High School, Jewish History

Jewish History Survey

The first part of this course covers the ancient period of Jewish history, from the reign of King David to the completion of the Talmud, a period that spans approximately 1,500 years from 1000 BCE to 500 CE. It begins with the center of Jewish life in Israel and ends with the Jewish people in exile, centered in Babylon. During this time, the Jews in the land of Israel were subject to the successive rule of the Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman empires and experienced limited self-rule only during the Hasmonean dynasty. The period was one of sectarianism and great religious fervor and change. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes were just some of the major sects that sought to promote their variety of Judaism. From this mix emerged Christianity, which became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire and of Western civilization, as well an archrival of the Jewish people. Mainstream Judaism developed through the Pharisees and their successors the Tannaim and Amoraim, who focused on the Oral Law as the basis for Jewish life. Their ability to move Judaism from a Temple-based religion to one that emphasized study and prayer gave the religion the vitality and flexibility needed to ensure its continuity and relevance.

The second part of the course covers the period from the rise of Islam to the Emancipation, the beginning of the modern period. Emphasis is placed upon the emergence of diverse expressions of Jewish religious and intellectual ideas. Topics to be discussed include the status of the Jews under Christianity and Islam, Church doctrine, Antisemitism, Jewish origins in Europe, communal and economic activity, the Jews of Muslim Spain, the Jews of Germany and France (Ashkenaz), the Crusades, Christian Spain, polemics and disputations, the Marranos, the Inquisition and Expulsion, settlement in Israel during the 16th century, the development of Kabbalah as a major intellectual mode of Jewish thought, the Renaissance, the Protestant  Reformation, and the messianic movement of Sabbetai Tzvi.

An understanding of the importance of this period is essential for a proper understanding of the contemporary Jewish scene. Particular emphasis will be placed on the intellectual and religious expressions of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jewry as well as the different Jewish experiences living under Christianity and Islam.

Holocaust Studies

This comprehensive, multimedia course on the Holocaust, the Sho’ah, goes beyond the historical fact of the six million Jews brutally murdered in Nazi-occupied Europe. Students learn about the Holocaust as a lesson in what can happen when prejudice and discrimination are allowed to flourish, and when individuals and governments fail to take a stand against injustice.

Studying the Sho’ah can also help students think about the use and abuse of power. It can heighten awareness of the potential for genocide in the contemporary world. The Holocaust provides a context for the danger of remaining indifferent in the face of the oppression of others. It helps develop an awareness of the value of diversity in a pluralistic society, and encourages sensitivity towards minority groups. This course will provide students with the opportunities to realize the relative ease with which fundamental human and civil rights can be denied and to understand the ramifications of stereotyping, prejudice, discrimination, and scapegoating. Ultimately, this program will enable students to define their own role as responsible citizens of the world.

The Holocaust was primarily a crime against the Jewish nation. Having lost a third of the world’s Jewish people during the Sho’ah, modern Jews are committed to studying and remembering Jewish life before and after this tragic period. We undertake this learning as part of our identity and to fulfill our tradition’s sacred promise – never, ever forget.

Israel Advocacy Seminar

This course focuses on Israel advocacy tools and strategies. In light of the current climate of Anti-Zionism in the world at large and especially on college campuses throughout the USA, this course provides our students with the essential historical, sociological, ideological, and political information they will need to make the case for Israel. Our double-pronged approach couples theoretical data with practical strategies for successful advocacy. The two minor subcomponents, Israeli Literature and Cinematography on the Israeli-Arab Conflict, expand and enrich the understanding of our topic by presenting additional and often opposing points of view. The main goal of this course is for the student to acquire the tools they need to set the agenda in the contemporary debate about the State of Israel, and to advocate effectively on its behalf.

The Middle East and The United States

Events in the Middle East, both historical and current, and their relationship to United States foreign policy issues are studied in this interdisciplinary course involving both the History and Judaic Studies departments. Students consider in depth the birth of the modern State of Israel in 1948 and the history of the Arab nations in the region. Students explore how the dynamics of the political situation in this part of the world impact the American foreign policy, focusing on the issue of American energy needs and policy concerning oil.