Social Justice (Available September 2019)

social justice 123RFSocial Justice: The Heart of Judaism in Theory and Practice

Author: Lisa Exler, Consultant: Ruth Messinger

This new Melton course will draw from text and history to explore how social justice work goes beyond addressing short-term needs and looks at structural causes of injustice today. Topics include issues related to poverty, immigration and environmental degradation. Participants will be encouraged to identify issues that are particular to their own communities and that they would like to explore in greater depth.

Cairo Genizah (Available January 2020)

Genizah 300pxExploring a Forgotten World: A Social History of Medieval Jewry as Revealed in the Cairo Genizah

Author: Dr. Shelley Buxbaum

This ancient-era version of reality TV gives you a front-row seat to the drama, gossip, legal transactions, and other daily intrigues – straight from the Middle Ages. This course brings to life an exotic era in Jewish history, revealing the inner thoughts of real-life characters and exploring the daily interactions and behaviors of Jewish men, women and families living along the Mediterranean more than 1,000 years ago. All of this has been uncovered through the discovery of a collection of worn-out scraps, text fragments and documents from ancient times. Come along for a journey of intrigue and adventure!

The Rachel Wasserman Scholars Curriculum takes students on a journey of deep examination of Jewish texts. The Scholars Curriculum presents classic and modern texts that have shaped Jewish perspectives for thousands of years, and invites students to lend their voices to the ageless pursuit of Jewish wisdom. The following courses are currently available.


Through study of 70 different Torah passages, students encounter the development of varying interpretations, the influences of existing historical realities at the time of their composition, and the contemporary implications of these perspectives on their own lives.

Bereshit IBereshit (Genesis) Part I - From Adam to Abraham:  The First 20 Generations

The stories take us from the universal tales of the creation of the world, the flood, and the Tower of Babel to the foundational tales of Abraham and Sarah, and the beginnings of the Jewish people. The themes of family and faith, honor and dishonor, passion and power provide a rich exploration of our people and ourselves.

Bereshit IIBereshit (Genesis) Part II - The Story of the First Jewish Family

This course follows the development of the first Jewish family, from “The Birth of Two Nations” and “Stolen Blessings” to “Reunion in Egypt” and “Blessing the Grandchildren.” These stories of sibling rivalry, wrestling with an angel, palace seduction, rape, and reconciliation provide some of the most dramatic and iconic images that reverberate across the millennia.

Shemot IShemot (Exodus) Part I - From Slavery to Sinai

This course brings us the Egyptian narrative of our people from “Pharoah’s Paranoia” and “Moshe’s CV” to the dramatic story of our rescue, and survival in the wilderness during “Into the Sea” and “Manna from Heaven.” Leadership, bravery, faith, and doubt define some of the critical moments in these texts and offer us a rich backdrop for challenging our own assumptions.

Shemot IIShemot (Exodus) Part II - Revelation and Revolution

This course follows the development of the emerging Jewish nation from their awe-inspiring encounter at Mount Sinai through the building of the tabernacle in the wilderness. The high points of divine revelation in “Ten Commandments,“ “Encountering God,” and “Face to Face with God” are sharply contrasted with the low points of the “Golden Calf: Revolt or Reversion.” The text addresses some of the specific laws and regulations that were to become part of Jewish living as well as the meaning, purpose, and relevance to our lives today.

VayikraVayikra (Leviticus) – A Call to Holiness

Chosen by the Rabbinic sages as the first book to initiate children to Bible learning, contemporary readers often perceived Vayikra as inaccessible. Yet, embedded in the laws that focus on the prescribed sacrificial practices, laws of ritual impurity and purity, and the pursuit of holiness are messages and values that have relevance to the universal condition. In our study of Vayikra, we will examine themes including the role of rituals, responding to tragedy, confronting birth and parenthood, seeking forgiveness, balancing the place of the individual and the community, bringing sanctity into one’s daily life, and more. Through a textual study of selected passages, this course uncovers the depth and wisdom of the third book of the Torah and reveals its enduring messages that touch our lives to this very day.

BemidbarBeMidbar (Numbers) – Leadership Defied and Defended

Israel's fateful journey through the wilderness of Sinai presented numerous challenges to the leadership of Moses and Aaron; at times the nation challenged their competence as leaders, and at times individuals arose to challenge their very right to lead. As students explore the biblical narratives describing forty years of wandering in the wilderness, they will be surprised to note the timeless nature of those stories. How can the lessons learned from the past be applied to solving the communal challenges of the present and the future? BeMidbar introduces significant literary tools often used by scholars in the study of the Bible, and invites participants to revisit and rethink commonly held beliefs about the perceived heroes and rebels of the biblical narrative. 

Devarim placeholder thmbDevarim (Deuteronomy)

In our study of the fifth book of the Torah, we join Moses in his final address to nation, standing just beyond the land of Canaan, a land that he himself will never enter. There Moses recalls Israel’s past, reiterates laws that he had communicated to the people at Mount Sinai, and emphasizes that observance of these laws is essential for the well-being of the people in the land they are about to possess. Many timeless themes are explored, lessons from the past that illuminate the present as well as the future. Available in Fall 2020.



The Jewish Civilization courses address a variety of historical issues related to Israel in particular, and World Jewry in general, focusing on the study and analysis of historical and social texts related to the Modern Jewish Experience.

Beyond Borders CVRBeyond Borders: The History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

This course provides students with a strong, text-based historical overview from the late nineteenth century through today. The complexity of the conflict forces students to grapple with issues of religion, culture, history, politics, economics, identity and survival—all reflected through primary sources, including newspaper articles, poetry, songs, government documents, speeches, photographs and memoir.

Jewish Humor CVRFrom Sinai to Seinfeld: Jews and Their Jokes

A treasure of irresistible jokes from the Israelite relationship with God to the growing divide between cultural and religious Judaism in the early 21st century. Treating Jewish jokes as text, the course invites students to analyze and interpret the evolving concerns, styles, rhythms, preoccupations, and values of the Jewish people that lie buried deep in words that make us laugh as Jews, and that bond us as a people.

Israeli Literature CVRIsraeli Literature As a Window to Israeli Society

This course offers a fresh and fascinating examination of Israeli society since the birth of the State in 1948. Participants encounter an Israeli society that is original, contemporary, honest and proud. Reflections of the mythic Israel are matched by poetry and prose that is challenging and self-critical, and both offer profound insight into the Israeli national psyche.

Denominations CVRJewish Denominations: Challenges of Modernity

This course examines Jewish identity and religious expression against the backdrop of dramatic political and social change. Students gain extensive insights into the historical and ideological developments of the major movements, and explore the impact of gender, assimilation, Israel, and post-denominationalism on the movements and the Jewish people.

Jewish Medical Ethics Jewish Medical Ethics: A 21st Century Discussion

Within the field of ethics, one of the most challenging frontiers is medical ethics. While contemporary medical knowledge preserves life, modern advances have raised moral and ethical dilemmas related to the sanctity and dignity of life—issues whose scope was unimaginable a generation ago. Written by Rabbi Elliot Dorff, PhD, Jewish Medical Ethics explores Jewish approaches to a number of 21st century ethical issues, including human cloning, surrogate motherhood, genetic identity, assisted suicide, and genetic manipulation. New for 2019.

Mysticism CVR 2016 120x155 newJewish Mysticism: Tracing the History of Kabbalah

This course presents the rich history of Jewish mysticism, along with understandings of many of the texts that have been so central to that tradition, speaking to the deepest mysteries of human existence and to many of life’s eternal universal questions.

Jews In America CVRJews in America: Insiders and Outsiders

This course provides students with the opportunity to consider the challenges of Jewish acculturation to American life, and the sacrifices as well as the contributions that have been made over the past 200 years. Lessons will explore education, the Three Generation Hypothesis, Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, Zionism and the State of Israel, the Civil Rights Movement, and other issues that address American and Jewish culture and identity.

The Holocaust As Reflected in Diaries and MemoirsThe Holocaust As Reflected in Diaries and Memoirs

Students explore the profound record of first-person accounts in diaries and memoirs uncovered in the years since the Holocaust, and gain remarkable insights into the struggle for life as both young and old writers describe day-to-day life coping in the ghettos, imprisoned in the death camps, hiding on the run, and fighting for their lives. 

Star and Crescent coverThe Star and the Crescent: A History of Jewish-Muslim Relations

Jews and Muslims have co-existed, both peacefully and contentiously, for more than a millennium. What do they have in common? What are the sources of tension and conflict? During the first thousand years after the founding of Islam, it was better to be Jewish in a Muslim country than in a Christian country. Only after that period did the relationship between Jews and Muslims deteriorate, particularly in the Middle East. Outside the Middle East, though, Jews and Muslims continue to find ways to coexist peacefully and often productively. This course will examine the longstanding relationship between Judaism and Islam, broadening our understanding and challenging our assumptions.