324055 Topics in the History of the Jewish People

Instructor – Yisrael Ne’eman

This course is a survey of the history of the Jewish People with an emphasis on the modern period and the development of the State of Israel. There are 11 classes, one field study to the Diaspora Museum and a final exam entailing short definition answers and/or multiple choice questions.

  1. Introduction to the National Memory – The Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures or “Old Testament”) – A discussion of the Israelite Covenant with God, Exodus from Egypt and development of the tribal federation under Kings David and Solomon. Construction of the First Temple.
  2. First Temple Period – Judea and Israel split, the Assyrian invasion and the Ten Lost Tribes. Babylonian Exile and Return. The establishment of the Diaspora and its ramifications for Jewish existence.
  3. Second Temple Period – The challenge of the Greco-Roman World and the rise of militant Judean nationalism. The “Jewish War”, the destruction of Jerusalem and the loss of the physical centrality of the Land of Israel. The later Bar Kokhva Rebellion also fails. The development of the Talmud ensures Jewish continuity in the Diaspora through legal statutes and custom. Return to the homeland is delayed but the hope is never diminished. The Messianic idea is contained in Diaspora beliefs.
  4. Jewish Existence in the Byzantine and Islamic Worlds – Judaism survives the challenge of survival under that Christian Byzantines and then once again under Islam. The rise of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula can be attributed to Jewish influences yet the two religions find themselves in an adversarial relationship. Similar to the Byzantines, Jewish life is permitted, yet restricted under the Charter of Omar statutes.   Jews (like Christians) under Sharia Law are considered “dhimmis” or a protected second class community over the ages.
  5. The European Middle Ages – The Crusades (1096) brought catastrophe to the Jews of central Europe while Jewish communities in the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages and early Modern Period both flourished and was repressed during the great clashes between Islam and Christendom. The Inquisition (1391) and Expulsion (1492) put an end to centuries of Jewish existence.

With the rise of Emancipation – The “Age of Reason” (anthropocentrism) challenges the world of religion (diocentrism). A brief review of the Jewish Enlightenment (Haskala) thinkers Spinoza and Mendelsohn. The socio-political ramifications of Napoleon’s “12 Questions” and offers of full equality to the French Jewish community.

  1. Russian Jewry – A review of the Jewish predicament under the Czars. Antisemitism, persecution and the eventual revolt against the Rabbis lead the Jewish community towards messianism, emigration, revolution and Zionism by the late nineteenth century.

The Marxist revolution appears as the answer and Trotsky as an example to be followed. A look at the Jewish condition in the Soviet Union and the failure of the “promise” to end antisemitism and guarantee equality.

  1. Antisemitism – A survey of the never ending bane of Jewish existence. Why are the Jews so often seen as an “out group”? An examination of anti-Jewish stereotypes and prejudice from Pharoah, through Greece/Rome and the Middle Ages until the racial theories of the 19th-20th centuries Enlightenment Age. Does antisemitism still exist today?
  2. The American Experience – The New World offers an open, liberal and democratic society for Diaspora Jewry to flourish anew. Antisemitism is not truly an issue and the socio-economic battles may be won, but what of assimilation and the American Jewish or Jewish American identity?

Religious and Zionist solutions are offered in the great American compromise to ensure a Jewish identity alongside one’s Jewish being. Are Jews just a “religious community” or are they a people outside their homeland? What is American Zionism?

  1. Herzl and Zionism (Jewish National Liberation) – Political Diplomatic Zionism makes the Jewish People a player on the world scene, not just scattered communities. Is this the answer to the “Jewish Question”? A review of Labor, Revisionist (Likud) and National Religious ideologies.
  2. From WWII and Independence (1948) to Peace with Egypt (1979) –Israel overcomes its opponents in three major wars and begins a process of reconciliation with secular Arab nationalism. On the other hand the Palestine national movement poses the greatest challenge to Jewish national acceptance in the Middle East. Domestically, Labor leads and over a million immigrants are absorbed.
  3. From the 1980s to the Present – Labor is replaced by the Likud and national religious ideology catalyzes the settler movement. The Oslo Process begins but is never completed. Domestically the class gap widens with Israel’s capital incentive society. Where to Israel?
  4. Field Study (Sunday) – Diaspora Museum (Tel Aviv) This is a mandatory trip to the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv to be held in June (on a Sunday). Date to be announced in the first class.
  5. Multiple choice final exam: Names and terms are given out earlier in the semester. 25 will be chosen for the final.

Contact Hours

Lecture: 2 hours.

Credits: 1.5.