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Ancient Foundations, Modern Questions

In this core class, students will explore foundational ideas and conflicts that have shaped and sustained the Jewish people through its long and distinguished history: topics range from the nature of God and human nature, the relationship between virtue and political power, family dynamics, nationhood, chosenness, free will, and beyond.

Readings will draw from both the foundational texts of Jewish civilization, beginning with the Hebrew Bible, but drawing on classical and medieval sources, including the Talmud and Maimonides, as well as works by modern Jewish thinkers and writers like Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Mordecai Kaplan.

Students will be expected to be active participants, not passive observers, in a serious inquiry into the great ideas and profound debates that have captured the Jewish and Western imagination throughout the generations: What is justice? What does it mean for God to be one or for a people to be “chosen”? What is holiness and what role does it play in our lives?

Together, we will examine what some of the brightest minds of Jewish history—past and    present—thought about these questions and interrogate our own assumptions and beliefs about these issues. What is at stake for us in these questions, and where will they lead us in the future?

The aim of these discussions is not to inculcate students in any particular sect or practice, but to deepen each student’s awareness of the rich intellectual currents, internal conflicts, and enduring promises offered by the Jewish tradition. These ideas shape our own identities, notions of justice and the good, and our vision for the kind of future we want for ourselves, our country, and the broader Jewish community.

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