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Course Descriptions


JST 299: Introduction to Judaism 

TTh 12:00-2:00

Taught by Professor Loren Spielman 


Judaism is a religion of ancient ties to a foundational text, a land, a people, and a way of life. It is also a world civilization that has undergone surprising changes in its more than 3,000 year history. In this course we will explore the religious beliefs and practices of Judaism, from its Biblical origins to the variety of its modern forms. No prerequisites. 



ENG 330U: Jewish & Israeli Literature
MW 2:00-4:00

Taught by Professor Michael Weingrad 

This survey of modern Jewish literary creativity looks at fiction and poetry translated from Hebrew, Yiddish, French, Russian, and German. Topics include the relationship between sacred and secular literature; the transition from a diasporic European Hebrew literature to a national Israeli literature; the representation of the Holocaust in literature. Authors include the Nobel prizewinning S. Y. Agnon, poets Paul Celan and Yehuda Amichai, and novelists Patrick Modiano and Amos Oz. 



HST 399: Jewish History II, Medieval Period to Present 

TTh 10:00-11:50

Taught by Professor Natan Meir 

This course surveys Jewish history from approximately the year 1000 to the present, covering major developments in Jewish society and culture in the medieval Islamic and Christian realms, early modern Europe and the Middle East, and the modern world. Topics include the rise of the Spanish and northern European Jewish communities, trends in Jewish religious thought (including the emergence of kabbalah), expulsions from western Europe, new settlements in Ottoman Empire and Poland, changes in Jewish civil status in the modern age, Jewish migrations and political movements (including Zionism), the rise of U.S. Jewry, the Holocaust, and the establishment of the State of Israel. N.B. This class is the second in a two-semester introduction to the study of Jewish history, religion and culture, but the first half of the survey is not a prerequisite for this course. 



HST 399: The Religion of Ancient Israel
MW 10:00-12:00

Taught by Professor Loren Spielman

The stories and legal codes of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament have profoundly influenced religion and ethics for over two millennia.  Placing the writings of the Bible in their Ancient Near Eastern context, this course investigates the various sources and traditions of Israelite religion which shaped the Bible over the long period of its production. The course is taught from an interdisciplinary perspective, which includes geography, history, archaeology, language, literature, and religious studies.Students will gain knowledge about the history and formation of the Hebrew Bible and be exposed to ancient ideas about community, sanctity, social justice, prophesy, wisdom, and the nature of human suffering. 



*NEW COURSE!* JST 399: Israeli Culture and Society
TTh 2:00-4:00

Taught by Professor Nina Spiegel

This course investigates the foundation and development of an Israeli national culture and its role in shaping contemporary Israeli society.  How was a national culture created?  What forces influence and challenge an Israeli national identity? What are the roles of competing voices in the cultural arena? Topics such as myth and memory, public and state events, music and dance, theater and architecture, will be examined.



HST 405E/505E:  Colloquium on East European Jewish History  -NOTE CHANGE IN COURSE CODE AND TITLE- 

T 2:00-5:00

Taught by Professor Natan Meir

Eastern Europe was one of the great centers of Jewish civilization in the early modern and modern periods. This reading colloquium explores the society that Jews created, a world unto itself but also closely interlinked with the surrounding Slavic and Christian society. Topics include the structure of Jewish community, Jewish religious culture, socioeconomic patterns, individual and corporate identity, and modern political and literary developments from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. Geopolitical contexts will range from the early modern Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union.

This course is the prerequisite for the subsequent research seminar on the history of the shtetl (HST407/507E), offered in the Spring term. Although this colloquium can be taken as an independent course, history majors who take both it and the following 407 seminar on the shtetl will fulfill their two-seminar requirement. History majors who have taken this reading colloquium will have priority for enrollment in the 407 seminar on the shtetl.


ENG 410: Messiahs in Modern Jewish Literature 

T 5:30-9:10

Taught by Professor Michael Weingrad

How have the religious concepts of redemption, apocalypse, and messianism been transformed in modern Jewish literature? How are these concepts used to convey the experience of secular modernity, of Zionist state-building, of the Holocaust? We will read a range of novels and poems by major modern writers such as Isaac Bashevis Singer and Uri Zvi Greenberg, all in English translation, as well as theoretical and historical essays about Jewish messianic movements from antiquity to the present. Recommended: a course in modern Jewish literature or history.


Winter 2013




ENG 367U Jewish American Literature and Culture  

MW - 14:00-15:50 

Taught by Professor Michael Weingrad 


Between 1880 and 1920, over two million Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe arrived in the United States.  These immigrants and their American-born children and grandchildren integrated into American life while helping shape what American life would be.  This course looks at this process through literature, film, art, and music produced by Jews in the United States in the first half of the twentieth century.  We will consider the immigrant experience, the fate of Yiddish and Hebrew culture in America, the process of Americanization, the nature of ethnic identity, and the relationship between American Jews and radical politics.  

Texts include: 

Abraham Cahan, The Rise of David Levinsky 

Ruth Wisse, A Little Love in Big Manhattan 

Isaac Rosenfeld, Passage from Home 

Lionel Trilling, The Middle of the Journey 


HST 407E/507E Research Seminar: The Shtetl 

T 1400-1700 

Taught by Professor Natan Meir 


This course explores the reality and the image of the shtetl — the small Jewish market-town in Eastern Europe — through an array of primary sources that include memorial books and memoirs, photographs and film, literary works, archival documents, and oral history. Students will write a research paper on a topic of their choice using primary sources in translation; class time will involve intensive work with primary sources and workshopping of works in progress to support students’ ongoing research and writing. 

Prerequisite: HST 300 and HST 405E or consent of the instructor. Students who have not completed HST 300 will be unable to register for this course via web registration. 


HST497/597 Film and History - Yiddishlands: Yiddish Culture through Film 

M 17:30-21:10 

Taught by Professor Natan Meir 


The millennia-old culture of East European Jews responded to the modern age in a variety of ways; one of these was film. In the first half of the twentieth century, a rich array of films in the Yiddish language was produced in Poland, the Soviet Union, and the United States. This course samples the most significant of those films, along with relevant literature, poetry, and historical documents, in order to provide an understanding of the history and culture of the Jews of Eastern Europe, the largest Jewish community in the world up to the Holocaust.


HST  399 Jewish History I: Ancient to Medieval

Tues/Thurs 14:00-15:50

Taught by Professor Loren Spielman

This class is the first in a two semester introduction to the study of Jewish history, religion and culture (no prerequisites are required). The course is organized to introduce students to the Jewish historical experience from its Biblical origins through the end of the first millennium CE primarily by means of close readings of primary sources. Throughout the course, equal attention will be paid to the social and political history of the Jews and the development of Jewish thought in the cultural context of the Ancient and Late Antique Mediterranean world.  By the end of this course, students will be able to identify the key figures, institutions and events in Ancient and Early Medieval Jewish History and demonstrate their importance to the development of Jewish thought and culture. Students will also be exposed to the diverse forms of Jewish life under Persian, Greco-Roman, Early Christian and Muslim rule and examine the boundaries of pre-modern Jewish cultural and religious identity. Lastly, students will be introduced to the various genres of Jewish literature, including texts from the Bible, the Talmud and the Dead Sea Scrolls.


RST 415 Contemporary Issues in Religious Studies  

Christians and Jews in Antiquity: Ancient Sources and Contemporary Responses 

Tues/Thurs 12:00-13:50

Taught by Professor Loren Spielman


This course will begin with an overview of some of the important moments in Jewish-Christian relations in antiquity as seen through the lens of primary sources. During the second half of the course the students will engage in field-work in and around the Portland area, interviewing congregants, lay-leaders and clergy about how these sources have helped to shape their understanding of the contemporary relationship between Christianity and Judaism.


INTL 399 Women and Gender in Israel 

Tues/Thurs 10:00-11:50

Taught by Professor Nina Spiegel 

This course investigates the history of women and gender in modern Israel.  By examining a broad range of topics including religion, culture, ethnicity, and politics, we will explore the breadth and diversity of a variety of women’s experiences.  The course will investigate themes such as gender and nationalism and the impact of gender on the Arab-Israeli conflict, analyzing images and conceptions of beauty, femininity, masculinity, motherhood, work, nationality.  No prerequisites are required.


HST 399 History of Modern Israel 

Tues/Thurs 2:00-3:50

Taught by Professor Nina Spiegel
This course is an introduction to the history of modern Israel, exploring social, political, cultural, and intellectual developments from 1880 to the present. Topics include the emergence of the Zionist movement; political, cultural, and social developments before and after 1948; the Arab-Israeli conflict; and the social framework of Israeli society. No prerequisites are required.




Spring 2013



HST399:  History of Zionism to 1948

TTh 12:00-2:00 

Taught by Professor Natan Meir


Zionism, defined as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, has brought about a revolution in Jewish life over the past century and a half.  This course will examine Zionism as both nationalist ideology and practical solution to the so-called “Jewish Question” in Europe.  Beginning with an overview of Jewish history and of the rise of nationalism in the nineteenth century, we will examine early forms of Zionism in Eastern and Central Europe, the many different forms of Zionism (and other types of Jewish nationalism) that emerged at the turn of the twentieth century, and the beginnings of settlement in Palestine/Eretz Israel.  We will explore the society and culture that the Zionism movement created under the British mandate of Palestine, and understand the roots of the Arab-Jewish conflict in this context.  We will also examine the impact of Zionism on Jewish life and politics in Eastern and Central Europe and in the United States.


JST 399:  Israeli Culture and Society
TTh 10:00-12:00

Taught by Professor Nina Spiegel

This course investigates the foundation and development of an Israeli national culture and its role in shaping contemporary Israeli society.  How was a national culture created?  What forces influence and challenge an Israeli national identity? What are the roles of competing voices in the cultural arena? Topics such as myth and memory, public and state events, music and dance, theater and architecture, will be examined. 


JST 399:  Memory and Identity in Israel and the U.S.

TTh 2:00-4:00

Taught by Professor Nina Spiegel


This course examines the formation of national memory and its role in shaping national identity in Israel and the United States.  With a focus on museums, the course provides a comparative approach, investigating cultural debates that take place over how national history is presented at public sites.  How is national memory formed? How does it operate in different national contexts? What are the politics of cultural memory in these two locales? The course will include visits to local museums.  No prerequisites are required.




HEB 399:  Israeli Film 


Taught by Professor Moshe Rachmuth


Learning Israeli cinema gives students a chance to learn the cinematic achievements of a film industry that, despite continuing financial and political difficulties has earned global recognition. At the same time, the films chosen will show how Israeli Jews represented for themselves the history of the Zionist project.


We will watch films and film excerpts from pre-Israeli times (1930s) to date and examine how Israeli cinema is used at times to promote Zionist ideology and at times (mostly from the 1960s onward) to criticize it. We will also look at two major conflicts that are represented in Israeli cinema - the ethnic conflict between Jews and Arabs and the class-ethnic conflict between Ashkenazi Jews and Sepharadi-Jews.