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Jewish Ideas: Ancient Foundations, Modern Questions

Ronna Burger, Nathan Laufer, & Shuli Taubes

In our weeklong seminar, students will explore five key concepts that have shaped and sustained the Jewish people through its long and distinguished history: the nation, the family, the oneness or unity of God, Jewish uniqueness, and the idea of holiness. Readings will draw from both the foundational texts of Jewish civilization including the Hebrew Bible, Talmud, and Maimonides, as well as works by modern Jewish thinkers like Joseph Soloveitchik, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Leon Kass

Students will be expected to be active participants, not passive observers, in a serious inquiry into the big ideas and profound debates that have captured the Jewish and Western imagination throughout the generations: What is a nation? What makes a people? What are the origins of the family? 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?

Given the lofty and profound nature of these questions, we encourage—and expect—spirited and respectful debate. 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.

Meet the Instructors

Ronna Burger

Tulane University

Ronna Burger is Catherine & Henry J. Gaisman Chair in Philosophy and Sizeler Professor of Jewish Studies at Tulane University, where she has been teaching since 1980, after receiving her PhD in Philosophy from the New School for Social Research Graduate Faculty. Her work has been supported by the Mellon, Humboldt, Earhart, and Carl Friedrich von Siemens Foundations as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities. Burger is the author of Aristotle’s Dialogue with Socrates: On the Nicomachean Ethics (2008), along with books on Plato’s Phaedo (1984, 1999) and Phaedrus (1980), and a monograph on the question of the holy in Plato’s Euthyphro (2015).  Her published articles include “Maimonides on Knowledge of Good and Evil” and “Woman and Nature: the Female Drama of the Book of Genesis.”  In recent years Burger has been teaching a series of courses on “Bible and Philosophy,” and has lectured at numerous college campuses on Adam and Eve, Rebekah, Joseph, Moses, and Esther.

Shuli Taubes

SAR High School

Shuli Taubes received her Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School and her BA in history from Barnard College. She currently serves as a faculty member at SAR High School in Riverdale, New York, where she teaches Tanakh, Jewish Identity, and chairs the Jewish Philosophy department. She has also developed and teaches a curriculum for educating Modern Orthodox high school students in comparative religion. Last year, Shuli was the Sopher Community Scholar at the Young Israel of North Riverdale where she gave shiurim and served in a pastoral role. She also lectures in synagogues throughout the country. Shuli and her husband Ari live in Washington Heights, New York.