PHL 324/REL 383  

Office Hours in RH-428 (315-445-4489) 

Philosophies of Judaism  

   MWF - 8:45-9:15am, 10:30-10:45am, Thurs - 1:50-2:15pm

Fall  2017

   and by appointment. 

Prof. Michael Kagan


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 and presentation 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 and be prepared to present 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 four of the twelve 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 presentationIf the class is meeting in a room with a built-in VCR/DVD player, make sure you know how to use it. In the event of a technical glitch, power failure, 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 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 one or two page individual essay on the project topic.

In coordination with the 
Academic Support Center (ASC) and Disability Support Services, reasonable accommodations are provided for qualified students with disabilities. Please register for disability verification and determination of reasonable accommodations. After receiving your accommodation form, 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.


No class or office hours on the following times/dates:   Mass of the Holy Spirit – Wednesday, August 30; classes scheduled to meet from 9:30-10:45 will dismiss at 10:30. Classes scheduled for 11:00 a.m., and 12:00 p.m. will not be held. Mon., Sept. 4, Labor Day; Thursday, September 21 (Rosh HaShanah); Oct. 9-10, Fall Break; Sat., Sep. 30 (Yom Kippur); Nov. 22-26, Thanksgiving Break.  

   Last day of class:  Dec. 8 (Fri.).  PROJECT PROPOSALS (for presentation or optional project paper) DUE Wed., OCT. 11.   OPTIONAL (for those who present their projects) WRITTEN PROJECTS DUE:  Wed, NOV. 15.  Student Project presentations begin Wednesday, Nov. 8.)  




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 on which students present)

#1 (Mon., Aug. 28) Introduce course, choose groups and schedule presentations on readings.  IN CLASS WRITING #1: Write a brief (less than 1 page) essay or outline describing your knowledge of and experience(s) with Judaism(s), and what you would like to learn from your work in this course.

#2 (Wed., Aug. 30)   Introduction of some biblical perspectives.  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. Text and commentary.  Read Rivkin, pp. 49-99 ("The Pharisaic Revolution" and ""Heirs of the Pharisees"). 

No class or office hours, Mon., Sept. 4, Labor Day

*#3 (Wed., Sep. 6) Text and commentary.  Read Rivkin, pp. 100-126. Students present on issues suggested by the texts from Genesis. SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT #1(ALL SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENTS ARE DUE THE DATE OF THE RESPECTIVE STUDENT PRESENTATION): Describe God's relationship(s) to people in the book of Genesis?  How does this change?  What does Rivkin's analysis suggest about this?

*#4 (Mon., Sep. 11) Read the books of Exodus, chs. 1-15, 16-34, and Ch. 40. Read the book of Esther, and read Plaskow, pp. 114-117 ("Dealing with the Hard Stuff), pp. 128-133 ("Beyond Egalitarianism”) and pp. 152-156 ("Preaching Against the Text"). SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT #2:  How, if at all, have the relationships between people and God changed (from what we read in Genesis and Exodus) in the book of Esther?  Students present on Esther.

*#5 (Wed., Sep. 13)   Philosophical Theology and Medieval Jewish Philosophy.  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").   Please bring texts and questions to class.  Read the book of Ecclesiastes. SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT #3:   What problem is bothering the author of Ecclesiastes?  Students present on Ecclesiastes. I

#6 (Mon., Sept. 18) Instructor presents on some views about the after-life in the development of Judaism.

#7 (Wed., Sept. 20)   Lecture on secret writing and Strauss.   Read Strauss's Introduction (Ch. 1, pp. 7-21) and title essay (Ch. 2, pp. 22-38). Read Guide., pp. 1-37, 59-120.  Read Strauss, Ch. 3.    Bring Strauss, Guide., and Bible to class. Bring Strauss, Guide., and Bible to class.  IN CLASS WRITING #2: 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.  

No class or office hours, Thursday, September 21 (Rosh HaShanah)

*#8 (Mon., Sept. 25)   Read Guide, 212-250.  SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT #4:  Who is Maimonides' audience?   Students present on Maimonides’ life, projects, and multiple careers. Read Guide, 307-397.   Bring Strauss, Guide., and Bible to class. Students present on Guide, pp.  307-397.  SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT #5:   According to Maimonides, how do the best persons conduct their lives? How does this square with his own biography?

*#9 (Wed., Sept. 27) Please bring texts and questions to class.   Read Rivkin, Ch. IX, "The Road to Auschwitz” (pp. 244-251) Wiesel on hope and responsibility.  Read DaySHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT #6: What problem faces the protagonist in Day?  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.  Students present on Day

*#10 (Mon., Oct. 2) Read Martin Buber’s The Way of Man According to the Teachings of the Hasidim.  SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT #7: Using the text to support your thesis, explain what you think to be the problem that is bothering Buber.  Do you think this is an important problem?  Why or why not?  Students present on Buber’s life, projects, and multiple careers.

#10a (Wed., Oct. 4).  Lecture on Buber’s philosophical religious context.

No class or office hours, Oct. 9-10, Fall Break.

#11 (Wed., Oct., 11) Read two or more of the following five: 
(1)"Split Light," from Goldstein's Travellers in Magic
(2) Rivkin on responsibility after the Holocaust. Read Rivkin, Ch. X, "The Road from Auschwitz" (pp. 252-281) and
(3) Rivkin, Ch. XI, "Postlude:  The Present and Beyond" (pp. 282-327)
(4) Read "Alfred," from Goldstein's Travellers in Magic.  
(5) 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]).  SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT #8:   How does one of these writers think we should live in a post-holocaust world?  Why?

#12 (Mon., Oct. 16).   Read Plaskow and Berman, pp. 1-19 (the foreword and the introduction, "Intersections"), pp. 35-55 ("The Jewish Feminist:  Conflict in Identities" and "Male Theology and Women's Experience") and pp. 65-80 ("Jewish Theology in Feminist Perspective”) SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT #9 (3 page maximum):  What are the basic problems Plaskow addresses in this book?  How did she become aware of them?    

*#13 (Wed., Oct.18).   Students present on selections from Plaskow and Berman, Part II ("The Complexity of Interlocking Oppressions," pp 89-117) Read Plaskow and Berman, pp. 89-93 ("Christian Feminism and Anti-Judaism"), pp. 94-99 ("Anti-Semitism:  The Unacknowledged Racism"), pp. 100-109 ("Feminist Anti-Judaism and the Christian God"), and pp. 110-113 ("Jewish Anti-Paganism.").   Review "Dealing with the Hard Stuff” (pp. 114-117) SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT #10:  What kind of challenge does Plaskow address here, and how does she recommend we respond? (3 page maximum)

*#14 (Mon., Oct. 23)    Read Kamenetz, The Jew in the Lotus.  Students present on Kamenetz's life, projects, and multiple careers. SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT #11 (2 page maximum): What is the basic problem faced by the Jews in this book?  What is the basic problem faced by the Tibetans?  

#15 (Wed., Oct. 25) Please bring questions about the Kamenetz book.  As time permits, instructor will lecture on Jews, Judaisms, and other religions

#16 (Mon., Oct. 30)     Read Kushner's Kabbalah. SHORT WRITING ASSIGNMENT #12:  Write 3 questions about this book.  Would you like them answered?  Why or why not?   Project presentations scheduled

#17 (Wed., Nov. 1) IN CLASS WRITING #3: Write a brief (less than 1 page) essay discussing your knowledge of and experience(s) with Judaism(s), and any changes since your first essay in what you would like to learn from your work in this course.

#18 (Mon., Nov 6)   Lecture on philosophies of kinds of Judaisms and/or group work based on students’ in class writing work on Nov 1.

*#19ff (Wed., Nov. 8 through Monday, Dec 4) Student Project presentations.   These presentations are to be between 10 and 15 minutes in length; more time will be allotted to students working in groups.

(Wed. Dec. 6) Make-up presentations.  Course evaluations, if not already done.