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Volume 9, No.1 Fall1990 SECTION TWO: TEACHING JEWISH ETHICS UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS S. Daniel Breslauer INTRODUCTION TO JEWISH ETHICS: A CURRICULUM Description of the Course 65 The course is intended as an undergraduate introduction to ethics. It reviews some of the principles, examples, and controversies in Jewish moral discourse. It divides into two main parts: the first focused on the process of Jewish ethical reflection and the second discussing selected moral issues in Jewish thinking. It begins with an introduction and ends with a conclusion. The course consists of lecture/discussion classes over a 16-week semester, and includes three examinations (2 in-term and one final) and two assigned essay papers (prepared outside of class). Three books are required: 1. Menachem Marc Kellner, Contemporary Jewish Ethics (New York: Sanhedrin Press, 1978). (CJE) 2. Chaim Patak, The Promise (New York: Fawcett, 1969). 3. Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Shira, tr. Zeva Shapiro (New York: Schocken, 1989). Introduction This curriculum reflects the context for which it is envisioned: a liberal arts program in a state university. The majority of students taking such a class have no previous knowledge of Jewish life, thought, or religion. One or two students may be majors in the department of religious studies and may have taken either an introduction to religion or a course on religious ethics. The curriculum, however, cannot assume either the sophistication of a background in religious studies or familiarity with Jewish culture and practices. It, therefore, pursues three goals: 1. to familiarize students with ethical principles used in Jewish moral thinking; 66 SHOFAR 2. to present Jewish reflections on central moral issues; and 3. to convey a sense of the importance and relevance of the questions addressed by Jewish ethics. The selected textbook addresses both the first and second goals. The third goal presents an important challenge. How are students lacking a Jewish background sensitized to the internal ethical debates among Jews? The curriculum approaches this question by using novels to introduce situations and concerns relevant to both Jewish ethics and the human problems confronting students generally. The characters and plots of the novels engage students on an emotional as well as intellectual level. As such they can project themselves into the dilemmas arising from Jewish commitments. These novels become the point of departure for both the theoretical discussions of Jewish ethics and the focus on Jewish moral issues that follow. The textbook collects in a single volume both discussions of theoretical principles on which Jews have based ethical decisions and illustrations of how modern Jewish ethical thinkers using similar methods and sources often arrive at divergent answers to the same moral dilemma. Menachem Kellner's anthology arose from his own teaching experience in a setting similar to that envisioned for this course. Its introduction and format offer students a sense of the diversity and problematic nature of contemporary Jewish ethics without espousing a type of "relativism" in which any decision made by any Jew qualifies as "Jewish ethics." Kellner's book divides easily into two parts: one reflecting on theoretical discussions of the basis of Jewish ethics and one collecting Jewish statements on several moral issues. The following curriculum keeps that general division. In the second section, however, the moral issues discussed follow a different order from that in the textbook. The major rationale for the changes lies in an assumed relevance and interest: questions about sexual ethics have an immediacy that engages student involvement. The second rationale lies in the structure of examinations and written assignments . Evaluation of students focuses on two areas: factual information and moral reflectiveness. Three objective examinations during the course (two in-term and one final) elicit student knowledge of basic terms, important movements and trends, and primary source material as presented in the textbook . Two essays (prepared outside of class) ask students to show their reflective skill by analyzing a moral issue raised by an article in Kellner's anthology not previously discussed in class in the context of one of the novels read. Here, students have the opportunity to demonstrate creative thinking, depth of reflection, and general writing skills. The selection of materials for class discussion also keeps these essays in mind. Volume 9, No...


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