Teaching the Introduction to Judaic Thought Course

By Raphael, Marc Lee | Shofar, Summer 2014 | Go to article overview

Teaching the Introduction to Judaic Thought Course


Raphael, Marc Lee, Shofar


ABSTRACT

Marc Lee Raphael reflects on teaching the Introduction to Judaic Thought course at The College of William and Mary. He teaches the course through the discussion of primary texts, from the Apocrypha to the Talmud to thinkers such as Maimonides and Heschel to ideologues such as Geiger and Frankel.

I came to the Department of Religious Studies of the College of William and Mary in 1989 after teaching the Introduction to Jewish History at The Ohio State University for two decades. Although trained as a historian (B.A. and Ph.D. degrees in the Department of History at the University of California, Los Angeles), it was not a huge transformation to teach the history of Judaic thought instead of the history of the Jews. My courses at Ohio State University incorporated Intellectual and religious no less than political and social history. The big change took place with my decision to no longer give any lectures, but to teach my course through discussions of primary texts.

Naturally, the decision of what to cover in one semester was extremely difficult, whether through lectures or discussions. In 1989, and still in 2014, I "cover" (of course, it is absurd to think I cover anything in a survey course) both genres of Judaic thought as well as Judaic thinkers. I begin with TaNaKH and Apocrypha, move through Mishnah, Talmud, Midrash, Responsa, and Commentaries, then turn to medieval (Maimonides and Judah HaLevi) and modern (Spinoza, Mendelssohn, Rosenzweig, Sholem Aleichem, A. D. Gordon, and Heschel) thinkers and artists, and finally discuss major ideologues of Reform (Geiger), Conservative (Frankel), Orthodox (Hirsch), and Reconstructionist (Kaplan) Judaism.

For each session, the students read the writings from the genre or the thinker under discussion, and I keep myself interested in the course by constantly changing the primary texts. In 2011 we studied Genesis Rabbi, Ibn Ezra, RaSHI, RaMBaN and Sforno to Genesis 22; in 2012 we used the same genres to discuss Genesis 37; and this past semester I assigned Genesis Rabbah 86 and 87, as well as the medieval Bible commentators, to Joseph's confrontation with Mrs. …

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