BA Religions, Theology and Ethics / Course details

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Jewish Tradition Today

Course unit fact file
Unit code RELT30811
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Religions and Theology
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Judaism has renewed itself since antiquity by responding to changed circumstances and cultural and religious challenges. It has done so in dialogue with what Jews at various points in history have defined as “the” Jewish tradition. Since European modernity, wholesale renewal or rejection of that tradition has also become an option. This course unit examines a number of case studies of the relationship of contemporary Jewry to tradition. It includes examples of contemporary responses to biblical criticism (e.g. the Louis Jacobs and James Kugel affairs), the changing perception of the role of women in religious lives (e.g. the thought of Jewish feminists, criticisms of the “chained wife”), examples of the role of Jewish law (halakhah) in the reception of technological and medical innovation (e.g. with regard to Sabbath observance, definitions of death), and Reform and orthodox responses to ethical challenges from enlightenment thought, the academic study of Judaism, the idea of a Jewish nation state (Zionism), racial antisemitism, the

Holocaust, post-modernism and environmentalism. The course is centred around the close reading of primary sources of classical and modern Jewish discourse in English translation, hence the balance between two-hour seminars and one-hour lecture.


The course aims are:

(1) To expose students to critical methods in the academic study of Jewish sources

(2) To analyse critically examples of the traditional and non-traditional application of authoritative Jewish texts to topics of modernity and the contemporary world by a variety of Jewish groups

(3) To facilitate the discovery of assumptions, concepts and values of communities that differ from Westernized modernity, including what a “religion” is.

Knowledge and understanding

Upon successful completion of the course unit, you will have the ability to:

1. Outline a critical understanding of a number of different approaches to the sources of traditional Judaism

2. Assess critically some key themes and textual sources of rabbinic Judaism, both ancient and modern

3. Provide a selective critical account of the practical and discursive responses to European modernity of Judaism as an ethno-religious tradition.

Intellectual skills

Upon successful completion of the course unit, you will have developed your ability to:

1. Identify and analyse basic characteristics of Jewish discourses, themes and positions.

2. Analyse critically topics relevant to the course in your writing.

3. Create a clearly structured, accurately referenced and coherently argued account of a complex topic in the study of culture and religion.

Practical skills

Upon successful completion of the course unit, you will have developed your ability to: ·

Identify, find and use critically a range of materials such as books, journals, primary sources in translation and web-based resources.

· Provide constructive peer feedback in meetings

Transferable skills and personal qualities

Upon successful completion of the course unit, you will have developed your ability to: ·

Write essays · Take effective notes during lectures

· Present the results of your work in a scholarly manner with appropriate referencing

· Participate in discussions

· Plan and articulate the results of independent research

· Reflect critically on cultural diversity

· Use reflexivity to undertake self-evaluation

Employability skills

· Recognise different perspectives while assessing critically the evidence for positions and arguments · Manage deadlines and prioritise between different tasks · Respond to a brief · Read closely and analyse critically written documents; · Demonstrate a high degree of professionalism, including creativity, motivation, accuracy and self management; · Express ideas effectively and communicate them accurately · Manage your own professional development, including reflecting on progress and taking appropriate action;

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 50%
Set exercise 50%

Feedback methods

written feedback on Formative - formative

oral and oral peer feedback on Essay plan 1 -  formative

written feedback on each of the Essays 1 and 2 - summative

Recommended reading

1. Z. Eleff, Modern Orthodox Judaism. A Documentary History (Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society, 2016).

2. A. Samely, Forms of Rabbinic Literature and Thought. An Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007);

3. I. Schorsch, From Text to Context. The Turn to History in Modern Judaism (Hanover, NH and London: Brandeis University Press, 1994);

4. S. T. Katz (ed.), Cambridge History of Judaism, Vol. 4 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006);

5. T. Ross, Expanding the Palace of Torah (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2004);

6. J. R. Baskin, Midrashic Women. Formations of the Feminine in Rabbinic Literature (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2002);

7. P. S. Alexander, Textual Sources for the Study of Judaism (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984);

8. Soloveitchik, H., “Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy”, Tradition 28 (1994), pp. 64–130.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 11
Seminars 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Alexander Samely Unit coordinator

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