Introduction to Jewish Thought


This introductory course explores multidisciplinary approaches to Jewish religion and thought, and its purpose is to acquaint students with central concepts of traditional and modern Jewish concepts. Class discussions and readings will revolve around themes and practices that were developed in the "classic" Jewish texts from antiquity to the Modern period. We shall examine how different Jewish authors advanced philosophical ideas and theological arguments in order to understand and defend the fundamental tenets of their own religion (with regards to topics such as reason and revelation, the body, human free will, biblical prophecy, the Commandments, and the concept of supernatural). The course is taught by four professors, each of whom gives three lectures. It begins with a close reading of the Biblical Book of Esther vis-à-vis the variety of its interpretive traditions: proto-Rabbinic, Rabbinic, and Modern. The second section of the course looks at central issues resulting from the historical and philosophical study of the relationship between science and religion, among the most exciting fields of scholarship today. Students are invited to focus on some of the fascinating points of contact between modern science and Jewish attitudes to the natural and social environment. The next three classes are devoted to a study of the issue of abortion in Jewish sources. We will first deal with the general issues in the modern abortion debate and how they play out in classical Jewish sources (Bible, Mishnah, Talmud). We will move on to an analysis of commentary and responsa on the classical sources. Finally we will move to modern Jewish approaches to the issue of abortion. The final section of the course will consider three 20th century Jewish conceptions of God and faith. They all agree that God is not just a transcendent super-person, and that faith is not just a special kind of super-scientific hypothesis. But if not this, then what could God possibly be? And is faith something we should have, or even something that we should want to have? The assigned readings for each session should be prepared in advance of the class in which they will be discussed. There will be two written assignments.


Area of Interest:

  • Jewish Philosophy and Thought


Day/Time Instructors Location
Goldberg, Sol
Fehige, Yiftach
Karolina Hübner
JH 100A