Fall 2019  |  JWST 3013W Section 001: Biblical Law and Jewish Ethics (33524)

http://levinson.umn.edu/" target="lookup">Bernard Levinson, PhD
Class Component:
3 Credits
Grading Basis:
Student Option
Instructor Consent:
No Special Consent Required
Instruction Mode:
In Person Term Based
Class Attributes:
UMNTC Liberal Education Requirement
Meets With:
JWST 5013W Section 001
RELS 3013W Section 001
RELS 5013W Section 001
LAW 6916 Section 001
Times and Locations:
Regular Academic Session
09/03/2019 - 12/11/2019
Tue, Thu 02:30PM - 03:45PM
UMTC, East Bank
Nicholson Hall 115
Enrollment Status:
Open (7 of 9 seats filled)
Also Offered:
Course Catalog Description:
Significance of religious law in Judaism. Babylonian background of biblical law. Biblical creation of the person as a legal category. Rabbinic transformations of biblical norms. Covenant in Christianity/Islam. Contemporary Jewish literature/philosophy.
Class Notes:
Class Description:
(Writing Intensive & ABA Upper Division Writing Requirement)

This course introduces students to the original meaning and significance of religious law and ethics within Judaism. Law is the single most important part of Jewish history and identity. At the same time, law is also the least understood part of Judaism and has often been the source of criticism and hatred. We shall therefore confront one of the most important parts of Jewish civilization and seek to understand it on its own terms. In demonstrating how law becomes a fundamental religious and ethical ideal, the course will focus on the biblical and Rabbinic periods but spans the entire history of Judaism. Consistent with the First Amendment, the approach taken is secular. There are no prerequisites: the course is open to all qualified students.

The course begins with ideas of law in ancient Babylon and then studies the ongoing history of those ideas. The biblical idea that a covenant binds Israel to God, along with its implications for human worth - including the view of woman as person - will be examined. Comparative cultural issues include the reinterpretations of covenant within Christianity and Islam. The course investigates the rabbinic concept of oral law, the use of law to maintain the civil and religious stability of the Jewish people, and the kabbalistic transformation of law. The course concludes with contemporary Jewish thinkers who return to the Bible while seeking to establish a modern system of universal ethics.

The premise of the course is the discipline of academic religious studies. The assumptions of the course are therefore academic and secular, as required by the First Amendment. All texts and all religious traditions will be examined analytically and critically. Students are expected to understand and master this approach, which includes questioning conventional cultural assumptions about the composition and authorship of the Bible. Willingness to ask such questions and openness to new ways of thinking are essential to success in the course.
Who Should Take This Class?:
Students with an interest in law (pre-law or current Law School), Jewish studies, history, ethics, philosophy, comparative religion, anthropology, comparative literature, constitutional theory.
Learning Objectives:

LE Writing Intensive Requirement
Writing and the ability to construct a written argument, based upon close textual analysis, represents one of the primary goals of the course. The premise of the course, in that regard, is that writing represents a means of thought - of discovering what you think and of learning to think more clearly. It follows, further, that the best way to learn how to write is to learn the technique of revision and rewriting.

In that way, the method of the course will implement the content of the course, as students discover how ancient authors

"wrote" new law and discovered new insights into ethics - by revising and rewriting the laws and the literary texts of their predecessors.

This course satisfies the LE Writing Intensive requirement. Undergraduate students are required to pass four Writing-Intensive (WI) courses. All WI courses assign formal writing and include instruction on the written aspect of those assignments. These formal assignments are in addition to any informal, exploratory writing or in-class exams assigned in the course, and will include at least one for which you will revise a draft after receiving comments from the instructor.

Writing represents a significant portion of the overall course grade, as required for all University of Minnesota Writing Intensive courses. Accordingly:

(1) Writing will count for 33% of the course grade; and (2) Students who do not do well on the writing assignments will be unable to pass the course.

·Have mastered a body of knowledge and a mode of inquiry

Students will focus on mastery of the essential texts of ancient Near Eastern and Biblical law and ethics and learn to engage with the questions modern scholars in these areas ask of these texts.

How will you assess the students' learning related to this outcome? Give brief examples of how class work related to the outcome will be evaluated.

This outcome will be assessed in the essays that students write in which they analyze specific ancient texts or specific modern discussions of them.

·Understand diverse philosophies and cultures within and across societies

Please explain briefly how this outcome will be addressed in the course. Give brief examples of class work related to the outcome.

Students will consider the ways in which law and ethics are culturally specific as well as ways in which they have shaped later (i.e., not necessarily Jewish) cultural conceptions of ethics.

How will you assess the students' learning related to this outcome? Give brief examples of how class work related to the outcome will be evaluated.

This outcome will be assessed in student writing and class discussion. In particular, the take-home essays on the midterm and final exam will ask students to engage with these problems.

·Can communicate effectively

Please explain briefly how this outcome will be addressed in the course. Give brief examples of class work related to the outcome.

Much of the student's coursework will involve written analysis and argument. The goal is to learn to communicate effectively about material that is sometimes unfamiliar and difficult for a modern audience.

How will you assess the students' learning related to this outcome? Give brief examples of how class work related to the outcome will be evaluated.

Student writing will be carefully evaluated as part of the grading process, and feedback designed to improve future performance will be provided.



One short paper, about four pages 5 %

Mid-term exam (in class, distributed in advance) 25

Course essay 45

( 5 points for proposal and bibliography)

(15 points for first draft)

(25 points for revision with portfolio)

Final exam (take home essay) 25

TOTAL 100%
Class Format:
lecture + extensive discussion.
regular reading (50 pages/week) of ancient sources and regular short writing assignments responding to questions in order to help students understand the ancient sources and know what to look for.
Clearly structured and organized approach to writing the main course paper, consisting of proposal + first draft + peer review + instructor comments + revision.
Instructor Supplied Information Last Updated:
16 August 2019

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