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78 TEACHING JEWISH ETHICSSPERTUS COLLEGE OF JUDAICA Byron L. Sherwin SHOFAR The following syllabus for a one-quarter course (10 weeks) in Jewish ethics has been used at Spertus College of Judaica, a liberal arts college specializing in Jewish studies. As such, the syllabus was constructed with a view toward prospective students in that the student body at Spertus differs in many substantive ways from that at other academic institutions. The Spertus student body is largely (90%) Jewish. Students tend to range widely in age (18-90). A majority of students are graduate students. Many are "returning learners" who come to class with a broad variety of life and professional experience. For example, it is one thing to discuss medical ethics with typical collegiate-age undergraduates. It is another thing to discuss medical ethics with a former editor of the AM4 Journal in class, or business ethics with retired CEOs of large corporations as one's students. As is well-known, the whole question of whether there indeed is a distinctive area as Jewish ethics is a subject of debate. Our Jewish Orthodox students have difficulty seeing a distinct area of Jewish ethics other than that articulated by Jewish law. Our Jewish Reform students have difficulty appreciating the nature and role of Jewish law in moral decision-making. Both our Reform and secular Jewish students have trouble dealing with particularistic, ascetic, and "other-worldly" views they encounter in classical, especially medieval , Jewish ethical literature. For these reasons, the course begins byestablishing basic principles about Jewish ethics. The starting point is with the diverse and often well-travelled "baggage" our diverse students bring to the course. The course is designed so as to introduce the student to Jewish ethical concerns, but also to classical Jewish ethical literature in its various genres. Each specific issue (see below, Topics 4-9) is accompanied by primary source material drawn from rabbinic literature and from medieval ethical literature (sifrnt ha-musar). For example, such texts include selections from works such as Bahya's Duties of the Heart, Luzzatto's Paths of the Upright, The Holy Letter attributed to Nahmanides, various ethical wills, responsa, legal codes, biblical commentary, collections of moral aphorisms such as Choice of PearL~ attributed to Ibn Gabirol, and ethical treatises such as Ibn al-Nakawa's Menorat ha-Ma'or and those written by kabbalists such as di Vidas' Reshit Hokhmah Volume 9, No.1 Fall1990 79 and Cordevero's Palm Tree of Deborah-all in English translation. In this way, students are introduced not only to problems and methodologies in "doing" Jewish ethics, but to Jewish ethical literature as well. Specific problems dealt with inevitably reflect the interest of the instructor , but also directly reflect the interests of the students as well. For example , parent-child relations are significant since most of our students are parents. Discussion of the ethics of giving is especially significant to our students who work for Jewish communal agencies as well as for those who are substantial donors to those agencies. An attempt is made to relate ancient and medieval texts to the most contemporary of problems. And, as the syllabus indicates, Jewish ethics are presented unabashedly as a form of theological ethics resting on certain theological premises which are discussed at the outset of the course. A sample of the final exam is also offered below. The purpose of the exam is to offer students an opportunity to tie together what they have learned and to begin to apply what they have learned to specific kinds of situations . The course syllabus and exam questions now follow: JEWISH ETHICS The purpose of this course is to introduce the student to the nature of Jewish ethical concerns and assumptions, to the scope of Jewish ethical literature , and to selected problems and areas addressed by classical and contemporary Jewish ethics. Course Requirements: Students enrolled for undergraduate credit will be required successfully to complete a take-home final examination based upon required readings and class discussion. Students enrolled for graduate credit will be required successfully to complete a take-home final examination based upon required readings and class discussion and to write a research paper (5-10 typed pages...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 78-84
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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