Our aim in this seminar is to read Scripture through Jewish eyes. If we are successful, we shall discover some of the major ideas that underlie the way Jews view God, humanity, God’s relation to humanity and, and God’s desires for the way human beings relate to one another.
The bulk of the biblical material around which our inquiry will center spans Genesis 1 through Exodus 24, from Creation to Sinai. To help us in our quest we shall examine selected passages from Talmud, Midrash, and medieval and modern Jewish commentators. Though we shall take a non-fundamentalist approach to the text (i.e. we shall accept the basic premise of the Documentary hypothesis that different passages were written at different times by different authors), we shall treat the text as a narrative unit with an essential religious message.
Each student should read carefully the biblical material under discussion. Several readings will be helpful to understand the attention to detail, which underlay the Sages’ inquiry into the biblical message. A diagnostic exercise will be given at the first class to help students realize the level of detailed knowledge of the text they should attain to attain maximum benefit from this class.
The required text (and I do apologize that it is expensive, but you should own it) for the class is Bialik, Hayyim Nahman and Rovenitzky, Yehoshua Hana, The Book of Legends Sefer Ha-Aggadah, (Translated by William G. Braude), New York, Schocken Books, 1992. Also required reading for the class will be the instructor’s manuscript, Standing at Sinai. This is a work in progress, and I welcome suggestions and constructive criticisms of the work from students. In addition students will find a list of helpful supplementary readings at the end of this syllabus.
Each student will be asked to prepare a 15-20 minute seminar presentation for each class session after the first one. A student’s first two presentations must be on topic covered in the syllabus. The last two may be on any Hebrew Bible topic (as viewed through Jewish eyes) of his or her own choosing. These presentations should reflect considerable research and significant thought. The presenting student should turn in a written summary or outline of his/her presentation at the class session prior to the day of presentation.
Students taking the class for credit will be evaluated in the following way: 80% of grade based on the four seminar presentations and the written summaries that accompany them. The remaining 20% of the grade will be based on the quality of the student’s participation in class discussions.
If you wish to reach me outside of class hours, you may e mail me at
Sl.firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. If you want to make an appointment with me, please do so with our congregation’s Manager for Rabbinical Services, Abby Mayou at (860) 233-8215 extension 224. If you wish to leave me a confidential voice mail message my extension is 229.
January 31—Who we are and why we are here —Hopes and Expectations, “The Grand Misconception”, a Revolution in human thought, Jewish Sources.
Reading: The Book of Legends, (SHA), xvii-xxii; 3-5; Standing at Sinai (SaS) pp.3-4
The Story of Creation, scientific treatise or religious poem? What lessons does it teach? What is truth?
Reading: Genesis 1:1-2:4; SHA 6-19; SaS pp.5-13.
Three attempts to create a just, caring, compassionate society.
Reading: Genesis 2-11; SaS pp. 13-15.
Eden: Traditional Christian view; traditional Jewish view; a modern perspective.
Reading: Genesis 2-3; SHA 19-23; SaS pp.15-23
Cain and Abel, offerings that are not accepted; what God is; what God is not.
Reading: Genesis 4, SHA 23-25; SaS, 23-30; Genesis Rabbah, Chapter 22.
Lessons from Noah and the Tower of Babel. God’s dilemma.
Reading: Genesis 6-11, SHA, 25-30; SaS pp. 30-39; Documents From Old Testament Times, “The Story of the Flood,” pp.17-26.
February 28—The Covenant with Abraham, Abraham as covenantal partner.
Reading: Genesis 12-24; SHA, 31-42; SaS 39-61.
March 14—The Career of Jacob: Is this the One to Inherit the Covenant?
Reading: Genesis 25:19-Genesis 36; SHA 42-51; SaS pp. 61-71.
April 4---The Magnificent Story of Joseph; Setting the Stage for Redemption.
Reading: Genesis 37-50; SHA 51-57; SaS pp. 71-81.
April 25 ----Slavery in Egypt
Reading: Exodus 1-12, SHA 58-75; SaS, pp. 81-93.
A close look at the women of Exodus, Redemption, Crossing the Sea of Reeds, The Significance of Sinai
Reading: Exodus 12-24, SHA 75-86; SaS 93-101.
Suggested Supplementary Readings
Freedman, Rabbi Dr. H. and Simon, Maurice. Midrash Rabbah, Volumes 1-10.
London: Soncino Press, 1961.
Hertz, Joseph. The Pentateuch and Haftorahs. London: Soncino Press, 1979.
Rosenbaum, Rev. M. and Silbermann, Dr. A.M. Pentatauch with Rashi Commentary, Volumes I-V. New York: Hebrew Publishing Company.
Plaut, Gunther. The Torah: A Modern Commentary. New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981.
Sarna, Nahum M. The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1989.
______. The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus. Philadelphia: The Jewish
Publication Society, 1991.
Speiser, E. A., ed. The Anchor Bible: Genesis. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1964.
Sforno, Opadiah. Commentary On The Torah, Rabbi Nosson Scherman and Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, eds. Brooklyn, New York: Mesorah Publications, 1989.
Asimov, Isaac. In the Beginning. New York: Crown, 1981.
Barr, James. The Bible in the Modern World. London: SCM Press, 1973.
Encyclopedia Judaica, Volumes 1-16. Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, Ltd.,
Fokkelman, J.P. “Genesis,” and “Exodus.” In The Literary Guide to the Bible, ed. Robert Alter and Frank Kermode, eds. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, 1987.
Ginzburg, Louis. The Legends of the Jews. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1968.
Jeansonne, Sharon Pace. The Women of Genesis. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1990.
Kaufmann, Yehezkel. The Religion of Israel. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960.
Knight, Douglas A. “The Ethics of Human Life in the Hebrew Bible.” In Justice and the Holy: Essays in Honor of Walter Harrelson. ed. Douglas A. Knight and Peter J. Paris. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989.
Knight, Douglas A. and Gene M. Tucker, eds. The Hebrew Bible and Its Modern Interpreters. Chico, California: Scholars Press, 1985.
Leibowitz, Nehama. Iyunim B’sefer Bereshit. Jerusalem: World Zionist Organization, 1971.
Leibowitz, Nehama. Studies in Bereshit. Jerusalem: World Zionist Organization, 1972.
Leibowitz, Nehama. Studies in Shemot, Part I. Jerusalem: World Zionist Organization, 1981.
Leibowitz, Nehama. Studies in Shemot, Part II. Jerusalem: World Zionist Organization, 1981.
Sarna, Nahum M. Understanding Genesis. New York: McGraw Hill, 1996.
____________. Understanding Exodus. New York: Schocken Books, 1986.
Silver, Abba Hillel. Where Judaism Differed. New York: Macmillan, 1956.
Spiegel, Shalom. The Last Trail. New York: Pantheon Books, 1967.
Thomas, D. Winton, ed. Documents From Old Testament Times. New York: Harper and Row, 1958.
Tribble, Phyllis. God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978.