Joyce Z. and Jacob Greenberg Center for Jewish Studies
1155 East 60th Street, Room 302A
Chicago, IL 60637

Undergraduate Courses

Undergraduate Jewish Studies Courses 2018 - 2019

To go to the College Catalog, please click on this link.

Please click here for a list of past courses.

1. Jewish Civilization Courses

Jewish Civilization I-II

Jewish Civilization is a two-quarter sequence that explores the development of Jewish culture and tradition from its ancient beginnings through its rabbinic and medieval transformations to its modern manifestations. Through investigation of primary texts—biblical, Talmudic, philosophical, mystical, historical, documentary, and literary—students will acquire a broad overview of Jews, Judaism, and Jewishness while reflecting in greater depth on major themes, ideas, and events in Jewish history.

JWSC 12000. Jewish Civilization I: Ancient Beginnings to Early Medieval Period.

The Autumn course will deal with antiquity to the early medieval periods. Its readings will include works from the Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Josephus, the Rabbis, Yehudah Halevy, and Maimonides. All sections of each course will share a common core of readings; individual instructors will supplement with other materials. It is recommended, though not required, that students take these two courses in sequence. Students who register for the Autumn Quarter course will automatically be pre-registered for the winter segment.

Instructor(s): Chavel     Terms Offered: Autumn
Equivalent Course(s): RLST 22010, NEHC 22010

JWSC 12001. Jewish Civilization II: Late Medieval to Modern Period.

The Winter quarter will begin with the late medieval period and continue to the present. It will include discussions of mysticism, the works of Spinoza and Mendelssohn, the nineteenth-century reform, the Holocaust and its reflection in writers such as Primo Levi and Paul Celan, and literary pieces from postwar American Jewish and Israeli authors. All sections of each course will share a common core of readings; individual instructors will supplement with other materials. It is recommended, though not required, that students take these two courses in sequence. Students who register for the Autumn Quarter course will automatically be pre-registered for the winter segment.

Instructor(s): Rokem     Terms Offered: Winter
Equivalent Course(s): NEHC 22011, RLST 22011

*Note: Students who have already taken a course from the previous JWSC civilization studies sequences (JWSC 20120–20199 - ancient or medieval period courses; JWSC 20220-20299 - modern period courses) and wish to complete the civilization requirement under that system may take an additional JWSC civilization course from the set of eligible courses, numbered as above, provided that they take at least one JWSC course in the ancient or medieval period and one in the modern period, as per the requirements of the previous system.

2. Other Undergraduate Courses

Autumn Quarter

JWSC 20120 Introduction to the Hebrew Bible
Jeffrey Stackert
Ident: RLST 11004, NEHC 20504/30504, BIBL 31000
The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) is a complex anthology of disparate texts and reflects a diversity of religious, political, and historical perspectives from ancient Israel, Judah, and Yehud. Because this collection of texts continues to play an important role in modern religions, new meanings are often imposed upon it. In this course, we will attempt to read biblical texts apart from modern preconceptions about them. We will also contextualize their ideas and goals through comparison with texts from ancient Mesopotamia, Syro-Palestine, and Egypt. Such comparisons will demonstrate that the Hebrew Bible is fully part of the cultural milieu of the Ancient Near East. To accomplish these goals, we will read a significant portion of the Hebrew Bible in English, along with representative selections from secondary literature. We will also spend some time thinking about the nature of biblical interpretation.

JWSC 20895 The Construction of Jewish History in Israel
Miriam Frenkel
Ident: NEHC 20895
The course concerns the ways Jewish history has been constructed and conceptualized in the State of Israel since 1948. It will examine academic and para academic research, popular history books, TV series, educational programs, national archives and public ceremonies.

JWSC 21402 Poetics of Midrash
Michael Fishbane
Autumn Th 9:30am-12:20pm
Idents: HIJD 30402, THEO 30402, RLVC 30402
An introduction to the modern literary study of classical rabbinic Midrash; its styles and genres.  Particular attention will be given to issues of hermeneutics and theology.

JWSC 23118 Gender and Sexuality in Jewish Society: Early Modernity through the Present
Anna Band
Autumn: MW 3:00–4:20 pm
Idents: GNSE 23118
In this course, we will examine how gender and sexuality shaped Jewish historical experience, identity, ideology, and imagination from the mid-seventeenth century until today. Using the tools of gender analysis, we will explore the historical realities of women and men in Jewish society through critical reading of primary sources (in translation), and discussion of modern research. No prior background in Jewish Studies is necessary. Topics include: the construction of gender in modern Jewish society; historical intersections of sexuality and Jewish practice; gender and power relations in the Jewish family; emancipation and assimilation; gender and Jewish literature; Jews and the rise of feminist movements; masculinity and Zionism; sex, gender, and the Holocaust.

JWSC 24105 Letters to Zion
Na'ama Rokem
Autumn: T 1:30–4:00 pm
Idents: CMLT 24105/34105
This seminar centers the question: what do we mean when we describe Jewish authors and thinkers from the past as Zionist, anti-Zionist, or non-Zionist? We will approach this question by reading three correspondences: Kafka’s letters to Felice Bauer, and the correspondences between Gershom Scholem and Hannah Arendt and between Paul Celan and Ilana Shmueli. In each case, the question of Zionism and of Israel looms in the background of the exchange in some way. Our key question is: can we definitively determine the position of each of these letter-writers on the question of Zionism? And do we want to? Or does the form of the correspondence rather open a possibility for a more flexible, complex account of their positions, allowing us to think of them as changing and evolving, indeed as dialogic? In addition to the letters themselves, we will read other texts by these authors and about them, as well as background reading on the letter as genre and as historical document. We will also take note of the fact that these are all exchanges that cross the gender divide and ask how the question of Zionist ideology intersects with issues of gender in Jewish history.

JWSC 24650 Introduction to Kabbalah
James Robinson
Autumn T 6:30–9:30 pm
Idents: HIJD 35500
A general introduction to the origins and development of Kabbalah, focusing on the classic period of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. We will read samples from the major texts and most important movements, including the Bahir and Isaac the Blind in Provence, the Gerona circle (Ezra, Azriel, Nachmanides), and developments in Castile, from Ibn Latif and Ibn Sahula to Abraham Abulafia and Joseph Ibn Gikatilla to Moses de Leon and the Zohar.

JWSC 28139 Society, Politics, and Security in Israel
Meir Elran
Idents: PBPL 28139
This course examines Israel's unique DNA through a thorough examination of its history, society, politics and security challenges. We shall explore these traits as manifested in the defining chapters of Israel's history, since the early stages of the Zionist driven immigration of Jews to the Holy Land, through the establishment of the Jewish State in 1948, until present time. Students will work with primary sources, diverse theoretical perspectives, and rich historiographical material to better understand the Israeli experience, through domestic, regional and international perspectives. Particular attention will be given to the emergence of the Israeli vibrant society and functioning democracy in the background of continuous conflict and wars. The course will explore topics such as: How Israel reconciles between the imperatives and narratives of democracy and Jewishness, between collective ethos and heterogeneous tribalism, and between protracted security challenges and resilience. We will also discuss the multifaceted aspects of the changing Israeli security doctrine and practice, in light of regional threats and international involvement.

JWSC 29560 Reckoning with the Holocaust
Bevin Blaber
Spring TR 11:00 am–12:20 pm
In the years since the end of WWII, many thinkers have striven to make sense of the horrors of the Holocaust, interrogating not only its causes but also its enduring effects. In this course, we will grapple with questions and concerns that have emerged through these reflections and have helped shape what might be broadly-termed post-Holocaust thought. How might the Holocaust trouble notions of history, testimony and representation? What kinds of ethical, theological, and philosophical traditions might or ought the Holocaust call into question, and what new concerns arise as a result of the Holocaust? In the wake of the Holocaust, what must be re-thought?
We will examine testimonial and documentary works that attempt to bear witness to the Holocaust, as well as works that argue for the necessity of such endeavors. We will read philosophical and theological arguments about how to understand the horrors of the Holocaust, and poetry, literature, and art that ask us to consider the challenges—both practical and ethical—in representing the Holocaust. We will consider the historical contexts in which these works were produced, tracking some of the shifts and developments in scholarship about the Holocaust over the last seventy years and asking what is at stake in studying the Holocaust today. Throughout the term, we will pay particular attention to works by Jewish authors, many of whom offer us complex ruminations on their own relationships to the Holocaust.

Winter Quarter

JWSC 20896 The Mizrahi Discourse in Israel.
Miriam Frenkel
Ident: NEHC 20896
The course concerns the many ways Oriental Jews are represented in Israeli discourse: in academic writings, in history curricula, in Israeli novels and films, in ethnic museums and in political discourse. It will also discuss Mizrahi self-identities as manifested in protest movements, civil organizations, and political parties. The course will take a chronological path and will follow the changes that occurred in the discourse about ethnicity from the state`s early years until recent days.

JWSC 21107 Rdg: Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed
James Robinson
Ident: ISLM 45400, FNDL 24106, HIJD 45400, NEHC 40470, HREL 45401, RLVC 45400, RLST 21107
A careful study of select passages in Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed, focusing on the method of the work and its major philosophical-theological themes, including: divine attributes, creation vs. eternity, prophecy, the problem of evil and divine providence, law and ethics, the final aim of human existence.

JWSC 28110 Queer Jewish Literature
Anna Torres
Idents: CMLT 28110/38110
Spanning medieval Hebrew to contemporary Yiddish, this course will explore the intersections of Jewish literature and queer theory, homophobia and antisemitism. While centered on literary studies, the syllabus will also include film, visual art, and music. Literary authors will include Bashevis Singer, Qalonymus ben Qalonymus, Irena Klepfisz, and others. Theorists will include Eve Sedgwick, Zohar Weiman-Kelman, Sander Gilman, and others. Readings will be in English translation.

JWSC 29550 Cinema and the Holocaust
Bożena Shallcross
Winter TR 3:30–4:50 pm
Idents: REES 27027/37027
The course focuses on the cinematic responses by several leading film directors from East and Central Europe to one of the central events of 20th century history -- the event known as the Holocaust. The Nazis began a cinematic documentation of WWII at its onset, positioning their cameras in places of actual atrocities. Their goal was to produce documentary footage framed by hostile propagandistic schemes; contrary to this ‘method’, the Holocaust feature films are all but a representation of the Jewish genocide produced after the actual, traumatic events of that war took place. In this class we aim at discussing the challenge of representing the Jewish genocide which has often been defined as un-representable. Because of this challenge, the Holocaust films raise questions of ethical responsibility for the cinematic production and a search for relevant artistic means with which to engage the post-traumatic representation. Therefore, among the major tropes we will analyze the voyeuristic evocation of death and suffering; a truthful representation of violence versus the purported necessity of its cinematic aesthetization; as well as the intertwined notions of chance and hope as conditions of survival versus the hagiographic representation of victims. While our main goal is to grasp the potential of cinema for deepening our understanding of the Holocaust, the course simultaneously explores the extensive and continuous cinematic production of the genre and its historical development in various European countries, to mention the impact of censorship by official ideologies in the Soviet Union, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. All readings for the core texts are in English; they can be downloaded from Canvas.

Spring Quarter

JWSC 20152 Major Trends in Rabbinic Religion
Marc Hirshman
Ident: RLST 20665, HIJD 32703
The course will survey a number of key themes in rabbinic religiosity, such as the nature of creation, love, the purpose of commandments, philosophy and mysticism, within their late antique context. Comparison to pagan and Christian ideas on those themes will highlight common and distinct approaches.

JWSC 24149 Anthropology of Israel
Morris Fred
Ident: ANTH 25150/35150, CMES 35150, JWSC 24149, NEHC 25147/35147, MAPS 35150
This seminar explores the dynamics of Israeli culture and society through a combination of weekly screenings of Israeli fiction and documentary films with readings from ethnographic and other relevant research. Among the (often overlapping) topics to be covered in this examination of the institutional and ideological construction of Israeli identity/ies: the absorption of immigrants; ethnic, class, and religious tensions; the kibbutz; military experience; the Holocaust; evolving attitudes about gender and sexuality; the struggle for minorities’ rights; and Arab-Jewish relations.
PQ(s): Undergrads must be upper division (3rd and 4th years)

JWSC 26210 Oedipus in Zion: The Oedipal Figure in Modern Hebrew Literature
Michael Gluzman
Idents: CMLT 26210/36210
Historians often refer to the emergence of Zionism as an "Oedipal Revolution."
Hence, the secular son's rebellion against his orthodox father is understood as the thrust that triggered the modern Jewish revolution. Alan Mintz aptly described the inter-generational rift between fathers and sons at the turn of the 20th century as a tragic yet inevitable consequence of modernity, underscoring the psychological difficulties and political dilemmas that haunted the sons who were "banished form their father's table."
This seminar will focus on the (highly androcentric) oedipal figure in literary theory and explore its prominence in modern Hebrew literature. Freud's preoccupation with the Oedipus complex at the turn of the century coincided with the emergence of a powerful oedipal narrative in modern Hebrew culture. This confluence provides a fascinating backdrop to the "invention" of the Oedipus complex. We will read a variety of literary texts which rework the oedipal figure from the late 19th century to the 1980s and beyond.
Although Freud's "invention" of the Oedipus complex transpired in a particular cultural and historical setting, it rapidly became a hermeneutic bedrock, a cross-cultural and trans-historical paradigm which illuminates texts as remote from one another as Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, Shakespeare's Hamlet and Kafka's "Letter to His Father." Freud first conceptualized the Oedipus complex in 1897 while he was immersed in his self-analysis and he continued to redefine its modalities throughout his career. Consequent developments in psychoanalysis – and in critical theory at large – attempted to account for the centrality of the oedipal figure, ascribing it to the social decline of the paternal imago.
Various theoretical formulations of the Oedipus complex will be discussed alongside literary works which implicitly theorize the oedipal question. Why is this figure so central in Hebrew literature and what are its political implications? What role is assigned to women in a culture which defines itself as "oedipal"? Is there a foundational similarity between the Oedipus myth and the biblical story of the binding of Isaac? And how are these competing narratives employed in Israeli culture? How did this figure evolve over the course of the 20th century and what are its political ramifications in different periods and for successive literary generations? We will lay a theoretical foundation for our discussion by reading Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, and Kafka's "Letter to his Father," with commentary by Freud, Girard, and Deleuze and Guattari. Thereafter, we will focus on a selection of Hebrew works of prose fiction which are available in English translation. Students working in Hebrew will be provided with the texts in the original.

JWSC 27028 David Bergelson’s Strange New World
Harriet Murav
Idents: REES 27028/37028
Born in a shtetl in Kiev province in the Pale of Settlement in 1884, Bergelson began writing in Hebrew and Russian before switching to Yiddish, although his Yiddish always retained the trace of other languages. He lived through the First World War and the Russian revolution and civil war, and survived Hitler, but not Stalin, who had him executed for “nationalism” in 1952. “Yiddish” and “shtetl” may suggest a self-enclosed community of pious Jews, celebrating their rituals in an annual cycle. In Bergelson’s world, however, time is out of joint. Anachronism, belatedness, and untimeliness, both joyful and tragic, unfold as an emotional, sensory, and existential condition in the world his fiction creates and the world in which he lived. For Bergelson Yiddish is the vehicle for questions about time, history, justice, art, and bodily experience. This course provides an introduction to Bergelson’s novels and short stories, from his earliest writing to his Holocaust works.