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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:

Fall 2021

HR-2058 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.

BSHS-3320 Introduction to Rabbinic Literature
Instructor: Charlotte Fonrobert (Stanford University) | 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.

PR-6100 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

PR-1100 Introduction to Jewish Ritual
Instructor: Jhos Singer | Wednesdays, 6:00pm–8:50pm

This course will introduce the history, form, and function of ritual in traditional and contemporary Jewish practice. In this class we will explore the origins and evolutions of rituals that mark time, designate space, honor the body, and celebrate food. Through the lens of these Jewish sacraments, ceremonies, and customs we will consider the impact ritual has in our lives and spiritual practices. In addition to an academic survey there will be a practical component to this class in which students will write, design, and share new ritual ideas as informed by their life experience and inspired, hopefully, by this course.

HSST-2022 Ancient and Medieval Jewish Civilization
Instructor: Deena Aranoff | Tuesdays, 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.

Spring 2021

Masculinity and the Bible (J. Lehmann)

Revelation in Modern Jewish Thought (S.B. Shonkoff)

Homeland, Exile, and Diaspora in Judaism (S.B. Shonkoff)

Women and Gender in Jewish and Islamic Texts and Practice (M. Dhala)

Sacred Texts Seminar (D. Aranoff)

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.