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Undergraduate Courses

 

lincoln-course-image-optimized-cLincoln and Leadership
S. Daniel Abraham Honors Program at Stern College
Syllabus (PDF)

More books have been published about Lincoln than any other president, and he remains today perhaps the most studied statesman in the history of the world. In this seminar, Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, in conversation with Meir Soloveichik, will examine the lessons of Lincoln’s life in all of its multifaceted magnificence. Throughout the course we will study Lincoln as statesman, politician, political theorist, husband, father, orator, and theologian. Questions to be considered will include: How did Lincoln’s early life help form him into the leader that he became? What role did religion play in Lincoln’s life, and how did this evolve, and change, during the civil war? How did the foundational documents of American public life impact Lincoln’s worldview? What personal challenges did Lincoln face, in his own life and that of his family? What is the role of rhetoric in Lincoln’s achievements and legacy? How can Lincoln, as a role model, inspire us today, and how can we apply the lessons of his story to the challenges that America faces in our age? 

 

Zionism-Course-Image-optimized-CZionist Political Thought
Syllabus (PDF)

This course will consider the fundamental ideas and debates underlying modern Zionism and the state of Israel. The course will look at the different intellectual currents of modern Zionism—including Political Zionism, Cultural Zionism, Labor Zionism, Revisionist Zionism, and Religious Zionism—and also chart their impact on modern Israel. Questions to be discussed include: How did Zionists conceive of the relationship between religion and state? What were their views on economics, international relations, and education? The course will focus on works by political thinkers and politicians such as Theodore Herzl, Ahad Ha’am, A.D. Gordon, Ber Borochov, Rav Kook, Vladimir Jabotinsky, David Ben Gurion, and Menachem Begin. The course will conclude with an in-depth study of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

 

athens-course-image-optimized-CAthens and Jerusalem: A Study of Greek and Jewish Philosophy
Syllabus (PDF)

By “Athens and Jerusalem,” modern thinkers refer to two worldviews and cultures that fundamentally formed the west: that of the thinkers of classical antiquity, and that of Judaism. This course seeks to compare and contrast these perspectives through a careful reading of Greek philosophers and dramatists and Jewish philosophical texts.  Questions will include: What is man’s status, role and responsibility on earth, and vis-à-vis the divine?  What is the nature of the political community? How should we define heroism?  In what way do ethical obligations bind us?  Is friendship central to human flourishing, or is it a distraction from our religious duties?  How ought human beings respond to their mortality?

 

Belief-course-image-optimized-CBELIEF & RELIGIOUS COMMITMENT
Syllabus (PDF)

Throughout this course, students will examine certain issues and texts relating to the nature of belief, its place and significance in human thought in general, and with regard to religious commitment in particular. This course will delve into texts and methods of thought, belonging to the disciplines of Jewish thought, Western philosophy, theology and literature.

 

American-political-thought-course-image-optimized-CAmerican Political Thought
Syllabus (PDF)

The purpose of this seminar is to understand fundamental themes of American political thought by exploring the dominant American ethos and the critiques of it. Questions to be considered are: What is covenantal republicanism? What is its relation to the form of American government and to the protection of individual rights? What is capitalism and what form does it take in the United States? How has the dominant American ethos been extended and critiqued by major intellectual and political movements in American history including the Anti-Federalists, Transcendentalism, Populism, Progressivism, and African American Political Thought?

 

revolution-course-image-optimized-CThe Politics of Revolution
Syllabus (PDF)

Revolutions have wrought dramatic changes across the world from American independence from Britain to the rise of a theocracy in Iran. In addition to transforming social orders, these revolutions, and others over the last two centuries, have led to the death or injury of millions of people. To understand such crucial transformative phenomena, this course is organized around a set of critical questions: What causes revolution? Why do some succeed while others fail? What political, social, economic, and religious factors are most relevant in determining whether a country is headed for revolution? How important is statesmanship? Why do revolutions and war usually go together? What is the role of ideas and ideology? In considering these questions, this course aims to help students think about revolutions and other contentious political situations. Cases to be studied include the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Canadian Rebellion of 1837, the Russian Revolution, and the Iranian Revolution.

 

 

spinoza-optimized16th-19th Century Jewish Intellectual History
Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program at Yeshiva College
Syllabus (PDF)

In this course students use primary and secondary sources to examine Jewish intellectual thinkers and the 16th-19th century movements from which they emerged. The course addresses and examines the philosophical ideas born from the context of this historical setting, and attempts to do justice to a variety of problems and personalities that these ideas inspired. The course materials and lectures guide students through Eastern European thought to the West and back again, and familiarize them with the continued development of Orthodox thought and the rise of non-Orthodox groups and views within Judaism.

Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_079-optimzedRembrandt & The Jews: Art as Midrash in 17th Century Amsterdam
Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program at Yeshiva College
S. Daniel Abraham Honors Program at Stern College
Syllabus (PDF)

Acclaimed for his Protestant-influenced interpretation of Scripture, Rembrandt van Rijn’s art – paintings, prints and drawings – demonstrate a rich sensitivity to specifically Jewish ideas and concerns. The artist's association with Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel and other members of Amsterdam’s Jewish community influenced his approach to Hebrew Biblical subjects, as well as his understanding of Christian theology. This inter-disciplinary course explores the character of Rembrandt’s depictions of Hebrew Biblical and Christian subjects by examining their relationship to Jewish exegesis, including Talmudic, Midrashic and Kabbalistic literature, and to contemporary Jewish life in Amsterdam. Students are encouraged to examine Rembrandt’s connections to the Jewish community of Amsterdam, his knowledge of and perspective on Jewish sources and customs, and the master’s place within the larger context of art history and theological discourse.

 

Biblical Ideas and American DemocracyTopics: Judaism and Democracy
Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program at Yeshiva College
Syllabus (PDF)

This seminar brings classic Jewish texts about government into conversation with the foundational works of American political thought. In so doing, students consider the following questions: How did Jewish notions of politics, the social contract, and covenant impact the eventual structure and nature of the United States? How did the Bible figure in the debates about democracy and monarchy that took place during the time of America’s founding? What tensions exist between the notion of religious authority and the modern conception of personal autonomy? In what way is the United States different from European democracies, and what is the role of religion in American public life?

 

8220---base_image_4.1424269686-optimizedTopics: Modern Political Foundations
Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program at Yeshiva College
Syllabus (PDF)

This interdisciplinary examines and compares the seminal political ideas of two major events of modern times, the American and French Revolutions. The course focuses on the animating ideas behind these revolutions and the constitutional principles and practices put in place to advance them. Focusing on key primary documents of the French and American revolutions as well as important contemporaneous interpretations, the course aims to broaden students’ understanding of key questions of modern political philosophy and politics. Themes considered will include: natural rights and their foundation, tradition vs. innovation, republicanism vs. monarchy, liberty and tyranny, the separation of powers, and the role of constitutions in modern politics.

 

Politics and Literaturbooks-classic-literature-optimizede
S. Daniel Abraham Honors Program at Stern College Syllabus (PDF)

This is a course in the humanities, political philosophy, and political science. The course looks at modern political life through the lens of great works of political philosophy and literature. The course is divided into three sections: literature and the birth of modern politics, literature and contrasting visions of the modern political dystopia, and literature and democratic life. The course asks such questions as: how are pieces of literature (including novels, poetry, essays, and short stories) commentaries on, interventions into, and resistance to politics; what is the relationship between the development of the novel and modern political movements like capitalism, individualism, and democracy; how does literature describe the effect of totalitarianism, communism, and democracy on our everyday lives; can literature give us insight into politics that treatises, news, theoretical commentaries, and articles do not; how does political life influence the production and distribution of literary works; can literature make a unique contribution to democratic life; and how does literature help us cope with, and resist, political oppression, racism, and ostracism?

 

Moses_Mendelson_P7160073-optimizedMoses Mendelssohn and His American Counterparts
Bernard Revel Graduate School at Yeshiva University
Syllabus (PDF)

It was within Jewish thought, in Moses Mendelssohn's great work Jerusalem, that the idea of the liberty of conscience was most forcefully stated and developed in the era of the Enlightenment. Moreover, it was championed by a thinker who simultaneously championed the irreversible obligations of Jewish law. This groundbreaking philosophy was based on a certain theory of the relationship between religion and the state and on a certain theory of the nature of belief. Both these notions deserve close textual and analytical scrutiny. Most uncannily, these same ideas about faith and power were being developed at the very same time, unknown to Mendelssohn, by Jefferson and Madison in far-away Virginia. Students are encouraged investigate this extraordinary convergence and seek thereby to arrive at a better understanding of the modern difference and the American difference in the philosophical foundations of tolerance. The course concludes by pondering the implications of this difference for theology and religious thought.

 

IMG_7486-optimizedJewish Engagements: Judaism’s Encounter with Contemporary Society
Sy Syms School of Business at Yeshiva College
Syllabus (PDF)

This course focuses on questions of Jewish engagement with the contemporary world, and enables students to build a set of frameworks in order to answer questions of how to relate their identity as observant Jews committed to Judaism to the broader culture in which they find themselves. Students are introduced and guided through text-based arguments for “Torah only” and “Torah and” perspectives on Judaism, and will ultimately make their own informed decisions on how to live their lives as both Jews who value the authority of their religion, and as professionals, who value the opposite notion of autonomy.  The role of non-observant Jews, science, non-Jews, Christianity, tikkun olam, the theological significance of the State of Israel and even Jewish perspectives on recreation and leisure are addressed. The course presents Talmudic sources, rabbinic responsa, and modern academic articles in order to work through these pressing questions.

 

Shakespeare: Politics and the Human Condition
S. Daniel Abraham Honors Program
at Stern College

Syllabus (PDF)

This course focuses on central themes of political philosophy through a close reading of six Shakespearean plays: Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Merchant of Venice and Othello. Through rigorous textual analysis of the literature and an exploration of political theory and philosophy, students engage in topics such as the nature of political regime and its influence on culture and behavior; the character of ancient republicanism; religion and the state; law and violence; and the place of private passions like revenge, hate and love in politics.

 

The Bible in America
S. Daniel Abraham Honors Program at Stern College
Syllabus (PDF)

Antiquity, English republicanism, enlightenment philosophy, and the Bible all influenced the founding and culture of the United States. But what role does the Bible play in American culture and politics and how does it relate to the other strands of cultural influence? Are there different roles played by the Hebrew Bible and the Christian testaments? What role should the Bible and religion play in American public life? Should we think of the 1st Amendment as enshrining freedom of, from, or for religion?

This course examines these questions by studying foundational texts in American history as well as important philosophical works that influenced the culture of the founding. Readings include the books of Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Samuel, the New Testament, John Locke, Puritan Writings, Thomas Paine, George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr. Students are introduced to First Amendment law by reading Supreme Court Cases dealing with the establishment and free exercise clauses of the Constitution.

 

Epistemology of Religion
Syllabus (PDF)

This course explores foundational questions in the epistemology of religion. Some of the question are very old: can we know that God exists, and if so, how? Can we reasonably believe in God in the absence of evidence, and if so, why? Is it better to know that God exists or to accept it “on faith”? What is faith, anyway? Some of the questions are of more recent vintage: does the fact of religious disagreement between apparently reasonable people undermine everyone’s religious knowledge? How about the fact that if religious folks had been raised in a non-religious home, they very likely would not be religious? The readings are drawn from both the Western and the Jewish philosophical and theological corpora.

 

kuzari-072309The Kuzari and Contemporary Jewish Thought
Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program at Yeshiva College
Syllabus (PDF)

This seminar carefully studies Halevi's great work The Kuzari in its entirety, and considers the implication of its unique worldview for Judaism and Jewish thought in the age in which we live.  In particular, it focuses on two twentieth century Jewish theologians profoundly impacted by Halevi: Franz Rosenzweig and Michael Wyschogrod.  We also, in this context, study with fresh eyes the thought of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Rabbi Soloveitchik’s engagement of philosophy is often associated with, and compared to, that of Maimonides; we ponder, in our seminar, the similarities that exist between his worldview and that of Halevi.

 

Zionist Perspectives from Herzl to BeginZionist Perspectives from Herzl to Begin
Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program at Yeshiva College
Syllabus (PDF)

Throughout its history, two different facets of the Zionist project have either existed in tension with each other, or complemented one another.  On the one hand, Israel is, and seeks to be, a flourishing democratic state that makes manifest the modern Jewish right to national self-determination.  On the other hand, Zionism has long claimed to represent the covenantal, religious longings of Jews over millennia.  The goal of this course is to examine how these two facets of the Zionist project are reflected in the worldview and career of one of the most influential leaders of modern Israel: Menachem Begin.

 

Comparisons of American and Talmudic Law II: Great Cases of Conflict
S. Daniel Abraham Honors Program
at Stern College

Syllabus (PDF)

The course focuses on substantive issues – including circumstantial evidence, capital punishment, and duress – and analyzes the difference between the American legal approach and the halachic approach. The focus of the independent readings is on primary sources including several cases and Talmudic excerpts. Through understanding the differences between the American and Jewish legal systems, students develop a critical understanding – and concomitantly, an appreciation – for the nuances of the law as well as the legal structure as a whole.

 

American and Talmudic LawAmerican and Talmudic Law
S. Daniel Abraham Honors Program
at Stern College

Syllabus (PDF)

The current trend toward globalization has renewed interest in comparative law. The era of legal isolationism is coming to an end, and there has been an increased focus on the similarities between legal systems in forging global discourse across jurisdictions. By comparing the structure of the Jewish legal system with the American one, students understand the foundational concerns that go into creating any legal system, and can better analyze – on an ideological plane –what the law should be.

 

Great Political ThinkersGreat Political Thinkers
Syllabus (PDF)

Political philosophy deals with questions and aspirations at the center of the western tradition. Great Political Thinkers introduces students to the central concerns and ideas of political philosophy such as virtue, justice, regime, government, and nature. It also familiarizes the students with historical changes in political understanding from the ancient world to the 20th century, including Greek political thought, early modern liberalism and critics. Readings include Herodotus, Aristophanes, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Nietzsche.

 

Love and HateLove and Hate
S. Daniel Abraham Honors Program
at Stern College

Syllabus (PDF)

This course examines the values of Love and Hate through a prism of Jewish and Western thinkers and texts, including the writings of Michael Wyschogrod, Maimonides, Kierkegaard, C.S. Lewis, Shakespeare, and Rabbi Ahron Soloveichik. Through these valuable texts and discussions students enhance their knowledge and understanding on the topics of Divine Love and Election; Love of Neighbor;  Love of Friend, Community and Nation;  Justice, Equity, and Anti-Semitism; Love and Hate; and Evil and Ethics in Times of War.

 

Philosophy of Law: Civic vs. Religious IdentityCivic Versus Religious Identity in the Philosophy of Law
Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program at Yeshiva College
Syllabus (PDF)

This course considers some of the following key questions: What is the relationship between civic (or political) and religious identity?  How does religious identity contribute to or detract from the common life of a polity?  What values and goals must citizens share in order to ensure a flourishing society?  In a liberal democracy, what values and goals must be shared in order to ensure the preservation of core principles such as liberty and self-government?  Is there a need for a shared civic identity, and, if so, what is its content?  Does religious identity have a place in the public square, or is it an impediment to robust civic unity?  Are religious views legitimate in the public square only if they are (or can be) justified in purely secular terms?  Does the translation of religious views into universal moral claims undermine the particularity of religion and the distinctiveness of religious identity?  How does the relationship between civic and religious identity differ in non-Western and non-liberal societies?  What can modern Islam contribute to the understanding of the relationship between civic and religious identity?

 

The Image and the Idea: An Interdisciplinary Seminar on Art History and Jewish ThoughtThe Image and the Idea: An Interdisciplinary Seminar on Art History and Jewish Thought
 S. Daniel Abraham Honors Program
at Stern College

Syllabus (PDF)

As beings rooted in a physical world governed by laws of nature, we achieve sanctity through tangible and sensory means: acts of charity, song, prayer, text study – and art.  At the same time, the Tanakh and Talmud express constant concern lest we give in to the human temptation to render the Divine in finite form.  This interdisciplinary course explores the process through which art and artists make use of physical means to achieve spiritual or intangible ends; and the ways Judaism and Jewish sources deal with the tension between the physical and the spiritual, between external act and internal meaning, between the visual and the intellectual, the image and the idea.

 

Moral PhilosophyMoral Philosophy
Syllabus (PDF)

This course explores classic works of Western moral philosophy and some key texts of Jewish moral thought. The course means to enable students to understand some of the enduring, fundamental problems of moral philosophy and some of the most important approaches to formulating and addressing them. It is also—and equally—intends to highlight some of the significant resources in Jewish thought and the sorts of contributions they make to the main issues of moral philosophy. Rather than being mainly a survey, aiming at surface acquaintance with several thinkers, the course is built around two centrally important questions. The first is, “what is the nature and locus of moral value?” and the second is “what is the nature of moral motivation; how and why would a person be motivated to act on the basis of moral considerations?” Those questions pervade the history of moral philosophy, and different thinkers’ approaches to them shape key elements of their thought. These thematic concerns supply a helpful architecture to our discussions.

 

Jewphilosophy-optimizedish and Western Philosophies of Law
Syllabus (PDF)

This Honors seminar offered at Yeshiva College examines the contours of the interface between Jewish and Western philosophies of law. A running theme of the course is the interrelationship between reason, revelation and natural law, and topics treated throughout the semester include Noahide law, the role of law in Judaism and Christianity, and mishpat ivri. Students are assigned readings from medieval halakhists and legal theorists (e.g., Maimonides, Rabbi Nissim Gerondi), modern legal philosophers (e.g., HLA Hart, Ronald Dworkin, Richard Posner), and modern halakhists and thinkers (e.g., Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin)

 

RIETS Courses

On Jewish Ideas and American DemocracyOn Jewish Ideas and American Democracy
Syllabus (PDF)

This seminar brings classic Jewish texts about government into conversation with the foundational works of American political thought. In so doing, we consider the following questions: How did Jewish notions of politics, the social contract, and covenant impact the eventual structure and nature of the United States? How did the Bible figure in the debates about democracy and monarchy that took place during the time of America’s founding? What tensions exist between the notion of religious authority and the modern conception of personal autonomy? In what way is the United States different from European democracies, and what is the role of religion in American public life?

 

Straus Semikha Seminar on Judaism, Just War, and National Security:Straus Semikha Seminar on Judaism, Just War, and National Security

This seminar considers the similarities and differences between Jewish and Western approaches to the subjects of justice, law, war and terrorism, and to ponder thereby how Jewish tradition would approach the critical national security questions of our age.  In so doing, students discuss the following questions:  What is Judaism’s notion of justice, national sovereignty and international law?  What is the difference, for the halakha, between tzedek and mishpat?  What can Jewish scholars learn from some of the most influential classical and modern texts about war, politics and foreign affairs?  What role should religious leaders in general, and rabbanim in particular, play in debates in America and Israel about national security?

 

israel-flag-optimizedCovenantal Judaism and Zionism
Syllabus (PDF)

This advanced seminar examines, from a religious and historical perspective, the worldview and career of one of the most influential leaders of modern Israel: Menachem Begin. The course first traces the roots of modern Zionism in general, and of modern religious Zionism in general, and of modern religious Zionism in particular, and then focuses on some of the seminal and controversial moments in Begin’s life that occurred before he was prime minister. The second part of the course examines moments in Begin’s administration that continue to impact Israel today. Throughout the seminar Begin’s thoughts and actions are used to stimulate thinking about several important questions:  What is the difference between “state of the Jews” and “Jewish state”? How can a state balance democracy and Judaism, religious-historical values with national security needs and responsibilities towards its own citizens and responsibility to its Diaspora? What can the decisions that Begin made teach us about political leadership in general, and Jewish leadership in particular?

 

Jewish Perspectivesgenetic-ethics-optimized on Bioethics
Syllabus (PDF)

Taught by Rabbi Dr. David Shabtai, this RIETS seminar is dedicated to exploring some of the fundamental issues raised by the interaction between halakha/hashkafa and science and medicine, as the latter continue to evolve at a rapid pace. Topics include: How should life and death be determined? Who should be making these decisions and what role can or should Jewish thought play in the larger societal discourse about these issues? How do we relate to fertility medicine and the very beginnings of potential life? What do the ways in which we relate to these technologies say about us as a society?

 

theodor_herzl_and_messiah-course.optimizedJewish Political Ideas

This year-long seminar focuses on twentieth century Jewish political thought. In the first semester, students study the foundational texts of modern Zionism, and consider theories of political, labour, revisionist, cultural, and other important trends within Zionist thought. This approach not only shows how these texts have impacted the past and current history of the state of Israel, but also assesses the theories for their own merits. In reading through Zionist texts, students are prompted to think critically about these political theories,  to assess their strengths and limitations and to surmise the  kind of resources they might offer for sustaining and building a Jewish commonwealth. In the second semester students read great texts in twentieth-century political thought more generally, such as the works of  Isaiah Berlin, Leo Strauss, Irving Kristol, and Hannah Arendt. Students reflect on these thinkers’ views of tradition and progress, individual rights and community, and, above all, the role and character of religion in modern life. The purpose of the seminar is for students to think critically and Jewishly about the great political problems facing the Jewish people, the Jewish state, and modern society on the whole.