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CJS - Courses and Degree Programs

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The Richard S. Dinner Center for Jewish Studies (CJS) at the Graduate Theological Union is a premier center for the advanced study of Jewish history, culture, theology, and religious life. CJS graduate programs combine rigorous text-study with distinctive interdisciplinary approaches. Our students gain essential training for academic careers, community leadership, as well as pastoral and educational roles in the Jewish world and beyond. Among the Center’s areas of academic focus are rabbinic literature and culture, Jewish mysticism and philosophy, modern Jewish thought, and Jewish-Christian and Jewish-Islamic relations from late antiquity through the present age.

Course Offerings

Fall 2020

To register for classes, click here:

HSHR-2050 Jewish Thought and Practice in Moses Maimonides
Instructor: Deena Aranoff | Tuesdays, 12:40pm–3:30pm

This course will examine central aspects of Jewish thought and practice through the writings of Moses Maimonides. Maimonides produced a highly influential synthesis of medieval philosophy and classical Jewish traditions, with an emphasis upon religious thought and action. In this seminar we will explore foundational elements of Judaism as defined by Maimonides, alongside broader questions such as: What is the nature of revelation? What is the nature of humanity? What is the purpose of religion? We will explore the writings of Maimonides as they contributed to an integrated understanding of the person, society and religion. This course satisfies the ancient-medieval survey course requirement for the M.A. and certificate in Jewish Studies.

HSHR-3600 Jewish Counterculture of the Sixties
Instructor: Sam Berrin Shonkoff | Thursdays, 2:10pm–5:00pm

The "counterculture" of the 1960s sparked revolutionary change in the United States and beyond. The Civil Rights Movement and the Black Panthers, the Vietnam War and the Free Speech Movement, second-wave feminism and the sexual revolution, the hippies and the Age of Aquarius - all of these phenomena rattled the cultural landscape. And all of them had profound impacts in realms of religion, as new values clashed and cross-pollinated with traditions. In this course, we will focus on how Jews navigated these waters. Topics to be explored include Jewish feminism, the resurgence of Kabbalah and Hasidism, cultural impacts of psychedelics, perspectives on Zionism and identity politics, the Mizrahi "Black Panthers" of Israel, and reinterpretations of Jewish sources.

STCE-6007 Theology and Ethics Seminar
Instructor: Sam Berrin Shonkoff | Mondays, 2:10pm–5:00pm

This seminar introduces first year doctoral students to foundational themes, texts, and concepts outlining the contemporary study of Theology and Ethics, interreligiously. Theology is variously experienced and expressed in religions - systemic, mythopoetic, textual, aesthetic, ethical, emotive, and embodied. There are categories of theology that cross all boundaries and yet every religion has its own unique theological themes and frameworks as well. Students will explore interreligious doctrinal frameworks as well as the diverse conduits thrugh which theology is understood and delivered. Ethics is also a discipline in its own right with particular frameworks: we will attend carefully to the theological sources for justice and virtue ethics in terms of their social, economic, and environmental implications. Featured guest lectures and in-class student interactive forums offer additional opportunities for negotiating the field through interdisciplinary and interreligious pathways in theology and ethics. 


Spring 2021

BS-2326 Masculinity and the Bible
Instructor: Jennifer Lehmann | Wednesdays, 2:10pm–5:00pm

The study of men and masculinity is necessary to attain a holistic understanding of the construction(s) of gender in the Bible. Masculinity Studies operates under the assumption that "maleness" and "masculinity" are not unmarked categories from which "femininity" deviates, but rather as equally "stylized repetition acts," (which need not be limited to those who identify as male.) Using theoretical frameworks from Gender Studies and the emerging field of Masculinity Studies, this course will explore the ways in which masculinities are constructed across various biblical texts and how these constructions of masculinity function in the narrative form and inform our understanding of gender in the Biblical texts. Using both primary and secondary sources, we will attempt to ascertain the dominant (hegemonic) masculinity in the ancient worlds from which the biblical texts emerged, and compare that masculinity to the way in which certain biblical figures are portrayed. The focus of this course will be on several major characters, including David, Samson, Jacob, Moses, Jesus, Paul, Jael, and God, and how they conform to or subvert the dominant (hegemonic) masculinity. This course is taught by PhD student Jenny Lehmann with a Newhall Award, under the supervision of Dr. Deena Aranoff.

HSHR-3726 Revelation in Modern Jewish Thought
Instructor: Sam Berrin Shonkoff | Tuesdays, 2:10pm–5:00pm

Revelation is the idea that God's presence or will is somehow manifested to human beings. In Jewish tradition, the archetypal revelation is that of the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai. Although Jews have interpreted this in countless ways, the belief in revelation has remained a religious cornerstone. However, modern thought has posed severe challenges to such an idea. Given historical-critical studies of Scripture, for example, what could it mean to say that the words of Scripture are divine? Given investigations into psychological projection and the unconscious, how could one speak of encounters with an actual divine Other? Given insights into patriarchy and other structures of power, shouldn't one be suspicious of any traditional claims of revelation? Given the advent of scientific materialism, what could it mean to be touched by transcendence? As we study how Jews have wrestled with such questions, this course will illuminate issues at the very core of modern Jewish thought. This course satisfies the modern survey course required for the M.A. and certificate in Jewish Studies.

HSHR-4105 Homeland, Exile, and Diaspora in Judaism
Instructor: Sam Berrin Shonkoff | Mondays, 6:10pm–9:00pm

Jewish tradition brims with reflections on the "Land of Israel" and the twin concepts of "homeland" and "exile." These foundational images have been interpreted in vastly different ways throughout the centuries, from geographic sites and political principles to poetic devices and spiritual archetypes. This course will examine some major trends from ancient through contemporary times, and will thereby shed light on the multifaceted landscapes of Jewish religiosity and culture. Contexts to be examined will include the Hebrew Bible, Talmud and Midrash, medieval Jewish mysticism and philosophy, Hasidism, modern liberal Judaism, modern Zionism and contemporary diasporism.

BSHR-6100 Sacred Texts Seminar
Instructors: Deena Aranoff and James Nati | Tuesdays, 9:40am–12:30pm

This doctoral seminar will explore the diverse ways in which sacred texts are formed, interpreted, and experienced over time. Among the textual traditions that we will include are selections from Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and Jewish classical canons. Our methods will include historical-critical, literary and anthropological studies of these texts and their history as well as a study of the hermeneutical principles that have guided their interpretation through the ages. We will also consider the function of these texts within the communities that regard and transmit them. This will include an exploration of theological, contemplative, liturgical, ritual, pastoral, spiritual formation, ethical, artistic, and performative modes.

Spring 2020

A Genealogy of Jewish Culture (D. Aranoff)
The seminar will examine the factors and processes at work in the development of Jewish culture over time. we will employ historical, literary, cultural, and feminist analysis as part of an exploration of Jewish civilization from its beginnings in ancient Israel through the medieval period. This course satisfies the ancient-medieval survey course required for the M.A. and certificate in Jewish Studies.

Introduction to Jewish Theology (S. Berrin Shonkoff)
Many have contended that the phrase “Jewish theology” is oxymoronic, or at least somewhere between problematic and inconsequential. In this course we will consider those arguments, yet we will also expand and refine our definitions of theology in ways that might encompass Jewish perspectives on God. In so doing, we will explore the midrashic theologies, embodied theologies, philosophical theologies, and mystical theologies of Judaism. As we investigate these major streams in Jewish religious thought, we will also consider how they correlate with, and differ from, theologies of other traditions in the world.

Martin Buber: Philosopher, Theologian, Activist (S. Berrin Shonkoff)
Martin Buber was one of the most influential and intriguing Jewish intellectuals of the twentieth century. Through deep dives into his written works, this course will introduce students to Buber’s life, thought, and legacy. We will explore his own personal shift “from mysticism to dialogue,” his interpretations of the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and Hasidism, his political and religious anarchisms, and his enormous appeal to Christian audiences.

Fall 2019

Introduction to Rabbinic Literature (D. Aranoff)

Hasidic Mysticism (S. Berrin Shonkoff)

Modern Judaisms: Religion, Culture, or Nationality? (S. Berrin Shonkoff)

Spring 2019

Jewish Mysticism (D. Aranoff)

Aesthetics in Islam and Judaism (C. Bier and F. Spagnolo, Visiting Scholars)

Modern Jewish Ideas, Beliefs, and Practices (R. Brodie and B. Steinberg, Visiting Scholars)

Gender and Judaism (N. Seidman, Visiting Scholar)

Fall 2018

Ancient & Medieval Jewish Civilization (D. Aranoff)

Liberation or Occupation, Catastrophe or Triumph? Making Sense of the Difficult Past (M. Gross, Visiting Scholar)

Spring 2018

Issues in Modern Jewish History (N. Seidman)

Readings in the Zohar (D. Matt, Visiting Scholar)

Maimonides, Aquinas, Spinoza (D. Aranoff, I. Radzins)

Conversion and Literature (N. Seidman)

Fall 2017

Introduction to Rabbinic Literature (D. Aranoff)

History of Bible Translation (N. Seidman)

Levinas (N. Seidman)

Spring 2017

Jewish Mysticism (D. Aranoff)

Inventing Jewish Ritual (L.A. Hildebrand, Newhall Fellow)

Modern/Contemporary Jewish Thought (B. Steinberg, Visiting Scholar)

The Culture of the Synagogue (F. Spagnolo, Visiting Scholar)

Fall 2016

Ancient/Medieval Jewish Civilization (D. Aranoff) 

Texts/Contexts in Judaism and Islam (C. Fonrobert and N. Virani, Visiting Scholars)

Hasidism (S. Brownstein, Visiting Scholar)

The Jewish Atlantic (T. Whelan, Newhall Fellow)

Degree and Certificate Programs

The GTU hosts a variety of programs in affiliation with the Center for Jewish Studies. Our degree programs include a Master of Arts and a Doctor of Philosophy in Jewish Studies. CJS also offers a Certificate in Jewish Studies, as well as a track within the GTU’s Interreligious Chaplaincy Program. CJS students with interests in chaplaincy are eligible to apply for the Interreligious Chaplaincy Program Jewish Studies Fellowship.

MA and PhD students in CJS may choose to focus their studies in any of the four departments at the GTU (Historical and Cultural Studies of Religion; Theology and Ethics; Sacred Texts and Their Interpretation; Religion and Practice), and may select from a variety of concentrations therein.

Master of Arts Jewish Studies

The MA program is a two-year program of advanced graduate study and research. Students complete four semesters of courses as well as supervised thesis research. They work closely with CJS faculty and may specialize in late-antiquity and rabbinic literature, medieval Jewish history and culture, as well as modern Jewish culture and thought. Students are required to complete a two-semester sequence on the foundations of Jewish Studies, and may take a variety of electives at the member schools of the Graduate Theological Union and at UC Berkeley. Students are also required to take two semesters of Hebrew language study.

Doctor of Philosophy Jewish History

Doctoral students at CJS engage in interdisciplinary, cutting-edge research in a variety of fields within Jewish studies. Students work closely with professors at CJS throughout their years of coursework, exams, and dissertation writing. They may work within disciplines of history, cultural studies, or theology and ethics, and may apply methodological frameworks such as gender studies, feminist studies, post-colonial critique, cultural studies, and hermeneutics. Through their training at CJS, students acquire strong general competence in the history and literature of Judaism from late antiquity through the recent past, and acquire strengths for both teaching and scholarly research. The doctoral program requires four semesters of coursework, including departmental and interdisciplinary methods seminars, as well as electives that may be taken at GTU member schools and UC Berkeley.

Certificate in Jewish Studies

The Certificate in Jewish Studies is a non-degree program that enables students to receive a transcript and documentation of graduate work in Jewish studies. The certificate requires six GTU courses in Jewish Studies, two of which must be the foundations courses in ancient–medieval and modern Jewish Studies. Two of the six courses may be Hebrew language courses, and students may propose alternative courses to the Director of CJS for approval. For more information about the certificate program, please contact the Director of CJS, Deena Aranoff, at

Intersession and Summer Programs

CJS may offer courses for credit during the winter and summer intersessions, as well as during the summer. Auditors are also welcome.

Non-Degree Study at CJS

Auditors are welcome in CJS classes, pending permission from instructors. We also offer a Fellowship for Jewish community professionals to enroll in one CJS course. Find further information under the Jewish Community Fellowship section of our website.

Online Interreligious Studies Certificate

This is an online GTU program that features a Jewish studies component. For more info, click here.