First year seminar focuses on the intersection of law and religion.
Judaism, Religion, and Law: From the Roman Empire to Modern Israel
Have you ever heard Judaism described as “legalistic,” or wondered why the New Testament distinguishes “the letter of the law” from “the spirit of the law”? In this course, we will investigate the concept of “Jewish law” from the ancient Roman empire to the modern state of Israel. What makes a legal text “Jewish,” and how did Judaism become indelibly associated with law? And what role does law play in determining religious identity in diverse historical and cultural contexts—including a “secular” state that is also a Jewish homeland?
To answer these and other questions, we will examine a range of primary sources both Jewish and non-Jewish — not only sacred writings but also legal treatises, judicial records, court disputes, and other cultural products — to understand how they reveal meaningful insights into durable legal philosophies and daily life. Students will develop their own critical analyses of these sources and learn to apply them to other contexts, as well, and come to understand the relationship between religion, law, and history more broadly.