Between Cross and Crescent: Jewish Civilization from Mohammed to Spinoza

Course No. 4652
Professor David B. Ruderman, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania
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Course Overview

What is it like to practice your faith in an environment dominated by another? To evolve as a people when all of the world around you moves to religious and cultural rhythms very different from your own? To maintain your unity as a living community—and always to be aware of that sense of community—even when your numbers have been scattered across many lands, without a common government, a common country, or even a common language?

Moreover, how might these circumstances affect not only your own history, but also the history of those other cultures through which you move? What might you take from them? What might you give them?

For 10 formative centuries, the answers to questions like these helped define a developing Judaism, whose history was forever affected by its encounters with the surrounding social, economic, political, and intellectual environments of both medieval Islam and Christendom. As a result of those encounters, new pathways of philosophical inquiry and religious spirituality would be formed. The Hebrew language would find new ways of artistic expression. And the role of Jews in the life of the surrounding community would be changed forever, sometimes even increased, as was the paradoxical case in Italy, by the very ghettoization meant to keep them isolated.

Between Cross and Crescent: Jewish Civilization from Mohammed to Spinoza presents an overview of Jewish culture and society from its rabbinic foundations in late antiquity until the dawn of modernity in the 17th century.

In so doing, it places a special focus on Judaism's creative encounter with Christianity and Islam, giving us a unique perspective from which to examine the three major Western religions as they interact over time, and noting especially their ability or inability to tolerate and even appreciate the "other," as viewed from the vantage point of the Jewish minority.

The course is taught by Professor David Ruderman, a widely honored scholar and teacher whose extraordinary array of achievements in illuminating Jewish history includes coauthorship of the two-volume Heritage: Civilization and the Jews Study Guide and Source Reader, created to accompany the landmark Public Broadcasting System series, and whose last appearance for The Teaching Company was leading an exploration of Jewish Intellectual History: 16th to 20th Century.

An In-Depth Look at the Roots of Judaic Life and Thought

This time around, Professor Ruderman lets you experience the evolution of all of Jewish life during a critical period that also featured the emergence of two distinct intellectual threads: the rise of medieval Jewish philosophy and the appearance of Jewish mysticism and piety as the faith's primary expressions of religiosity.

His lectures presuppose no previous familiarity with Jewish, Islamic, or Christian history, and reflect a commitment to establishing always the historical context within which the events he is describing can be understood. Even when he material can threaten to be philosophically complex—as in his examination of the two approaches to interpreting the mystical and esoteric traditions of the Kabbalah, or of the intellectual provocation and enduring controversy posed by the towering writings of Moses Maimonides, 12th-century rabbi and philosopher—Professor Ruderman is always clear.

The result is an introduction that is both broad and detailed as it examines the leading Jewish communities of the period, their political and economic structures, the social relations between Jews and non-Jews, and Jewish cultural and intellectual achievements in a premodern world dominated by two other faiths.

"By embedding Jewish history within the larger social and cultural spheres of the Islamic and Christian worlds," notes Professor Ruderman, "the course ultimately raises the perplexing question of whether each of the three religious civilizations can learn to tolerate each other in our own chaotic and dangerous world, allowing each to live creative and dignified lives in the light of the mixed record of their past encounters and interactions."

To explore that question, Professor Ruderman first introduces the rabbinic civilization that defined Judaism prior to the rise of Islam and then moves his focus to the Jewish community of Islamic Baghdad in the 9th and 10th centuries.

This is a period for which a multitude of source materials have enabled historians to compile a rich profile of the political, social, and intellectual life of the Jewish community in and out of the city, especially as regards the community's relationships with the surrounding Islamic world. Professor Ruderman introduces you to the structures of both Jewish leadership and the forces of dissent before moving on to the Jewish experience in Spain and the political and cultural developments of what many have called that country's Golden Age, when a second center of Jewish life arose to parallel the establishment of a rival center of Islamic life in Cordova.

The height of that age, the 9th to the 11th centuries (the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492), saw an intellectual and cultural explosion unparalleled in Jewish history, including great works of philosophy and law and the emergence of secular as well as religious poetry written in Hebrew—a dramatic change from the exclusively liturgical poems that had been composed for centuries.

A Fresh Look at the End of Augustinian Tolerance and the Roots of Medieval Anti-Semitism

Professor Ruderman then moves on to consider the long relationship between Judaism and Christianity from the 1st century until the Middle Ages, exploring the paths of Jewish movement into Europe and the birth of what came to be known as Ashkenazic Jewry; the economic and social conditions under which they fashioned their lives; and the gradual rise of Christian hostility that eventually overwhelmed the established Church position of Augustinian tolerance.

That tolerance had been based on Augustine's position that the Jews had been decreed a life of misery for their rejection of Christ, and that their suffering as pariahs, unharmed and unconverted, would be testimony to that choice. But as the Crusades added the massacres of thousands of Jews—including many examples of deliberate martyrdom—to the Pope's call for a crusade against the Islamic "infidels," it was clear that a new aggressiveness against Jews and Judaism was coming to the fore, though the reasons were far more complex than mere religious hatred, as Professor Ruderman brings out.

These lectures span an enormous disciplinary range, moving back and forth among history, philosophy, religion, and art.

You'll learn the origins of the Talmudùthe body of rabbinic literature that is the primary text of Jewish study—and the enduring importance of Rabbi Solomon b. Isaac of Troyes, known to us as Rashi, to its discussion and understanding. You'll see how the Catholic Church, in elaborately contrived public "disputations" in which Jews were forced to participate, sought to lay an argumentative foundation for the increasing vilification of Judaism, even as violence against Jews was intensifying. And you'll see, as well, the resilience of the worldwide Jewish community as it adapts to ever-changing conditions in its efforts not only to survive, but to endure and prosper.

"The complex historical record we have tried to reconstruct in this course can hardly offer us a blueprint on how we might live together in our own time," notes Professor Ruderman. "But it at least offers the promise that coexistence is possible, that learning from each other is possible, and even appreciating each other is possible, as well.

"What it leaves us with ... is a sense of hope."

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    On Studying Jewish History
    This opening lecture presents some preliminary observations about Jewish history—especially the landlessness that has applied for most of it—and the approach taken with material often laden with ideological presuppositions. x
  • 2
    The Rabbinic Legacy prior to Islam
    After the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Babylonians—and the transfer of large numbers of Jews to Babylonia—the increasing complexity of life in the remaining community gives rise to new sectarian groups seeking to interpret Jewish life and promote their own claims to political and spiritual leadership. With the destruction of the second Temple by the Romans, Jewish life is eventually consolidated by the rabbinic leadership both in Palestine and especially in Babylonia. x
  • 3
    The Beginnings of Jewish Life under Islam
    With the rise of Mohammed's new religion in the 7th century, the cultural environment under which Jews lived in the Middle East, in North Africa, and in the Iberian Peninsula was transformed. But it is clear that early Islam was in dialogue with the Jewish tradition from its very inception. x
  • 4
    Baghdad and the Gaonic Age
    This lecture examines the institutions that governed Jewish life in Baghdad, including the structure of—and threats to—rabbinic power and the complex system of Jewish communal autonomy existing outside of Baghdad and stretching throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and beyond. x
  • 5
    Saadia Gaon and His World
    This lecture begins our examination of the life and career of an intellectual giant whose meteoric rise to power—along with the internal struggles in which he became entangled—offers a rich portrait of the community as a whole. x
  • 6
    The Philosophy of Saadia Gaon
    In writing a Jewish philosophy, Saadia Gaon sought to defend the integrity of the Jewish faith not only against his Muslim colleagues but against those rationalists who questioned its veracity and against the Karaites who undermined the rabbinic underpinnings of the Jewish tradition. x
  • 7
    The Rise of the Spanish Jewish Community
    The Spanish Jewish community begins to assert its independence of the hegemony of Baghdadian Jewry. Writing in Hebrew verse to distinguish themselves from their Arab counterparts writing in Arabic, they initiate a remarkable efflorescence of literary creativity for several centuries. x
  • 8
    Judah ha-Levi’s Cultural Critique
    We look at the work and impact of Judah ha-Levi, one of the most talented of Spain's Hebrew poets, whose writings denounce both the excessive integration of Spanish cultural values into the heart of Judaism and the fusion of philosophy and Judaism—a religious experience beyond the reach of rational discourse. x
  • 9
    Moses Maimonides’s Philosophy of Judaism
    The lecture examines the work of Moses Maimonides, the dominant cultural figure within the Jewish world of his day and for centuries following his death, and whose masterpiece, The Guide to the Perplexed, originally composed in Arabic, achieved a revered status within the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian intellectual worlds. x
  • 10
    Jewish Beginnings in Christian Europe
    This lecture examines the emergence of Jews in Christian Europe, from their first appearances along trade routes to the beginnings of a system of communal authority and interconnectedness that transcended the local level, reflecting the emergence of what came to be called Ashkenazic Jewry. x
  • 11
    The Church and the Jews prior to 1096
    Beginning with the foundations of Church policy towards Jews in the Gospels themselves, this lecture looks at how Augustine's arguments shape the standard policy of the Church of antiquity and of the early Middle Ages. x
  • 12
    The Crusades and the Jews
    The fears of European Jews as to what the Crusades against Muslim "infidels" might mean to them prove accurate. Five thousand Jews die during the first crusade, some massacred by Christians; many take their own lives as martyrs. x
  • 13
    Patterns of Jewish Culture—Rabbinic Learning
    As Talmudic scholarship shifts geographically to northern France, the commentaries of a rabbi known to us as Rashi are an instant success and become indispensable guides to the study of biblical and rabbinic literature. x
  • 14
    Patterns of Jewish Culture—Kabbalah
    This lecture introduces us to Kabbalah, the collective traditions of Jewish mystical contemplation of the divine, and explores how its proliferation in the 13th century was, to a great extent, a negative reaction to the influence of rationalism and philosophy on the Jewish community. x
  • 15
    Patterns of Jewish Culture—German Pietism
    In Germany, a small community of Jews introduces a unique social philosophy and set of religious practices that come to be known as German pietism, whose colorful folklore and moral literature leave a lasting imprint on Jewish culture in later ages. x
  • 16
    The Medieval Jewish-Christian Debate
    The 12th and 13th centuries mark a re-evaluation of and departure from previous official Church policy regarding the Jews, with the prevalent Augustinian tolerance displaced by a more aggressive policy of vilifying Judaism and missionizing among Jews. x
  • 17
    Understanding Medieval Anti-Semitism
    Historians have offered a variety of explanations for the decline in medieval Jewish life from the 12th century on. We see that the reasons go well beyond Church doctrines alone, encompassing wider and deeper social, economic, and political issues. x
  • 18
    Notes on the Medieval Jewish Family
    This lecture places a sharper focus on a once-neglected area of medieval Jewish history: the study of Jewish women and their families, in relation to both male Jews and non-Jewish women. x
  • 19
    The Decline and Expulsion of Spanish Jewry
    Until the end of the 14th century, the Jewish community remained secure despite Christian hostility toward Jews elsewhere in Europe. All this changed in 1391, with a never-seen-before reaction by Jewish victims. x
  • 20
    Italian Jewry in the Early Modern Period
    By the end of the 15th century, new Jewish communities have emerged in Italy. Created in the context of significant social, political, and intellectual changes, they have a profound cultural impact—including the paradoxical results of ghettoization. x
  • 21
    Kabbalah and Society in 16th-Century Safed
    The Spanish emigration of 1492 infused new vitality into Jewish cultural and religious life in Ottoman lands, including an enormously influential interpretation of Kabbalah. x
  • 22
    Shabbetai Zevi—The Mystical Messiah
    This lecture examines the explosion of millenarian fervor within the Jewish community that is focused on the frenzied behavior of a self-proclaimed messiah named Shabbetai Zevi, whose nihilistic ideology proves to have wide appeal. x
  • 23
    The Rise of Eastern European Jewry
    Jews begin migrating to Poland in the 14th and 15th centuries. With few economic restrictions, they assume diversified economic roles for the Polish nobility and king, and Ashkenazic rabbinical scholarship reaches unsurpassed heights in the receptive political and social climate of Eastern Europe. x
  • 24
    The Sephardim of Amsterdam
    As Amsterdam invites former Jewish victims of Spanish persecution—forced by circumstance to convert—to settle within its borders, a vibrant new Jewish community is formed and becomes a significant incubator of modern Jewish consciousness. x

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Your professor

David B. Ruderman

About Your Professor

David B. Ruderman, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania
Dr. David B. Ruderman is Joseph Meyerhoff Professor of Modern Jewish History at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also the Ella Darivoff Director of the university's Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. He was educated at the City College of New York, the Teacher's Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and Columbia University. He earned his rabbinical degree from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish...
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Reviews

Between Cross and Crescent: Jewish Civilization from Mohammed to Spinoza is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 48.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good Is as a story on a subject I was not sure I would even like. presented in a step by step manner that held my interest from beginning to end, answering many questions I have wondered about all of my life.
Date published: 2015-03-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceeded Expectations This course covers a lot of time and gives us a wonderful understanding of how the Jews were able to navigate the Muslim and Christian worlds during a 1,000 year period. For those of us who grew up with a limited Jewish background, there is so much here that we never learned and we get a rich understanding of this incredible millennium of history. For those who are not Jewish, it enables the viewer or in my case, the listener, to see how the greater societies absorbed ,treated and interacted with the Jewish diaspora. Dr. Ruderman is an exceptional lecturer. He held my interest throughout the lectures, and covered so much material in an easy to absorb pace. This course exemplifies what we want from the Great Courses - a course that is instructive, encourages us to seek additional information and presents in an informative and interesting manner a topic that is of universal interest and importance and above all, relevant today. Thank you.
Date published: 2015-02-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent History of Jews and Judaism This course reveals how much more there is to Jewish history than one would expect. The course material actually starts a few hundred years prior to Mohammed with background material and covers the history of the Jews (where they lived and what happened to them) as well as the history of Judaism (how the religion evolved over time). Both topics are handled very well and in equal measure. The religious topics were explained very clearly - I never felt philosophically lost as sometimes happens with courses. I would definitely recommend this course.
Date published: 2015-01-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from mixed. sometimes good, sometimes great, sometimes Wasn't entirely sure what to make of this. If you've read some of my other reviews I was a religion major in the 70s but focused on eastern religion and mythology and despite being born and raised a Jew in America I really don't know enough about my own religion. Sure, I got the usual sunday school stuff and one course in Jewish Mysticism in college...but i wanted to flesh things out. This was intriguing. Some of the information was fascinating; i had no idea there was such a huge presence of jews in Iraq/ (Baghdad). I also didn't know a lot of the details about things like jewish persecution and the Inquisition - one factoid was that the jews who fled spain in the inquisition went largely to....Spain!. What we think of as Spain in the inquisition was a small area compared to modern Spain and many jews just migrated east. An interesting fact. I also didn't know who Rashi was even though I'd heard of him through out my life and was amazed (largely due to the post WWII francophobic - well - Franco-hating is more like it - family I was raised in) to find out he was French. Some of Dr. Ruderman's delivery just didn't hold my attention, perhaps it was more the subject matter and difficulty with names and places ( I listened on cd). Times i thought maybe i oughta send this back. But it picked up and held my interest much more toward the end of the course - the last half which was slightly more "contemporary" or "modern" era than the ancient stuff. Over all, I learned a lot and liked it, but wish I could have been more riveted through much of it.
Date published: 2015-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Utterly absorbing course Judaism has been of pivotal importance in the history and development of Western Civilisation not least of course due to its being the ground from which Christianity sprang. This superb course is delivered in a completely captivating manner by this excellent Professor. It was fascinating to learn about the historiography of Jewish ie the different approaches to the study of the Jewish people ranging from traditional approaches to more "apologetic" ones. This course examines the experience of Jewish civilisation in both Islamic and Christian societies from what we would call the early Middle Ages to the birth of the modern (or early modern) world. The extraordinary episode of flourishing interaction and influence amongst all three monotheistic faiths in 11th-12th century Spain is something more people in our current times should understand. Equally the descent from this relative tolerance to the expulsion of the Jewish peoples by Christian societies across Europe holds equal relevance to us all. As well as dealing with philosophical Jewish thought (Maimonedes and earlier Saadia Gaon) the course takes us through the development of that special mystical manifestation of Judaism known as Kabbalah. Highly recommended course and I have purchased the follow up course taking the subject to the current age.
Date published: 2014-11-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Riveting! Professor Ruderman provided a wonderfully in-depth, highly knowledgeable, professional presentation of a historically significant people. His enthusiasm for the material and for sharing it with others could not be more apparent.
Date published: 2013-11-05
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing I was frustrated throughout most of this lecture because it always seemed to be lacking. I can't quite put my finger on why, but there seemed to be no "there" there. Perhaps it was too general because to get into greater detail would bore the pants of most listeners. It did improve my feel for the crossover among the different cultures and religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), but that isn't enough for me to recommend this.
Date published: 2013-05-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from the rich variety of premodern judaism i always enjoy history courses which open up entirely new worlds to me, and though i was already familiar with a few of the major signposts of medieval jewish history there was still plenty here that was fascinating and new. i particularly appreciated hearing about the jewish experience in the islamic world, since that’s not something you’re likely to stumble across in a typical western education. but even in europe there were plenty of eye-openers, and overall you come away with a much clearer picture of where jews are living at any given time—and where they are not. now because we cover a thousand years of jewish history in just 24 lectures, you do tend to feel like you’re bouncing around a lot. this is inevitable, but it did make me wonder if a longer course might have flowed more smoothly. almost everywhere we stopped it felt like there was much more to say, more interesting people to meet and intriguing texts to read, and i at least would support future courses which focus more intensively on particular times and places. the professor does however do a good job of telling us what our sources are for each area, and he often reads to us directly from them. the surprisingly wide range of material that he draws upon takes us everywhere from the lofty heights of the mystics to accounts of jewish martyrs, from the touchingly mundane to the delightfully scandalous. what this course does really well is bring out the varieties of the jewish experience. this is not simply an account of the development of “official” judaism; you’ll also find here dissenters and heretics, converts to christianity and converts back to judaism, the religious and the secular, philosophers and poets, messiahs and mystics. one of the most fascinating aspects of this course are the debates going on among jews themselves about what it means to be jewish, and in particular how much of the outside world can safely be let in. and the inclusion of the mystics in this deserves special mention, as unlike some authorities prof. ruderman takes them seriously and shows how they must take their proper place in any complete account of jewish history. in a course like this you expect to hear about tragedy, but i was struck by how much hope there was as well. for every place where things went sour there was somewhere else where, for a while at least, jewish culture flourished and the dream of coexistence looked possible. the professor deserves credit for nicely balancing his course in this way. he also deserves credit for trying to be fair and nuanced in understanding anti-jewish sentiment every time it arises. he doesn’t simply “blame the christians,” and he also doesn’t assume that anti-judaism looks the same everywhere and always has the same causes. he tries to be a true historian in teasing out the particulars of each circumstance that would cause the majority community to demonize and torment this minority, and i often found that he had forced me to think about the issue less simply than i otherwise would have. thus overall i found this course to be quite a rewarding experience, and i look forward to taking its sequel in order to bring this story up to the present.
Date published: 2013-03-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Outline Better Than The Course This was just mediocre. Poor organization, poor presentation. I liked the guy but he just didn't have much to say, or he said it in the first 5 minutes and repeated it with variations during the remainder of the lecture. Consequently the accompanying outline pretty much summed up the entire lecture. Not a favorite.
Date published: 2013-01-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Judaic Enlightenment Prof. David Ruderman provides an insightful overview of the journey of Judaism for the millennium beginning with Mohammed in the 7th century. As a gentile living in an environment with a significant Jewish presence, I am very grateful to the enlightening historical perspective derived from this series as the Jews wrestle with the influences of Islam, Christianity, and Anti-Semitism. It provides me with further appreciation of not only the roots of Judaic life and thought, but also in understanding the challenges of this unique minority people living in an often transient and hostile environment. Through this series, one begins to understand how Judaic culture continues to evolve with a rich heritage worthy of further study that Prof. Ruderman initiates..
Date published: 2012-08-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent content I am very grateful for this course. Rather than presenting obvious material this course enriches by providing information that will be useful to many of us who had an average rather than a deep education in Jewish intellectual and cultural history. Moreover the cross links with Christianity should make the course of interest to non-Jewish listeners as well. Only suggestion is that the prof avoid talking so much about time limits--eats up time. Very strong content and am going to listen to all of his courses
Date published: 2012-07-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A People Unlike Any Other! I took this course because of my interest in Jewish history and also because of the Jewish people, who have distinguished themselves at the very pinnacle of business, science and intellectualism (winning 20% of Nobel prizes, for example, despite being less than 0.2 percent of the world population – an elitism one hundred times more than their numerical presence!) Professor Rudermann was passionate, personable and precise in his presentation. He clearly identified his source material (e.g. Nathan the Babylonian, the Cairo Geniza, and the letters, poems and writings of Saadia Gaon, Judah Halevi, Moses Maimonides and Rashi as representative of institutional medeival Rabbinicism, as well as the recent scholarship of Gershom Scholem as an authority on Kabbalah,) and moreover he interpreted the significance of these source materials based on his many years of careful research and reflection as a professor of history. As a Christian, I felt challenged by this course! In fact, I listened to it twice to make sure that neither I nor Professor Rudermann were entertaining biases! Rudermann, for his part, declares in the first lecture that he does indeed have biases, but except for the fact that he is a Jewish scholar presenting Jewish history, I found precious little in his presentation that demeaned Christianity or Islam. His impartiality was underscored by the fact that he presented facts which would serve to give both a favorable and/or questionable perception of Jewish life. Notwithstanding, I did notice a certain “wishy-washiness” when it came to certain pivotal historical events. For example, with regard to the crucifixion of Jesus, Rudermann says that the Roman government was responsible for the execution, and the complicity of the Jewish authorities in the event was “very complicated,” (without offering further explanation.) Rudermann typifies the Jewish perspective on Jesus by calling him the “so-called Messiah,” [a crucified Messiah is and has been a scandal and a stumbling-block to the Jews for centuries, (see Paul’s letter, 1 Cor.1:23,)] but later he gives Jesus a compliment when he says that Cabalistic Jewish Messiah Sabbatei Zevi, must have had “Jesus-like” qualities to have been accepted by the Jews in the 17th century! Rudermann also seems to gloss over the beheading of 800 Jewish men in the seventh century by the Muslims of Medina when he says, “We don’t know what kind of Jews these were.” I found myself trying to make sense of Rudermann’s logic by thinking, “If these men weren’t of pure Jewish extraction according to some orthodox standard, is Rudermann saying that their execution need not concern the Jewish historian, or that the death of these men isn’t of historical significance? [The Muslims, for their part, defend the killing of the Jews as punishment for their violating a treaty of defense and assistance against the Meccans during a time of war.] Although Rudermann does get his point across that Jews and Muslims initially got off to a bad start, within the span of a few hundred years they actually came to live quite harmoniously in the Muslim communities that followed, especially in Baghdad, a center of Rabbinic scholarship in the 10th century. (The Muslims actually treated the Jews better through the centuries than the Christians ever did.) I was glad to learn that the giants of Jewish intellectualism were greatly influenced by the Greek philosophers, but did the Jews learn of Aristotle and Plato only in the tenth century? I was impressed with the logical proofs put forward by Saadia Gaon, in the defense of Judaism. His proof runs: 1) Judaism is logically and historically prior to Christianity and Islam, and neither religion would have arisen without Judaism’s prior existence. 2) Judaism is not merely a religion, but also the history of a race of people. 3) The truth of Judaism is attested by the experience of 600,000 people who made the Exodus out of Egypt and who witnessed the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai, whereas Christianity and Islam are more or less the private revelations of a small group of people. Therefore, 4) Judaism is, on the basis of this rational consideration, most worthy of respect and allegiance among the three great monotheistic faiths. Although the Jewish people don’t proselytize for their faith, I appreciated the rational defense proffered by Saadia in this instance. The two great milestones of Jewish culture before the onset of the modern era were the development of a Rabbinate which produced the Talmud, Midrash and Tosefot (traditions and interpretations of the written and oral law,) and the development of Jewish mysticism (in its two forms: theosophic and ecstatic Kaballah.) [Karaism is also discussed as a challenge to Rabbinic authority in the tenth century.) Rudermann makes the point that the way to truth for the Jew is not so much through having the final word to say about anything, but in finding truth in the process of looking for it. While the Christian convert may make a "leap of faith" in his decision to believe the gospel, the approximation of truth through the constant meditation upon the Torah (instruction) as one’s final end and duty to God is considered by the Jews to be a fully sufficient and godly task in itself. I would have liked to have seen more discussion about how Jewish Rabbinic scholarship defends itself against the charge from Jesus that Phariseeism was hypocritical and Paul of Tarsus’ view that Phariseeism was insufficient. Perhaps an earnest Phariseeism (noting that even Jesus’ words that every jot and tittle of the Law should be observed) could be seen as the intellectual foundation of later Rabbinicism? Regarding the historical Christian attitude towards Jewry, Rudermann cites Rosemary Reuther’s book “Faith and Fratricide” that Christianity showed signs of hostility from the earliest gospel records. I think this perspective should be tempered with Paul of Tarsus’ insistence (written before the Gospels) that the calling and purpose of God are without repentance, and from the Pauline Christian perspective, the whole nation of Israel will ultimately be saved. [Romans 11, esp. v.26-29] Augustine of Hippo promoted an attitude of relative tolerance when he said that the Jews were not to be physically harassed, nor made to convert to Christianity against their will -- that the work of conversion is always the work of God. Sadly, this policy was violated during the Crusades (late 11th century) when mob mentality caused the deaths of thousands of Jewish men, women and children in the Rhine river valley. In these dire circumstances, Rudermann says that, Jews committed mass suicide rather than be defiled by Gentile hands. [Bruce Chilton, in his book “Abraham’s Curse,” says that the Jews also sacrificed their children to be martyred during the time of the Maccabean revolt.] Rudermann says that this act of Jews killing their own children made Gentiles wonder if they might not also be able to kill Christian children, thereby leading to the unjustified “blood libel” which plagued Jews for centuries. Regarding other Christian persecutions, I was surprised that Rudermann showed sympathy for the Spanish Inquisition in saying he thought its mission of examining the Christian conversion of the Jews was sincere, and I was also surprised that Rudermann never mentions the name of Martin Luther, who, while compassionate to the Jews early in his career, wrote extremely anti-semitic remarks towards the end of his life (when the Jews to whom he had been speaking did not, after all, convert to Christianity.) The Cabalistic movement seems to parallel the antinomian movement within Christianity, when the law, morality and authourity were discarded in favor of an “ecstatic” or “esoteric” way of life. Rudermann devotes quite a bit of time to this movement, although he readily admits that words fail him when discussing this fundamentally a-rational movement. The Cabalistic mystical Messiah, Sabbatei Teviz, ultimately converted to Islam, which demonstrated that trying to make rational sense of this movement would be, at the minimum, fraught with paradox. I found this course very stimulating and satisfying! Rudermann concludes the course by saying that he hopes that mutual understanding can develop between those of different religions who earnestly endeavor to understand one another. Rudermann points to the Italian humanist Pico della Mirandola as one who invited Jews to translate the Talmud into Latin, converting some of them to his own Christian belief, while still accepting others for the Jewish individuals they were without trying to change them into something they weren’t. I think Christians and Muslims would do well to regard Judaism as their “parent” religion, with the respect and understanding it deserves, accepting the Jews as the children of and heirs to the covenant of Abraham. I believe that an understanding of Judaism will be of benefit to anyone desiring to understand their own monotheistic faith more deeply. I can say that I felt quite ennobled myself in the attempt to do so in this course.
Date published: 2012-06-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Become Friends With A Rabbi! I took this course because of my interest in Jewish history and also because of the Jewish people, who have distinguished themselves at the very pinnacle of business, science and intellectualism (winning 20% of Nobel prizes, for example, despite being less than 0.2 percent of the world population – an elitism one hundred times more than their numerical presence!) Professor Rudermann was passionate, personable and precise in his presentation. He clearly identified his source material (e.g. Nathan the Babylonian, the Cairo Geniza, and the letters, poems and writings of Saadia Gaon, Judah Halevi, Moses Maimonides, Rambam, Rashi as representative of institutional medeival Rabbinicism, as well as the recent scholarship of Gershon Scholem as an authority on Kabbalah,) and moreover he interpreted the significance of these source materials based on his many years of careful research and reflection as a professor of history. As a Christian, I felt challenged by this course! In fact, I listened to it twice to make sure that neither I nor Professor Rudermann were entertaining biases! Rudermann, for his part, declares in the first lecture that he does indeed have biases, but except for the fact that he is a Jewish scholar presenting Jewish history, I could find nothing in his presentation that demeaned Christianity nor Islam in any way. His impartiality was underscored by the fact that he presented facts which would serve to give both a favorable and/or questionable perception of Jewish life. Nevertheless, I did notice a certain “wishy-washiness” when it came to pivotal historical events. For example, with regard to the crucifixion of Jesus, Rudermann says that the Roman government was responsible for the execution, and the complicity of the Jewish authorities in the event was “very complicated,” (without offering further explanation.) Does Rudermann display any hostility to “the so-called Messiah,” Jesus? Actually, he gives Jesus a compliment when he says that Cabalistic Messiah Sabbatei Zevi, must have had “Jesus-like” qualities to have been accepted by the Jews in the 17th century! Rudermann also seems to gloss over the beheading of 800 Jewish men in the seventh century by the Muslims of Medina when he says, “We don’t know what kind of Jews these were.” I found myself trying to make sense of Rudermann’s logic by thinking, “If these men weren’t of pure Jewish blood according to some orthodox standard, is Rudermann saying that their execution need not concern the Jewish historian, or that the death of these men isn’t of historical significance? [The Muslims, for their part, defend the killing of the Jews as punishment for their violating a treaty of defense and assistance against the Meccans during a time of war.] Although Rudermann does get his point across that Jews and Muslims initially got off to a bad start, they actually came to live quite harmoniously in the Muslim communities that followed, especially in Baghdad, a center of Rabbinic scholarship in the 10th century. I was glad to learn that the giants of Jewish intellectualism were greatly influenced by the Greek philosophers, but did the Jews learn of Aristotle and Plato only in the tenth century? I was impressed with the logical proofs put forward by Saadia Gaon, in the defense of Judaism. His proof runs: 1) Judaism is logically and historically prior to Christianity and Islam, and neither religion would have arisen without Judaism’s prior existence. 2) Judaism is not merely a religion, but also the history of a race of people. 3) The truth of Judaism is attested by the experience of 600,000 people who made the Exodus out of Egypt and who witnessed the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai, whereas Christianity and Islam are more or less the private revelations of a small group of people. Therefore, 4) Judaism is, on the basis of this rational consideration, the most worthy of respect and allegiance among the three great monotheistic faiths. Although the Jewish people don’t proselytize for their faith, I appreciated the rational defense proffered by Saadia in this instance. The two great milestones of Jewish culture before the onset of the modern era were the development of a Rabbinate which produced the Talmud, Midrash and Tosefot (traditions and interpretations of the written and oral law,) and also the development of Jewish mysticism (in its two forms: theosophic and ecstatic Kaballah.) Rudermann makes the point that the way to truth for the Jew is not so much through having the final word to say about anything, but in finding truth in the process of looking for it. While the Christian convert may make a "leap of faith" in his decision to believe the gospel, the approximation of truth through the constant meditation upon the Torah (instruction) as one’s final end and duty to God is considered by the Jews to be a fully sufficient and godly task in itself. I would have liked to have seen more discussion about how Jewish Rabbinic scholarship defends itself against the charge from Jesus that Phariseeism was hypocritical and Paul of Tarsus’ view that Phariseeism was insufficient. Perhaps an earnest Phariseeism (noting that even Jesus’ words that every jot and tittle of the Law should be observed) could be seen as the intellectual foundation of later Rabbinicism? Regarding the historical Christian attitude towards Jewry, Rudermann cites Rosemary Reuther’s book “Faith and Fatricide” that Christianity showed signs of hostility from the earliest gospel records. I think this perspective should be tempered with Paul of Tarsus’ insistence (written before the Gospels) that the calling and purpose of God are without repentance, and from the Pauline Christian perspective, the whole nation of Israel will ultimately be saved. [Romans 11, esp. v.26-29] Augustine of Hippo promoted an attitude of relative tolerance when he said that the Jews were not to be physically harrassed, nor made to convert to Christianity against their will -- that the work of conversion is always the work of God. Sadly, this policy was violated during the Crusades (late 11th century) when mob mentality caused the deaths of thousands of Jewish men, women and children in the Rhine river valley. In these dire circumstances, Rudermann says that, Jews committed mass suicide rather than be defiled by Gentile hands. [Bruce Chilton, in his book “Abraham’s Curse,” says that the Jews also sacrificed their children to be martyred during the time of the Maccabean revolt.] Rudermann says that this act of Jews killing their own children made Gentiles wonder if they might not also kill Christian children, thereby leading to the unjustified “blood libel” which plagued Jews for centuries. Regarding other Christian persecutions, I was surprised that Rudermann showed sympathy for the Spanish Inquisition in saying he thought its mission of examining the Christian conversion of the Jews was sincere, and I was also surprised that Rudermann never mentions the name of Martin Luther, who, while compassionate to the Jews early in his career, wrote extremely anti-semitic remarks towards the end of his life (when the Jews to whom he had been speaking did not after all convert to Christianity.) The Cabalistic movement seems to parallel the antinomian movement within Christianity, when the law and morality were discarded in favor of an “ecstatic” or “esoteric” way of life. Rudermann devotes quite a bit of time to this movement, although he readily admits that words fail him when discussing this fundamentally a-rational movement. The Cabalistic mystical Messiah, Sabbatei Teviz, ultimately converted to Islam, which demonstrated that trying to make rational sense of this movement would be, at the minimum, fraught with paradoxes. I found this course very stimulating and satisfying! Rudermann concludes the course by saying that he hopes that mutual understanding can develop between those of different religions who earnestly endeavor to understand one another. Rudermann points to the Italian humanist Pico della Mirandola as one who invited Jews to translate the Talmud into Latin, converting some of them to his own Christian belief, while still accepting others for the Jewish individuals they were without trying to change them into something they weren’t. I think Christians and Muslims would do well to regard Judaism as their “parent” religion, with the respect and understanding it deserves, accepting the Jews as the children of and heirs to the covenant of Abraham. I believe that an understanding of Judaism will be of benefit to anyone desiring to understand their own monotheistic faith more deeply. I can say that I felt quite ennobled myself in the attempt to do so in this course.
Date published: 2012-06-18
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Mistitled Had this had a subtitle of "An Intellectual History of Judaism" I wouldn't feel so cheated. I am up to lecture 12 and very little of Jewish civilization has been presented.
Date published: 2012-01-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I Learned So Much I went to Sunday School for 8 years, but I learned next to nothing about the Crescent part of Jewish history. The Cross part is more familiar, although there was still a lot of new information. The look at Jewish intellectual history was also far greater than anything I learned in all my years of Sunday School. Although some names were familiar, many were a complete mystery to me until the professor introduced them. Some were so interesting that I sought out some of their works at the university library, so I could more fully appreciate who they were and what they thought. Some surprising discoveries: ***Baghdad once had a thriving, flourishing Jewish community ***Early relations with the Islamic world were largely positive. More so than in the Christian world, Muslim authorities allowed Jews to pursue their lives and religion in their own, largely self-governed communities. ***Shabbetai Zevi - a mystical, messianic who converted to Islam that I had never heard of before My standard for an excellent course is: is it thought-provoking and does it stimulate my curiosity further, preferably to the point of making me seek out more information. This course delivered.
Date published: 2011-06-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent This course addresses an important and interesting subject, which Professor Ruderman makes nicely accessible. I had long wondered how the Jews came to be dispersed throughout the world, and what they did in their new circumstances. Those questions, and many others, were answered for me. In rating this course at 5 stars, I do not mean to imply that it is perfect. Some lectures--those focusing on particular philosophers and pedagogues--bogged down a bit too much for my tastes, though I cannot dispute that even those lectures are important inclusions in a history of the Jews. On the basis of those few lectures, I might have given this course 4 stars; but I decided that the clear majority of the lectures are so important, interesting, and well done as to warrant a full 5 stars. This is one of the best of TTC's religion courses, and indeed one of the better (and more important) of its many and diverse history courses. Definitely recommended.
Date published: 2010-07-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Telling without showing Clear connections and contrasts are made between a huge range of Jewish movements and periods, and the instructor is well versed in scholarly controversies, some of which are fascinating. The course, however, may be too much of a survey. Professor Ruderman tells and explains the material with excited insistence, but he rarely goes behind the general historical tendencies to show, with anecdotes or illustrative examples, what sort of actual personal experiences might have been involved. He does on occasion read from texts—including poetry and a private family document—but he does not read well, and there is a paucity of visual illustrations to provide relief.
Date published: 2010-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course This is the other of my favorites. There are areas that I would like to see expanded, as additional series. I wish there were a follow on as I am interested in the history rather than the philosophy. It opened lots of doors I would like to enter.
Date published: 2009-12-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Humbling of a Nation "Taking this course from a Christian perspective made the tragedy of the Jewish nation quite clear. The Fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. by Romans deprived the world of countless years of development to such a brilliant ancient nation. In listening to the content of the lectures, I could not help contemplating if any of the high points spoken about would get any mention in a history of any other modern nation. The time period of the course was truly another more prolonged wandering in the wilderness for Israel. I expected much more history that had been overlooked in my pro-western academic career, but could not see anything of note that I felt I was deprived. Israel will no doubt blossom again (they have rebuilt themselves before) and their nation's brilliance is already establishing itself in the modern era. The professor had great energy and passion for the content of the course and was a very effective lecturer. From a Christian perspective the bias of the instructor, however, will be recognized in the following areas: 1) whenever there is conflict with the Jews and Christians the offensive Christian polemic will be directly quoted, while (in all but one brief occasion) the offensive Jewish polemic will only be alluded too - not to reduce empathy towards them. 2) The root causes for the Jewish persecutions from the West were always investigated by looking at Christian failings, presuming that the Jewish nation were for the most part innocent victims. The fact that multiple nations treated the Jews unfairly stretching over a vast time period and across many cultures should have given more serious pause to the way that the Jews lived amongst their host nations in order to consider if their interaction consistently agitated the relationship (it is beyond question that the Gentiles were culpable, but were the Jews somewhat culpable too?) Serious discussion was not offered in sufficient depth over the fact that "every body hates their banker" and those who choose to have people first recognize their religious beliefs by what they wear rather than what they do are more likely to be resented when they do not do what their neighbour thinks they ought. When inappropriate behaviour occurs by an individual in an identifiable group there is always the risk of stereotype and persecutions especially if more than one individual of that group reinforces the unwelcome behaviour. It is much safer having your religion known by your moral actions after a relationship (hopefully a friendship) is formed. Enough reflecting. I recommend the course for a very unorthodox reason. This course provides fruit for reflection to an educated person upon how great a loss the world can have when any great nation is denied freedom to grow and prosper. May a time period like this never happen again to Israel."
Date published: 2009-09-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and Enjoyable As someone who enjoyed many early Christianity and history courses from this company, I decided to try this one out. You will learn a great deal about the world we live in from this course. I was amazed at how much I enjoyed listening to this course: I had just never learned anything at all about the subject, and it was fun to find out about it. Most people interested in religion in general, and/or history, will probably enjoy this course.
Date published: 2009-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worth every minute As Prof. Ruderman suggests, Jewish history from this period is a neglected field, especially for non-Jews such as myself. Every lecture was filled with insightful revelations and telling details. Prof. Ruderman's presentation was spell-binding. This was one of those series that changes the way you view history.
Date published: 2009-03-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great but a lot to take in I listened this course in my vehicle during a long distance drive so that means it was continuous lecturing for long periods of time. I did not grow tired of listening to the professor during those many hours. The main problem is that much of the material I was not too familiar with and there is a great deal of detail in these lectures. But despite this one issue I learned a great deal from this course. I think the time frame of these lectures is a very interesting and little understood one. We tend to study the ancient Greeks and Romans and then skip to early modern Europe. This lecture series helps to fill in this gap although it is not an all encompasing history since it is focusing on Jewish thinkers and events.
Date published: 2009-01-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This was a wonderful experience, from beginning to end. In case I seem over enthusiastic, I am a teacher myself, and my students think of me critical much of the time.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is the best course I have taken. The professor is terrific! He shows a love of subjects and an intensity that is rarely seen today. It was a pleasure listening to this excellent teacher. I'm even thinking about taking Prof. Ruderman's other cours
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from As retired persons who always spoke of returning to college to take enrichment courses the teaching Co. has allowed us to do just that- enrich our lives with continued learning.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I was awed by the professor's depth and breadth of knowledge, his enthusiasm and his ability to keep the listener enthralled!
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very thought provoking and lectures allowed me to block out more mundant thought during my daily commute.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Between cross & crescent is a stunning.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from These were perfectly crafted lectures - well researched, well organized, and passionately delivered.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My definition of a Great Teacher is "I would take any course he teaches." Dr. David Ruderman is a Great Teacher! His other course is in my "shopping cart" right now!
Date published: 2008-10-17
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