J S 304M • Jewish Civ: Begin To 1492

40210 • Schofer, Jonathan
Meets TTH 9:30AM-11:00AM PAR 304
(also listed as HIS 306N, MES 310, R S 313M)
show description

This course is a survey of Jewish civilization from the origins of Ancient Israel to 1500 C.E.  All materials are in English translation. The course is taught primarily from the standpoint of Religious Studies and Jewish Studies, in the sense that the course will address both the history of Jews during this long period, and the most influential writings produced during that time.  There will be some focus on the persons and writings that have been most influential for Jewish Civilization over time, including into the modern world.  This course is the first half of a two-semester sequence, and another course taught regularly in Spring semester addresses Jewish Civilization from 1492 to the present. 

The course will be organized according to an overarching thematic image of “Crisis and Response.”  Jewish Civilization over the time period we study, from origins in the later part of the second millennium B.C.E., to the end of the 15th century C.E., encountered key crises including a memory of enslavement in its sacred sources, the need for sovereignty, the loss of sovereignty and a state of exile, and then continued existence only within larger empires for over two millennia.  Responses to these crises were varied. 

In early legends, centuries of slavery were followed by liberation as The Exodus and the establishment of covenantal law (addressed in Unit 1). 

Later, the need for sovereignty brought the establishment of monarchy and centralized worship at a temple by the kings David and Solomon, and then a continuous period of sovereignty for over four centuries.  This sovereignty ended in 587 B.C.E. and initiated the need for continued existence in exile as well as in Persian and Hellenistic polities (addressed in Unit 2). 

The first century C.E. brought a new crisis with the end of Temple worship due to Roman conquest, and then the most enduring and productive response for Jewish Civilization was the legal and other innovations of Classical Rabbinic Judaism (addressed in Unit 3).  

In the Middle Ages, the rise of Christian and Muslim empires brought new contexts for Jewish communities, but also new degrees of persecution, and these crises were intimately connected with responses in intellectual and religious life, including the development of philosophy and the mysticism of Kabbalah (addressed in Unit 4).  



  • Three short papers, 2 pages each; each 15% of the course grade (45% total)
  • Midterm exam, closed-book, in-class (20%)
  • Final Exam, closed book, in-class (20%)
  • Class Participation (15%)


Required Books: (available at the University Co-Op Bookstore):

  • Alexander, ed., Textual Sources for the Study of Judaism
  • Jewish Publication Society (JTS), TaNaKh: The Holy Scriptures
  • Robert Seltzer, Jewish People, Jewish Thought


J S 311 • Intro To Jewish Latin America

40215 • Weinreb, Amelia
Meets TTH 11:00AM-12:30PM SZB 524
(also listed as ANT 310L, LAS 315, R S 313)
show description

What can we learn about Latin American social worlds when we look at the place of Jews within it? Conversely, what we learn about Jewish social worlds when they unfold in Latin America?

This course examines both of these questions. Specifically, we consider the role of Latin America as both a refuge from and a source of anti-Semitism, a hub of immigration, a site of Zionism, and of Jewish success and philanthropy. We also address themes of displacement, longing, belonging, marginalization, prejudice, immigration, community, cultural continuity, and memory, while considering Sephardi and Ashkenazi difference, and inter-generational conflict among Jewish Latin Americans. Overall, through reading, writing exercises, independent research and in-class films, the course is designed to provide students with an understanding of how Jews constructed individual lives and vibrant communities in predominantly Hispanic, Catholic countries of Latin America.

With these themes in mind, the course is divided into four units: 1) Historical literacy is a substantive introductory unit, which provides basic context from 1492 until the post-World War II period; 2) Jewish group identities in Latin American features readings on Jewish life and cultural forms in select national contexts (e.g. Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Dominican Republic and others); 3) Memoir and personal narrative engages students in critical reading of creative non-fiction and ethnography that focuses on individual lives; 4) Contemporary realities explores current events, contemporary trends and popular culture in Jewish Latin America. Finally, over the course of the semester, drawing on course motifs, students will produce their own research papers addressing a specific research question in the Latin American national context of their choice.

Note: This course carries the Global Cultures flag. Global Cultures courses are designed to increase your familiarity with cultural groups outside the United States. You should therefore expect a substantial portion of your grade to come from assignments covering the practices, beliefs, and histories of at least one non-U.S. cultural group, past or present.

J S 363 • Before The Bible

40216 • Weinbender, Jack
Meets MWF 1:00PM-2:00PM MEZ 1.118
(also listed as MEL 321, MES 342, R S 365)
show description

This course is an introduction to the literature, history, and religion of the ancient Near East for the purpose of understanding the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). The course will survey the geography, history, and literature of ancient Mesopotamia (Assyria, Babylon) and the Levant (Ugarit, Phoenicia, Israel) giving special attention to people, places, and themes, which are relevant to understanding the Hebrew Bible in its historical milieu. During the course, students will acquire skills that will allow them to compare and synthesize this information with the biblical text and material culture of ancient Israel. All primary and secondary readings will be in English. The first half of the course will focus on primary texts (in English translation) from Mesopotamia and Ugarit, representing the period before the “biblical period”; the second half of the course will focus on the topic of Israelite Religion(s), and how it fit into its broader culture and time.



  • Bible (The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha, Oxford University Press.
  • OR: HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, Harper One.)
  • Smith, Mark S. The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel. Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2002.
  • Dalley, Stephanie. Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others. Oxford University Press; Revised ed. 2009.
  • Schneider, Tammi J. An Introduction to Ancient Mesopotamian Religion. Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2011. Coogan, Michael and Mark Smith. Stories from Ancient Canaan, Second Edition. Westminster John Knox Press, 2012.


  • Five elective assignments 50% (10% each) (response papers, maps, digital or creative projects, etc.)
  • Participation 10%
  • Midterm 20%
  • Final 20%

J S 363 • Conflict Lit/Media Mid East

40217 • Green, Rachel
Meets MWF 12:00PM-1:00PM PAR 206
(also listed as C L 323, MEL 321, MES 342)
show description
Imagining Conflict in Modern Middle Eastern Literature, Media and Culture.


What is the role of the artistic creativity in making sense of conflict and imagining a better future? This course will explore a range of films, graphic novels and literary works in order to develop a deeper understanding of the interplay between conflict and the imagination in the Modern Middle East. Conflict is at once a literary device and sociopolitical reality, while the imaginary is a space of endless possibility, the common origin of stories, dreams, and social change. 


The course will be organized geographically, including units about Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and the Persian Gulf. We will encounter the dark humor and transformative vision of unlikely street-rabble heroes in dystopian Egyptian and Iraqi futures; we will follow the daring beats of a Palestinian Eminem. We will meet Israelis whose search for wholeness, whether in the Holy Land, or back in Poland and Iraq, remain just beyond arm's reach. We will consider the newfound prominence of the graphic arts and their role in salvaging hope amidst breakdown in Syria and Lebanon. We will grapple with aesthetic workings-through of the environmental, social and psychic changes wrought by oil exploitation in the Gulf. Lastly, we will consider the myriad ways in which the imaginary crosses real boundaries, whether via translation, smuggling and/or piracy, thus defying the boundaries of conflict itself. Examples of this include the refashioning of Western literary styles and tropes to critique the effects of foreign military intervention, as well as the underground traffic in cultural products across the Israeli/Arab divide. 


Course meetings will be comprised of a combination of lecture and discussion. In addition to deepening their understanding of Modern Middle Eastern cultures, students will also have the opportunity to develop both their academic and popular writing skills, in consultation both with the instructor and with peers. 



Course will be taught in English; no knowledge of Arabic or Hebrew is necessary. Students with an interest in working with course material in the original languages are invited to attend additional meetings with the instructor outside of scheduled class times. 




  • Adrift on the Nile, dir. Hussein Kamal [film] (Egypt)
  • The Committee, Sonallah Ibrahim (Egypt)
  • Utopia, Ahmed Khaled Tawfiq (Egypt)
  • The Square, dir. Jehane Noujaim [film] (Egypt)
  • Rags and Tatters, dir. Ahmed Abdallah [film] (Egypt)
  • Touch, Adania Shibli (Palestine)
  • Junction 48, dir. Udi Aloni [film] (Israel/Palestine)
  • "Agunot," S. Y. Agnon (Israel/Ottoman Palestine)
  • And Europe Will be Stunned, dir. Yael Bartana [film/art installation] (Israel/Poland)
  • "Tantal," Samir Naqqash (Israel/Iraq)
  • Hovering at a Low Altitude, Dahlia Rabikovitch (Israel)
  • Katschen, Yoel Hoffmann (Israel)
  • Waltz with Bashir, dir. Ari Folman [film] (Israel)
  • Tiller of Waters, Hoda Barakat (Lebanon)          
  • Bye, Bye Babylon, Lamia Ziade [graphic novel] (Lebanon)
  • The Arab of the Future, Part I, Raid Sattouf [graphic novel] (France/Syria)
  • Excerpts from Jurists of Darkness and Caves of Hydrahodahose, Salim Barakat (Syria)
  • Frankenstein in Baghdad, by Ahmed Sa'adawi (Iraq)
  • "The Ill-fated One (al-Mankud)," Abd al-Rahman Munif (Jordan/Iraq/Saudi Arabia)
  • The Bamboo Stalk, Saud al-Sanousi (Kuwait)
  • Supplemental secondary readings drawn from a range of fields, including history, sociology, economics, philosophy, and literary/film criticism


J S 363 • Jewish Folklore

40220 • Gottesman, Itzik
Meets TTH 12:30PM-2:00PM GDC 5.304
(also listed as ANT 325L, GSD 360, R S 357, REE 325)
show description

Course Description

Dybbuks, golems, evil eye are just some of the more well-known aspects of Jewish folklore, but this course will also examine the folklife of the Jews, their world view, their folk beliefs and fears. Call it folk religion if you will; many of these practices were dismissed by the "offical" Jewish religion as unJewish, but the "folk" persisted and eventually the practice became Judaized and accepted. The influence of the Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, also led to the introduction of many customs.

Using literary sources, ethnographic memoirs, historical documents, films (among them "The Dybbuk" 1939), folkore collections and field trips (among them - to the oldest Austin Jewish cemetery), we will focus on what makes Jewish folklore Jewish. For example, the high literacy rate among Jews over the centuries and the people's close connection to the written word led to the development of specifically Jewish interpretations of internationally disseminated beliefs. Folklore genres -folktale, legend, folksong, folkmusic, custom, belief and, of course, Jewish humor will be included.


Grading Policy

  • Attendance, homework and class participation: 30%
  • Four short papers 30%
  • Midterm and final paper: 40%


Reading List

  • Joshua Trachternberg   Jewish Magic and Superstition
  • Joachim Neugroschel   Great Tales of Jewish Fantasy and the Occult
  • Moses Gaster    Maaseh Book
  • I. B. Singer    The Satan in Goray
  • Elizabeth Herzog/Mark Zborowski   Life is With People

J S 364 • Holocaust/Race: Jews/Roma

40230 • Abzug, Robert
Meets T 3:00PM-6:00PM CLA 0.120
(also listed as LAH 350)
show description

In all that has been written about the Holocaust, both popular and scholarly renditions of its victims often overgeneralize the reasons for persecution and ultimate fate of the Nazis’ victims. This course will concentrate on the Holocaust and its catastrophic effects on the two groups—Jews and Roma and Sinti—the Nazis specifically slated for extermination as part of Nazi racial ideology. Of the nine million Jews of Europe, about 6 million or about two-thirds perished at the hands of the Nazis. Of the approximately one million Roma and Sinti (referred to pejoratively by others collectively as Gypsies) living in Germany and lands occupied by the Nazis, about 500,000 or half were murdered.

This course will explore the history and cultures of these groups, their status in Europe over hundreds of years, and the rise of racial arguments and understandings of race difference that culminated in the Holocaust. It will compare the fate of Jews, Roma, and Sinti to that of other Nazi victim groups as well as to other brands of race ideology prevalent in Europe and the United States. The goals of the course involve reconstructing the nature of European Jewish, Roma, and Sinti life, their relation to neighboring majority cultures, and the ways in which ideas of race spelled doom for them in the fateful decades of the 1930s and 1940s.           

Assignments and Grading Criteria:

Required ungraded weekly journal entries on readings and class discussions. (all journal entries required on time with penalty for late entries)

Term paper and In class presentation on term paper topic 40%

Midterm exam 15%

In class final exam 30%

Faithful attendance and participation in class discussion 15%

No final examination during finals week.

The grading scale is: A = 90-100; B = 80-89.999; C = 70-7.999; D = 60-69.999. Any average score below 60 would result in the assignment of an F. We use + and – grades at the upper and lower levels of each letter grade. 


A mixture of readings supplied on Canvas in .pdf form.



J S 365 • Amer Jewish Material Cul

40245 • Seriff, Suzanne
Meets TTH 12:30PM-2:00PM SAC 4.120
(also listed as ANT 325L, R S 346)
show description

This course introduces students to a burgeoning field of American Jewish cultural studies that deals with what cultural theorist Arjun Appadurai calls, “the social value of things.” Focusing on the interplay between material culture and Jewish identity, thought, and practice in contemporary America, the course explores how Jews think about, work with, use, wear, display and “perform” objects in the course of their everyday lives, and in public arts, history and cultural institutions. This is not a course just on the production of fine art by or about Jews, so much as it is about the everyday arts of adornment, celebration, liturgy, spirituality, memorialization and identity and the ways in which these various meanings are negotiated within distinct domains of prayer, performance, entertainment and display.

Borrowing from the central concern of cultural commentator, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, we will pose the question, "What does it mean to show?"— or in this case, “to show, Jewishly?” -- and explore the agency of display in a variety of American Jewish settings: in the home, on the street, in houses of worship, on the body, in celebration and in public displays such as museum exhibits, world’s fairs, festivals, and other heritage and tourist attractions. We will look at how the everyday artifacts of American Jewish life are made to "perform" their meanings for us by the very fact of being consumed, collected, arranged, worn, addressed, touched, kissed, and carried, and about the powerful messages 

conveyed not only by the objects themselves but by the specific ways in which these objects are addressed and interacted with. In examining the meaning and value of things in the context of religious practice and cultural display, students will have a chance to explore broader theoretical topics about what it means to be Jewish in a multi-cultural, multi-national, multi-denominational democracy such as the United States, as seen through an exploration of issues of memory, sense of place, identity, performativity, belief, and spirituality. Drawing from the fields of folklore, Jewish studies, cultural studies, religious studies, literature, museum studies, film, and photography, the course introduces students to the vibrancy and meanings of Jewish material culture in American Jewish life and thought.

The course will emphasize the development of critical thinking skills and cultural analysis. The class format will entail active, participatory, and empowering ways of learning based on class discussion, class field trips, and original oral historical and fieldwork-based research. The course is intentionally designed to be student-centered. Students will be discussing and presenting material during class sessions and interacting with one another and the instructor on a regular basis. Students will also have the opportunity to participate directly in the curatorial process of cultural representation, either through the planning and/or implementation of their own exhibit, or a critical analysis of a particular display of objects owned, made, collected, worn, displayed, used, venerated, and symbolized in American Jewish culture. 

download syllabus

J S 365 • Holocaust Aftereffects

40250 • Bos, Pascale
Meets TTH 9:30AM-11:00AM BUR 234
(also listed as C L 323, LAH 350, WGS 340)
show description

The events of the Holocaust changed Western culture in fundamental ways. Not only was a great part of Jewish culture in Europe destroyed, the circumstances of the Nazi genocide as a modern, highly rationalized, efficient form of mass murder which took place in the heart of civilized Europe changed the conception of the progress of modernity and the Enlightenment in fundamental ways. This course explores the historical, political, psychological, theological, and cultural fall-out, as well as literary and cinematic responses in Europe and the U.S. to these events as they first became known, and as one moved further away from it in time and came to understand its pronounced and often problematic after effects. Central to our inquiry is the realization that the events of the Holocaust have left indelible traces in European and U.S. culture and culture production, of which a closer look (first decade by decade, then moving on to a number of themes and questions), reveals profound insights into current day culture, politics, and society.

Required Texts: 

Levi and Rothberg, The Holocaust: Theoretical Readings; Art Spiegelman, Maus I ⅈ Ruth Klüger, Still Alive: a Girlhood Remembered; Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz;  Elie Wiesel, Night; Additional  course packet

Films: Nuit et Brouillard; Holocaust (excerpts); Shoah (excerpts); Schindler's List (excerpt)

Grading Policy

Attendance/participation 15%

Response papers (2) 10%

Class presentation 10%

Presentation paper 15%

Midterm exam 20%

Final research paper 30% (proposal, bibliography, outline + 1st, 5% each, paper: 15%)



J S 365 • Multicultural Israel

40240 • Weinreb, Amelia
Meets TTH 9:30AM-11:00AM GAR 3.116
(also listed as ANT 325L, MES 341)
show description

Israel has the highest proportion of migrants of any country in the world. The notion of absorption—the social and economic integration of Jewish immigrants—has remained an explicit ideal since the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948. Yet absorption is also an ideological tool that often runs counter to the contemporary lived experience of citizenship, participation, nation building, minority rights, and the conflicting interests of today’s multicultural publics. Taking these tensions as a starting point, this course explores the complex social fabric that comprises contemporary Israeli society, and that shapes Israeli identity, practice and politics. We will focus on the lived experience of Israel’s increasingly diverse population. This includes populations associated with the majority: veteran Ashkenazim and Mizrahim; more recent Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia, Latin America and France; religious communities such Haredim and modern-Orthodox. It also includes ethnic and religious minorities such as Arab-Israelis/Palestinians, Bedouins, Christians, Muslims, Druze, and Black Hebrews, as well as laborers from all over the globe who migrate to Israel and refugees from Sudan and Eritrea. How fluid are boundaries between these groups? How different are their interests, tastes, desires and needs? How committed are various publics to a coherent nation-building project and to contemporary Zionism? To explore the breadth of multicultural Israel without sacrificing cultural specificity and theoretical depth, the course is organized into three integrated units: a) historical background of Israel and its populations; b) Israel’s citizen-state relationships, identity and belonging, and c) ethnographic case studies of Israel-specific multicultural issues, and general contemporary multicultural theory.