Spontaneity in Teaching: Incorporating Current Vatican Publications on the Jews into a Course on Modern Judaism
- Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies
- Purdue University Press
- Volume 17, Number 4, Summer 1999
- pp. 76-82
- Additional Information
76 SHOFAR Summer 1999 Vol. 17, No.4 Spontaneity in Teaching: Incorporating Current Vatican Publications on the Jews into a Course on Modern Judaism Miriam Dean-Otting Kenyon College I teach a course on Modem Judaism which serves as both an introduction to Judaism and a survey ofmodem Jewish thought. After laying a biblical and rabbinic foundation and introducing students to ideas ofthe Sabbath, festival and holy day cycle, we spend the rest of the semester tracing the development of the branches and the varieties of Zionism. I also incorporate a brief look at Jewish feminism. In past years I have spent a few sessions as well on Jewish-Christian Relations. In that section I have the students read Martin Luther, "On the Jews and their Lies," the Second Vatican Council's "Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions," and Susannah Heschel's "Anti-Judaism in Christian Feminst Theology." While I do not keep track ofsuch things, I can usually count on halfthe class enrollment being Jewish students from various backgrounds. I studiously avoid teaching about the Holocaust in this course. Although I struggle with this decision and have found that I have been criticized for this by some students over the years, I do this primarily for two reasons. One is that we have a whole course devoted to the Holocaust at the College. The other is that most students have some exposure to the Holocaust, but most will never have encountered any rabbinic literature, any Glueckel ofHameln, any Abraham Geiger or Samson Raphael Hirsch, any Theodor Herzl or Ahad ha-Am. What they know is Jews as victims and they are not familiar with the rich culture Jews have created and the varieties of Judaism to which Jews have adhered. So I overlook one ofthe two most important historical events in the history of modem Judaism. But I do so with conviction. Throughout the semester, whenever anything relating to Jews is published in the newspaper, I bring it into class and draw the students' attention to it, using it as a teaching tool. For instance, in January, 1998, the New York Times printed an article about the French paying tribute to Emile Zola on the 100th anniversary of the publication ofhis famous "J'ACCDSE: letter to the President of the French Republic" at the time ofthe Dreyfus Affair. That article was an opportunity to offer a preview to the students and remind them that much of what we would study that semester happened not so very long ago. Last spring, when the Vatican released a document written over Teaching Jewish Studies: Spontaneity in Teaching 77 eleven years by the Commission on Religious Relations with the Jews, accompanied by a cover letter written by Pope John Paul II, it seemed appropriate to make room in the syllabus for discussion of these documents. Here I was, then, in the position of examining responses to an event which I had decided not to teach in my course. To be perfectly honest, though, I don't think that my decision to incorporate discussion of these documents was a major diversion. For one reason, the publication of them in mid-March coincided almost perfectly with my having sent the students to the College Archives to view an original of the Nuremberg Chronicle in which are vividly depicted the Simon ofTrent woodcut and sketches of Jews being burned at the stake. The students had been introduced to the medieval libels and the Church's role vis-a-vis Jews at that time. When I assigned the reading of the Vatican Commission's document and the papal cover letter, I asked the class to read it in light of what they knew of the medieval world and write a short response essay on the documents. We then devoted two full classes to discussing it. I went into this discussion with expectations and an agenda, and came out of it slightly unsatisfied. Here is what I hoped students would discover. Perhaps the most obvious lesson was that the Holocaust has left a legacy which continues to affect both Jews and non-Jews. The most recent example of this, of course, is the...