Prof. Michael Kagan                                          Office Hours in RH-422
PHL 335/REL 383                                              TU & TH 9-10:00 am
Philosophies of Judaism                                      and by appointment. (Call 445-4489)
Fall 1999                                                    

We will consider a variety of Jewish philosophical responses to fundamental problems and concerns including human nature, faiths/reasons controversies, theories of revelation,  existential and feminist Jewish philosophies. Be willing to struggle with difficult philosophical texts and issues. Requirements include participation, attendance, successful completion of two exams and a final project to be agreed upon with the instructor.

Course Objectives:

(A) To examine a variety of Jewish philosophical tendencies as responses to fundamental crises and challenges. The course will focus on several paradigmatic philosophies of Judaism in terms of the following: (B) encourage sensitivity to the influence and importance of gender and culture in the development of these philosophies;
(C) challenge students to closely and critically examine a Jewish philosophical work in depth, report on the results of that examination and respond to it in light of their own philosophical religious orientations.

Required Texts

There are also some other required readings on reserve in the library, as indicated in the syllabus and class discussions.

Other Texts (Final projects may be based on any of the following)


The aims of this course are intended to be met through lectures, discussion, preparation and completion of examinations, and preparation and presentation of the final project.

Course requirements and grading

* Carefully read the assigned texts.  Be prepared to discuss the readings in class. (participation and attendance count for  20%; 4% will be deducted from this part of grade for each miss; in class writing assignments will be figured into this part of the grade )
* Do the short writings on the reading assignments  (40%)
* Prepare and present on one of the readings for class. (20%)
* Complete and be prepared to present a final project (20%)


Reading  question(s) are given along with each assignment.  Unless otherwise indicated, please answer the reading question(s) in less than one TYPED page (all assignments, except in class writings are to be typed).  Make sure you are working with the current version of this syllabus.


All students are expected to do all readings and to share their understanding with one another in class discussions and by leading their own and participating in other students' presentations on the various readings. Student presentations on readings begin the second week of class, and will be scheduled during the first week. The subtopics will be divided up into student groups whose size will be determined by the class size.

Remember: You have less than an hour to present. Focus on the aspects your group finds most interesting and important. Do not try to cover everything. Your presentation will be improved if you make it easier for others to participate.  (Please try to help others' presentations by participating!) Please feel free to meet with me to discuss your presentations.  If you don't find me on campus, feel free to call me at home (637-0349) before 8:00 PM. YOU CAN ALWAYS LEAVE A VOICE MAIL MESSAGE AT 445-4489.

Final Project: Written and Presented to Class

Students are to closely and critically examine a Jewish philosophical work (of their own choice) in depth, report on the results of that examination and respond to it in light of their own philosophical religious orientations. The first portion of this assignment is exegetic and expository, requiring the student to present and explain the work in question, making  sure to indicate philosophical strengths and weaknesses. The second part of the assignment invites the students to respond. The response may consist of an essay explaining your view and criticisms; you might write a dialogue or story addressing some of the central issues; you might do something else. Students who do this project as part of a group are required to write an additional brief individual essay on the project topic.


In coordination with the Academic Support Center (ASC), reasonable accommodations are provided for qualified students with disabilities. Please register with Anne Herron in the ASC Office for disability verification and determination of reasonable accommodations. After receiving your accommodation form from the ASC, you will need to make an appointment with me to review the form and discuss your needs. Please make every attempt to meet with me within the first week of class so your accommodations can be provided in a timely manner. You can either stop by the ASC, Library, 1st floor, or call (445-4118-voice or 445-4104-TDD) to make an appointment with Ms. Herron.


No Classes Oct. 11 - Oct. 12 (Long Weekend), and Nov. 24-26 (Thanksgiving Break).

TENTATIVE SCHEDULE ('*' indicates dates on which students present)
Week #1 (of Sep. 2)  Introduce course, choose groups and schedule presentations on readings, IN CLASS WRITING #1: Write a brief (less than 3 pages handwritten) essay describing your knowledge of and experience(s) with Judaism(s).

*Week #2 (of Sep.  7)  Introduction of some biblical perspectives.  Read the book of Genesis.  On September 9, students present on issues suggested by the text. SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT  #1( ALL SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENTS ARE DUE THE DATE OF THE RESPECTIVE STUDENT PRESENTATION ): What is God's relationship to people in the book of Genesis?  How, at all, does it change throughout the book?

*Week #3 (of Sep. 14)  Read the books of Exodus and Esther.  SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT #2:   What is the difference between the way the descendants of Abraham and Sarah deal with persecution in the two books?  Sep. 16, students present on Esther.

*Week #4 (of Sep. 21)  Read Ecclesiastes. SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT #3:   What problem is bothering the author of Ecclesiastes?  Sep. 21, students present on Ecclesiastes:  Sep. 23,  Instructor presents on views of the after-life in the development of Judaism..

Week #5 (of Sep. 21)  Lecture on Philo.  Read Saadia selections in Arthur Hyman and James J. Walsh (eds.), Philosophy in the Middle Ages: The Christian, Islamic, and Jewish Traditions, Second Edition, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1983 [on reserve in the library) IN CLASS WRITING #2: In what ways, if any, are Saadia and Philo addressing the same problems?

*Week #6 (of Sep. 28)    Read Guide., pp. 1-37.   Read Strauss's introduction and  title essay  SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT #4:  Who is Maimonides' audience?   Sep. 28., Students present on Maimonides'  life and work.  Sep. 30.  Lecture on secret writing and Strauss.

*Week #7 (of Oct. 5) Oct. 5: Read Guide., Pages 59-120; 212-250.  Read Strauss, Chs. 2 & 3.    Oct. 7: Read Guide, 307-397.   Students present on Guide, pp.  307-397.  SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT #5:   According to Maimonides, How do the best persons conduct their lives?

Week #8 (of Oct. 14) Oct. 14:   Read Maimonides on Evil  and Providence (264-306).   IN CLASS WRITING #3:   What do you take to be Maimonides' central thesis about evil and providence?  How does it square with your own views?  PROJECT PROPOSALS DUE Thursday, OCT. 14.

*Week #9 (of Oct. 19)  Wiesel on Evil and Responsibility.  If you have not yet read Night, do so.  Then read DawnSHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT #6: What problem faces the protagonist in Dawn?  How does this and related problems affect our lives today?   Note:  You are welcome to do this within one page if you can, but, for this assignment, the page limit is extended to 3 TYPED pages.  Oct. 21: Students present on Dawn, group work on Dawn.

*Week 10: (of Oct. 26)  Buber  on responsibility.  Oct. 26, Instructor presents on Buber's philosophy.  Read Buber's "The Way of Man."   Oct. 28,  students present on Buber's "The Way of Man."  SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT #7:   What does this essay tell us about  the meaning of the question "Where are you?"

*Week 11 (of Nov. 2)   Wiesel and Schwarzschild on responsibility after the Holocaust.  Read Wiesel's The Accident.   Read Schwarzschild's Ch. 4, "On the Theology of Jewish Survival" (pp. 83-98, and pp. 278-284, and Ch 12, "Modern Jewish Philosophy" in Pursuit of the Ideal, pp. 229-233 [on reserve in library]). Read Samuelson, pp. 288-306 (on reserve).  Nov. 4, Students present on The AccidentSHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT #8:   How does Wiesel and/or Schwarzschild think we should live in a post-holocaust world?

*Week 12: (of Nov. 9)  Read Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective. SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT #9 (3 page maximum):  What is the basic problem Plaskow addresses in this book?  What can we learn from the response?   Nov. 9  Students present on Standing Again at Sinai, first half.  Nov. 11:  Students present on Standing Again at Sinai, second  half.

 *Week 13  (of Nov. 16).   Read The Jew in the LotusSHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT #10 (3 page maximum): What is the basic problem faced by the Jews in this book?  What is the basic problem faced by the Tibetans?  Of all the people you "met" reading this book, which two did you like the best?  Why?  What did they offer?  Nov. 18:  Students present on The Jew in the Lotus.

*Week 13-15 (Nov 23, and Nov 30, Dec. 2,  Dec 7,  and Dec 9, the last day of class).  Students report on their final projects  These reports are to be between 10 and 15 minutes in length). These will continue until the end of semester. .