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RST-401-20, Top: Holocaust & Jewish Law (FA14)

 INSTRUCTOR: Dr. Richard Wagner

SCHEDULE/DAY/TIME: Semester/Monday/7:15-9:00 PM, 09/08/2014-12/08/2014


An unexplored facet of resistance to the Reich during WWII is the small but meaningful record of Jews standing up to the Nazis on the religious and spiritual planes.  Remarkably, in ghettoes, concentration camps and in the forests, these Jews demonstrated psychological stamina and spiritual invincibility, seeking guidance in the minutia of Jewish law, even in extremis.  This was much more than “foxhole faith.”  In the phrase of Psychoanalyst Viktor Frankl, a survivor of Auschwitz, this commitment to Jewish practice provided the “will to meaning” which was a key to survival for some.


-First, for approximately one month, we will look at the structure and function of Jewish law from the end of the biblical period.  We will examine the development of the oral tradition, especially in the period of the Mishna (70-220 c.e.) and the Talmud (to 500 c.e.); as well as Responsa and Codes of the last ten centuries.  Examples will demonstrate the wide areas of concern – ritual and religion, civil and criminal, personal and communal – encompassed by Jewish law.

-With this foundation, we will turn to examples of questions and responses to Jewish law authorities by people intent on maintaining their observance to the fullest extent that their circumstances would permit.  Questions dealt with daily routines – worship and dietary laws – Sabbaths and holidays, life cycle events, and personal status.  Many moral dilemmas were presented for rabbinic opinion, even after the war.  For example, is it permissible to use medications produced by the Nazis after experimenting on Jewish people.  The questions and answers provide a unique view of this darkest chapter in human history, as well as an enhanced appreciation for Jewish law, its practitioners and adherents.


Lecture and discussion.  


This class has a midterm (worth 25%), final examination (35%), and a primary source paper with peer editing (explained in the syllabus) (30%). The remaining 10% is comprised of attendance and participation. Enthusiastic class participation is expected; students are encouraged to ask questions, offer challenges, request clarifications, etc., during lectures and discussions.  Schedule and due dates will be stated in the syllabus with on-line reminders.


All required texts will be provided in a printed and e-format Course Reading Booklet.  Assignments will be given in class and on-line.