Spiegelman's Maus); Place: the graphic novel from and in Israel (Rutu Modan's The Property and Miriam Libicki's Jobnik!), Jewish comics and urban nostalgia (Ben Katchor's Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer), Jews in Europe and Northern Africa (Joann Sfar's The Rabbi's Cat). Materials also include criticism and theory from media and comics studies, among other approaches. Peter Antelyes.

One 2-hour period.

371 The Fishman Seminar 0.5Semester Offered: Spring

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.

Second six-week course.

One 2-hour period.

399 Advanced Independent Work 0.5 or 1Semester Offered: Fall or Spring

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

105 Elementary Hebrew 1Semester Offered: Fall

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. 

Open to all students.

Yearlong course 105-HEBR 106.

106 Elementary Hebrew 1Semester Offered: Spring

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. 

Open to all students.

Year long course HEBR 105-106.

Hebrew: II. Intermediate

205 Intermediate Hebrew I 1Semester Offered: Fall

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

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

206 Intermediate Hebrew II 1Semester Offered: Spring

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

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

290 Field Work 0.5 or 1

298 Independent Work 0.5 to 1Semester Offered: Fall or Spring

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.  

Not offered in 2018/19.

399 Independent Work 0.5 to 1Semester Offered: Fall

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