PHL 324/REL 383  

Office Hours in RH-428   (445-4489)  Email: 

Philosophies of Judaism  

Mon. & Tues., 1:50-2:15 p.m. and 5:35-6:00 pm; Wednesdays 5:35-6:00 pm

Fall 2009

 and by appointment. 

 Prof. Michael Kagan

Le Moyne College website:

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 a presentation on at least one of the readings 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:

1. The human person (philosophical anthropology)
2. Revelation and obligation
3. Theology
4. Jewish Identity and Existence;

(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 short writings, and preparation of the final project.


Course requirements and grading

(1) Carefully read the assigned texts. Be prepared to discuss the readings in class. I recommend that you always bring your Bible and the reading assignment to class.   Participation counts for 25%; in class writing assignments will be figured into this part of the grade. 
(2) Prepare short writings on the reading assignments.  The short writings count for 25% of your grade.
(3) Prepare and present on one of the readings for class. (25%)
(4) Complete a final project. (25%)
Grades are based on a 10 point scale as follows:
90-100 - 'A' range (97-100 = A+; 94-96=A; 90-93=A-).
80-89  - 'B' range (87-89 = B+; 84-86=B; 80-83=B-).
70-79  - 'C' range (77-79 = C+; 74-76=C; 70-73=C-).
60-69  - 'D' range (67-69 = D+; 64-66=D; 60-63=D-).
Below 60 - 'F'.

Failure to complete any of (1)-(4) can result in a failing grade. Plagiarism will result in a failing grade.

ABOUT SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENTS:  You are to select and complete 4 of the 5 short writing assignments (the average of the top 3 will count for this part of your grade). A reading question is given along with each assignment. Unless otherwise indicated, please answer the reading question 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.

STUDENT PRESENTATIONS:  For reading and project presentations,  you will be required to turn in an outline or abstract of your presentation, complete with a list of all works used. Also, if you use any web pages, not only should these be listed on the outline with the rest of your bibliography, but you are also required to turn in a printout of all web pages used in preparing the presentation. If your group divides the work into separate parts, each member of the group will need to provide his or her own outline/abstract and printouts. Outlines/abstracts, and printouts are to be given to me BEFORE the presentation. Failure to do so BEFORE  the presentation will result in a 30% deduction from the relevant presenter's presentation grade. If the outline and printouts are not turned in by the next class, there will be an additional 30% deduction. You may use up to but not more than 2 minutes of videotaped material for your presentation. If the class is meeting in a room with a built-in VCR/DVD player, make sure you know how to use it. If you need to bring in a computer or video player for the presentation, you may order one from AV by calling 445-4380; for more information on the web see .
In the event of a technical glitch or delivery problem, make sure you can present without the
computer/videotaped material.

All students are expected to do all readings and to share their understanding with one another in class discussions 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, you are welcome to call me at home before 8:00 PM. YOU CAN ALWAYS LEAVE A VOICE MAIL MESSAGE AT 445-4489.

Final Project:  Written and optionally 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 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.


No classes or office hours on the following dates:   Mon., Sept. 7, Labor Day;  Mon., Sep. 28, Yom Kippur; Mon.-Tues., Oct. 12-13, Fall Break; Wed.-Sat., Nov.. 25-28, Thanksgiving Break.   



If campus/dorms are closed due to flu or other circumstances, my intent is that the course continue.    Assignments continue to be due by email. Presentations will be replaced by papers, virtual presentations, or extended descriptions of  presentations.  In addition to notes and group work already available there on-line,  I will post updates, lecture notes, etc.,  to my Le Moyne College website at


As at other times, if your situation results in your needing an extension, please let me know.  Also, if internet service is down or there are other infrastructure problems, please complete the assignments and turn them in when services are restored. 

TENTATIVE SCHEDULE ('*'indicates dates for students presentations)  Please bring a Bible to every class along with the assigned readings.

Weeks 1-3 [to September 22]. Introduce course and topics, schedule presentations on readings.  Bring Three Jewish Philosophers (TJ).We will be working on the Philo section.  There will also be lectures and group work on sources for Jewish philosophy, some contemporary expressions of Judaism, and developing a philosophy of religion. religions, and a religion. 


9/8 -  IN CLASS WRITING #1: What are you interested in working on in this course? Read Rivkin, pp. 1-48 ("Patriarchs and Prophets" and "The Revolution of the Aaronides").  Read the book of Genesis, Chs. 1 to 23, and chs. 37-50. Read Philo selections from TJ, pp. 27-113.  Bring TJ.

9/16 - .  Read Rivkin, pp. 49-99 ("The Pharisaic Revolution"). Bring TJ.

*9/22 -    Read Rivkin, pp. 100-126 ("Heirs of the Pharisees"). . Bring TJ.  Students present on issues suggested by the texts from Genesis and Philo. SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT  #1: What is God's relationship to people in the book of Genesis?  Does it change?  How?  What do Philo's commentaries and Rivkin's analysis suggest about this?


Weeks 4-6 [to October 6]. Saadya and Epistemology.  Bring Three Jewish Philosophers (TJ) and Plaskow


9/29  Read Saadya section, pp. 141-166.  Read the biblical book of Esther, and read Plaskow, pp. 114-117 ("Dealing with the Hard Stuff),

10/6  Read Plaskow, pp. 128-133 ("Beyond Egalitarianism")  and pp. 152-156 ("Preaching Against the Text"). SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT #2:  What do you think of the ways of knowing that are exemplified or discussed in these readings?


Weeks 7-8  [to October 27] Religious authority and personal experience. 


10/20  Read Plaskow, pp. 121-123 ("God: Some Feminist  Questions" and pp. 124-127 ("'It is Not in Heaven' Feminism and Religious Authority").  Read Rivkin, pp. 126-167 ("Medieval Ways to Salvation").  PROJECT PROPOSALS DUE TUESDAY, OCT.  20.

*10/27  Read the book of Ecclesiastes. SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT #3:   Write 3 questions about Ecclesiastes and explain why they are important or why you'd like them answered.   Students present on Ecclesiastes.  Instructor presents on some views about  the after-life in the development of Judaism. Introduction to secret writing and Strauss, if time permits.


Weeks 9-10. Secret Writing, Strauss, HaLevi and Maimonides


11/3 Lecture on secret writing and Strauss.   Read Strauss's Introduction to Persecution and the Art of Writing (later referred to as "Strauss"), Ch. 1, pp. 7-21, and title essay, Ch. 2, pp. 22-38. Read HaLevi, Kuzari, "Preface" (pp. 329-330) and the first 4 pages of the "Introduction" (pp. 331-334); then read Kuzari, Book I (TJ, pp. 351-374). Read Guide., pp. 1-37.

11/10 Read Ch. 8, "Leo Strauss and Modern Jewish Thought" from The Cambridge Companion to Modern Jewish Philosophy (MJP, pp. 147-169) Read Guide., Pages 59-120; and pp. 212-250..  Read Strauss, Ch. 3.    Bring Strauss,  Guide., and Bible to class. SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT #4: Find a text in Strauss or the Bible readings we have read that make sense to interpret as secret writing.  Explain why, and how we might interpret them.   

*11/17 Students present on Maimonides'  life and multiple careers.  (Wed., Feb 27) Bring Strauss, Guide., and Bible to class.  IN CLASS WRITING #2:  Who is Maimonides' audience?  


Some Modern Jewish Philosophy


*11/24 Introducing Modern Jewish Philosophy.  Read MJP, "Introduction," pp. 1-13, and Chapters 2-5, pp. 14-101.  Optional final project presentation(s).   WRITTEN PROJECTS DUE TUESDAY, NOV. 24..

Note :  No classes Nov.. 25-28, Thanksgiving Break.   

*12/1  Martin Buber's dialogical philosophy.  Read Kaufmann's translation of Buber's I and Thou, pp. 51-168.  Bring I and Thou to class.  Student presentation on Buber's life and multiple careers.  Optional final project presentation(s).


Jewish Thought after the Holocaust


12/8  Read Rivkin, Ch. IX, "The Road to Auschwitz"  (pp. 244-251)  Read Rivkin, Ch. X, "The Road from Auschwitz"  (pp. 252-281)  and Ch. XI, "Postlude:  The Present and Beyond" (pp. 282-327)   Read Plaskow and Berman, Part II ("The Complexity of Interlocking Oppressions," pp 89-117).   Read "Alfred" and "Breadcrumbs and Stones" from Goldstein's Travellers in Magic (pp. 13-29; 201-217).  Read Kamenetz, Chs. 1-17  (up to and including " Survival Strategies")  SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT #5 (2  page maximum): What basic problems are confronted in the readings from Rivkin, Plaskow, Goldstein, and Kamenetz?   Student presentation  on Kamenetz, etc. Course evaluations (unless completed previously.)