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University Bulletin
Undergraduate Degree Programs

These course descriptions are not being updated as of August 1, 2016. Current course descriptions are maintained in LionPATH.

Religious Studies (RL ST)

RL ST 135 (GH;IL) (J ST 135, PHIL 135) Ethics in Jewish Tradition and Thought (3) Examination of Jewish ethical thought from biblical foundations to the modern period, with attention to contemporary issues in moral philosophy.

RL ST (J ST/PHIL) 135 Ethics in Jewish Tradition and Thought (3)

This course takes as its starting point the idea that modern ethical frameworks are deeply rooted in the “soil” of older traditions. By examining the development of Jewish intellectual traditions and their roots in the Bible, it provides students with an opportunity to study ethics in a philosophically textured, culturally rich, and historically informed way. And by focusing on Jewish engagement with the Bible, the course illuminates other traditions that derive from biblical monotheism: for example, those associated with Christianity, Islam, and the Enlightenment. The first part of the course takes up the idea of tradition and includes a study of biblical texts that serve as the foundation for key moral concepts. Following the traditional division of the scriptures, it examines questions of human identity and responsibility in the Torah, social ethics in the Prophets, and the quest for wisdom in the Writings. The final topic in this unit is the development of ethical tradition among the great sages of Jewish antiquity.

The second unit shifts focus to the appropriation of tradition in modern Jewish thought. After reviewing important developments in Jewish thought in the medieval and early modern periods, it turns attention to the ways that some recent figures have addressed perennial concerns in light of commitments and ways of being that are integral to Jewish identity. By reading closely the works of such seminal thinkers as James Kugel, Joseph Soloveitchik, and Abraham Heschel, we will gain a deep acquaintance not only with important vocabulary but also with the ways that traditional words and concepts may be used dynamically to produce fresh ways of looking at questions in moral philosophy. Even when the influence of Judaism on a particular figure is not openly acknowledged in his work, as in the case of Sigmund Freud, he may be studied profitably, in a way that sheds light on characteristically Jewish ideas. Finally, the course turns in its third and final unit to applied ethics. The central question here is how Jewish tradition informs ethical reflection in a wide range of contemporary fields: specifically, environmental studies, social and sexual ethics, and legal and business ethics.

General Education: GH
Diversity: IL
Bachelor of Arts: None
Effective: Summer 2015

Note : Class size, frequency of offering, and evaluation methods will vary by location and instructor. For these details check the specific course syllabus.


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Course descriptions are stored in LionPATH, the University-wide student information system. Please visit the LionPATH Course Catalog to access current course descriptions. At that point, you will be leaving the University Bulletin website.

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