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Jewish Studies

Front of the Jubilee Synagogue in Prague

The program in Jewish studies at Smith College explores the history, literature, arts, politics, philosophy, culture, religion and languages of the Jewish people from its origins in ancient Israel through contact with major world civilizations over the course of a global diaspora extending more than two millennia. Jewish studies draws on the most important disciplines of the humanities and social sciences to provide an interdisciplinary understanding of the Jewish contribution to civilization. Students have opportunities to work closely with committed faculty in special studies at the advanced level, to develop close mentoring relationships and to expand their knowledge through study abroad. Many go on to pursue graduate studies in law, medicine, literature, history, religious studies, education, community service and other professions.

Requirements

The program in Jewish studies expects students to graduate with an understanding of the religious, historical, political and cultural forces that have shaped Jewish civilization for more than 3,000 years. This includes the ability to:

  • Frame questions and situate core texts and ideas in their appropriate intellectual, social and cultural contexts.
  • Analyze and critique religious, historical, philosophical, political, literary and artistic texts, ideas and materials pertaining to Jewish experiences through the ages.
  • Acquire knowledge of the diversity of Jewish culture through time and space, with a specific understanding of the interactions between Jews and co-territorial cultures, peoples, empires and states.
  • Think about the ways in which Jewish studies contributes to, broadens and challenges important conceptual approaches in humanistic studies, engaging with questions related to such issues as nationalism and transnationalism, diaspora and globalization, multilingualism and translation, majority-minority relations, race, gender and sexuality, etc.
  • Attain beginning competency in a Jewish language.
  • Be confident thinkers, analysts and creators of culture.

A major in Jewish studies incorporates a strong focus on close reading and interpretation of classic and modern texts and attention to cross–cultural interactions, involving various disciplines in order to understand the dramatic story of Jewish civilization. Students take courses in the program as well as offerings from other departments in Jewish literature, history, politics, religion and culture.

Advisers

Ernest BenzJustin CammyLois DubinJoel KaminskyEllen Kaplan

The major in Jewish studies comprises 10 semester courses:

A. Basic Requirements
  1. Basis: JUD 125 Jewish Civilization (same as REL 125, formerly 225), normally taken in a student’s first or second year.

  2. Language: JUD 101 and 102 (formerly JUD 110y) Elementary Modern Hebrew, counting as two semester courses. Students who arrive at Smith with the equivalent of a year of college-level Hebrew may petition for exemption from this requirement; in such cases, they are strongly encouraged to continue their study of Jewish languages. Exemption from JUD 101 and 102 does not reduce the requirement to take ten semester courses for the major.

B. Breadth Requirement

Six further courses from the categories Language, The Bible and Classical Judaism, Religion and Thought, History and Politics, and Literature and the Arts. In keeping with the multidisciplinary character of Jewish Studies, these six courses must be drawn from at least three of the following four categories: The Bible and Classical Judaism, Religion and Thought, History and Politics, and Literature and the Arts. Students can expect advisers to work closely with them to select courses that cover the chronological sweep of Jewish civilization from biblical times to the present.

C. Capstone Requirement (seminar or research-intensive special studies)

One seminar from the Program’s approved list of courses (for example, JUD 362, REL 310, REL 320, GOV 323) or a research-intensive JUD 400 Special Studies (see below)in which a student investigates an advanced topic under the direction of a faculty supervisor.

Additional Guidelines 
  1. No course counting toward the major shall be taken for an S/U grade.

  2. In addition to JUD 101 and 102 and JUD 125, no more than two courses at the 100 level shall count toward the major.

  3. Although JUD 101 and 102 are the minimum language requirement for the major, the Program strongly encourages students to continue study of Hebrew, and to do so at Smith when appropriate courses are available: JUD 200 Intermediate Modern Hebrew or JUD 201 Readings in Modern Hebrew Language; special studies in language. A student may continue her study of Hebrew, or of another Jewish language such as Yiddish, within the Five-College consortium or at an approved program elsewhere.

  4. Courses on Junior Year Abroad Programs or on other approved programs for study away may count toward the major. A student’s petition to count such courses must be approved by the major adviser and the Jewish Studies Program after the course has been completed.

  5. With the approval of her adviser, a student may count one Smith College course from outside the approved list of Jewish Studies courses toward the major, when that course offers a broader comparative framework for Jewish Studies. In such a case, the student writes at least one of her assignments for the course on a Jewish studies topic.

JUD 400 Advanced Research or Language Study

Supervised by a faculty member appointed in Jewish studies.

The following are examples of courses that touch on Jewish studies and that may count as an elective toward the major with the prior approval of an adviser. Students must write one of their assignments for such courses on an appropriate Jewish studies topic. Please consult the offerings of other programs and departments, and an adviser, for additional possibilities:

  • FYS 174 The Muslim World in the Age of the Crusades: Encounters, Influences & Lasting Legacies 
  • HST 203 Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic World 
  • HST 205 The Roman Empire 
  • HST 208 The Making of the Modern Middle East 
  • HST 228 Medieval Peripheries
  • HST 255 20th-Century European Thought 
  • REL 105 Introduction to World Religions 
  • REL 106 Women and Religion 
  • REL 215 Introduction to the Bible II 
  • SPN 332 Seminar: The Middle Ages Today

A minor in Jewish studies incorporates a strong focus on close reading and interpretation of classic and modern texts and attention to cross–cultural interactions, involving various disciplines in order to understand the dramatic story of Jewish civilization. Students take courses in the program as well as offerings from other departments in Jewish literature, history, politics, religion and culture.

Advisers

Ernest BenzJustin CammyLois DubinJoel KaminskyEllen Kaplan

The minor in Jewish studies requires a total of five courses
  1. JUD 125 (same as REL 125, formerly REL 225) or JUD 101 and 102, as the basis of the minor.
  2. Four additional courses distributed over at least three of the areas of Jewish studies (Language, The Bible and Classical Judaism, Religion and Thought, History and Politics and, Literature and the Arts).

The yearlong JUD 101 and 102 count as one course toward the minor.

The honors program is designed to enable qualified students to devote a substantial portion of their senior year's course work to an extensive research project, culminating in the writing of a thesis and the completion of an oral examination. Students are expected to work within a field in which they already know the general literature and which Smith faculty can support. Interested students should consult the departmental honors section of the class deans website for complete information on applying for honors and for funding resources.

The program allows a student to prepare her honors thesis over two semesters (JUD 430D) for a total of 8 credits.

In recent years Jewish Studies students have written honors theses on the following diverse topics:

  • Encounters with Yiddish Paris
  • Anticipatory Illuminations: The Performance of the Jewish Sabbath as Queer Futurity
  • Grains of Wheat: A Play in Two Acts
  • The Fiction of Rikuda Potash (translation and analysis)
  • I am Supermentsh: Searching for the Jew in Comic Book Superheroes
  • American Jewish Anti-Zionism: Historic Precedents, Intellectual Influences and Contemporary Consequences
  • Post-vernacular Yiddish: A Case Study of the Yiddish Book Center
  • Innovation Within Tradition: Halachic Egalitarianism and the Role of Independent Minyanim

Requirements for the Honors Major

Eleven semester courses, with JUD 430d counting for two of them.

A. Basic Requirements

Basis: JUD 125 Jewish Civilization (same as REL 225), normally taken in a student’s first or second year.

Language: JUD 101 Elementary Modern Hebrew I and JUD 102 Elementary Modern Hebrew II. Students who arrive at Smith with the equivalent of a year of college-level Hebrew may petition for exemption from this requirement; in such cases, they are strongly encouraged to continue their study of Jewish languages. Exemption from JUD 101/102 does not reduce the requirement to take 10 semester courses for the major.

B. Breadth Requirement

Six further courses from the categories Language, The Bible and Classical Judaism, Religion and Thought, History and Politics, and Literature and the Arts. In keeping with the multidisciplinary character of Jewish studies, these six courses must include one or more courses from at least three of the following four categories: The Bible and Classical Judaism, Religion and Thought, History and Politics, and Literature and the Arts. Students can expect advisers to work closely with them to select courses that cover the chronological sweep of Jewish civilization from biblical times to the present.

C. Honors Capstone Requirement

The yearlong honors thesis project (JUD 430d) counting as two semester courses.

Additional Guidelines
  1. No course counting toward the major shall be taken for an S/U grade.
  2. In addition to JUD 101/102 and JUD 125, no more than two courses at the 100 level shall count toward the major.
  3. Although JUD 101/102 is the minimum language requirement for the major, the program strongly encourages students to continue study of Hebrew, and to do so at Smith when appropriate courses are available: JUD 200 Intermediate Modern Hebrew or JUD 201 Readings in Modern Hebrew Language; special studies in language. A student may continue her study of Hebrew, or of another Jewish language such as Yiddish, within the Five College Consortium or at an approved program elsewhere.
  4. Courses on junior year abroad programs or on other approved programs for study away may count toward the major. A student’s petition to count such courses must be approved by the major adviser and the Jewish studies program after the course has been completed.
  5. With the approval of her adviser, a student may count one Smith College course from outside the approved list of Jewish studies courses toward the major, when that course offers a broader comparative framework for Jewish studies. In such a case, the student writes at least one of her assignments for the course on a Jewish studies topic.

Requirements for Admission to Honors

A student majoring in Jewish studies who intends to submit an application for candidacy in the honors program should first meet with the director of honors in Jewish studies to obtain the application form and the college's regulation sheet and to make sure that the procedures for admission are understood. Proposals are normally developed during the spring semester of the student's junior year either by directly meeting with a potential thesis adviser or by clarifying the proposal via e–mail if the student is studying abroad.

To be admitted to the honors program a student must have a 3.4 cumulative GPA through her junior year, demonstrate the ability to do independent work and have her thesis proposal approved by the program by the requisite deadline.The achievement of the minimum GPA is no guarantee that a student's honors proposal will be accepted.

Advisers

A student should arrange to have one faculty member from the program serve as her thesis adviser. The thesis adviser is to supervise the planning, research, writing and evaluation of the thesis. Because the adviser and candidate will work closely together throughout the duration of the program, a student must make sure that her adviser will not be on leave or on sabbatical during the relevant semesters. In addition, students may suggest the names of other faculty whom they desire to act as readers for the thesis, although the program must approve the second reader.

Application Deadlines

Students are encouraged to submit proposals during the spring semester of junior year. The college's deadline for application for honors is the third week of September (or the first week of February in the case of students completing their college studies in January). In order for the program to complete its review process, however, applications and proposals must be submitted to the director of honors no later than two weeks before the college's deadline for applying to honors. Students who have not received approval for their projects by the end of the spring semester of their junior year must register for a four–course load for the following semester; if they are admitted to honors they can then drop one or two regular courses during the year and substitute honors.

The Proposal

In addition to completing the college's application form, each student will submit a proposal for honors. The proposal should be approximately three double-spaced typed pages that explain the specifics of the project by outlining the following:

  • What issues will be explored?
  • Which historical eras, texts or thinkers will the project focus upon?
  • What types of methods will be used?

An initial annotated bibliography including relevant primary and secondary sources should be appended to the proposal. The program may ask a student to rewrite her proposal and to submit it again, but this cannot be done after the college's official deadline. All proposals should be developed under the supervision of a student's potential thesis adviser. Proposals submitted at the last minute and without close consultation with a faculty member often fail to meet the research and scholarly specifications required to secure program approval.

The Thesis

The honors thesis is expected to be a mature and polished piece of undergraduate research. Though there is no minimum or maximum page limit for the thesis, normally they amount to at least 50 pages (double-spaced) and rarely exceed 80 pages.

Deadlines

Jewish studies follows the college deadlines for due dates. The final version of the thesis is due to the thesis adviser according to the final deadline set by the college. The date of the oral examination is set through negotiation between the honors candidate, the adviser and the program, and must take place on or before the final day of classes for the semester.

Grading

Honors work in Jewish studies will be evaluated in the following fashion:

  • 60% for the written thesis
  • 10% for the oral defense
  • 30% for GPA in the Jewish studies major

Double majors

A student who is pursuing a major in Jewish studies and another department or program may want to develop an honors thesis project that integrates work from both majors. Please consult the director of honors for more information.


Courses

Please check the course catalog for up-to-date information.

Basis

  • JUD 125/REL 125 The Jewish Tradition 

Language

  • JUD 100Y Elementary Modern Hebrew (2016-17 or Earlier)
  • JUD 101 Elementary Modern Hebrew 1 (fall)
  • JUD 102 Elementary Modern Hebrew 2 (spring)
  • JUD 200 Intermediate Modern Hebrew
  • JUD 201 Readings in Modern Hebrew Language 

Bible and Classical Judaism

  • FYS 117 The Bible and the American Public Square
  • REL 112 Introduction to the Bible I 
    (Formerly REL 162)
  • REL 211 What is the Good Life? Wisdom from the Bible
  • REL 214 Women in the Hebrew Bible
  • REL 216 Archaeology and the Bible
  • REL 310 Sibling Rivals: Israel and the Other in the Hebrew Bible
  • REL 310 The Book of Judges
  • REL 310 Why do the Innocent Suffer

Religion and Thought

  • JUD 229 Judaism and Environmentalism
  • REL 110 Colloquia: Thematic Studies of Relion: The Holy Land
  • REL 221  Jewish Spirituality: Philosophers and Mystics
  • REL 223  Jews and Modernity: A Global Diaspora
  • REL 320 Judaism, Feminism, and Religious Politics in the U.S.

History and Politics

  • GOV 248  The Arab-Israeli Dispute 
  • HST 243 Reconstructing Historical Communities
  • HST 246 Memory and History
  • HST 350  Gender and Histories of the Holocaust 
  • JUD 110j Enviromental Challenges in Israel
  • JUD 235  Perspectives on the Arab-Israeli Conflict
  • JUD 255 20th Century European Thought
  • JUD 284  Jewish Life in Eastern Europe, 1750-1945
  • JUD 287  The Holocaust
  • JUD 288 History of Israel
  • JUD 362 Yiddishland
  • MES 235 Perspectives on Arab-Israeli Conflict
  • REL 227 Women and Gender in Jewish History
  • SPN 245 Jewish Women of the Muslim Mediterranean

Literature and the Arts

  • CLT 214  Literary Antisemitism 
  • CLT 218  Holocaust Literature 
  • CLT 231  American Jewish Literature 
  • CLT 277  Modern Jewish Fiction 
  • ENG 230  American Jewish Literature 
  • FYS 143 Secrets of Fiddler on the Roof
  • FYS 186  Israel: Texts and Contexts
  • GER 231 Nazi Cinema
  • GER 241  Jews in German Culture 
  • JUD 110 Introduction to Yiddish
  • JUD 215 The Heart of the Matter
  • JUD 236  Documentary Film in Contemporary Israel 
  • JUD 237  Forbidden Love: Cinematics of Desire in Israel and Beyond 
  • JUD 260  Yiddish Literature and Culture 
  • JUD 362 Punchline: The Jewish Comic Tradition
  • SPN 246 Latin American Jewish Writers
  • THE 208 American Musical Theater
  • THE 241 Staging the Jew 

Fall 2021

JUD 101 Elementary Modern Hebrew I
The first half of a two-semester sequence introducing modern Hebrew language and culture, with a focus on equal development of the four language skills: reading, writing, speaking and listening. Learning is amplified by use of online resources (YouTube, Facebook newspapers) and examples from Hebrew song and television/film. No previous knowledge of modern Hebrew is necessary. This course is available to Mount Holyoke College students through a simultaneous video-conferencing option. Enrollment limited to 18. Credits: 5
Joanna Caravita

JUD 284 Colloquium: The Lost World of East European Jewry, 1750-1945  
The modern history of the largest Jewish community in the world, from life under the Russian tsars until its extermination in World War II. Topics include Jewish political autonomy under the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth; the shifting effects on Jews in Russian, Soviet and Polish society of Partition, tsarist legislation, Revolution, Sovietization and the emergence of the modern nation-state; the folkways and domestic culture of Ashkenaz; competition between new forms of ecstatic religious expression and Jewish Enlightenment thought; the rise of mass politics (Zionism, Socialism, Diaspora Nationalism, Yiddishism) and the role of language (Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian, Polish) in the creation of secular Jewish identity; and the tension between memory and nostalgia in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Concludes with an analysis of the recently opened Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. Enrollment limited to 18. Credits: 4
Justin Daniel Cammy

FYS 186 Israel through Literature and Film
What was the role of Hebrew writers in constructing a nation's founding myths and interpreting and challenging its present realities? How do literature and film about Zionism and the State of Israel frame and interpret tensions between sacred and secular, exile and homeland; indigenous and colonial; language and identity; and the national conflict between Jews and Palestinians? All readings and screenings in English translation. Includes texts from differing historical periods, political perspectives, and languages. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. Credits: 4
Justin Daniel Cammy

REL 227 Women and Gender in Jewish History    T
Tn exploration of Jewish women’s changing social roles, religious stances and cultural expressions in a variety of historical settings from ancient to modern times. How did Jewish women negotiate religious tradition, gender and cultural norms to fashion lives for themselves as individuals and as family and community members in diverse societies? Readings from a wide range of historical, religious, theoretical and literary works in order to address examples drawn from Biblical and rabbinic Judaism, medieval Islamic and Christian lands, modern Europe, America and the Middle East. Students' final projects involve archival work in the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History. Enrollment limited to 12. Credits: 4
Lois C. Dubin

REL 310 Seminar: Hebrew Bible-Why Do the Innocent Suffer?    
Many biblical texts question whether God consistently rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked. Prominent examples include Job, Ecclesiastes and certain Psalms, but similar ideas occur in the Torah and the Prophets. While focusing most deeply on Job, this course introduces students to an array of biblical and ancient Near Eastern texts, as well as some post-biblical and even modern literature, to illuminate the Hebrew Bible’s discourse surrounding this issue. Credits: 4
Joel Kaminsky

 

The Program in Jewish Studies encourages international study as a way to enhance knowledge of Jewish civilization. The following Smith-approved institutions offer courses in Jewish studies.

Study Abroad Adviser: Justin Cammy

Israel

Students planning to study for a year or semester at Smith-approved programs at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv University are reminded that international study guidelines require that students complete JUD 101 and 102 Elementary Modern Hebrew (or the equivalent of a full year of college-level elementary Hebrew) prior to departure.

Students who believe they already have the equivalent of JUD 101 and 102 will be required to take a Hebrew language proficiency exam administered by the Program in Jewish Studies to determine whether they have met the foreign language requirement set by Smith College.

The Office for International Study at Smith College recommends, but does not require, a full year of Hebrew or Arabic for students applying only to the Arava Program for Environmental Studies.

Special waivers are required of students electing to study in Israel. Please contact the study abroad adviser and/or the Office for International Study for more information.

Europe

Canada

Africa

Australia

Other Study Abroad Options

Students may wish to petition for permission to attend the following institutions:

Students who wish to take summer courses abroad or domestically should follow the procedures for summer school credit available on the class deans website.

Yiddish Language Study

Students interested in Yiddish language, literature and culture are encouraged to attend one of the following programs.

Israel

Universities in Israel offer intensive summer programs for all levels of Hebrew language study, and courses in Jewish studies and Middle Eastern studies.

  • The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Hebrew University offers courses in classical and modern Hebrew, Arabic, Jewish Studies, Biblical Studies, Archeology, and Middle East Studies)
  • Tel Aviv University (TAU offers summer courses in Hebrew, Arabic, Yiddish and Middle East
  • Haifa University (Courses in Hebrew and Arabic language, archeology and Israel studies)

Europe

Hebrew Language Study in the United States

There is very little financial aid available for students studying at domestic (U.S.) programs. Students planning to attend a program at an American institution should apply for financial aid at that institution and for assistance through the class deans office.

Summer Study Grants

  • Program in Jewish Studies funding for the study of Jewish Languages
    Students are eligible to apply to the Program in Jewish Studies for support of accredited summer language study in modern Hebrew, Biblical Hebrew, Yiddish and Ladino. The application is competitive and funding is limited. Please send an email to the director of the Program in Jewish Studies, Justin Cammy, with the following information: Name of program at which you plan to study; total cost of program (including airfare); confirmed sources of other funding; pending sources of other funding; a one page of explanation of how language study intersects with your scholarly program and an unofficial copy of your transcript. A letter of recommendation from a faculty member in support of your summer language studies should be sent directly to the program director no later than the deadline. Students are expected to have a minimum GPA of 3.0 at the time of application.
  • Intensive Summer Language Grants (Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino would qualify). Contact the class deans office.
  • Leila Wilson Fund for the study of a Middle Eastern Language
  • International Experience Grants (for study, research, internships, or volunteer opportunities)
  • Praxis stipends for summer internships

Faculty in Cross-Listed Courses

The following faculty members offer courses that are cross-listed in Jewish studies or related disciplines.


Alumnae Spotlight

“Jewish Studies allowed me to learn Hebrew and classical texts and pursue an honors thesis that brings together my interests in intellectual thought and social activism. I traveled with Smith faculty to Israel to study environmental challenges, all while pursuing a second major in chemistry. My Smith career has been enhanced by asking pressing historical and cultural questions in an interdisciplinary framework.”
Hunter Myers ’18

“Being a Jewish Studies major at Smith provided me with an opportunity to learn Yiddish, pursue summer study at some of the leading Yiddish organizations in the world and travel to Poland to study interwar Jewish culture. My honors thesis allowed me to bring all of my training together in a project I can call my own.”
Teddy Schneider ’18

“Jewish studies introduced me to a world of meaningful literature and history. The course work and connections made at Smith were the foundations that prepared me professionally to lead a major video interview project documenting the legacy and changing nature of Yiddish language and culture.”
Christa Whitney ’09
Director, Yiddish Book Center's Wexler
Oral History Project

Contact

Jewish Studies
Seelye Hall 207A
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063
Phone: 413-585-3390
Fax: 413-585-3393

Program Director: Justin Cammy
Administrative Coordinator: Lorraine Hedger

Individual appointments can be arranged directly with the faculty.