Jewish Intellectual History: 16th to 20th Century

Course No. 4647
Professor David B. Ruderman, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania
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Course No. 4647
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Course Overview

God. Torah. Israel. These three concepts—incorporated in personal belief, the meaning of Jewish ritual acts, and the purpose of continued Jewish existence—have been the focus of Jewish thought throughout history.

But the last four centuries have presented Jewish thinkers with difficult challenges:

  • In a world having a history of untold suffering—especially, it seemed, for Jews—was the existence of an all-powerful and comforting God still tenable?
  • What were the purpose and meaning of Jewish practices and customs, given the increasing number of Jews who placed greater value on their own autonomy?
  • Could Jews still justify the notion of a "chosen people" in a society where Jewish integration and full participation with the rest of humanity had become the norm?

These lectures present the varying ways in which a small group of thinkers has attempted to answer these challenges.

These men and, in recent years, women, have reflected deeply on the relevance of Jewish texts and traditions to modern Jews.

Different Routes to a Common Goal

Though their approaches and solutions differed, most shared a common goal: provide a continuing sense of faith, meaning, and identity for their fellow Jews.

Through these lectures, you will observe the time-honored intellectual tradition through which Judaism analyzes, rethinks, and reformulates itself.

This process of preserving its essential character while still trying to accommodate itself to the modern world has kept Judaism a vital and vibrant, rather than static, religion.

This course may serve to introduce you to a new and rich body of thinkers and thinking, for until recently, Jewish intellectual history, though an integral part of Western intellectual history, has been less heralded.

But one of the contributions of the young field of Jewish Studies has been to bring the thinkers featured in this series to a wider audience.

Spinoza's Devastating Challenge

The central figure in the course is well known: the prominent philosopher Benedict (Baruch) Spinoza (1632–1677).

Spinoza's impact was so significant, Professor Ruderman notes, that much of the course might be viewed as a series of responses to his thinking.

Spinoza received a traditional rabbinical education, but he broke with Judaism after his father died. He was raised in Amsterdam, a city in which both Jews and Christians lived in an increasingly tolerant and secular atmosphere.

In his Theological–Political Treatise, published anonymously in 1670, Spinoza became the first Jew to break with the medieval Jewish tradition espoused by Moses Maimonides (1132–1204).

Breaking with Four Centuries of Tradition

Spinoza disputed Maimonides's belief that reason and faith could be reconciled. Because biblical texts were believed to have been inspired by God, he asserted, they were supernatural. They could be interpreted through faith or reason, but not both.

If one chose reason, then the Bible was not divinely inspired but a document created by Man.

This argument was devastating to the question of Jewish identity.

Essentially, it negated God, Torah, and Israel, denying any rationale for Jews to think of themselves as the chosen people, observe ceremonial laws, or accept the authority of the rabbis.

Spinoza's critique laid bare the contradiction between Jewish communal values and secular liberal ones. He was the first to pose a fundamental question that remains relevant to this day: Is it possible to be a true liberal and a traditional Jew?

Three Responses: Insiders, Outsiders, and Rejectionists

This course considers modern Jewish thought largely in terms of two issues:

  • The response to Spinoza and his attack on the very viability of Judaism
  • The shift in the standard by which Jews defined themselves and their faith. In the Middle Ages, this defining factor had been God. In the modern age, it became the non-Jewish world.

With the weakening of the Jewish community, the need to provide a rationale for being Jewish in a non-Jewish world became pressing and more problematic.

Given these two issues, Professor Ruderman presents the various thinkers according to three approaches:

  • Insiders want to remain Jews but believe that Judaism has to be tailored to better fit the culture at large. The problem is how to accomplish this and still preserve the belief that Judaism is unique.
  • Outsiders believe there is no longer a place for Judaism, that Judaism should essentially be overcome to create something in which all humans can share. The philosophies of Spinoza, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud might be included in this category.
  • Rejectionists believe Jews should maintain their traditional beliefs and customs and refuse to blend in with the larger Western culture. This approach became very apparent in the wake of the Holocaust.

Reconciling Problems for a Modern World

Most thinkers represented in these lectures are insiders who struggled to create a better fit between Judaism and the contemporary world.

Each had to deal with problems related to cherished notions of God, Torah, and Israel, including:

  • Jewish law: This has been a central issue in modern Jewish thought. In his book Jerusalem (1783), Moses Mendelssohn drew a distinction between moral and ritual commandments, but insisted both were obligatory for Jews. Subsequent thinkers emphasized the moral over the ritual, claiming the former was eternal, while the latter could change.
  • Comparisons with Christianity:Living in a predominantly Christian society led many thinkers to reflect on the relative merits of both religions. Some constructed rationales arguing for the superiority of Judaism over Christianity. Immanuel Wolf implied a belief in inferiority by asserting that "Judaism must raise itself to the level of a science."
  • Particularity: It remained important to demonstrate that the Jews retained their status as a chosen people. Thinkers developed such philosophies as "the mission of Israel" and "Catholic Israel," and highlighted the moral and rational virtues of Judaism in an effort to preserve its unique place in the world.

This lecture series places historical theories and religious practices in a fresh light. You will encounter thinkers who embodied lifestyles and philosophies difficult to categorize but often original and thought provoking.

A Wait before Considering the Holocaust

The final lectures examine the impact of the Holocaust, as well as newer contributions being made by women thinkers.

Jewish thinkers, in fact, did not write extensively about the Holocaust until 1960.

"The shock was so great that the most appropriate response for a while was silence," Professor Ruderman notes.

Women Jewish intellectuals in the last 40 years have challenged the patriarchal nature of Judaism by arguing for full participation of women in ritual services and creation of gender-sensitive prayer books:

  • Judith Plaskow has raised awareness of ways women have been overlooked in Jewish history and in the scriptures themselves.
  • Rachel Adler argues that Judaism's commitment to justice obligates it to address gender inequity.

Professor Ruderman completes the lectures with an evaluation of current Jewish thought and the argument that has been raised that it may no longer be relevant.

In his estimation, however, Jewish thinking is not something that only intellectuals do. It is a widespread and necessary part of Jewish life—an effort to find meaning and hope in an uncertain world.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    On Studying Jewish History
    Defining "Jewishness" has been a problem for centuries of Jewish existence. Jews have had to ponder the problem of spatial and temporal discontinuities. Without a common government, language, and land, how do Jews share a common history? x
  • 2
    Defining Modern Jewish History and Thought
    The views of some major historians are considered, including Heinrich Graetz (1817-91), Simon Dubnov (1860-1941), Ben-Zion Dinur (1884-1972), and Gershom Scholem (1897-1982). In the modern era, the problem of providing a rationale for Jewish particularism led to three approaches: the insider, the outsider, and the rejectionist. x
  • 3
    Cultural Transformation in the Italian Ghetto
    Professor Ruderman argues that the ghetto system in late 16th- and early 17th-century Italy ushered in a new era of Jewish-Christian relations and a restructuring of Jewish cultural life. x
  • 4
    Seventeenth-Century Marranism and Messianism
    A primary feature of the Jewish experience in the 17th century was the return to Jewish life of large numbers of Iberian Christians whose ancestors had originally been baptized and left the Jewish community. Their experience sets the stage for understanding the philosophy of Benedict (Baruch) Spinoza. x
  • 5
    The Challenge of Baruch Spinoza
    Baruch Spinoza (1632-77) was crucial in shaping the evolution of modern Jewish thought. His Theological-Political Treatise first appeared in 1670 and repudiated the assumptions upon which Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) built his rational edifice of Judaism. x
  • 6
    Moses Mendelssohn and His Generation
    In Jerusalem, Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786) responded partly to Spinoza's conclusions and partly to his intellectual circle in Berlin, who had accepted him despite his Jewish ancestry. Mendelssohn's strategy to rescue Judaism from the assault of Spinoza and the Enlightenment failed. x
  • 7
    The Science of Judaism
    A small group of German Jewish intellectuals founded the Society for the Culture and Science of the Jews in 1819. By studying Judaism "scientifically," they hoped to reveal the greater significance of Jewish civilization within the general intellectual and spiritual context of humanity. x
  • 8
    Heinrich Graetz—Jewish Historian
    Heinrich Graetz (1817-91) authored the monumental History of the Jews in 11 volumes. Graetz used history as a battleground to defend the integrity of Judaism against its Christian detractors, especially the renowned German historian Heinrich von Treitschke (1834-1896). x
  • 9
    Abraham Geiger—The Shaping of Reform Judaism
    Abraham Geiger (1810-74) utilized his vast knowledge of Jewish sources in the service of his own ideology of Reform Judaism. He challenged the Christian scholarly world, as Graetz was doing, to recognize the significance of rabbinic Judaism in understanding its own religious origins. x
  • 10
    The Neo-Orthodoxy of Samson Raphael Hirsch
    Samson Raphael Hirsch (1810-88) became the leading proponent of Neo-Orthodox Judaism and a prominent critic of the Reform movement. He represented a different kind of orthodox rabbi from Moses Sofer (1762-1839). Sofer was unyielding in his opposition to university education, linguistic assimilation, or any change. x
  • 11
    Zecharias Frankel and Conservative Judaism
    Zecharias Frankel (1801-75) participated in the deliberations of Reform Jewish leaders but left, fearing that the reformers had instituted changes in Judaism that were too radical. x
  • 12
    Samuel David Luzzatto—Judaism and Atticism
    Samuel David Luzzatto (1800-65) viewed the history of western civilization as an opposition between Judaism and "Atticism." By the latter he meant the Greek love of philosophy, arts and sciences, the development of the intellect, and the love of beauty. Judaism, on the other hand, gave the world religion and morality, which spring from the heart, not the mind. x
  • 13
    Zionism's Answer to the Jewish Problem
    By the second half of the 19th century, the optimism regarding Jewish political and social emancipation had diminished. In Eastern Europe, massive numbers of Jews lived in restricted areas. A political movement calling for the creation of a Jewish state in Israel emerged as a novel response. x
  • 14
    Three Zionist Visions
    Ahad Ha-Am (1856-1927) saw Israel as a spiritual center attracting an elite leadership who would shape a new secular culture for Israel and the Diaspora. Jacob Klatzkin (1882-1948) believed the only meaningful goal of Zionism was to regain the land of Israel and normalize the conditions of Jewish existence. Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) believed that Zionism exemplified the highest ideals of American culture. x
  • 15
    The Jewish Adventure with Socialism
    Socialism and Marxism had an enormous appeal for Jews living in Western and Eastern Europe. Socialism's utopian ideas resonated as a radical means of alleviating their wretched status in European society. Unfortunately, when the socialist revolution lost its initial élan, Jews were left more frustrated than ever. x
  • 16
    Hermann Cohen's Religion of Reason
    Hermann Cohen (1842-1918) represents both a final stage of 19th-century Jewish thought in Germany and the beginning of a new set of responses to the challenges of Jewish identity in the 20th century. For Cohen, the essence of Judaism was ethical monotheism grounded in a prophetic universalism stressing moral commitments to humanity and emphasizing a mission to bring about a utopian future. x
  • 17
    Leo Baeck's Mystery and Commandment
    Leo Baeck (1873-1956) pursued a prominent career as a rabbi in Berlin. Like Cohen, he underscored the central role of ethical monotheism in Judaism, but departed from him in stressing the role of religious consciousness as well. x
  • 18
    Martin Buber's Religious Existentialism
    Martin Buber (1878-1965) is probably the best-known Jewish social and religious philosopher of the 20th century. His works embody his guiding principles of dialogue and meaningful human encounter with the other and with the divine. x
  • 19
    Jewish Law—Martin Buber vs. Franz Rosenzweig
    Buber's closest collaborator was the Jewish theologian Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929). They disagreed intensely, however, on Jewish ritual observance. In a work addressed to Buber entitled The Builders, Rosenzweig challenged him to adopt the same openness towards Jewish observance that he had demonstrated towards the study of Jewish texts. x
  • 20
    Mordecai Kaplan and American Judaism
    Mordecai Kaplan (1881-1983) was perhaps the most original of American Jewish thinkers who "reconstructed" Judaism to meet the needs of second-generation American Jews. Anthropology offered Kaplan a rationale for Jewish group cohesiveness in place of the traditional doctrine of chosen-ness. x
  • 21
    Abraham Heschel—Mystic and Social Activist
    Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-72), although the product of the Hasidic world of Eastern Europe, wrote for American Jews. He attempted to describe the concept of divine revelation: the process by which God reaches out to human beings. x
  • 22
    Theological Responses to the Nazi Holocaust
    In the first edition of After Auschwitz, published in 1961, Richard Rubenstein (1924- ) claimed that the destruction of European Jewry meant Jews could no longer affirm the myth of an omnipotent God or its corollary, the election of Israel. Emil Fackenheim (1916- ) provided a meaningful response to Rubenstein in his 1970 work God's Presence in History. x
  • 23
    Feminist Jewish Theology
    The emergence of feminist theology within the Jewish community is a relatively recent phenomenon of the 1960s and 1970s. Jewish feminism has contributed to a new understanding of Judaism through new readings of classical texts and liturgy, new scholarship in Jewish history, and new theological perspectives that take gender into account. x
  • 24
    Current Trends in Jewish Thought
    It is difficult to summarize and appraise the most recent theological thinking. Arnold Eisen has argued recently that the ruminations of Jewish thinkers are irrelevant to most Jews. Ultimately, are the questions of God, Torah, and Israel only of interest to intellectuals? x

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  • 136-page printed course guidebook
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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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Jewish Intellectual History: 16th to 20th Century is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 50.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Easy! Bought some DVD’s again and so easy from start to finish.
Date published: 2018-11-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Jewish Intellectual History Both my wife and I enjoyed the course very much. Succinct presentation, interesting format, informative layout and pleasing easy to listen to manner.
Date published: 2018-06-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful lectures! This was a gift, and I have learned a great deal and filled in some big missing holes in my understanding of Jewish learning from 1600 to the 20th century. It really is excellent, a great overview. The student can then go on to independent study of any of the great thinkers whom the teacher covers in the lectures. It's really an invaluable course.
Date published: 2017-11-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Presentation 1st Class In my continuing study of world religious thought, this course fills a much needed niche and is so well presented that I will recommend it to other seekers.
Date published: 2017-07-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great discussion of a seldom discussed subject Take Ruderman's "Between Cross and Crescent" first. It is almost 'mandatory' the two be taken together. Together a great overview of 1400 years of seldom discussed history. It is impossible to cover that much time in a relatively few lectures. However, (unless you are already an expert) when you are done you will have a much better understanding of Jewish thought and issues.
Date published: 2017-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceeded my expectations The course covers the medieval history as well as today's scholarship about it. The lecturer is enthusiastic, highly competent in his field and makes the subject come alive.
Date published: 2017-01-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Jewish Intelectual History "part 2" Very good and informative course; sepecially if the preceeding course from "Mohammad to Spinoza" is taken firstl
Date published: 2017-01-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from First-Class History A comprehensive survey course with a clear theme and progression. Very well done.
Date published: 2016-12-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Breadth and Depth I begin this review with something of a disclosure. That is that I am acquainted with Professor Ruderman and with his considerable scholarly achievements, as well as with his distinguished tenure at the University of Pennsylvania. The discipline of intellectual history is difficult enough to absorb and enjoy at times, and that of Jewish intellectual history is no less challenging to digest and appreciate at its highest levels. Professor Ruderman is a passionate teacher, and he wants you to see why this particular voyage is valuable. It is valuable because, as he states from the very beginning, unlike the journeys of other groups, that of the Jews has been identified and defined by the landlessness of the Jews as a people. They have, throughout the centuries, had to depend on "host" countries and cultures--never native to an area, and too often outright unwelcome. However, Professor Ruderman helps to define their contributions by recourse to sheer intellect. This is how they became, and have remained, intellectually relevant. This is a historical journey entirely worth taking.
Date published: 2016-02-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from what does it mean to be jewish? how do you make sense of who you are as a people when the rules of the game keep changing around you? all modern nations have had to grapple with this issue, and this course offers several centuries of intriguing jewish responses. some of these led to the foundation of the modern denominations of judaism, but there are plenty of other responses as well from rabbis, theologians, and thinkers who weren’t as influential but who are just as worth hearing. as you’d expect, the opinions are all over the map. i was particularly fascinated to learn how many different versions of zionism there were, with their surprisingly different visions for the land of israel, although we only went so far into this as the professor is at great pains to avoid tredding anywhere near the controversies of the present day. as with prof. ruderman’s companion course on early jewish civilization, i again found myself experiencing the frustration that surveys always bring. many of these thinkers and movements felt like they deserved a lot more time than a mere half an hour. it’s unfortunate that these time limitations are determined by marketing concerns, because that means we probably won’t be seeing fuller treatments anytime soon. i have to admit too that part of my frustration was the feeling that we probably could have fit more information into each lecture had they been more tightly structured and delivered. prof. ruderman seems to have decided to pick out two or three saliant points about each thinker and then really drive these home, and there are certainly merits to this approach. for me personally, i would have preferred denser content that i could review and digest at my own pace. i was also surprised to find many of the discussions strangely depressing. each lecture ends with a summary of the thinker’s legacy, and many of these thinkers either failed to achieve many of their aims or were not as influential as they might have liked. you thus find yourself witness to a string of dashed hopes, of individuals struggling heroically and often brilliantly, only to watch it all come to nothing. the fact that moses mendelssohn’s children not only failed to continue his legacy but actually converted to christianity is just one example. much of this of course may be laid at the feet of time and circumstance, and the professor certainly can’t be blamed for just telling us what happened, but the cumulative effect is nonetheless somewhat disheartening. i gave “professor presentation” an average grade because there are a fair number of “uh”s. this isn’t consistent: there are long stretches of time when the presentation is perfectly fine. but it’s regular enough that you find yourself repeatedly noticing. now i don’t want all these caveats to imply that this isn’t a valuable course. it is indeed a very useful introduction to many interesting thinkers whom you’re unlikely to encounter elsewhere, and i do recommend it. for me the great strength of this course lies in its twin aims, explicitly stated by the professor right at the beginning: first, to tell the story of modern jewish thought, which is a fascinating journey in and of itself; and second, to show how the jewish struggle with modernity and identity has something valuable to say to every group of people who are trying to determine who they are in a rapidly changing world.
Date published: 2015-07-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too Esoteric for Me Having watched Ruderman's other course, I had high expectations for this course. However, this course was far more of a philosophy course than I had hoped. Yes, the title of the course and the lecture summaries advertise this as more of a philosophy course, but his other course did as well, if to a lesser extent. While I still learned from this course, some of the philosophical ideas were lost on me. I recommend this course to those who enjoy philosophical discussions. On the other hand, I recommend his other course to everybody.
Date published: 2015-01-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant Analysis of Jewish Thought in modernity Professor Ruderman completes a virtuoso presentation covering, in this course, the way in which Jewish thinkers have engaged with the challenge of modernity ie the rise of Reason and Science in Western Europe. This could easily have been a 36 lecture course. The course commences with Spinoza effectively seeking to subject Judaism to Reason. There is then an examination of various strands of reaction to this ranging from "Reform" Judaism seeking to engage with Reason to neo Orthodox and Conservative reactions rejecting modernity and keeping Jewish Law and ritual and revelation supreme. The lectures on Zionism, very much an ideology born in reaction to how Jews could live in a fast changing Europe, are illuminating and helps get an excellent context for current Middle East controversies. There is also sobering and humbling coverage of the growth of racist based anti semitism in the latter half of the eighteenth century in particular. This of course lead eventually to the tragedy and evil of the Holocaust and made a mockery of the claims of the Enlightenment where Reason would reign supreme. Jewish reaction to Holocaust is such a rich and profound subject and I was enthralled by the contrasting approaches of RIchard Rubinstein and Emil Fackenhiem. The single lecture on Feminist Jewish thought was similarly absorbing and frankly deserved many lectures. The Professor's enthusiasm, erudition and humour made the journey (throughout both courses) so enriching and I was actually sad when coming to the end of the course. Highly recommended and should be bought together with the first course. The course guidebook was detailed and superb and if this Professor offers further courses I would buy them without hesitation.
Date published: 2014-11-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Entertaining and helpful course In one of the reviews the course is described as dull. It is anything but that. It is a very good course given by a very bright and knowledgable professor. For me a person not of the Jewish faith it was superb.
Date published: 2013-07-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Valuable, worthwhile, interesting course The course is somewhat dry, not the type that can lend itself to loads of exciting and colourful graphics or pictures, so possibly it's wiser to go for the audio version. I watched the DVDs. Clearly Dr Ruderman is a dedicated scholar, steeped in his subject; he presents a very academic series of lectures which require strict attention. I found the personal anecdote he related regarding his first paper to be published, to be completely relevant and an excellent way to emphasise the point he was making. The professor's extreme hand-waving is an irritating trait. Dr Ruderman opened with an aggressive manner of lecturing; at times I felt I was being shouted at ~~ not pleasant. Things eased off after several lectures, happily, and he settled into a less frenetic style. As the lectures progressed, I warmed to the professor and became firmly absorbed in the material which was a fine education. I'm not especially familiar with the subject matter, but it struck me that the professor was rather selective in choosing the luminaries to consider, i.e. I felt he presented his favourites or those who he felt would support his presentation. I always prefer a very wide sweep, to present all important sides. The reviewer MDProfPerspective mentions that "the classic Jewish Talmudic dialectic of presenting ideologic point and counterpoint is largely absent". Overall, this course is a definite win, a fine introduction to Jewish intellectual history over the period, heartily recommended (but please tone down the waving, Prof!).
Date published: 2012-10-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course! Excellent professor! Prof. Ruderman has an amazing ability to analyze and synthesize. His course is fascinating, insightful, intelligent, learned, well-organized and well-presented. It is a pleasure to listen to him. His coursebook is wonderfully written. I would buy more courses taught by him. I urge The Great Courses to ask him to teach more courses. Thank you, Prof. Ruderman! (audio review)
Date published: 2012-09-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating and Enjoyable Both Prof. Ruderman's presentation and the information within it are more than worth the time involved in listening. I was surprised at how much here was new to me. At the same time I was appreciative of how the course enabled me to integrate the scattered bits and pieces I'd known into an understanding not only of Jewish intellectual history, but of its inter-relationship with human intellectual history. His manner and attitude very open and effective. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2012-03-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Introduction to University Perspective History, Religious Studies, and Jewish Studies departments and programs at major universities are currently providing a vibrant intellectual supplement to the spiritual and social offerings of synagogues. Young men and women emerging from synagogue education programs may be startled by the broader and more critical view of Judaism that they encounter at universities. In my view, it is highly desirable that adults expose themselves to this material, as it provides an essential bridge between the spiritual ethos of religious observance and modern sensibilities about plausibility/implausibility. It is liberating to come into contact with the thinking of Jewish intellectuals who have struggled with these issues, founded the current range of Jewish subdenominations, and made essential contributions to the establishment of the modern state of Israel. I can think of no better introduction to the university perspective on Judaism than these lectures. They begin with generalities, but become intensely interesting when Ruderman deals with particular periods, places, and people. There is a moderate amount for reading from lecture notes and quotations, but when Ruderman puts these aside and connects with a topic that especially interests him, he is incandescent. The lectures cover a broad range of authors, and situate them firmly in the intellectual, social, and political climate of their times. A recurrent theme is the possibility or impossibility of having a satisfactory Jewish life in Germany during various periods. I consider myself fairly well grounded in the periods and topics discussed, but I was delighted with how much new material I learned.
Date published: 2011-09-26
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointed; recommend with caveat "I would recommend this course to a friend" with the caution that the listener should do his own fact-checking: Ruderman forces the historical narrative into ideological boxes. One example: Ruderman repeats and emphasizes that "University of Padua is a Catholic university," thus, the only courses of study in mid-1600 U of Padua where Jewish students could study free of Catholic content was medicine. This is factually inaccurate in these regards: 1. The U of Padua was built, in 1222, by the people and leaders of Padua, not by the Church. 2. A manuscript dated 1300, sourced to Padua, demonstrates ways to take and use geometric measurements -- not a theologically influenced activity, but natural science/mathematics. 3. In another Teaching Company course, Prof. Bartlett explains that University of Padua emphasized secular subjects from a very early date, in order to teach young people in the commercial, financial, banking, contracting, and trading activities that the Italian city-states carried on. When so fundamental a pattern of facts is misinterpreted in Ruderman's presentation, one is left to wonder what other topics have been shaded by ideology at the expense of fact.
Date published: 2011-03-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing I purchased this course based on the description on the Teaching Company site and the ratings of the professor. Although I found the course to live up to its description, I did not feel the same way about the reviewers' description of the professor. I found it very hard and annoying to listen to this course - Dr. Ruderman spent too much time telling me about what he was going to talk about and not enough time talking about it. He repeated the same thoughts over and over again "in other words." I read the course outline book and found that much more enjoyable.
Date published: 2010-12-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolute Truth in a Relativistic Society Audio CD. This course might be called “The Impact of the Jewish Emancipation [or Enlightenment] on Jewish Intellectual Thought.” The course addresses the question of how the Jewish community should fit into a pluralistic society (i.e., the West since the Enlightenment) where it is not necessarily the oppressed and despised minority that it was for 1 ½ millennia. This is a question that all fervent adherents of any religion in the West (e.g., Christian or Muslim) must face. It may even generalize further than that – Can a person hold onto an absolute truth in a society where all truth is relative? Dr. Ruderman describes different approaches to these questions – compromise, syncretism, and isolation. He discusses how they worked and how they didn’t. Dr. Ruderman’s presentation style is engaging and fair to the various perspectives. He is not judgmental. I’ve listened to this course several times already and I’ll continue to return to it in the future. It’s well worth meditating.
Date published: 2010-11-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating excursion Professor Ruderman's course is one of the most fascinating I've ever taken. I didn't think I was particularly interested in Jewish Intellectual history, but that changed after watching the Ruderman's first lecture on DVD. Modern Jewish intellectual history is a kind of parallel universe to Western philosophy. the turn to modernism, initiated by Spinoza wrought very similar responses and counter-responses in both worlds. Ruderman fleshes out the origins and trajectories of orthodox, reform, and conservative judaism, and weaves into this the history of zionism as well. After watching this course, Judaism makes a lot more sense to me. As for late twentieth century intellectual figures, why didn't Ruderman talk about Noam Chomsky? He strikes me as being the closest thing to a Jewish prophet since Karl Marx. Chomsky speaks truth to power, and he's a devastating critic of the mass media. He is neither a Jewish insider, nor an outsider, to use the dichotomy that Professor Ruderman follows, which makes Chomsky all the more enigmatic and influential. All in all, one of the best courses I've ever taken.
Date published: 2010-04-05
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Depends on what you're looking for While I cannot praise highly enough my previous purchase ("Thinking About Capitalism"), I was quite disappointed in this collection. Ruderman is a great speaker (that's why he got 4 stars), but I felt this collection dealt with too many thinkers for the time there was to discuss them. Not enough theory and philosophy. Most of all, this was far more a religious history than an intellectual one. After all, it is filed under "Philosophy & Intellectual History." I suggest it is far more a religious eduction collection. I am fascinated by Jewish intellectual history, but not so much the evolution of Judaism.
Date published: 2010-01-18
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointingly Incomplete In contrast to a prior course that I have enjoyed from this professor, this course is disappointing, as it represents the most incomplete coverage of the topic of any of the over a dozen that I have purchased and enjoyed from the Teaching Company. Prof. Ruderman in lecture 23 regarding feminism specifically states that it is unconscionable to have women’s voices invisible in the debate on Jewish thought. Yet, he has accomplished this for another sector by essentially ignoring virtually all Orthodox thinkers beyond Hirsch in the early 1800s. Dozens of scholars at least on par with many presented in the latter half of the course including JB Solevechik have developed their own conceptions of Jewish thought as well as thoughtful responses from the perspective of Traditional Judaism to each of the challenges that the newer theologies have brought. Inclusion of these and concepts such as the development of “the Musser movement” (think of Salant and Kagan) would have enriched the material presented, overcoming a sense that in many cases the new ideologies trumped prior conceptions rather than adding to a widening spectrum of discussion and interpretation. The five minutes spent in the closing lecture acknowledging this exclusion based upon “time” and surprisingly “lack of familiarity” on part of a distinguished professor only further beg the question. Similarly, Ruderman’s limiting of discussion of concepts such as Zionism to two “labor Zionists” and one American show selective limitations that negatively impact a fuller appreciation of the spectrum of modern Jewish thought that is relevant to an understanding of today’s Israeli political and intellectual landscape. For example, inclusion of Revisionist thinkers such as Jabotinsky and Religious Zionist ideologues such as Kook (father and son who are omitted despite a claim to discussion in a future lecture) would give the audience an appreciation of the underpinnings of the Netanyahu’s Likud party and the ideology of the “settler movement”, respectively. Additionally, at a minimum the purchaser of this course should be aware that the classic Jewish Talmudic dialectic of presenting ideologic point and counterpoint is largely absent - save the two excellent comparisons between Geiger and Hirsch and Buber and Rosensweig where Ruderman truly shines. I sincerely hope that the Teaching Company encourages the expansion of this course, perhaps by eliminating many of the redundancies between the first 5 or so lectures and Ruderman’s excellent course “Between the Cross and Crescent”. If anything, the final lecture and both its contemporary questions and the list of omitted voices would be a fine starting point for tackling the issues at hand by either the current Professor or others worthy of the task.
Date published: 2009-07-07
Rated 1 out of 5 by from very weak the professor is bright - to be sure. but he simply does not deliver what is promised - a course on JEWISH intellectual history. he spends considerable time on certain intellectual contributions of men and women who were jewish (sometimes merely born jewish). he does cover key figures, and he does cover major movements. but don't expect much by way of a deeper, enriching probe of the religious, spiritual, and intellectual stuff of judaism per se. it's not here.
Date published: 2009-05-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from heady but relevant stuff This course presents helpful ideas and solutions for anybody who has tried to integrate a religious tradition with living in a non-religious context. It also discusses the very difficult problem of evil in the world with the topic of the Holocaust. This is a course not just for those interested in Jewish or Intellectual History, but for anybody of a religious persuasion who asks tough questions.
Date published: 2009-04-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent course much of this material was unfamiliar to me, I greatly appreciated this series
Date published: 2009-04-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from disappointing I found very little of substance in this course. Way below the standards of the many other fine courses I've bought from the Teaching Co.
Date published: 2009-02-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding lectures I've listened to these lectures again and again. There's always more to learn from these outstanding talks about a fascinating long period of great changes. I would happily order other courses by Professor Ruderman.
Date published: 2009-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely Necessary to Understand Today's World Although Jews form a small percentage of the world's population they have had a disproportinate impact on the world so it is necessary for all educated persons to understand contemporary Jewish thought in order to understand the world we live in today. I loved "Between Cross and Crescent" but this course is even better. You grow to understand the myriad approaches to Judaism in the modern world as you travel through these lectures. It is totally fascinating and I highly recommend it.
Date published: 2009-01-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ruderman Rules Excellent presentation by a true scholar and intellectual. Professor Ruderman is clearly on top of his material at all times. His voice is easy to listen to as he lectures. He has a sense of humor which I find comes through fairly often. I would highly recommend this and Dr. Ruderman's other lectures to anyone interested in the subject matter. I would buy another series by Professor Ruderman in the future, no questions asked.
Date published: 2008-12-20
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