Jewish Studies

Mara Benjamin, Chair

Natalina Tulik, Academic Department Coordinator


205 Skinner Hall
413-538-2233
https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/jewish

Overview and Contact Information

The curriculum in Jewish studies provides course offerings in a range of fields and disciplines, including English, German, history, international relations, politics, and religion. Courses represent a variety of methodological approaches and are intended to introduce students to the broad and rich diversity of Jewish culture and experience.

See Also

Faculty

This area of study is administered by the Jewish Studies Committee:

Sohail Hashmi, Professor of International Relations on the Alumnae Foundation and Professor of Politics, Teaching Spring Only

Jeremy King, Professor of History

Karen Remmler, Professor of German Studies

Donald Weber, Lucia, Ruth and Elizabeth MacGregor Professor of English

Mara Benjamin, Irene Kaplan Leiwant Associate Professor of Jewish Studies

Amina Steinfels, Associate Professor of Religion, On Leave 2018-2019

Requirements for the Minor

A minimum of 16 credits:

JWST-112 Introduction To Judaism4
8 credits in Jewish studies at any level8
At least 4 additional credits in Jewish studies at the 300 level4
Total Credits16

Additional Specifications

  • Those choosing a minor in Jewish studies should consult as early as possible with the program chair in order to devise a course of study in consultation with the chair and other members of the program.

  • Students should consider taking Hebrew language as part of the Jewish studies minor and, in addition to the approved Jewish Studies courses at Mount Holyoke,¬†are encouraged to consider Jewish studies offerings at the other Five Colleges.

Related Courses in Other Departments

For a list of current courses that may be taken for credit toward a Jewish studies minor, consult with the chair of the program.

Course Offerings

JWST-103 Introduction to the Hebrew Bible

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

This course provides a critical introduction to the writings contained in the Hebrew Bible (also known as the Old Testament). It investigates the social and historical context of the ancient Israelites, examines a range of ancient Near Eastern literature, and introduces the principal methods of biblical studies. Participants will read much of the Hebrew Bible as well as select non-Israelite sources. Examples of recent biblical scholarship will provide additional information for better understanding these writings and will present different methods for approaching and interpreting ancient texts.

Crosslisted as: RELIG-103
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
The department

JWST-104 Introduction to the New Testament

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

Introduction to the New Testament investigates the social and historical context of first- and early second-century Christianity, examines New Testament and select non-canonical documents, and introduces you to the principal methods of New Testament studies. In the course of the semester you will read the works that make up most modern collections of the New Testament, a number of early Christian documents that did not make the final cut, and several ancient non-Christian sources.

Crosslisted as: RELIG-104
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
The department

JWST-112 Introduction to Judaism

Spring. Credits: 4

Judaism is a 3,500-year-old tradition that has developed over time as Jewish communities all over the world creatively interacted with the different cultural and historical milieus in which they lived. This course explores the ways in which Judaism has sought to transform ordinary life into sacred life. What are the ways in which Judaism conceives of God, and what is the meaning of life? What roles do study, prayer, ethics, sex, marriage, family, rituals of the life cycle, and community play in Judaism? These and other questions will be taken up through study of diverse types of religious literature and historical evidence.

Crosslisted as: RELIG-112
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
M. Benjamin

JWST-150 Introduction to Modern Hebrew

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

An introduction to modern Hebrew language and culture, with a focus on equal development of the four language skills: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. By the end of the year, students will be able to comprehend short and adapted literary and journalistic texts, describe themselves and their environment, and express their thoughts and opinions. Learning will be amplified by use of online resources (YouTube, Facebook, newspapers) and examples from Hebrew song and television/film. This course will involve regular collaboration with students from the Elementary Modern Hebrew course at Smith College. No previous knowledge of Modern Hebrew is necessary.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Language
The department

JWST-225 Topics in Judaism

JWST-225HH Topics in Judaism: 'The Habsburgs, Hitler, and the Law'

Fall. Credits: 4

This course explores the complex, often comic, and ultimately tragic history of Bohemia, a territory located today in the Czech Republic, but previously a part of the Habsburg Monarchy, then of Czechoslovakia, and then of Hitler's Third Reich. Students will complement historical studies with autobiographical material and contemporary fiction, beginning with the Revolution of 1848, progressing through the achievements and worrisome trends of Emperor Francis Joseph's 68-year reign, and concluding with the world wars. Emphasis on the interplay among Czechs, Germans, Jews, and other pivotal players: the House of Habsburg and its supporters, and the political elites of neighboring countries.

Crosslisted as: HIST-260HH
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
J. King

JWST-225LF Topics in Judaism: 'Love, Friendship, and Interpersonal Relations in Judaism'

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

This course explores teachings and practices having to do with interpersonal relations in Jewish religious tradition, including notions of 'spiritual friendship,' relations between parents and children, teachers and disciples, and loving partners. Drawing broadly on the many varieties of Jewish religious literature, with a special interest in the mystical traditions of Judaism, the course also addresses diverse ethical questions such as the nature of forgiveness, responsibility towards the needs of others, and sexual ethics.

Crosslisted as: RELIG-225LF
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
The department

JWST-225NT Topics in Judaism: 'Black, Jewish, and Muslim Cultures in Germany: Intersectionalities of Othering'

Spring. Credits: 4

As much as German culture is riddled with extreme examples of persecution and nationalism, the presence of those deemed non-German, such as Black Africans, African Americans, Jews, and Muslims, shaped cultural expression and cultural exchange. In this seminar we explore the expression of otherness as portrayed in literature, film, and art from the eighteenth through twenty-first Centuries. Drawing from critical race theory, critical ethnic studies, and gender studies, we consider work by non-Germans as well as the representation of others in German canonical and popular cultural production.

Crosslisted as: GRMST-231NT, CST-249NT
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
Other Attribute(s): Speaking-Intensive, Writing-Intensive
K. Remmler

JWST-225TR Topics in Judaism: 'Trauma, Transition, and Memory: The Jewish Literary Imagination in the Twentieth Century'

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

This course maps the range of Jewish literary expression in the Twentieth Century, Beginning with the folktales of Sholem Aleichem and parables and stories by Franz Kafka, we will move on to novels and films that explore Jewish family life across nations and historical eras (Eastern Europe, America, Israel). Among the core themes will be the literary response to the Shoah in works by Primo Levi, Aharon Appelfeld, and Anne Michaels. The course concludes with more recent works that continue to explore the relation among history, memory, and trauma -- core themes of Jewish experience in modern times.

Crosslisted as: ENGL-225TR
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
The department

JWST-234 Women and Gender in Judaism

Fall. Credits: 4

This course examines gender as a key category in Jewish thought and practice. We will examine different theoretical models of gender, concepts of gender in a range of Jewish sources, and feminist Jewish responses to those sources.

Crosslisted as: RELIG-234, GNDST-210JD
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
M. Benjamin

JWST-240 The Holocaust in History

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

An attempt at understanding the Nazi-led assault on Europe's Jews. Course units include an exploration of origins, both German and European; an analysis of the evolving mechanics of genocide (mobile killing squads, death camps, etc.); comparisons (Germany proper vs. Poland, the Holocaust vs. other instances of state-sponsored mass murder); legal dimensions; and an introduction to the politics of Holocaust remembrance since 1945.

Crosslisted as: HIST-240
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
J. King

JWST-251 Reading the Hebrew Bible

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

This course examines the Hebrew Bible in light of Jewish reading practices. Students will read significant sections of the Hebrew Bible in translation and learn to read ancient, medieval and modern Jewish approaches to the biblical text. This course seeks to help students become adept at the interpretation of texts and the practice of close reading.

Crosslisted as: RELIG-251
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
M. Benjamin

JWST-256 What Didn't Make It in the Bible

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

Hundreds of ancient religious texts did not make it into the Hebrew Scripture (aka the Old Testament). This course examines some of these excluded writings. In particular, we will focus on works found among the Apocrypha, the Pseudepigrapha, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, We will read an ancient Harlequin romance, tour heaven and hell, hear of the adventures of fallen angels who sired giants (and taught humans about cosmetics), and learn how the world will end. In critically examining such texts, we will better appreciate the diversity of Judaism, better understand the historical context of early Christianity, and explore the politics behind what did and did not make it into the bible.

Crosslisted as: RELIG-256
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
The department

JWST-265 Sacred Food and Eating in Judaism

Spring. Credits: 4

This course explores the role of food and eating in Jewish religious culture, but will also include a significant comparative religious dimension. Topics will include the ritual, religious, and social significance of the dietary laws in Judaism, the symbolic foods of Passover and other festivals, fasting and ascetic attitudes toward food, as well as food culture as a marker of Jewish identity.

Crosslisted as: RELIG-265
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
M. Benjamin

JWST-276 Mapping Jewish American Generations

Spring. Credits: 4

This course sets canonical Jewish American literature in creative dialogue with contemporary Jewish American writers, filmmakers, and performance artists to explore how early twentieth-century figures (Abraham Cahan, Anzia Yezierska, and Henry Roth) continue to influence --inspire--a rising generation of authors. The key mediating figure in this generational dialogue is Philip Roth, whose work we will examine as well. Topics to be explored include "immigrant" writing then and now; the uses of nostalgia; genealogies of standup comedy and popular culture in general; the emergence of "hipster" Judaism and its various modes of expression (above all via social media).

Crosslisted as: ENGL-274
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
The department
Prereq: 4 credits in English, religion, Jewish studies, history, sociology, or film studies.

JWST-295 Independent Study

Fall and Spring. Credits: 1 - 4

The department
Instructor permission required.

JWST-343 The Sabbath

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

The practice of a weekly sacred day of rest has organized Jewish life for millennia. In this seminar, students will examine the Sabbath using narrative, folk, and legal primary sources from the biblical, Second Temple, rabbinic, medieval, and modern periods. Key themes include sacred time, cultural identity, and the transformation of religious practice. Experiential learning, and critical thinking about your experiential learning, are integral to this seminar.

Crosslisted as: RELIG-343
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
M. Benjamin
Restrictions: Course limited to sophomores, juniors and seniors

JWST-350 Special Topics in Jewish Studies

JWST-350CH Special Topics in Jewish Studies: 'Childhood and Children in Religion'

Fall. Credits: 4

This course explores a diversity of religious approaches to the meaning of childhood and the nature of children. We critically examine influential writings, rituals and liturgy, fiction, and other types of literature to understand the construction of childhood as distinctive life stage that entails special rights and responsibilities. We will also examine how gender, power, race, social structures, and economic arrangements produce divergent understandings of what it means to be a child.

Crosslisted as: RELIG-331CH, CST-349CH
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
M. Benjamin
Restrictions: Course limited to sophomores, juniors and seniors
Notes: Students wishing to take this course for credit in Jewish studies must choose a research topic that builds on Jewish sources.

JWST-395 Independent Study

Fall and Spring. Credits: 1 - 8

The department
Instructor permission required.