JEWISHST 131 / HDS 1456 – The Jewish Library: Four Jewish Classics

JEWISHST 131 – The Jewish Library: Four Jewish Classics

Semester: Spring
Offered: 2022
Instructor: David Stern
Meeting Time: T, Th 1:30pm-2:45pm

Judaism is a famously text-centric religious culture, founded not only on a single book, the Hebrew Bible, but profoundly involved in the study and ritual use of other classic texts like the Babylonian Talmud, the Prayerbook, Biblical commentaries like that of Rashi, and the Passover Haggadah. This course will study the development of these four books and their transformation from texts into books with distinct physical and material features. In the case of each book, the text will be studied historically– “excavated” for its sources and roots, and its subsequent development over the centuries—and holistically, as a canonical document in Jewish tradition. Class time will be devoted primarily to learning to read the primary sources in translation; supplementary secondary readings will provide historical and cultural context. The seminar will also include regular visits to Houghton Library to look at manuscripts, early printed editions, and facsimiles of these books in order to study the changing shapes these books have taken as a key to understanding how they were studied and used, and to consider the relationship of materiality to textuality. While each book will raise its own set of issues, we will repeatedly deal with three basic questions: What makes a “Jewish” text? How do these books represent different aspects of Jewish identity? What can these books tell us about the canonical books of other religious traditions? No previous background in either Judaism or Jewish history is required. All readings in English translation. While this course is not a formal introduction to Judaism, it does aim to introduce students to Judaism and Jewish culture from inside its classic texts.

Offered jointly with Harvard Divinity School as HDS 1456

For more details please visit the Harvard Course Catalog.