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


Summer 2024

Reading Modern Hebrew
Instructor: Aviv Peretz | Monday-Friday, 9:00am–1:00pm

The intention of this course is to learn how to read and translate modern Hebrew. We will focus on grammar and vocabulary to strengthen your ability to read, understand and translate passages. We will use class time to review grammar, verb conjugations, idiomatic phrases as well as practice translation and comprehension with a range of texts, including previous GTU modern Hebrew Exams. This course will culminate in an official GTU Modern Foreign Language Exam that will fulfill GTU's language requirement. Completion of the course does not guarantee a passing grade on the exam, but the course is geared toward giving you the tools needed for translation and comprehension. The Exam will be offered in the last week of the course by the instructor, but is also offered through the GTU during the third week of September, February and May. This course will meet in-person only, from 9am to 1pm daily at the GTU library building.


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 2024

PR-4500  Midrash: Jewish Seeking & Storytelling
Sam S.B. Shonkoff

HSHR-4502  Jewish Mysticism
Deena Aranoff

HSPR-6000  Embodied Theology in Jewish Tradition
Sam S.B. Shonkoff


Fall 2023

HR-2000  Modern Jewish Thought
Sam S.B. Shonkoff 

HSHR-2000  Everyday Jewish Life: Household, Synagogue, & Street
Deena Aranoff 

IDS-6000  Seminar on Interdisciplinarity
Sam S.B. Shonkoff & Rebecca Esterson


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.