Jewish Studies at HWS

There are numerous ways to get involved with Jewish Life on campus. Incorporating Jewish life into your academic work either through the minor in Holocaust Studies or individual classes is one way.

The Minor in Holocaust Studies

The Holocaust, 1933-1945, was a human disaster of unprecedented proportions. Mass murder by “lawful” decree reached extraordinary proportions when a faceless and mindless bureaucracy combined with passionate hatred to lay waste European Jewish culture and millions of its practitioners. As a result, concepts of civilization were undermined, cherished ideas such as rationalism and progress as the basis for societal conduct were challenged, and the power of the churches and their teachings were called into question. Intellect and goodwill accounted for little in the Nazi era.

The Holocaust Studies minor provides an opportunity to study the Holocaust and its impact on society. This enterprise must go beyond history and religion, because the Holocaust cannot be understood without knowledge of the dynamics of prejudice, of propaganda, of political and social organization, of social and psychological deviance, or of the history of Judaism and the Jewish people. Holocaust study is by its very nature interdisciplinary.


Below is a partial list of courses that take Jewish life and history into consideration.

  • ENG 360 – 20th-Century Central European Fiction (Weiss)
    This course explores the modernist reinvention of the novel that occurred in those countries of Europe that until recently were part of the Soviet Bloc: Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Romania, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia.
  • FSEM 093 – Playing God: Ethical Debates in Medicine (Anwar)
    How do we respond ethically to the problems posed by medical policies and practices? What ethical principles would we use? Should medical decisions take into account the patient’s cultural and religious backgrounds? How do different cultures treat illnesses? This course is an interdisciplinary approach to the moral, philosophical, social, and legal dimensions of the theories, policies, and practices in medical ethics.
  • POL 215 – Racial and Ethnic Politics (Johnson)
    This course examines the historical and contemporary relationship between ethnic minority and majority groups in the American political system. The course looks at the use and effectiveness of political and social power in shaping American race relations and the ability of alternative methods to change those relations.
  • POL 348 – Racism and Hatreds (Ost)
    What is the role of conflicts and hatreds in politics? This course looks at various politicized hatreds around the world, based on race, nation, and religion.
  • REL 270 – Modern Jewish History (Dobkowski)
    This course examines Jewish intellectual, political, and socio-economic history from the period of the French Revolution until the mid-20th century. The specific focus of the course is on the manner in which Jews accommodated themselves and related to changes in their status which were caused by external and internal events.
  • REL 271 – History of the Holocaust (Dobkowski)
    This course analyzes the background and history of the Holocaust; its impact on the Jewish community in Europe and worldwide; theological reactions as reflected in the works of Buber, Fackenheim, and Rubenstein; the question of resistance; the problem of survival; the Elie Wiesel syndrome; and collective guilt leading to the creation of the State of Israel.
  • REL 272 – The Sociology of the American Jew (Dobkowski)
    This course examines the sociological, religious, and historical complexion of the American Jewish community. It attempts to deal with such issues as immigration, religious trends, anti-Semitism, assimilation, adjustment, identity, and survival, and it attempts to understand the nature of the American Jewish community.
  • REL 273 – Foundations of Jewish Thought  (Dobkowski)
    This course traces the foundations of Jewish religious and philosophical thought from the Bible, Rabbinic literature, Talmudic Judaism, the Kabbalah, medieval philosophy, and mysticism, to contemporary Jewish thought.
  • REL 274 – Zionism, the State of Israel, and the Middle East Conflict (Dobkowski)
    An examination of the roots of Zionism – a complicated religious, ideological, and political movement. Such external factors as the Holocaust and the acute problems of the surviving refugees; the conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine; the breakdown of the British Mandate and the mutual rivalries of the Western powers in the Middle East; and the East-West conflict in the global scene are some of the historical forces which accelerated the creation of the Jewish state that are examined.
  • REL 276 – History of East European Jewry, 1648‑1945  (Dobkowski)
    This course examines the social, political, cultural, and religious history of the Jews in Eastern Europe. Since Eastern Europe was home to a majority of world Jewry until the Holocaust, it is important to analyze what was distinctive about the East European Jewish experience and what impact it had on contemporary Jewish life.
  • REL 278 – Jewish Life and Thought in Modern Times  (Dobkowski)
    This course examines Jewish life, thought, and cultural development from 1760 to the present. Among the topics discussed are: the rise of Hasidism and reaction to it; the Enlightenment and modern varieties of Judaism; Zionist thought; and revolution and Jewish emancipation.
  • REL 279 – Torah and Testament (Dobkowski, Salter)
    How do we read sacred texts? How can they say anything to us today? This course introduces students to central texts of the Jewish and Christian traditions and key methods of reading/interpreting those texts.
  • REL 370 – Jewish Mysticism and Hasidism (Dobkowski)
    This course attempts to trace and describe the developments in Jewish mysticism culminating in the Hasidic movements of the 18th and 19th centuries and neo-Hasidic trends in the 20th. These movements are viewed as religious and spiritual, as well as social and economic manifestations. The course operates from the premise that there is a continuing dialectic between an exoteric and subterranean tradition.
  • REL 401 – Literary and Theological Responses to the Holocaust (Dobkowski)
    It is increasingly obvious that the Holocaust is a watershed event, a phenomenon that changes our perceptions of human nature, religion, morality, and the way we view reality. All that came before must be re-examined and all that follows is shaped by it. Yet, precisely because of its dimensions, the meaning of the Holocaust is impenetrable. Language is inadequate to express the inexpressible. But the moral imperative demands an encounter. This course examines some of the more meaningful “encounters” with the Holocaust found in literature, films, and in theology.
  • RUS 205 – Torn between Identities: Shtetl Dwellers, Soviet Comrades, Russian Writers (Aptekman)
    This course will concentrate on the ideological, historical, political and aesthetic context of Jewish-Russian cultural and social identity from mid-19th century till present by discussing and testing the limits of cultural assimilation and the boundaries of self-identification as it is presented in Russian- Jewish Literature. It will cover all most important aspects of the Russian – Jewish coexistence, and will be focused on the cultural, linguistic and ideological transformation of Russian Jews in the late nineteenth and the twentieth centuries: from pious Yiddish-speaking shtetl dwellers to secular Russian-speaking urbanites. The students will explore the richness of Russian-Jewish cultural heritage through the prism of historical documents, fiction, poetry, memoirs, and movies, which were originally created in a variety of Jewish and non-Jewish languages.
  • SILP 121 – Beginning Hebrew
    The Self-Instructional Language Program (SILP) offers courses in less commonly taught languages. Sudents work independently using the language lab facilities at the Colleges and team up with a native speaker for biweekly tutorials. The program makes extensive use of audio-visual materials and interactive multimedia computer stations. Permission is need from the instructor prior to enrolling in a SILP course. Contact Sebastiano Lucci for more information.

More course information is available in the course catalogue.