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Program in Judaic Studies


Peter Schäfer

Acting Director

Martha Himmelfarb (fall)

Executive Committee

Leora F. Batnitzky, Religion

Mark R. Cohen, Near Eastern Studies

Yaacob Dweck, History

Liora R. Halperin, Near Eastern Studies

Daniel Heller-Roazen, Comparative Literature

Martha Himmelfarb, Religion

William C. Jordan, History

Stanley N. Katz, Woodrow Wilson School

Lital Levy, Comparative Literature

Naphtali Meshel, Religion

Gideon A. Rosen, Philosophy, ex officio

Peter Schäfer, Religion

Esther H. Schor, English

Moulie Vidas, Religion

Associated Faculty

David Bellos, French and Italian, Comparative Literature 

Anthony T. Grafton, History 

Jan T. Gross, History 

Hendrik A. Hartog, History 

Wendy Heller, Music 

Anna W. Katsnelson, Slavic Languages and Literatures 

Thomas Y. Levin, German 

AnneMarie Luijendijk, Religion 

Deborah E. Nord, English 

Sarah M. Pourciau, German 

Anson G. Rabinbach, History 

Esther Robbins, Near Eastern Studies 

Lawrence Rosen, Anthropology 

Sits with Committee

Irena G. Gross, Slavic Languages and Literatures

Daniel C. Kurtzer, Woodrow Wilson School

The Program in Judaic Studies provides students the opportunity to explore more than three millennia of Jewish culture, history, religion, thought, politics, and literature from the Bible to contemporary Jewish thought and society from an interdisciplinary perspective. A wide variety of courses, lectures, conferences, film series, and exhibitions taking advantage of Princeton's rich resources in Judaic studies are offered. There is no "typical" certificate student; we serve students with a wide range of interests and welcome all who are motivated to deepen their knowledge of Judaic studies.

Program Requirements

In order to receive the certificate, students may choose from the following two options: (1) take a minimum of five courses in Judaic studies, which must include JDS 202 Great Books of the Jewish Tradition and at least one course from the premodern period or (2) take three courses to include JDS 202 Great Books of the Jewish Tradition and one course from the premodern period plus write a senior thesis that draws significantly on some aspect of Judaic studies.

A sound program of study will involve both historical range (courses in premodern and modern periods) and disciplinary breadth. While a junior paper in the field is not required, students are encouraged to explore the field of Judaic studies in their junior-year independent work. A freshman seminar may count as one of the required courses. Depending on other course work, Hebrew language courses may count toward the requirements with the approval of the program director.

Each student's course of study must be approved by the program director as well as by the departmental representative in the student's department of concentration. The certificate requirements are compatible with a concentration in any humanities or social sciences department.


Judaic studies has no specific language requirement apart from what is normally required by the University. However, when appropriate, students are expected to use foreign language skills in their senior thesis research. Students also are strongly urged to develop a competency in Hebrew and may use one advanced (300-level) Hebrew course, if they wish, to fulfill the general course requirements for the certificate.

Study Abroad

The program encourages students to consider studying in Israel, either for a semester or for a summer. Study in Israel provides an excellent opportunity to improve one's knowledge of Hebrew as well as to pursue other topics of interest. There are a number of intensive summer language programs in Hebrew and Yiddish in Israel, the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere. Courses taken abroad, other than elementary language, may count for up to two of the program's required courses.

Certificate of Proficiency

Students who fulfill all the requirements of the program will receive a certificate of proficiency in Judaic studies upon graduation.


JDS 201 Introduction to Judaism: Religion, History, Ethics (also REL 223)   Not offered this year HA

Starting with ancient Israel's radically new conceptions of the divine, morality, and history, this course explores the complex nature of Judaism and its development as a religion and culture over millennia--a development marked by internal debates and external challenges to continuity and survival. Emphasis is on the traditional bases of Judaism, such as religious beliefs and practices, interpretations of sacred texts, and shared communal values. Attention also to the variety of Jewish encounters with modernity, philosophy, secularism, and non-Jewish cultures. Two classes, one preceptorial. Staff

JDS 202 Great Books of the Jewish Tradition (also REL 202)   Fall HA

Introduces students to the classical Jewish tradition through a close reading of portions of some of its great books, including the Bible, rabbinic midrash, the Talmud, Rashi's commentary on the Torah (probably the most influential Bible commentary among Jews ever), the Zohar (the central work of Kabbalah), and the Guide for the Perplexed (Maimonides's great philosophical work). Students will consider what these works say about the relationship between revelation and interpretation in Jewish tradition and how they come to define that tradition. Two 90-minute classes. P. Schäfer

JDS 214 Masterworks of Hebrew Literature in Translation (see NES 214)

JDS 220 Jews, Muslims, and Christians in the Middle Ages (see NES 220)

JDS 221 Philosophy After Auschwitz (also PHI 221)   Spring

Focusing on the growing philosophical and theological literature about the Nazi concentration camps in general and about Auschwitz in particular, this seminar considers the challenges that the Nazi genocide brings to philosophy, theology, and conceptions of morality and politics. Sub topics will include: The theological questions Auschwitz poses to philosophy, Moral and political philosophy after Auschwitz, Representation and language after Auschwitz, and The concept of the Absolute after Auschwitz. O. Schechter

JDS 230 Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel (see REL 230)

JDS 242 Jewish Thought and Modern Society (see REL 242)

JDS 244 Rabbinic Judaism: Literature, History, and Beliefs (see REL 244)

JDS 245 Jewish Mysticism: From the Bible to Kabbala (see REL 245)

JDS 300 Israeli History through Film (also NES 314)   Spring HA

An introduction to modern Israeli history and culture through the medium of film. The course examines the transitions and changes in Israeli society over the past 60 years and presents students with some of the major themes of the Israeli experience. The history of Israel is the tale of the conflict between East and West, Arabs and Jews, and between the Jewish past and the Zionist ethos. It is the story of a transformation from a highly mobilized nation to a modern, self-doubting and pluralistic society that openly questions its past and constituting myths. Israeli cinema is a reflection of this history and culture. One three-hour seminar. E. Kaplan

JDS 301 Topics in Judaic Studies (also GSS 309)   Fall LA

The seminar, normally taken in the junior year, explores in depth a theme, issue, or problem in Jewish studies, often from a comparative perspective. Possible topics include gender and the family, comparative diasporas, messianic ideas and movements, Jewish history, anti-Semitism, authority, leadership, and conflict in Judaism, Jewish literature, Jewish popular culture. One three-hour seminar. F. Zeitlin

JDS 302 Elementary Biblical Hebrew I (also NES 302/REL 302)   Fall

Students will achieve a basic ability to read the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament in its original language. During the semester, students will learn the script and grammar, develop a working vocabulary, and master the standard dictionaries while reading passages from the Bible itself. Two 90-minute classes. N. Meshel

JDS 303 Elementary Biblical Hebrew II (also NES 311/REL 303)   Spring

A continuation of 302. Students will develop their ability to read the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament in its original language. During the semester, students will deepen their knowledge of the grammar, expand their working vocabulary, and practice reading larger passages from the Bible. Two 90-minute classes. N. Meshel

JDS 315 The Family in Jewish Tradition (also GSS 310)   Spring SA

This seminar will examine the historic flexibility and variability of the Jewish family in the context of selected times and places: Biblical period, early Common Era Diaspora, 20th-century Europe, contemporary United States and Israel. The major emphasis in this course will be on the different protocols and forms that may collectively be called the "Jewish Family." One three-hour seminar. R. Westheimer

JDS 317 Recent Jewish and Christian Thought (see REL 317)

JDS 320 The Bible in Modern Political Thought (also REL 395)   Spring SA

In this course we will discuss the Bible's status in modern political thought. The aim of the seminar is to explore the following issues: To what extent is the Bible admitted in modern political thought? What is authority of the Bible? What are the new ways of reading the Bible? Is reading and interpreting the Bible a political act? Can we speak about modern European political thought as independent of the Bible? Is the Bible a book for secular politics? We will discuss religious opposition to the Bible as a political authority. O. Schechter

JDS 335 The Jews of the Islamic World: From Muhammad to Modernity (also NES 335)   Spring

The current state of Jewish-Islamic relations is fraught with mutual suspicion and competing historical narratives that are manifest as much in the religious as in the political arena. In the midst of this debate, it is sometimes forgotten that Jews have for centuries been a vital presence in the Islamic world and have contributed to Islamic civilization right up to modern times. This course explores the complex historical relationship of the Jews of the Islamic world from the rise of Islam in the seventh century to the mass exodus of Middle Eastern and North African Jewry from their ancestral communities in modern times. E. Russ-Fishbane

JDS 338 The Arab-Israeli Conflict (see NES 338)

JDS 340 Ancient Judaism and the Dead Sea Scrolls (see REL 340)

JDS 346 Reason and Revelation in Jewish Thought (see REL 346)

JDS 347 Religion and Law (see REL 347)

JDS 349 Texts and Images of the Holocaust (see COM 349)

JDS 351 Golem: The Creation of an Artificial Man (see REL 351)

JDS 355 Between Swords and Stones: Jerusalem, a History (also NES 355/HIS 356)   Spring HA

For 3,000 years the city that is holy to all three monotheistic religions has known little peace and tranquility and has been the site of wars, conquests, and division. By drawing on historical, literary, religious, and cinematic sources, this course will explore the history of Jerusalem from antiquity to the modern period. It will examine its place in the religious imagination of Jews, Muslims, and Christians and trace the political history of a city that continues to be one of the most inflammable places on Earth. It will look at the conditions in today's "united" Jerusalem and explore the different contingencies to bring peace to it. E. Kaplan

JDS 359 Modern Jewish History: 1750-Present (see HIS 359)

JDS 367 Jewish Identities in France since 1945 (see FRE 347)

JDS 391 Holocaust Testimony (see ECS 391)

JDS 399 Modern Israel (also NES 399)   Fall HA

This course examines the formation and development of modern Israel, following the transition in Israel from a conformist society dominated by Zionist ideology to a society seriously questioning its values, ideals, and norms. It will focus on these changes in a wide range of sources: political and diplomatic, cultural, literary, cinematic, and more. The course will focus on the role of: the ideological origins of Zionist ideology; the Holocaust; the Arab-Jewish conflict; the Ashkenazi-Mizrahi; and the secular-religious divide on the development of contemporary Israeli society. Two 90-minute classes. E. Kaplan

JDS 458 Zionism: From Ideology to Practice (also HIS 458/NES 458)   Spring HA

Examines the history of Zionism as a diverse political, social and cultural, movement. The course traces the origins of the Jewish national idea in Europe at the period of Jewish emancipation and the rise of modern anti-Semitism and examines the transformation of Zionism into a political and social movement in Palestine, the emergence of the Jewish-Arab conflict, and the 1948 War. Explores the impact of Zionist ideology on the early years of Israeli independence, and, lastly, the course surveys the post-Zionist debates and the relevance of the Zionist idea today. Two 90-minute seminars. E. Kaplan