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Arts and Sciences Learning Objectives

Judaic Studies

1. The desired skills we seek to develop through the JS major include the following:

An awareness of the wider world and the place of Jewish experience within it. It is impossible to teach Jewish experience in isolation from surrounding cultures. Jewish experience is always embedded within the system of a non-Jewish world. This requires not only an awareness of the multi-cultural environments within which Jews and Jewish experience have been situated, but also an ability to think about those environments from a cosmopolitan, international, cross-cultural, critical, and systemic perspective.

An awareness of the major periods of Jewish history and the modes of expression unique to those periods. This has been fostered more by individual courses involving historical survey, or an immersion in more than one period, than by the structure of the major as such. But implementation of a period requirement will address this need more directly. Still, many or even most of the courses in our list of JS courses involve some historical survey, even when more topical modes of exposition form a course's content.

A capacity for critical thinking about the Jewish past and present. All of our JS courses try to foster critical thinking through class discussion (including, in some courses, student-led class discussion), writing assignments involving research and annotation, and exams. Such means help to foster comparative thinking; self-analysis and self-criticism; a skeptical approach toward one's sources; skepticism toward the claims of polemicists; skepticism toward ideology more generally; and some awareness of what one doesn't know about the subject at hand. Also, an ability to synthesize and generalize between disparate phenomena or domains of experience.

An ability to pursue library- and web-based research on topics of Judaic studies. Our courses aim to develop bibliographic and annotative skills; the ability to access Tisch Library and other libraries; accessing the internet, and finding key internet sites and search engines for particular topics and areas.

An ability to write clearly, articulately, and searchingly about our courses' subjects. In some sense, every course at Tufts is a writing course. We must never forget this. Writing skills we hope to foster include: correct English style and usage; correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation; descriptive accuracy; textual-interpretive ability; analytic ability; an instinct for moving back and forth between general and specific; paring down turgid prose; an avoidance of cliché and hackneyed expression. Some of this process involves unlearning the formulaic, textbookish, and what I call "term-paperish" forms of writing often taught in secondary schools.

Creative and reflective engagement with Jewish experience. Some of our courses permit and encourage creative writing, or other forms of creative project (involving narrative, dialogue, imaginary diaries or letters, etc.). But, in truth, the locus classicus of the college paper, the essay form, is itself a creative medium. The ability to plumb one's own experience (whether that of a Jew or non-Jew), and to do so imaginatively and innovatively, while informed by research and critical judgment, is a vital part of understanding Jewish experience, just as learning how to bring one's inner life to bear on a text or cultural product is a vital component of any education in the humanities (though not exclusive to this realm).

An awareness of the differences of gender experience within given domains of Jewish experience. All cultural experience is in some sense shaped by gender. At least one of our courses (Jewish Women) examines this subject as its main content, but all of our courses in some sense try to assess both the divergent and shared perspectives of men and women, as seen through texts, cultural products, and historical research.

An awareness of conflict between rich and poor. At least some of our courses have aimed at inculcating an awareness of the gap between rich and poor in Jewish history, and the ways that this has shaped social institutions, tradition, custom, gender experience, and historical change. This is especially evident in both the biblical and modern periods, when the poor have had, as it were, their articulate advocates (in biblical days, among the prophets; in modern times through secular political movements, and charitable or social advocacy projects). But the gap of social class is present in more subtle ways throughout the writings of Jewish tradition and this subject has inevitably found its way into the classroom at Tufts, and sometimes from there to the surrounding community.

An awareness of the diversity of Jewish experience and of modes of Jewish discourse. The biblical, rabbinic, medieval, and modern eras represent specific environments of Jewish life, each with its unique range of social and communicative forms. Study of these areas involves a sense of sacred scripture, of the difference between scripture and its interpretive tradition, and the relation of Jewish scriptures to those of other religions. In teaching "normative" Judaism, we also hope to teach about heterodox Judaisms, and about the conditions of dissent, heresy, controversy, and internal institutional change. Some of us try to find specific crisis points in Jewish social, cultural, and religious history, when unforeseen changes have lasting impact. Our curriculum makes available the experience of Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and non-Western Jewry; the literary heritages of Hebrew, Aramaic, Judeo-Arabic, Yiddish, and Ladino; the differing perspectives of legalistic, philosophical, mystical, pietistic, messianic, secularizing, and revolutionary discourses in Jewish life; the differences between religious and secular Jewish life; the differing experience of Jewish women and men; the impact of traditional Jewish folkways upon one's sense of time and space; the impact of modernity on the life of traditional societies; the shape of Jewish life in a post-modern and multi-cultural context.

2. The question of a capstone experience:

We have not, thus far, required a larger research project of our students (such as a senior thesis), but our minor requires at least one existing or independent study course requiring a "substantial integrative project." It's a historical accident that this same requirement is presently absent from the major, but this will be on the agenda of our faculty's next discussion of changes in the major, as will the question of whether we should require a senior thesis.

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