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RELIGION 218: Judaism in the 20th Century
Professor Ronald C. Kiener, Department of Religion


Two monumental events in Jewish history have taken place only very recently and within a generation: the methodical elimination of nearly all of European Jewry during the 1930s and 40s at the hands of the Nazi Third Reich; and the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. This course is designed to examine these two events -- the raw history of their unfolding, and more importantly their impact upon modern Jewish life and thought. Thus, this course is part modern Jewish history, but primarily it is a survey of modern Jewish thought as it bears on these two events.

Simultaneously in North America, 3 distinct denominational approaches to modern Jewish existence emerged: Reform Judaism, Conservative Judaism, and Orthodox Judaism. Each came into existence before either the Holocaust or the founding of the Jewish state, and eventually contended with these momentous developments. Reform and Conservative Judaism remain largely North American phenomena; Orthodoxy has a more global reach.

The course begins with a brief survey of Jewish history in Europe, culminating in an extended discussion of modern anti-Semitism. We will then examine how Jewish thinkers confronted the freedom of Emancipation and the threat of race and national hatred. After this introduction, in the first unit of the course we will examine the Holocaust and the destruction of European Jewry. We will then look at some of the representative Jewish theological responses to the Holocaust.

The second and final unit will examine the development of the modern state of Israel. Attention will be paid to current internal developments in Israeli secular and religious thought, as well as some of the representative theological interpretations of the founding of a third Jewish commonwealth.