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Jews and Judaism: An Introduction


Admission requirements


Who belongs to the Jewish people and where do the Jewish people belong? These two questions
infuse our approach to the history of Jewish civilization spanning from biblical prophets like
Isaiah, Hosea and Jeremiah to modern day Jewish “prophets” like Larry David, Bernie Sanders and numerous voices in between. We begin in the beginning with the Book of Genesis and move at pace studying the Hebrew Bible, Rabbinic Commentary, early Christian writings, archeology, demographics, theory and the work of well-known scholars. Moving forward we approach Jewish life in the Muslim World, the complex developments wrapped up in “modernization,” migrations, new ways to understand religious practice, the two World Wars, the Holocaust, the establishment of the State of Israel, the consequent Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how these events impacted ritual, history and the lives of “ordinary” Jews and their neighbors.

Across a breathtaking time period of six millennia, we will investigate the concept of Jewish civilization and “Jewishness” using religious, social, cultural, archeological, material, linguistic, political and historical methods. Indeed, belonging is central to our study and we will continually delineate and then re-delineate the (porous?) boundaries between “Jews” and “non-Jews.” Moreover, we will question the geographical aspect of belonging and explore the many different “places” that Jews have considered home. Further, our lectures will dip in and out of historical time to chart howevents from the past influence popular culture, literature, art and film in later periods. And finally, we will ask how “Jews” and “non-Jews” lived together, apart and alongside each other in past centuries and in our own.

Course objectives

Each student who completes the course will:

  • Develop a broad competence and understanding of Judaism as a diverse and lived religion
    around the world and throughout a half dozen millenia of historical time.

  • Develop an interdisciplinary approach to the study of Judaism and the Jewish experience
    that takes into account anthropological, sociological, historical, economical, and political methods and theories.

  • Develop a better understanding of the important ISMs which saturate the modern world, like: nationalism, fascism, communism, socialism, liberalism, anti-semitism, racism, feminism, secularism, extremism and (post)colonialism.

Transferable Skills

  • Learn how to read a historical document and religious texts carefully and critically, and to
    present a clearly-argued and well-supported interpretation of its significance in both written and oral forms. Beyond mastering a body of factual information, in other words, you should be able to say something about these facts, to ask and answer the “so what?” question.

  • Be more attuned to the continuing presence of the past in contemporary debates and think
    historically about “current events”—that is, to explain how political institutions, cultural worldviews, social and economic relations, and popular attitudes which took shape in the past continue to play a role today. As we will see throughout the course, “history”—that is, individuals’ and groups’ interpretations of their pasts—is often mobilized to define and defend current agendas.

  • Gain basic practical writing, conceptual and production skills as you create a 7 minute
    podcast investigating some element of the Jewish experience.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

  • Discussion

Assessment method

  • a mid-term roughly halfway through the term with a combination of short open questions and one essay question 25%

  • a 7-minute long podcast turned in by the last day of class 25%

  • a final exam with a combination of closed questions, short open questions, and essay questions 50%

NOTE: to pass the course, students must score at least a 4 on each assignment and a minimum weighted average of 5.5 for the final grade.


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


Students who have participated in all elements of the course, but scored an overall insufficient mark are entitled to a resit. For the podcast contribution, students will be given a chance to hand in new versions. For the exam, students will be given a chance to resit the exam.
For the midterm, students will be given a chance to resit the midterm.

Exam review

When and where the exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest.

Reading list

  1. Martin Goodman, A History of Judaism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018).

A History of Judaism will be the primary textbook used for the course and is available as an e-book via the university library catalogue.

  1. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version (Oxford: Oxford
    University Press, 2010).

Other readings will be assigned on the syllabus and provided on an ad hoc basis via Brightspace.


BA1 Students Religiewetenschappen will be enrolled by the Education Administration Office Vrieshof.

Students are required to register through MyStudyMap is mandatory.

Registration Studeren à la carte

Registration Studeren à la carte

Registration Contractonderwijs

Registration Contractonderwijs


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Vrieshof


Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).

Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accommodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.