Access the latest, most up-to-date COVID-19 resources, policies, and news for faculty, students, and staff of the GTU, including recent updates from the COVID-19 Task Force here>>

CJS - Courses and Degree Programs

Jump to...

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

To register for classes, click here:

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, 2:10pm–5:00pm

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.

HRIR-5041 Women and Gender in Jewish and Islamic Texts and Practice
Instructor: Mahjabeen Dhala | Mondays, 11:10am-2:00pm

This course will explore the discourse on gender in Judaism and Islam paying particular attention to women’s narratives and experiences. How is gender understood in Judaism and Islam, and how do these religious constructs shape the experiences and practices of Jewish and Muslim women? The course will be organized around a number of keywords, including body, piety, family, activism, leadership, and ritual; for each of these keywords, we will study how these themes play out in each tradition. Prof. Naomi Seidman will be leading the discourse on these themes from the perspective of the Jewish tradition.

BSHR-6100 Sacred Texts Seminar
Instructor: Deena Aranoff | 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.


Fall 2021

BSHS-3320 Introduction to Rabbinic Literature
Instructor: TBD | Thursdays, 9:40am–12:30pm

This class will serve as an introduction to rabbinic literature and history. We will consider the development of rabbinic Judaism in its late-antique context and gain familiarity with the primary collections of rabbinic literature: the Talmud and Midrash. Some themes that we will explore include rabbinic Biblical hermeneutics, the origins of rabbinic law, the rise of rabbinic authority and rabbinic constructions of gender.

HR-3000 Modern Jewish Thought
Instructor: Sam Berrin Shonkoff | Thursdays, 2:10pm–5:00pm

In this course, we will explore how Jews navigated the intellectual, political, and spiritual conditions of modernity, and the new forms of Jewish thought and identity that emerged from those encounters. This story of clash and confluence will begin with the excommunication of Baruch Spinoza, the so-called “first modern Jew,” and our investigations will lead subsequently through pathways of Jewish “enlightenment” and existentialism, religious denominations and secular nationalisms, mysticisms and fundamentalisms. While we will certainly consider ways in which various groups and thinkers formulated their ideas strategically vis-à-vis their historical circumstances, we will also strive to appreciate the personal tones and textures of their own voices. Special attention will be paid to the German-Jewish context as one genealogy of Jewish modernity. This course satisfies the required modern suvey course for M.A. and certificate students at CJS.

FT-6000 Advanced Readings in Hasidism: Rebbe Nahman of Bratslav
Instructor: Sam Berrin Shonkoff | Mondays, 2:10pm–5:00pm

This seminar is for students who wish to plunge deeply into the religious language of Hasidism, a modern Jewish mystical movement born in the heartland of Eastern Europe. Nahman of Bratslav (1772–1811) was an intriguing and controversial Hasidic sage. He exhibited intense levels of piety and mysticism, and he refracted these experiences in breathtaking ways through the prisms of Jewish textual tradition. He was also a master storyteller, and his imaginative tales translated the most enigmatic layers of spiritual consciousness into Kafka-esque forms. Although Nahman did not found a new Hasidic dynasty, his grave remains the most important site of Hasidic pilgrimage in Europe. This course will focus primarily on his magnum opus, Likutei Moharan (1810), and his tales, along with relevant secondary literature. Student engagement with Hebrew will be encouraged, but translations will be provided. 


Spring 2022

HSST-2022 Ancient and Medieval Jewish Civilization
Instructor: Deena Aranoff | Thursdays, 9:40am–12:30pm

This seminar will examine ancient and Medieval Jewish history as well as the historical-critical methodology that often shapes such an inquiry. We will explore Jewish civilization from its beginnings in ancient Israel through the medieval period and will conclude the seminar with a discussion of more recent attempts to characterize Judaism in light of modern historicist critique. This course is required for all MA and certificate students at CJS.

HR-3000 Neo-Hasidism
Instructor: Sam Berrin Shonkoff | Mondays, 2:10pm–5:00pm

Hasidism itself was a radical Jewish mystical movement that emerged in eightheenth-century Poland and spread like wildfire throughout Eastern Europe. Within just a few generations, contending with the allures of liberal secularism and assimilation, Hasidism became a cornerstone of ultra-Orthodoxy. And yet, starting in the twentieth-century, Hasidism also became an object of romantic enchantment among relatively secular Jews. Neo-Hasidism, the topic of this course, refers precisely to this phenomenon of non-Hasidic Jews drawing upon (appropriating?) Hasidism for purposes of spiritual-cultural renewal. The paths of Neo-Hasidism intersect with stories of post-liberal countercultures, orientalism, cultural Zionism, Jewish navigations of collective trauma, identity politics, psychedelics, and feminism.

FT-4000 Jewish Feminist and Queer Theologies
Instructor: Sam Berrin Shonkoff | Thursdays, 2:10pm–5:00pm

The emergence of radical, second-wave feminism in the 1960s and 70s challenged Jewish tradition in fundamental ways. Jewish feminists were not only concerned with matters of exclusion and inclusion in Jewish life; they emphasized, rather, that the very sources, practices, and concepts of Jewish tradition were products of androcentric imaginations and patriarchal structures. This called for no less than an utter transformation—or at least reinterpretation—of Judaism itself, reminiscent of the most significant exegetical-cultural mutations in Jewish history. Third-wave feminism, queer theory, and the increased visibility of queer and trans Jews have only deepened the opportunities for critique and renewal. This course will focus on the revolutionary theologies borne out of this process.

Fall 2020

Jewish Thought and Practice in Moses Maimonides (D. Aranoff)

Jewish Counterculture of the Sixties (S.B. Shonkoff)

Theology and Ethics Seminar (S.B. Shonkoff)

Spring 2020

A Genealogy of Jewish Culture (D. Aranoff)

Introduction to Jewish Theology (S.B. Shonkoff)

Martin Buber: Philosopher, Theologian, Activist (S.B. Shonkoff)

Fall 2019

Introduction to Rabbinic Literature (D. Aranoff)

Hasidic Mysticism (S.B. Shonkoff)

Modern Judaisms: Religion, Culture, or Nationality? (S.B. 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. 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

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

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.