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, literature and culture. Our programs combine rigorous text-study of primary sources with distinctive interdisciplinary approaches. Studies at CJS provide training for those preparing for academic careers, leadership positions in the Jewish community, as well as pastoral positions in congregations of many religious affiliations.

Course Offerings

Spring 2019

Jewish Mysticism
Instructor: Deena Aranoff | Tuesday, 9:40am-12:30pm
GTU Hedco Room, 2465 Le Conte Avenue, Berkeley CA 94709

This course will examine the ideas, narratives, theologies and practice that have been part of Jewish mysticism throughout the ages. We will proceed chronologically and thematically, exploring the variety of Jewish mystical trends as well as themes such as language, hermeneutics, gender, sexual imagery, nomian and anti-nomian aspects, messianism, symbolism and practices. We will consider the relationship between Jewish mysticism and surrounding systems as well as relationships between Jewish mysticism and other Jewish communal and rabbinic structures. Doctoral level seminar; at least one year of Jewish studies required. 

Aesthetics in Islam and Judaism
Instructors: Carol Bier and Francesco Spagnolo | Tuesdays, 5:30pm-8:20pm
Location TBA

This course examines various approaches to the study of aesthetics in Islam and Judaism, and explores a variety of visual and performing arts, as well as literary texts. Considerations of aesthetics in Islam focus on diverse cultural traditions and intersectionality of the arts; questions of representation, addressing such concerns as abstraction, geometry, and meaning; and the centrality of the Qur’an through calligraphy, illumination, and monumental inscriptions. Approaches to aesthetics in Judaism focus on synagogue liturgy as a synesthetic experience encompassing time/form, space/architecture, text/literature, sound/music, and gesture/choreography, and the confluence of diverse and often conflicting aesthetic dimensions of Jewish ritual in the global diaspora, including the liturgy of Jews in Islamic lands. Particular attention will be paid to aesthetic "values" such as non-linearity, repetition, and discontinuities.

Modern Jewish Intellectual & Cultural History
Instructor: TBA | Wednesday, 5:30-8:20pm
Location TBA

This course will investigate major themes in the intellectual and cultural history of the Jews from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries. It will take some of the key thinkers of this period as the lens through which to view cultural developments. The course will start with Shabbatai Zvi and Baruch Spinoza in the seventeenth century and Moses Mendelssohn and Israel Baal Shem Tov in the eighteenth. Other Jewish writers and thinkers we will study will include Berthold Auerbach, Heinrich Graetz, Hermann Cohen, Emma Lazarus, Yehuda Leib Gordon, Theodor Herzl, Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig, Hannah Arendt, and Gershom Scholem. We will use the third volume of Cultures of the Jews as the background text.

Gender and Judaism
Instructor: Naomi Seidman | Wednesday & Friday 9:40am-12:30pm April & May Only

This course will explore the intersection between gender and Judaism by exploring the role of gender ideologies in Jewish texts from the Bible to contemporary philosophy; the gendered character of Jewish historical experience; and Judaism as a continually evolving mode of constructing gender. We will begin with reading a few general introductions to the study of gender and religion, moving on to such topics as feminist and queer readings of the Bible and rabbinic sources; childrearing in medieval Jewish life; women in mystical discourse and Hasidic experience; and sexuality and secularization.

Seminar will meet in April and May only. All seminar meetings are scheduled for Wednesday and Friday mornings, 9:40am-12:30pm.

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 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 Programs

The GTU currently offers two degrees through the Center for Jewish Studies: a Master of Arts in Jewish studies and a Doctor of Philosophy featuring a wide range of concentrations within Jewish studies. The CJS also offers a certificate in Jewish studies for professional advancement in the field of Jewish education or Jewish communal life.

Scholars wishing to pursue a degree in Jewish Studies may choose to focus their studies in these departments and concentrations:

  • Sacred Texts and Their Interpretation
    • Hebrew Bible/Old Testament
    • Rabbinic Literature
  • Historical and Cultural Studies of Religion
    • Anthropology of Religion
    • Art & Religion
    • Comparative Religion
    • Jewish Studies
    • New Religious Movements
    • Religion & Literature
    • Sociology of Religion
  • Theology & Ethics
    • Aesthetics
    • Comparative Ethics
    • Comparative Theology
    • Ethics
    • Philosophical Theology
    • Theology & Science
  • Religion & Practice
    • Liturgical Studies

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 cultural and literary studies. Students are required to take a two-semester survey on the foundations of Jewish history and culture 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 courses of Hebrew study.

Doctor of Philosophy Jewish History

The CJS doctoral program encourages interdisciplinary and comparative research. Students work closely with professors from the GTU in the field of late-antique, medieval, and modern Jewish history and culture. Dissertations may focus on themes such as language, Biblical hermeneutics, translation, secularization, sexuality, cultural exchange, and Jewish-Christian interaction. Students may work within the discipline of history, as well as literary, religious, or cultural studies. Students acquire a strong general competence, particularly for teaching, in the history of Judaism from late antiquity to the recent past, and will acquire strength both for teaching and scholarly research. The doctoral program requires four semesters of coursework, including departmental and interdisciplinary methods seminars.

Certificate in Jewish Studies

The CJS offers a certificate in Jewish Studies. The program is open to registered GTU students as well as to the broader Bay Area community. The certificate allows students to register for graduate level coursework and to receive a transcript and documentation of graduate work in Jewish studies.

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.