Courses

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JWST 101 SEM Judaism: Before The Law

Last offered Fall 2022

This course introduces the academic study of Judaism through a humanistic exploration of "the Law" as a concept in Jewish thought and practice. Coverage will include the Law of Moses in the Hebrew Bible, the rabbinic distinction between "Oral Law" and "Written Law," medieval philosophical justifications for the Law, modern interpretations of the Law as Moral Law, Hasidic challenges to the centrality of the Law, and twentieth-century Jewish fiction that is haunted by a felt absence of the Law. Topics may also include the nature of rabbinic authority, methods of Jewish legal interpretation and innovation, and Jewish law as it pertains specifically to women, gentiles, idolaters, food consumption, and the Land of Israel. Course materials will include classical sources such as the Talmud and Midrash, modern philosophical texts, Franz Kafka's The Trial with his parable "Before The Law," ethnographic accounts of contemporary Jewish observance, and much else. All readings will be in translation. [ more ]

JWST 201(F) LEC The Hebrew Bible

The Hebrew Bible is perhaps the single most influential work in the history of Western philosophy, literature, and art. But the overwhelming presence of the text in nearly every aspect of modern culture often obscures the sheer brilliance of its narrative technique as well as the complex interplay between law, history, prophecy, and poetry. This course offers a comprehensive introduction to the literary, historical, and theological aspects of the Hebrew Bible with an eye towards developing a sophisticated understanding of the text in its ancient context. Through the close reading of substantial portions of the Hebrew Scripture in translation and the application of various modern critical approaches to culture and literature, students will explore fundamental questions about the social, ritual, and philosophical history of ancient Israel, as well as the fundamental power of storytelling that has resonated across two millennia. [ more ]

JWST 202 SEM Moses: Stranger in a Strange Land

Last offered Spring 2019

As chieftain, priest, prophet, and lawgiver all in one, Moses occupies the central place in the history of Israelite and Jewish leaders. However, he is a somewhat unlikely candidate for such an important role. He is God's chosen leader among the enslaved Israelites, but he is raised as an Egyptian prince. He is a spokesman for his people, but he is slow of speech. He is the lawgiver and first judge of his nation, yet he is quick-tempered and impatient. The story of the most revered figure in the Jewish tradition, who nevertheless remains an outsider to the very end, has fascinated commentators and inspired countless artistic and literary interpretations. This course will engage in a close study of the figure of Moses by examining the biblical narrative of his life and career from Exodus through Deuteronomy with an eye towards understanding the complex and often contradictory portrait of this self-described "stranger in a strange land." We will also examine some of the ancient legendary and folkloric accounts about Moses, as well as philosophical and allegorical treatments in Hellenistic Jewish, early Christian, and Muslim biographies. We will then proceed to investigate key modern reconfigurations and critiques of Moses in several genres, which may include renaissance visual depictions, literary works by Sigmund Freud, George Eliot, Thomas Mann, and Zora Neale Hurston, and even musical and cinematic renditions. All readings are in translation. [ more ]

JWST 205 SEM Ancient Wisdom Literature

Last offered Spring 2022

The Biblical books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job are often grouped together under the Hebrew category of hokhmah, 'wisdom.' Although these books are very different in content, they can all be interpreted as meditations on ethical and practical philosophy. In this way, they represent the Hebrew Bible's canonical embrace of a widespread Near Eastern literary phenomenon. From the instructional literature of Egypt and Mesopotamia to Greek didactic poetry and fables, ancient Mediterranean cultures offer a wide range of texts that engage the issues of personal behavior, leadership, and justice. Starting with the central wisdom books of the Hebrew Bible and moving through relevant material from the Apocrypha, New Testament, and the Egyptian and Babylonian traditions, this course will examine the literature of wisdom throughout the ancient world with an eye toward understanding its various social, political, and philosophical contexts. We will then consider the Greek wisdom tradition in such texts as Hesiod's Works and Days, Aesop's fables, and fragments from the pre-Socratic philosophers. Finally, we will explore the influence of these ancient sources on later expressions of wisdom in medieval European literature, as well as more recent examples such as Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack. All readings are in translation. [ more ]

JWST 206(S) SEM The Book of Job and Joban Literature

The Book of Job has often been described as the most philosophical book of the Hebrew Bible. The story of one man's struggle to understand the cause of his suffering and his relationship to God represents the finest flowering of the Near Eastern wisdom literature tradition. Through its exploration of fundamental issues concerning human suffering, fate and divinity, and the nature of philosophical self-examination, Job has served as a touchstone for the entire history of existential literature. At the same time, the sheer poetic force of the story has inspired some of the greatest artistic and literary meditations in the Western tradition. This course will engage in a close reading of the Book of Job in its full cultural, religious, and historical context with special attention to its literary, philosophical, and psychological dimensions. We will then proceed to investigate key modern works in several genres that involve Joban motifs, themes, and text both explicitly and implicitly. These texts will include Franz Kafka's The Trial, Archibald MacLeish's J.B., Robert Frost's "Masque of Reason," Carl Jung's Answer to Job, and William Blake's Illustrations to the Book of Job. All readings are in translation. [ more ]

JWST 207 SEM From Adam to Noah: Literary Imagination and the Primeval History in Genesis

Last offered Fall 2020

How long did Adam and Eve live in the Garden of Eden? What was the mark of Cain? Why did Enoch not die? Who was Noah's wife? How did Giants survive the Flood? These are only a few of the fascinating questions that ancient readers and interpreters of the Book of Genesis asked and attempted to answer. The first ten chapters of Genesis present a tantalizingly brief narrative account of the earliest history of humankind. The text moves swiftly from the Creation to the Flood and its immediate aftermath, but this masterful economy of style leaves many details unexplained. This course will explore the rich and varied literary traditions associated with the primeval history in the Genesis. Through a close reading of ancient noncanonical sources such as the Book of Enoch, Jubilees, and the Life of Adam and Eve, as well as Jewish traditions represented in Josephus, Philo, and Rabbinic literature and other accounts presented in early Christian and Gnostic texts, we will investigate the ways in which the elliptical style of Genesis generated a massive body of ancient folklore, creative exegesis, and explicit literary re-imagining of the early history of humankind. We will then turn to some continuations of these variant traditions in medieval literature, with particular attention to the material on the figures of Cain and Noah. All readings are in translation. [ more ]

JWST 208 SEM Genesis: The Family Saga

Last offered Spring 2020

The Book of Genesis has rightly been described as the masterpiece of Hebrew biblical narrative. In particular, the continuous tale that begins with Abraham and Sarah and extends four generations to the children of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel is one of the most extraordinary examples of literary artistry in any time or tradition. As one family wrestles with the promise of becoming a chosen people, the narrative explores themes of marriage, parenthood, sibling rivalry, land, violence, wandering, and, above all, the complex relationship between humanity and God. This course will examine those themes through a close reading of Genesis in translation, from Abraham and Sarah's first appearance on the scene to the death of Jacob. We will consider the text from multiple perspectives with an eye toward understanding the literary, philosophical, and psychological dimensions that continue to amaze and perplex readers to this day. [ more ]

JWST 209 SEM Jewish America

Last offered Spring 2021

Who and what counts as "Jewish" in America? Does stand-up comedy have a distinctly Jewish pedigree? What about neoconservatism? How is it possible to answer such questions without falling into what David Hollinger has called the "booster-bigot trap"? How is it possible, that is, to avoid answers that uncritically celebrate "Jewish contributions" or perniciously suggest "Jewish influence"? This course will explore the various meanings of Jewishness in American culture as expressed by artists, rabbis, activists, intellectuals, boosters, bigots and others. We will seek to avoid the booster-bigot trap by focusing vigilantly on what is at stake wherever Jewishness is invoked, defined or ascribed. We will draw methodological support from scholars like Hollinger, Jonathan Freedman, Laura Levitt, Yuri Slezkine, Shaul Magid, Andrea Most and others. Particular attention will be given to the appearance of Jewish themes and involvement in popular culture and political action, as well as to Jewish American communal institutions, the everyday lives of Jewish Americans, and Jewish variations on American religion. Coursework will involve some historical, sociological and ethnographic readings, but will focus primarily on close analysis of films, literary fiction, stand-up comedy, political magazines, theological texts, and television shows. We may, for instance, watch films like The Jazz Singer (1927 and 1980), Exodus and Annie Hall; read John Updike's Bech: A Book, Philip Roth's Operation Shylock or Cynthia Ozick's The Puttermesser Papers; listen to the comedy of Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce and Sarah Silverman; read from Henry Ford's Dearborn Independent, the Menorah Journal or Commentary; study works by Rabbis Stephen Wise, Abraham Joshua Heschel and Meir Kahane; and watch episodes of Bridget Loves Bernie, Northern Exposure and Curb Your Enthusiasm. We will also study arguments about the role and meaning of Jewishness in American secularization, "therapeutic culture," the civil rights movement, the sexual revolution, and feminism. [ more ]

JWST 217 LEC The Modern Middle East

Last offered Fall 2023

This survey course addresses the main economic, religious, political and cultural trends in the modern Middle East. Topics to be covered include the cultural diversity of the Middle East, relations with Great Powers, the impact of imperialism, the challenge of modernity, the creation of nation states and nationalist ideologies, the discovery of oil, radical religious groups, and war and peace. Throughout the course these significant changes will be evaluated in light of their impact on the lives of a variety of individuals in the region and especially how they have grappled differently with increasing Western political and economic domination. [ more ]

JWST 222 SEM The Jewish Art of Interpretation

Last offered Fall 2023

Turn it and turn it, for everything is in it. This famous rabbinic dictum offers an enigmatic yet comprehensive account of the principles that have defined the Jewish practice of interpretation for over two millennia. The imperative to keep a text, word, image, or concept in constant motion, in order to generate as many meanings and cross-meanings as possible, challenges us to transform the act of interpretation itself into a virtuosic craft or art that can engage the human imagination as diversely and powerfully as the creation of the works being interpreted. At the same time, emphasis on the dynamism between text and interpreter should dispel the notion that only expansive works have expansive meanings. If interpretation itself is an art, then even the shortest text can contain "everything" within it when it participates in that art. This course will engage students in a radical experiment in the art of interpretation. Through a deep encounter with a selection of miniature texts, ranging from ancient rabbinic proverbs and medieval fables to the modern parables and fragments of Franz Kafka, as well as folklore and jokelore from every period in Jewish history up to the present, we will develop an interpretive practice that combines analytic, critical, and creative principles in both written and oral contexts. The goal throughout is to explore interactively how the making of meaning is an integral part of the human experience. [ more ]

JWST 230(F) LEC Modern European Jewish History, 1789-1948

What does it mean to be Jewish? The question of Jewish identity emerged anew at the end of the eighteenth century in Europe and has dominated Jewish history throughout the modern period. Although Jewish emancipation and citizenship followed different paths in different parts of Europe, in general Jews were confronted by unprecedented opportunities for integration into non-Jewish society and unprecedented challenges to Jewish communal life. Focusing primarily on France and Germany, and to a lesser extent on the Polish lands, this course will introduce students to the major social, cultural, religious, and political transformations that shaped the lives of European Jews from the outbreak of the French Revolution to the aftermath of World War II. We will explore such topics as emancipation, Jewish diversity, the reform of Judaism, competing political ideologies, Jewish-gentile relations, the rise of modern antisemitism, gender roles in Jewish society, interwar Jewish culture, Jewish responses to Nazism and the Holocaust, and the situation of Jews in the immediate post-WWII period. In addition to broad historical treatments, course materials will include exposure to different kinds of primary sources, from philosophical and political treatises, to memoirs, diaries, and fiction. [ more ]

JWST 249(F) SEM Antisemitism

In this course students will investigate intellectual traditions, political movements, and cultural objects that construct Jews, Jewishness, or Judaism as a negative principle. Where is Judaism portrayed as the darkness by contrast to the light? When are Jews depicted as a pernicious force that explains the presence of evil in the world? How is Jewishness used as a critical category to identify what is retrograde, deracinating, or base? We will interpret materials from a variety of times and places, including the ancient world, the medieval period, and the present day. We will also explore prominent theoretical approaches to the interpretation of these materials. Is there a continuous phenomenon that connects every assertion of Jewish malevolence for over two thousand years of human history? Or should claims about Jewish malevolence be presumed to have an entirely distinct meaning, origin, and purpose in each historical context? Which particular threats are Jews, Judaism, and Jewishness typically alleged to pose? How does the idea of a Jewish threat fit with ideas about race, gender, ethnicity, religion, class, sexuality, and nationality? This is a course about negative meaning-making. Our primary goal throughout the course is to study how shadows of thought, symbolism, and story are cast. It is a course about how language, images, structures, and institutions are used to constitute an antagonist: villainy, the demonic, the enemy, the conspiratorial cabal, the exploitative interloper, "the Jew." And it is a course about the tragic consequences for real people -- for Jews and for all humanity -- when negative principles and fantasies are not contained by realism, reasonableness, and compassion. [ more ]

JWST 259 SEM Ethics of Jewish American Fiction

Last offered Spring 2020

After the Second World War, Jewish American writers who wrote about Jewish characters and Jewish themes were increasingly celebrated as central figures in American fiction. Isaac Bashevis Singer, Bernard Malamud, Saul Bellow, Cynthia Ozick and Philip Roth are among those who gained prominence in this period. These writers were literary innovators and often addressed broad humanistic themes. But they also struggled with profound questions that arose in the postwar period about Jewishness, the legacy of the Holocaust, and what it means to be an American. In this course we will read the above authors and others. We will focus, in particular, on the distinctive ethical and political ideas, emotions, and aspirations that animate their work. The course will begin with a study of theoretical approaches that will provide the basis for our ethical criticism: we will read, for instance, Lionel Trilling, Wayne Booth, Martha Nussbaum, and Noël Carroll. Then we will delve into the fiction, following a trail that begins in the postwar period and continues in fictions by Erica Jong, Rebecca Goldstein, Michael Chabon, Gary Shteyngart, and others. Can we find a distinctive Jewish American ethics in Jewish American fiction? [ more ]

JWST 268 SEM Where are all the Jews?

Last offered Spring 2024

Until four decades ago, many Maghrebi and Middle Eastern cities and villages teemed with Jewish populations. However, the creation of the Alliance Israelite Universelle's schools (1830s), the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the decolonization process in the Maghreb and the Middle East, and the Arab defeat in the Six-Day War accelerated the departure of Arab and Berber Jews from their homelands to other destinations, including France, Israel, Canada, the United States, and different Latin American countries. Arab and Berber Jews' departure from their ancestral lands left a socioeconomic and cultural void that Maghrebi and Middle Eastern cultural production has finally started to address, albeit shyly. The course will help students understand the depth of Jewish life in the Maghreb and the Middle East, and interrogate the local and global factors that led to their disappearance from both social and cultural memories for a long time. Reading fiction, autobiographies, ethnographies, historiographical works, and anthropological texts alongside documentaries films, the students will understand how literature and film have become a locus in which amnesia about Arab/Berber Jews is actively contested by recreating a bygone world. Resisting both conflict and nostalgia as the primary determinants of Jewish-Muslim relations, the course will help students think about multiple ways in which Jews and Muslims formed communities of citizens despite their differences and disagreements. [ more ]

JWST 280 SEM Art at its Limits: Representing the Holocaust

Last offered Fall 2019

The Holocaust poses unique challenges to art: it is an event that unsettles the very notion of representation while, at the same time, also demanding it. Art, after all, is a mode of witnessing as well as a form of commemoration; it allows survivors to record their testimony and later generations to remember. Yet the representation of suffering can all too easily become exploitative or aestheticizing, it can turn pain into entertainment and history into fiction. How, then, do writers, artists, and filmmakers navigate the representation of the Shoah if it resists comprehension and undermines traditional forms of narrative? In this course, we will ask if and how art can do justice to a catastrophe of such magnitude as the Holocaust by analyzing different forms of media from a variety of cultural backgrounds. What can poetry offer that remains foreclosed to prose? Was Art Spiegelman's graphic novel Maus really in bad taste? How should documentaries approach the Shoah, and is there a place for Hollywood films in the archives of commemoration? Texts among others by Tadeusz Borowski, Tadeusz Ró'ewicz, Art Spiegelman, Paul Celan, Primo Levi, Sylvia Plath, Hannah Arendt, Theodor W. Adorno, Jacques Derrida, and Maurice Blanchot; films by Quentin Tarantino, Claude Lanzmann, Pawe' Pawlikowski, and Steven Spielberg. [ more ]

JWST 299 SEM Shakespeare's Torah

Last offered Spring 2024

For readers and speakers of the English language over the past five centuries, no literary body of work has been more central than the writings of William Shakespeare. His plays and poems have shaped the linguistic, philosophical, and artistic representation of human experience in ways that permeate every aspect of our lives. Shakespeare's capacious work and its central preoccupation with the essential questions of humanity have also inspired an extensive tradition of commentary, interpretation, and performance. In this regard, his work occupies a position similar to the one held by the collection of writings known in the Jewish tradition as Torah. This term refers both to the set of books contained in the Hebrew Bible and to the rabbinic tradition that emerged from reading those books, which in turn has provided the core principles for over two millennia of Jewish interpretive practice. This course invites students to read Shakespeare as Torah by applying the essential features of that practice to his extraordinary work. Through a deep and sustained encounter with four plays in four different genres (Hamlet, Henry IV, Twelfth Night, and The Tempest), we will combine analytic, critical, and creative principles to make meaning in and out of these texts. The goal throughout is to explore how the Jewish art of interpretation can illuminate our experience of Shakespeare's humanity. [ more ]

JWST 334(S) SEM Imagining Joseph

Beloved son, rival brother, faithful servant, dreamer, seer, object of desire, lover, husband, bureaucrat, Joseph is one of the most fully-limned and compelling figures in the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scriptural traditions. The story of Joseph unfolds over fourteen chapters in the Hebrew Bible, and is the subject of the fourth longest sura in the Qur'an. Through millennia, the story of Joseph has inspired a wealth of interpretations, commentary, apocrypha, re-tellings, and back-story, including an apocryphal book of scripture about Joseph and his wife, Asenath, Sufi poetry about Joseph and Zuleikha (Potiphar's wife), a trilogy by the 20th century German novelist Thomas Mann, a musical by Andrew Lloyd Weber, and many expressions in Western visual art. The course will explore these various expressions, looking to them for the ways in which Joseph has captured the imaginations of peoples and cultures across time and space. The course will be organized as a collaborative seminar in which the class will read the foundational scriptures together, followed by thematic discussions to which students will contribute insights from their own readings of particular peripheral texts. Students will learn the pleasures of close and intense exegetical reading in approaching the Hebrew Bible and Qur'an, as well as the more expansive pleasures of linking post-scriptural expressions together. [ more ]

JWST 338 LEC The History of the Holocaust

Last offered Fall 2019

In twenty-first century United States, the murder of approximately six million European Jews by Nazi Germany remains a central event in our political, moral, and cultural universe. Nevertheless, the Holocaust still confounds historians¿ efforts to understand both the motivations of the perpetrators and the suffering of the victims. In this course, we will study the origins and unfolding of Nazi Germany¿s genocidal policies, taking into consideration the perspectives of those who carried out mass murder as well as the experiences and responses of Jews and other victim groups to persecution. We will also examine the Holocaust within the larger context of the history of World War II in Europe and historians¿ debates about Germany¿s exterminatory war aims. Course materials will include diaries, speeches, bureaucratic documents, memoirs, films, and historical scholarship. [ more ]

JWST 339 TUT Politics in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt

Last offered Spring 2022

Hannah Arendt (1906-75) bore witness to some of the darkest moments in the history of politics. Born a Jew in Germany, Arendt lived through--and reflected deeply on--two world wars, the rise of totalitarianism, and the detonation of the first atomic bomb. She narrowly escaped imprisonment by the Gestapo and internment in a refugee camp in Vichy France before fleeing to New York. Yet, in the face of these horrors, Arendt never lost her faith in political action as a way to express and renew what she called "love of the world." She wrote luminously about the darkness that comes when terror extinguishes politics and the shining, almost miraculous events of freedom through which politics is sometimes renewed. In this tutorial, we will investigate what Arendt's vision of politics stands to offer to those struggling to comprehend and transform the darkest aspects of the contemporary political world. Our time and Arendt's are similarly darkened by the shadows of racism, xenophobia, inequality, terror, the mass displacement of refugees, and the mass dissemination of lies. It may be tempting to conclude from these similarities--as some recent commentators have--that we are witnessing the return of "totalitarianism" as Arendt understood it. She would be the first to refuse to use inherited concepts as if they were keys to unlock the present. Her words and her example should impel us to reject shortcuts to authentic understanding, the "unending activity by which...we come to terms with and reconcile ourselves to reality." We will turn to Arendt as an interlocutor, not a guide, as we seek to reconcile ourselves to the contingency and specificity of past and present political realities. And we will search her works and our world for embers of hope that even seemingly inexorable political tragedies may yet be interrupted by assertions of freedom in political action. [ more ]

JWST 343 SEM Spectacles on His Nose and Autumn on his Heart: The Oeuvre of Isaac Babel

Last offered Fall 2013

Known alternately as "master of the short story" and "Russian Maupassant," Isaac Babel was not only one of the most celebrated and intriguing authors of early Soviet Russia, but also a cultural figure of profound national and international significance. For a number of reasons (political, aesthetic, professional, ethical) Babel was not prolific and this will allow us to read almost all of his creative output, something we rarely get to do in the course of a single semester. Babel's writing is extremely varied--it includes sketches, journalistic prose, short stories, plays, movie scripts, one unfinished novel--and richly intertextual. This will afford us the opportunity to read the work of some of his contemporaries and predecessors, from both Russia and abroad, with whom he fashioned brilliant literary conversations, among them Guy de Maupassant, Anton Chekhov, Sholem Aleichem, and Ivan Turgenev. All course readings will be in translation, but students are highly encouraged to read in the original (Russian, French, Yiddish) whenever possible. [ more ]

JWST 430 SEM Postcolonial Reparations: Trauma, History, and Memory after European Imperialism

Last offered Spring 2024

How have European states responded to calls to acknowledge and atone for the crimes of Empire? This course places recent calls for reparations in a historical context. Weaving together a wide-range of historical and contemporary case studies -- including the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (1951), Germany's official recognition of the Herero Genocide (2021), and ongoing debates in France about the restitution of colonial-era looted art, this course investigates how the language and mechanisms of restorative justice have historically developed, evaluates which past efforts of restorative justice were successful and why, and examines what role historical memory and historians-as-activists should play in campaigns that seek reparations for colonial injustices. In doing so, it evaluates how activists have deployed scholarly vocabularies on memory, justice, and violence in a number of national and international contexts. [ more ]

Taught by: Charlotte Kiechel

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JWST 433 SEM Colonialism and the Jews

Last offered Fall 2022

Where are Jews in colonial history? Where is colonialism in Jewish history? In many ways, these questions haunt contemporary Jewish and often world politics. Indeed, in the twenty-first century, the relationship between Jews and colonialism has been present in debates about Zionism, the history of capitalism, Jewish-Muslim relations, the wider Middle East, the future of European identity, the aims and roots of American empire, and the intersections of race and religion in colonial domination. And yet, typically, the subject of Jews and colonialism is more polemicized or avoided than probed. This course will seek to address this lacunae by introducing students to new historical scholarship that has begun tracing these questions. Students will consider the ways in which imperial legal forms, economic structures, and cultural and intellectual underpinnings shaped Jewish lives from the British antipodes to French North Africa, and throughout the Russian and Ottoman Empires, as well as in metropolitan Europe. Among other issues, we will ask: How did Jews become defined and define themselves in the colonial venture? In their various roles in colonial empires, are Jews best understood as subjects or agents of empire or are there more fruitful ways to conceptualize their engagement? What was the impact of anti-colonial struggles on modern Jewish politics and historical development? The course will approach this topic thematically rather than as a comprehensive survey. By introducing students to some of the key debates in this emerging field, we will consider what it takes to construct a successful historical argument and how to engage critically with works in an emerging field. A semester-long writing project will expand students capacities to pose thoughtful historical questions; conduct research and gather compelling evidence; read deeply and critically; carefully assess evidence; and write inquiry-based essays. [ more ]

JWST 434(S) SEM Humanitarianism and Jewish History

In the twentieth century, Jewish history and humanitarian history became deeply intertwined. As the victims of persecution and expulsion, mass violence and genocide, Jews repeatedly figured as the recipients of aid and humanitarian intervention. At the same time, Jewish political figures, legal thinkers, intellectuals and scholars, social activists, and aid workers played central roles in the establishment of humanitarian organizations and in debates about the moral, political, and legal frameworks that have shaped approaches to humanitarianism across the decades since World War I. This research seminar is designed to open up big questions about the history of humanitarianism and to carve out space for students to conduct research on a particular place, time, and aspect of that larger history in conversation with other students working on related topics. In the first half of the semester, in discussions of common readings, we will examine various works of scholarship that connect to the history of humanitarianism from the nineteenth century to the present. Beginning in the first half of the semester and with greater intensity in the second half of the semester, you will conduct independent archival research on some aspect of the history of humanitarianism using the digitized archives of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, culminating in a twenty-plus-page paper. In the final weeks of the semester, the seminar will continue to meet weekly as a research colloquium, to provide a forum for you to present your research and drafts in progress and to give feedback on fellow students' work. In this seminar, we are not merely studying history; you are actually doing history. Over the semester, you will learn how to pose historical questions; to engage critically with readings beyond summarizing them; to synthesize an enormous amount of source material; and to learn how to write more clearly. The goal is for each student to produce a polished research paper based on engagement with archival sources and relevant secondary literature that will serve as a capstone to your coursework at Williams or as a potential jumping-off point for future research projects, including a senior thesis in History or Jewish Studies. [ more ]

JWST 490 TUT Memory, History, and the Extermination of the Jews of Europe

Last offered Spring 2022

This course is about the postwar legacy of the Holocaust. Nazi Germany's extermination of European Jews has become a moral and cultural touchstone for people in Europe and in many other parts of the world. This tutorial explores a series of topics from the immediate aftermath of the Second World War to the present. Engaging with a wide-range of sources, we will wrestle with historical, legal, moral, political, and cultural issues and debates that have emerged out of the confrontation with the extermination of the Jews of Europe. They include: Why was the Holocaust "unprecedented" and "unimaginable"? Is it a Jewish story or universal story? Does the Holocaust raise different issues than other historical events for the historian? How should the Holocaust be represented in words and images, and what are the implications of different means of representing it? Has Germany faced up to its past? Were Germans also victims of World War II? Who were the "bystanders" as compared to the "perpetrators"? Were the postwar trials of perpetrators a travesty of justice? What "lessons" have we learned and should we learn from the Holocaust? By the end of the course, students will have grappled with the ongoing controversies that have arisen among scholars, artists, governments, and lay people about the meaning of the Holocaust for the postwar world. In a world in which extraordinary acts of violence continue to be perpetrated and many nations' pasts are marked by episodes of extreme criminality and/or trauma, exploring the manner by which one such episode has been remembered, avenged, and adjudicated has relevance for considering other societies' efforts to confront their own traumatic pasts. [ more ]

JWST 492 SEM Modern Jewish Political Theory

Last offered Spring 2023

By the late 19th century, Jews across Europe were faced with an urgent political problem. Amidst bourgeoning national self-consciousness throughout the continent, despite the liberatory promises of the Enlightenment, Jews remained a vulnerable, segregated, and stigmatized minority population. Jews had to decide where to pin their hopes. Should they ally themselves with the liberals or the communists? Should they embrace nationalism or cosmopolitanism? Should they, perhaps, abandon Europe altogether and re-constitute themselves elsewhere? If so, should they focus their efforts on relocation to the historical land of Israel? Or could they go anywhere? Wherever they might go, should they aspire to build a modern Jewish nation-state, a semi-autonomous Jewish community, or some other arrangement? Should this coincide with the cultivation of a distinctively Jewish modern language? If so, should it be Hebrew or Yiddish? In this course we will assess various answers to these questions proffered by Jewish political thinkers in the modern period. We will pay particular attention to the construction of "Jews" and "Judaism" in these arguments. And we will ask persistently: what constitutes a "Jewish justification" for a political claim in modern Jewish political theory? Coverage will include: Jewish liberalism, political Zionism, Yiddishist autonomism, messianic quietism, and other views. We will read mostly primary sources, including texts by: Hermann Cohen, Theodore Herzl, Chaim Zhitlowsky, Franz Rosenzweig, Leo Strauss, Hannah Arendt, and many others. [ more ]