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Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education, Brandeis University

Tag: academic jewish studies (page 2 of 4)

The Americanization of Tikkun Olam

By Jonathan Krasner

When President Barack Obama declared at the first White House reception for Jewish American Heritage Month, in 2010, that America must “uphold the principle of tikkun olam—ourobligation to repair the world,” he became 3833624039_6743128b63_qthe latest in a parade of prominent American politicians, celebrities and opinion-makers, including Bill Clinton, Cornell West and Madonna, to invoke the term. The Americanization of tikkun olam reflects its ubiquity in American Jewish life, where many religious and communal leaders identify it as a core Jewish value.

This is remarkable when one considers that prior to the 1980s most American Jews had never heard the term. Continue reading

Seeing Jewish Studies Through Christian Students’ Writing

This blog post, by Shaul Kelner of Vanderbilt University, is part of our series from the Pedagogies of Engagement in Jewish Studies seminar.

Shaul adds: This blog post is written in memory of my teacher, Alan Nuccio a”h, whose Western Civ curriculum inspired and informed my thinking about teaching Jewish Civ.

The Zohar may seem an unlikely text to use for the first session of a 100-level Introduction to Jewish Studies class. I chose to open with it, however, for three reasons. First, it is a great equalizer–as foreign to students with K-12 Jewish day schooling as to those who never met a Jew before in their lives.

Second, for students comfortable that they know “what Judaism says,” encountering the Zohar helps them realize that pat answers won’t serve them well in a college class. Chances are, their prior experience has not introduced them to a Judaism that conceives of humans affecting the balance of spiritual flows in a ten-part Godhead. Better to keep an open mind and focus on understanding the text.

Third, it is a great text for teaching writing. Continue reading

Jewish Studies for What? A Collaborative Vision of Engagement

Lila Corwin Berman, of Temple University, and Noam Pianko, of the University of Washington, contribute this entry to our series from the Pedagogies of Engagement in Jewish Studies seminar.

In 1939, sociologist Robert Lynd published a polemical book called Knowledge for What? The book was a call to rethink why scholars studied what they did, and what their work had to do with the world in which they lived, and it came to mind as we thought about gathering a group of Jewish studies directors together.  We found ourselves asking, “Jewish studies for what?” Continue reading

What Should a Vision of Jewish Education Do For Us?

Jon A. Levisohn is director of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education, and the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Professor of Jewish Educational Thought, at Brandeis University. This post is an abbreviated version of his recent article, “A New Theory of Vision,” in HaYidion.

My colleague Danny Lehmann has shared some constructive, generative ideas for Jewish education in the 21st century in his recent article in HaYidion, in which he argues for creativity, hybridity, transformative spirituality, and more. Do these ideas constitute a vision? Well, that depends. Continue reading

Minds and Hearts: Rethinking the “Division of Labor” Between Jewish Studies and Hillel on Campus

Barry Wimpfheimer, associate professor of religious studies at Northwestern, contributes this entry to our series from the Pedagogies of Engagement in Jewish Studies seminar.


WebAs Director of The Crown Family Center for Jewish and Israel Studies at Northwestern University, I have insisted on a division of labor between Jewish Studies and Hillel. Jewish Studies is the site for the study of Judaism, Jews and Jewishness while Hillel is the place for exploring Jewish identity and finding community.

This division of labor benefits both parties. Hillel is able to unabashedly promote a vision of Judaism and Jewish commitment. That vision is broad and pluralistic, to be sure, but it emphasizes Jewish exceptionalism. In this way, Hillel harnesses the resources of community and university to advocate for Jewish interests on campus and beyond.

Jewish Studies, on the other hand, can invite students of all ethnic and religious identities to explore Jewish literature and the history of Jewish religion and culture without the limitation of promoting Judaism or Jewish cultural affiliation. Enrollments are increased when we target both Jewish and non-Jewish students. The history of the Jewish religion, culture and people is easily integrated in the humanities curriculum. Perhaps most fundamentally, Jewish Studies scholars are free to explore aspects of Jewish history, religion or culture that do not support the program of Jewish exceptionalism or continuity.

But is it possible that the division of labor has negative ramifications as well? Continue reading

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