Religious Studies 2J03 (Winter 2019)

Introduction to Judaism

This course website and online syllabus is located at It can also be accessed by way of my home page (see below) or by way of the Department of Religious Studies website ( Information about assignments and any scheduling changes will be posted to this online syllabus, announced in class, and/or e-mailed to participants. (Please keep me up to date about your e-mail addresses!)

Attention! This course is not on Avenue To Learn. This course website is the only online information source for this course.

Class Meetings: Thursdays, 2:30-4:20 p.m., BSB 138

Tutorials: Wednesdays, 3:30-4:20 p.m., BSB 117

INSTRUCTOR:  Professor Dana Hollander, Department of Religious Studies, University Hall 113.*  (905) 525-9140, ext. 24759

*Staff in the office of the Department of Religious Studies will not date-stamp or receive written assignments.

Office Hours: Thursdays, 5-6 p.m., or by appointment.

Moses receiving the Torah, from the Sarajevo Haggadah (c. 1350)

updated March 29, 2019

Course Description / Course Readings / Course Requirements   |  ☛ JUMP TO SCHEDULE:  January / February / March / April


This survey of major facets of Jewish religion and identity will offer an introduction to

(a) themes and categories that help define how Judaism is understood from antiquity to the present, e.g., covenant, election, law, exile/diaspora, and liturgy/worship; and

(b) key aspects of "modern" Jewish life, such as religious reform and denominations, patterns of migration and Zionism, antisemitism and the Holocaust, and feminist and queer perspectives.

Throughout the course, informative readings will be paired with source texts that will allow you to deepen your understanding of the key themes and historical phenomena under discussion.


Available for purchase at the McMaster Campus Store:
At times during the course, you will be required to consult passages in the Hebrew Bible. For this purpose, the following edition of the Bible is recommended for purchase from the Campus Store:

Alternatively, you may access the Hebrew Bible at Sefaria: A Living Library of Jewish Texts: If you use this resource, please print out the relevant biblical passages you will be working with (by creating a "source sheet" for download; see the instructions here) and bring the printed copies with you to class as needed.

All the required readings, as well as some optional supplementary readings, are on reserve at Mills Library - e.g. for personal photocopying. To find items on reserve for a course, select "Course Reserve" from the drop-down menu here.

Further readings will be added as necessary.

Throughout the course, you must use your own paper copy of all course readings (whether in book or xeroxed form)--in the same edition selected for the class. Please bring your readings to class and tutorial with you, so that you can refer to them and annotate them as we are discussing them.

  • Attendance of all class and tutorial sessions.

  • Participation--i.e., consistent engagement in the course activities throughout the semester, including: reading the relevant material ahead of class/tutorial meetings; bringing your own paper copies of the week's readings with you to class/tutorial; being alert, engaged, and ready to enter discussion when it is warranted; being responsive to contributions and comments made by others; taking part in in-class (e.g., group) assignments; communicating with the instructor outside of class.

    Please do speak to me at any point during the semester if there is something you would like to share about yourself that would be helpful to me in assessing your participation, or if you would like to discuss how you are participating in the class.

  • Three "Weekly Assignments" (2-3 pages each).* Specific assignments for each week will be posted to this online syllabus on Thursday evening after class (see below under the due dates), and will be due in tutorial on the following Wednesday. Each assignment is to be completed in conjunction with attendance of the full tutorial session at which it is due, and to be handed in at the end of the tutorial session on those days.

    • Please complete either Weekly Assignment 1 (for January 23) or Weekly Assignment 2 (for January 30)

    • After the previous marked assignment has been returned to you, please complete:
      • one from among: Weekly Assignment 3, 4, or 5; and then
      • one from among: Weekly Assignment 6, 7, or 8
      • (due on the dates noted below).
      *Please allow sufficient time to acquaint yourself with the specific instructions for each assignment (and to contact me for clarification if necessary) before beginning your work on it!

Note: Weekly Assignments are designed to help you deepen your understanding of the week's course material and study the reading assignments in preparation for a particular tutorial session, in conjunction with your participation in that tutorial session.  Therefore, these assignments consist of the written assignment to be handed in at the tutorial session at which it is due plus attendance of the full tutorial session.

No submissions outside of those tutorial times will be accepted.

  • Book Report (due April 4). Detailed assignment to be distributed in early February.

Grades will be based on the following: Attendance (5%), Participation (5%), First "Weekly Assignment" (15%), Second and Third "Weekly Assignments" (20% each), Book Report (35%)

To arrange an academic accommodation for a disability, please contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS), Tel. 905-525-9140 ext. 28652;  Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study.

LEARNING ENVIRONMENT & TECHNOLOGIES Please do not eat during class.

You are advised to retain copies of any written work you submit for this class, and all your research notes, until you have received an official grade.


At certain points in the course it may make good sense to modify the schedule outlined below. The instructor reserves the right to modify elements of the course and will notify students accordingly (in class, by e-mail to participants, and by updating this online syllabus).

January 10


No tutorial meeting this week.

January 16, 17, 23

What is meant by "Judaism," "Jewish," and "Jew"?

Eliezer Segal, Introducing Judaism: "Introduction"

Nicholas de Lange, An Introduction to Judaism (2nd ed., 2009): Map of the Jewish World in 1930; Map of the Jewish World in the 2000s; chap. 1: "The Jews in the World" [Coursepack 1]

Gershom Scholem, "Judaism" (1973) from Cohen/Mendes-Flohr (eds.), Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought [Coursepack 1]

-----, "Revelation and Tradition as Religious Categories in Judaism" (1962), from The Messianic Idea in Judaism and Other Essays on Jewish Spirituality: pp. 282-84 [Coursepack 1]

Weekly Assignment 1 due in tutorial on Jan. 23 from students with last names beginning in A-L

Supplementary Resources

Pew Research Center Survey of U.S. Jews (2013), and a news story summarizing some reactions when the survey was released.

Morton Weinfeld and Randal F. Schnoor, "The Demography of Canadian Jewry, the 'Census' of 2011: Challenges and Results" in American Jewish Year Book 2014 (2015) (McMaster access only)

January 24, 30

Bible, Narrative, History

Segal, Introducing Judaism, chap. 1: "The Biblical Legacy"

Michael Brenner, A Short History of the Jews, chap. 1: "From Ur to Canaan: A Wandering People"; chap 2: "From Exile Back Home"

Leo Baeck, The Essence of Judaism (1905): 52-54; 59-60; 60 bottom-61 [Coursepack 1]

Christine Hayes, Introduction to the Bible (2012): Table 1: "The Canons of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament" (pp. 11-12) [Coursepack 1]

"Scriptural Readings for Sabbaths" and "The Jewish Liturgical Year," from Textual Sources for the Study of Judaism, ed. Philip S. Alexander [Coursepack 1]

Recommended: Hayes, Introduction to the Bible: chap. 1: "The Legacy of Ancient Israel" [Coursepack 1]

Weekly Assignment 2 due in tutorial on Jan. 30 from students with last names beginning in M-Z

Supplementary Resources

Instructional videos describing synagogue rituals involving the Torah scroll: opening the ark | hagbaha and gelila (="raising" and "dressing" the Torah) | having an aliyah (=being called up to the Torah) (Note that details of these rituals as described here can diverge depending on the Jewish denomination or specific synagogue traditions.)

"Reading of the Torah" segment of a synagogue service in a prayer book. These pages should appear as facing pages: English on the right, and corresponding Hebrew on the left.

January 31, February 6

Bible (cont'd). Covenant and Election, part 1

Jon D. Levenson, Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible (1987) [purchase book] pp. 1-42 (= Introduction, part 1: secs. 1-4)

Gen. 11-12, 17, 22. Ex. 19-20 - in the Hebrew Bible

February 7, 13

Covenant (cont'd)

Levenson, Sinai and Zion, pp. 42-56 (=part 1: secs. 5-7), 80-86 (=sec. 11)

Weekly Assignment 3 due in tutorial on Feb. 13 from some students

February 14, 27

Law in Rabbinic Judaism (or: What is Law in Judaism?)

Segal, Introducing Judaism: chap. 2: "The Second Temple Era"; chap. 3: "Judaism of the Talmud and Midrash."

Robert Goldenberg, "Law and Spirit in Talmudic Religion," from Jewish Spirituality, vol. 1: From the Bible Through the Middle Ages, ed. Arthur Green (1986) [Coursepack 1]

Shai Held, "The Great Principle of the Torah is Love, But What Does that Mean?" (2018) (Listen to the first of the three lectures, which is one hour long, not including the Q&A session. Download/print the source sheet in advance, so that you can consult it as you listen to the lecture.)

Weekly Assignment 4 due in tutorial on Feb. 27 from some students

February 28 special meeting location: University Hall B126G (in the basement), March 6

Worship and Observance

Ruth Langer, "Jewish Worship and Liturgy" from The Cambridge Guide to Jewish History, Religion, and Culture, ed. Judith R. Baskin and Kenneth Seeskin (2010) [Coursepack 1]

Optional: Segal, Introducing Judaism, chap. 17: "Judaism and Daily Life"; chap. 18: "The Sacred Calendar"; and pp. 212-23 (on Talmudic commentaries and codes of talmudic law)

excerpts from two versions of the Passover Haggadah plus relevant source texts [Coursepack 1]

Weekly Assignment 5 due in tutorial on March 6 from anyone who has not yet completed the second Weekly Assignment.

Supplementary Resources

"Places of Worship: Judaism - a Synagogue and Artefacts"

March 7, 13

Jewish Modernity

Segal, Introducing Judaism: chap. 7: "The Modern Era"

Brenner, A Short History of the Jews, chap. 13: "From the Ghetto to Civil Society"

excerpts from The Jew in the Modern World,, 2nd ed., ed. Mendes-Flohr and Reinharz: pp. 28-44, 49-53, 128-36, 197-202, 205-6, 468-69, 517-18 [Coursepack 1]

Mordechai Breuer, "1873: Samson Raphael Hirsch oversees the secession of Jewish Orthodoxy in nineteenth-century Germany" from Yale Companion to Jewish Writing and Thought in German Culture, 1096-1996, ed. Gilman/Zipes (1997) [Coursepack 1]

excerpt from Gershom Scholem, "The Science of Judaism, Then and Now" (1959) from The Messianic Idea in Judaism and Other Essays on Jewish Spirituality: pp. 304-8 (up until "Apologetics was the great stimulus") [Coursepack 2]

Optional: The Jew in the Modern World, pp. 219-30 [Coursepack 2]

Weekly Assignment 6 due in tutorial on March 13 from some students.

Book Report Proposal due on March 13. See Book Report Assignment (sent by e-mail) for details.

March 14, 20

Consultations on Book Report Proposals (details communicated in class and by e-mail)

March 21, 27

Exile, Migration, Zionism

Segal, Introducing Judaism: pp. 173-78

Brenner, A Short History of the Jews: chaps. 15 and 16; 307-17; 349-64

Arnold Eisen, "Exile," from Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought (1987), 219-25 [Coursepack 2]

excerpts from The Jew in the Modern World: 629-33 [Coursepack 2]

Yeshayahu Leibowitz, excerpt from "The Religious Significance of the State of Israel" (1975) from Norton Anthology of World Religions: Judaism (2017), ed. D. Biale, 680-84 [Coursepack 2]

Shlomo Fischer, "American Jews are Protestants, Israeli Jews are Catholics" (December 15, 2013), The Blogs, Times of Israel [Coursepack 2, or print out personal copy of linked article]

Weekly Assignment 7 due in tutorial on March 27 from some students

Supplementary Resources

Joel Beinin and Lisa Hajjar, “Palestine, Israel and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A Primer” (2014)

March 28, April 3

Antisemitism and the Holocaust

Brenner, A Short History of the Jews, chaps. 19 and 20

George M. Fredrickson, Racism. A Short History (2002), chap. 1: "Religion and the Invention of Racism" [Coursepack 2]

selections from Writing in Witness: A Holocaust Reader, ed. Eric J. Sundquist (2018) [Coursepack 2]:

  • excerpt from Victor Klemperer, "The Yellow Star" from The Language of the Third Reich: LTI - Lingua Tertii Imperii (1947)
  • Elie Wiesel, "Why I Write" from From the Kingdom of Memory: Reminiscences (1990)

Weekly Assignment 8 due in tutorial on April 3 or in class on April 4 from anyone who has not yet submitted the third/final Weekly Assignment

Supplementary Resources

"Holocaust Chronology" in Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd ed. (2007), vol. 9: 344-52 (McMaster access only)

Holocaust Encyclopedia, on the website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948)

April 4

Feminist and Queer Perspectives on Judaism

Judith Plaskow, Standing Again at Sinai. Judaism from a Feminist Perspective (1991): pp. 1-31 [Coursepack 2]

Benay Lappe, "An Unrecognizable Jewish Future: A Queer Talmudic Take." ELI Talks. May 29, 2014.

Book Report due in class on April 4


McMaster University has a strict policy concerning Academic Integrity: "You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process.  Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity. Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty.  For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, specifically Appendix 3.

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty: 1. Plagiarism, e.g., the submission of work that is not one's own or for which other credit has been obtained. 2. Improper collaboration in group work. 3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations."

Please let me know if you have any questions on how this policy applies to your work for this course.

Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work (McMaster Student Absence Form [MSAF]). In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar "Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work."

Privacy of Information. Some of the communications among the instructor and the students in this course will be over e-mail. Students should be aware that, when they access the electronic components of this course, private information such as first and last names and e-mail addresses may become apparent to all other students in the same course. Continuation in this course will be deemed consent to this disclosure. If you have any questions or concerns about such disclosure please discuss this with the course instructor.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous or Spiritual Observances (RISO). Students requiring academic accommodation based on religious, indigenous or spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the RISO policy. Students requiring a RISO accommodation should submit their request to their Faculty Office normally within 10 working days of the beginning of term in which they anticipate a need for accommodation or to the Registrar's Office prior to their examinations. Students should also contact their instructors as soon as possible to make alternative arrangements for classes, assignments, and tests.

Extreme Circumstances. The University reserves the right to change the dates and deadlines for any or all courses in extreme circumstances (e.g., severe weather, labour disruptions, etc.). Changes will be communicated through regular McMaster communication channels, such as McMaster Daily News, A2L and/or McMaster e-mail.

Copyright © Dana Hollander