CJS - Courses & 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

To register for classes, click here: http://gtusonis.jenzabarcloud.com


Fall 2023

HR-2000  Modern Jewish Thought
Instructor: Sam S.B. Shonkoff | Tuesdays, 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.

HSHR-2000  Everyday Jewish Life: Household, Synagogue, & Street
Instructor: Deena Aranoff | Tuesdays, 9:40am–12:30pm

This course will explore everyday Jewish life from the ancient through medieval periods We will examine classical Jewish sources as they reflect the centrality of day-to-day life in the making of Jewish cultures. Topics will include family life, synagogue culture, ritual, education and language. We will also ask methodological questions about how to read classical texts for their contributions to an understanding of everyday Jewish life.

IDS-6000  Seminar on Interdisciplinarity
Instructor: Sam S.B. Shonkoff & Rebecca Esterson | Wednesdays, 9:40am–12:30pm

Through collaborative-based learning projects, students and teachers will explore critical issues and develop sound criteria for doing interdisciplinary work in religious studies in an interreligious context. Students will practice skills for formulating research questions, engage in learning the present contours of the fields that will constitute their primary and secondary concentrations and outside disciplines, and begin to develop an academic plan for their studies at the GTU from course work through the comprehensive examination and eventually the dissertation. Requirements: student presentations, a draft academic plan, two short written reports, a book review, and a research prospectus. This course is required for all students in the first year of the GTU PhD program.


Spring 2024

PR-4500  Midrash: Jewish Seeking & Storytelling
Instructor: Sam S.B. Shonkoff | Thursdays, 2:10pm–5:00pm

Midrash—literally "seeking" or "(re)searching"—is a foundational genre of Jewish storytelling and religious imagination. Radically intertextual, midrashim interweave far-flung verses of scripture into ever new hermeneutical tapestries. They are also mind-bendingly inter-temporal, rooted in the principle that "there is no before or after in the Torah," so even revelation itself is eternally present. And they delight in multivocality, presenting contradictory interpretations side by side, separated only by a favorite phrase, "Another thing." Above all, Midrash revels in the cracks, shadows, and ambiguities of scripture, seizing textual wrinkles as catalysts for divine insight. This course will introduce students to traditional Midrash, particularly through close readings of Song of Songs Rabbah. However, we will then focus mainly on contemporary uses of Midrash through prisms of psychoanalysis, postmodern literary theory, feminism, womanism, queer hermeneutics, and the modern media of novels and films.

HSHR-4502  Jewish Mysticism
Instructor: Deena Aranoff | Tuesdays, 9:40am–12:30pm

This course will examine the ideas, narratives, theologies and practices that have been part of Jewish mysticism through the ages. We will proceed chronologically and thematically, exploring the variety of Jewish mystical trends as well as themes such as language, hermeneutics, gender, nomian and anti-nomian emphases, messianism, symbolism and ritual practices as well as the relationship between Jewish mysticism and other communal and rabbinic structures. This is an advanced Jewish studies course; students must have completed at least two courses in Jewish studies to register.

HSPR-6000  Embodied Theology in Jewish Tradition
Instructor: Sam S.B. Shonkoff | Tuesdays, 2:10pm–5:00pm

Since antiquity, Christian theologians in particular have criticized Jews and Judaism for being excessively invested in the body, casting the tradition as carnal, corporeal, and even corpse-like. In some ways, the critique is indeed rooted in reality. There is hardly any trace of body-soul dualism in the Hebrew Bible, and classical Rabbinic formulations tended to resist against such distinctions. Generally speaking, Jewish tradition has prioritized practice over belief and actions over ideas. This course explores the theological dimensions of this carnality, asking what it means to grasp and express divinity through the body. We will engage in close readings of "embodied theologies," wherein somatic experiences catalyze theological insights or, even more radically, wherein theological meaning is fundamentally inseparable from bodily events. We will meditate especially on modern Jewish embodied theologies, such as in the writings of Kalonymus Kalman Shapira of Piaseczno, Martin Buber, and Judith Plaskow, as well as in contemporary movements of "earth-based" Judaism. This is an advanced course, but English translations will always be provided.


Fall 2024

HSST-2026  Reading the Rabbis
Instructor: Deena Aranoff | Tuesdays, 9:40am–12:30pm

This class will serve as an introduction to rabbinic literature. We will examine selections from the vast rabbinic corpus, with a focus on Talmud and Midrash. Our goal will be to acquire familiarity with a variety of rabbinic styles, to think critically about rabbinic culture, and to acquire general access and familiarity with the classical rabbinic library. We will also consider the historical development of rabbinic Judaism in its late-antique context.

HSHR-3726  Revelation in Modern Jewish Thought
Instructor: Sam S.B. Shonkoff | Thursdays, 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, the social-political-intellectual conditions known as modernity have posed severe challenges to such an idea. Given the historical-critical lens, for example, what could it mean to say that the words of Scripture are divine? Given the advent of scientific materialism, what could it mean to be touched by transcendence? Given investigations into psychological projection and the unconscious, how could one speak of encounters with an actual divine Other? Given the liberal privatization of religion, what is left of divine "commandments"? Given insights into patriarchy, white supremacy, and other structures of power, shouldn't one be suspicious of any traditional claims of revelation? As we study how Jews have wrestled with such questions, this course will illuminate issues at the very core of modern Jewish thought and spirituality. This course satisfies the modern survey course required for the M.A. and certificate in Jewish Studies.

Homeland, Exile, and Diaspora in Jewish Tradition
Instructor: Sam S.B. Shonkoff | Tuesdays, 2:10pm–5:00pm

Jewish tradition brims with reflections on the “Land of Israel” and the binary 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 culture and spirituality. Contexts to be examined will include the Hebrew Bible, Talmud and Midrash, classical liturgy, medieval Jewish mysticism and philosophy, Hasidism, modern liberal Judaism, modern Zionisms, and contemporary diasporism.


Spring 2025

HRHS-2001  The Making of Jewish Culture
Instructor: Deena Aranoff | Tuesdays, 9:40am–12:30pm

This seminar will examine the making of Jewish culture over time. We will employ historical, literary, cultural, and feminist analyses as part of our investigations into ancient and medieval Jewish culture and history. We will begin with the Hebrew Bible and the culture of Ancient Israel. We will then consider the development of rabbinic Judaism in its late-antique context. We will then explore Jewish life from the ninth through the sixteenth centuries. We will assess features of Jewish communal life, as well as the intellectual and spiritual currents among Jews of this time. This course will allow us to appreciate the continuities and discontinuities in Jewish history and to acquire a more nuanced sense of the overall process of cultural production in Judaism. This course satisfies the ancient-medieval survey course requirement for the M.A. and certificate in Jewish Studies. This course is required for all M.A. and certificate students at CJS.

HSHR-4600  Jewish Countercultures
Instructor: Sam S.B. Shonkoff | Tuesdays, 2:10pm–5:00pm

Although countless movements throughout history have challenged structures of the dominant culture, this course will consider “countercultures” as a distinctly modern phenomenon: social-political-spiritual expressions of deep dissatisfaction with the ideologies and conditions of modernization. Despite various luxuries and liberties that have resulted (for some demographics, at least) from industrialization, urbanization, and liberal centralization of state powers, countercultures contend that those very conditions alienate human beings from their own inner depths, from other human beings, and from the natural world. Of course, no counterculture is monolithic, and there are always subcultures within countercultures. Depending on one’s own ancestral background, one might feel a particular sense of responsibility and/or victimhood vis-à-vis particular wounds of modernity, illuminating particular pathways of healing. This course will consider examples of Jewish counterculture—one from Germany during the Weimar period of 1920s–30s, one from North America in the 1960s–70s, and one that seems to be emerging currently in North America. Despite significant differences among them, they have been correlated in intriguing ways, raising illuminating questions about religion and resistance in the modern world.

HRFT-5000  Readings in Hasidic Mysticism: The Piaseczner Rebbe
Instructor: Sam S.B. Shonkoff | Thursdays, 2:10pm–5:00pm

This seminar is for students who want to plunge deeply into the religious language of Hasidism, a modern Jewish mystical movement born in the heartland of Eastern Europe. Kalonymus Kalman Shapira of Piaseczno (1889–1943) was an exceptionally innovative and psycho-somatically sophisticated sage from this lineage, who sought to rekindle what he considered to be lost sparks from the dawn of the movement. A gifted teacher and leader, his writings offer something akin to a Jewish concept of "mindfulness." He is often remembered as the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto, as he served there with spiritual resistance through the final years of life, until his murder. We will read sources spanning from the 1920s through those final days. Student engagement with Hebrew will be encouraged, but translations will be provided.

Spring 2023

HRIR-1500  Islamic & Jewish Mysticisms
Sam S.B. Shonkoff & Fateme Montazeri

HSST-2026  Introduction to Rabbinic Literature
Deena Aranoff

HR-2052  Neo-Hasidism
Sam S.B. Shonkoff

HSST-2027  Abraham Joshua Heschel and 20th Century Liberation Movements
Daniel Stein (Newhall Fellow)


Fall 2022

HRHS-2001  The Household & the Making of Jewish Culture
Deena Aranoff

PR-3300  Modern Jewish Theology
Sam S.B. Shonkoff

BS-4680  Christian Anti-Judaism: From Antiquity to the Present
Leah Macinskas-Le (Newhall Fellow)

IDS-6000  Seminar on Interdisciplinarity
Sam S.B. Shonkoff & Valerie Miles-Tribble (GTU Doctoral Seminar)


Spring 2022

PR-1100  Introduction to Jewish Ritual
Jhos Singer (Visiting CJS Scholar)

HSST-2022  Ancient and Medieval Jewish Civilization
Deena Aranoff

PR-3200  Mizrahi Hebrew Literature
Noa Bar-Gabai (Visiting CJS Scholar)

OTBS-5000  The Dead Sea Scrolls
James Nati (CJS Affiliated Faculty)

RSIR-8100  Justice and Religion: Interreligious Perspectives
Mahjabeen Dhala (CJS Affiliated Faculty)


Fall 2021

Modern Jewish Thought
Sam S.B. Shonkoff

Introduction to Rabbinic Literature
Charlotte Fonrobert (Visiting CJS Scholar)

Advanced Readings in Hasidism: Rebbe Nahman of Bratslav
Sam S.B. Shonkoff


Spring 2021

Revelation in Modern Jewish Thought
Sam S.B. Shonkoff

Homeland, Exile, and Diaspora in Judaism
Sam S.B. Shonkoff

Sacred Texts Seminar
Deena Aranoff

Masculinity and the Bible
Jennifer Lehmann (Newhall Fellow)

Women and Gender in Jewish and Islamic Texts and Practice
Mahjabeen Dhala (CJS Affiliated Faculty)


Fall 2020

Jewish Thought and Practice in Moses Maimonides
Deena Aranoff

Jewish Counterculture of the Sixties
Sam S.B. Shonkoff

Theology and Ethics Seminar
Sam S.B. Shonkoff


Spring 2020

A Genealogy of Jewish Culture
Deena Aranoff

Introduction to Jewish Theology
Sam S.B. Shonkoff

Martin Buber: Philosopher, Theologian, Activist
Sam S.B. Shonkoff


Fall 2019

Introduction to Rabbinic Literature
Deena Aranoff

Hasidic Mysticism
Sam S.B. Shonkoff

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


Spring 2019

Jewish Mysticism
Deena Aranoff

Aesthetics in Islam and Judaism
Carol Bier and Francesco Spagnolo (Visiting CJS Scholars)

Modern Jewish Ideas, Beliefs, and Practices
Rachel Brodie and Bernie Steinberg (Visiting CJS Scholars)

Gender and Judaism
Naomi Seidman (Visiting CJS 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 dararnoff@gtu.edu.

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.