Courses

Fall 2020

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Jewish Humor (Jewish Studies 430/ English 457)

Course description: What is humor? Why and when do people tell jokes? And what do we make of the fact that a certain form of humor has come to be labeled “Jewish”? In this course, we will examine the notion of “Jewish humor” by reading a variety of texts (jokes, short stories, films, websites, conceptual art, and cultural kitsch). The course will begin by covering a variety of theoretical explorations of humor. While our focus will be on American texts from the 1880s until the present, we will also reach back in time to examine humor in classical Jewish texts, from the Hebrew Bible to the Middle Ages. Themes to be examined include: in-group vs. out-group humor; Jewish-Christian difference; humor and the Holocaust; humor and ethnicity; the notion of self-hatred. The general goal of the course will be to answer the question: Is there such a thing called “Jewish humor”? (Hint: The answer may be “no.”)

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The American Jewish Experience: From Shtetl to Suburb (Jewish Studies/History 219)

Course Description: Surveys American Jews from the eighteenth century until after WW II, examining political behavior (radicalism, liberalism, and nationalism), class formation, social mobility, culture, inter-ethnic group relations, religion, and problems in community building.

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Russia and the Jews: Literature, Culture, Religion (Jewish Studies 230/Slavic 245/Lit Trans 245)

Course Description: This course explores the rich world of Russian Jewish culture from its very foundations, focusing especially on the period from the late 1700s onward. This class will examine the processes of secularization which accompanied the rise and development of Jewish and Russian literature and culture. The course will familiarize students with important movements such as Hasidism, the Jewish Enlightenment, Zionism, and Socialism asking how and why they arose in the context of the Russian Empire. Reading literary, theological and political works by Jewish and Russian writers, our aim will be to understand the creative and often-troubled relationships among them.

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Spring Courses

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Yiddish Literature and Culture in America (Jewish Studies/German/Lit Trans 279)

Course Description: American literature has never been written in one language. While English has become dominant in the United States, there has been a long tradition of American literary and cultural production in other languages. This class focuses on the Jewish immigrant experience in Yiddish—a language that brings together German, Hebrew, Russian, Polish, Latin, Aramaic, and more. We will follow Yiddish culture from the beginning of the twentieth century until today as it has been supported, neglected, or imbued with nostalgia. We will explore how Jews writing in Yiddish navigated America as members of a religious minority, identifying and analyzing points of Jewish-Christian difference, as well as investigating how Yiddish writers narrated the experiences of other minoritized groups. Reading all works in English, we will further ask: What does it mean to translate America into Yiddish and what does it mean to translate Yiddish for America? Major terms and themes to be discussed include: cultural translation, ethnicity, Jewish identity formation, migration, “Melting Pot,” multilingualism, race, and assimilation.

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Jewish Literatures in Diaspora (Jewish Studies/English 539)

Course Description: What does it mean to be at home in a culture? What does it mean to live in exile? Where, in turn, is the diaspora? This course addresses these questions by looking at texts that examine Jewish American, German, Israeli, Palestinian, and Bosnian-American writing.. Readings will include poetry, prose, and essays by Philip Roth, W.G. Sebald, Edward Said, Aleksandar Hemon, and Molly Antopol.

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