Community Blog Hebrew College Courses Tackle Today’s Tough Questions

By Hebrew College
Dan Judson

What is the difference between “antijudaism” and “antisemitism”? Is the “Jewish vote” fact or fiction? Should we own stocks in companies whose activities don’t match our Jewish values? This semester, Hebrew College students and community learners will be tackling these and other pressing questions — delving into Jewish text and tradition to search for meaningful answers.

We have a number of wonderful learning opportunities for our students and the community that we hope will help address what people are thinking about,” said Rabbinical School Dean Rabbi Dan Judson, who studies the historical intersection of Judaism and economics. “These classes are a way of trying to respond to real questions that the Jewish community is grappling with and understanding that Jewish tradition has something to teach us about these important issues.” 

Among courses being offered are:

  • “Living in a Tainted World” with Devora Steinmetz  (Hebrew College Rabbinical School course) 
  • Unpacking Antisemitism: Religious Origins, Modern Forms, and Contemporary Dynamics” with Dr. Jacob Meskin (Hebrew College Me’ah Select course)
  • “Leadership on the Line: Critical Conversations with Religious Activists & Organizers” with Rabbi Or Rose (Hebrew College Miller Center for Interreligious Leadership & Learning course)
  • “And, if elected… Jews in American Political Life” with Norm Finkelstein (Hebrew College Prozdor course)

“Our community learning programs programs include classes that speak to critical contemporary issues that are on all of our minds. What can we learn from Jewish history and Jewish tradition about topics that are relevant to today’s world, like Israel, economic justice, anti-semitism, and interreligious connections,” said Sara Brown, acting director of Hebrew College Adult and Community Learning. “And our Open Circle Jewish Learning social action program combines learning with activism and work in the community so our students can make a difference in the world around them.”

Course Descriptions

Living in a Tainted World with Devora Steinmetz
Rabbinical School Class at Hebrew College

Either because of political activity or illicit behavior or business practices that are problematic, a number of well-known philanthropists have come under scrutiny and many organizations are grappling with the difficult question of what to do with money that comes from these donors. The Rabbinical School is offering a course entitled “Living in a Tainted World,” focused on questions such as: Should a Jewish institution accept money from a donor who engages in illicit activities? Can I accept a job at a company that develops cyber security products that might be used by repressive regimes? May I own stocks in a large company some of whose activities do not accord with my values? This class follows a public seminar held the first week of January on  “Tainted Money: Jewish Philanthropy in a Troubled Time,” with representatives from Hebrew SeniorLife, who reflected on the dilemmas that have occurred in their own development work for and engaged the community in a conversation about appropriate values guiding such decisions. The semester-long course will focus on texts from the talmud, commentaries, halakhic codes, and responsa in an effort to develop a nuanced conversation around accepting money from those who might be “tainted” in the eyes of the Jewish community.

Unpacking Antisemitism: Religious Origins, Modern Forms, and Contemporary Dynamics with Dr. Jacob Meskin
Me’ah Select Class at Hebrew College

This year, facing sad and upsetting headlines, and in response to expressions of interest from students, Me’ah Instructor Dr. Jacob Meskin began revising a community course he taught a few years ago on the history of antisemitism. The old course focused mostly on history, but the new course — “Unpacking Antisemitism” — examines both historical material and a number of contemporary analyses of antisemitism by political scientists, scholars of religion, psychologists, and social scientists. In this course, students will study the complex origins of ancient and medieval “antijudaism,” focusing on Christian and Islamic sources; on how different thinkers interpreted these sources in different times and places; and on the historical events that flowed from these interpretations. They will also explore how modern antisemitism has a dangerous variety of forms: it can be religious, or economic, or racial, or political, or all of these together, and so on. They will draw on this understanding to try to grasp the many currents and trends that drive antisemitism today in our contemporary world and generate concrete insights that empower us to act and work together. 

Leadership on the Line: Critical Conversations with Religious Activists & Organizers with Rabbi Or Rose
| Community and Ordination Course at Hebrew College

In this course, students will encounter several outstanding modern and contemporary religious leaders engaged in various civic and political initiatives for social and environmental transformation. This will include reading works by and about such historical figures as Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Joshua Heschel and Oscar Romero, and meeting (in-person and by video conference) with leaders from the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, American Jewish World Service, and GreenFaith. Through these encounters, students will explore core leadership capacities, organizational structures, and practices for personal growth and sustainability.
Hebrew College Mondays, 4:30 pm – 6:30 pm

And, if elected… Jews in American Political Life with Norm Finkelstein | Prozdor Class at Hebrew College 

As we look forward to this presidential election year, Prozdor teens will take a closer look at the role of Jews in American politics. Since colonial times, Jews have been involved in America’s political life as candidates, appointees and activists on the local, state and federal levels. A generation ago, there was but one Jewish member of the United States Senate. Today there is a minyan. In this course, we will go back in time to trace the evolution of Jewish involvement in American politics, from Frances Salvador to Joseph Lieberman and from “The Jew Bill” to AIPAC. We will examine the myth of the “Jewish vote” and trace the development of Jewish political activism. At the same time, we will follow today’s presidential candidates and their views/connections with Jewish issues/concerns and Israel.


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