The goals of a Jewish History curriculum should include developing student understanding of the history of the Jewish people within the context of other civilizations and therefore must involve a study of Jewish events within the framework of those other cultures as well as an examination of the ideas that were unique to the Jews. These ideas enabled the Jews to survive both as a national and a religious entity while many other civilizations disappeared. The study of Jewish History should also include outstanding Jewish personalities, critical Jewish texts and works, and the challenges the Jews faced against great empires and against competing and often hostile world religions.
The first part of this course will cover the ancient period of Jewish History beginning from the Jewish Monarchy of King David to the completion of the Talmud, a period that spans approximately 1500 years from 1000 BCE to 500 CE. It begins with the center of Jewish life in Israel and ends with the Jewish people in exile, centered in Babylon. During this time the Jews in the land of Israel were subject to the successive rule of the Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman empires and experienced limited self-rule only during the Hasmonean Dynasty. The period was also one of sectarianism and great religious fervor and change. The Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes were just some of the major sects that sought to promote their variety of Judaism. One of the things that emerged from this mix was Christianity, which became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire and of Western civilization as well an archrival of the Jewish people. Mainstream Judaism developed through the Pharisees and their successors the Tannaim and Amoraim who focused on the Oral Law as the basis for Jewish life. Their ability to move Judaism from a Temple-based religion to one that stressed study and prayer gave the religion the vitality and flexibility needed to ensure its continuity and relevance.
The second part of the course will cover the period from the rise of Islam to the Emancipation, the beginning of the modern period. Emphasis will be placed upon the emergence of diverse expressions of Jewish religious and intellectual ideas. Topics to be discussed include the status of the Jews under Christianity and Islam, Church doctrine, Anti-Semitism, Jewish origins in Europe, communal and economic activity, the Jews of Muslim Spain, the Jews of Germany and France (Ashkenaz), the Crusades, Christian Spain, polemics and disputations, the Marranos, the Inquisition and Expulsion, settlement in Israel during the 16th century, the development of Kabbalah as a major intellectual mode of Jewish thought, the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation and the messianic movement of Sabbetai Tzvi.
An understanding of the importance of this period is essential for a proper understanding of the contemporary Jewish scene. Particular emphasis will be placed on the intellectual and religious expressions of Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jewry as well as the different Jewish experiences living under Christianity and Islam.