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Gary Simms:  World Jewish History Part 1: Fall 2019


This is a semester-long course which begins our study of Jewish history. We use a text-based methodology to spur conversation. The course covers the First Commonwealth, the Babylonian Exile, the Second Commonwealth, Hellenism, Hasmonean, and Roman Rule. It then moves to the diaspora, including the beginnings of rabbinic Judaism, Jewish life under Muslim, Ottoman, and Iberian Rule. It concludes with an overview of Jewish life in France, Germany and Poland, concluding with the Expulsion from Spain in 1492.


Lesson 1: Introduction and Overview

What is History?  A field of research which uses a narrative to examine and analyze the sequence of events, and  often attempts to objectively  identify causes and effects of events. Contrast with Legends or “myths.”  Discuss when Jewish history begins. 

Lesson 2:  The First Commonwealth, the Divided Kingdom, the Exile & the Return

    A. King David, King Solomon, Division of the Kingdom

    B. Life in Exile in Babylonia

    C. Persian Emperor Cyrus the Great allowed exiles to go     home and rebuild the Temple

    D. Discussion: Why are we like the Babylonia Exiles? 

Lesson 3: Alexander and Hellenism  

    A. World Scene:  Alexander conquers Persia in 334 BCE

    B. Hellenism examined: language, philosophy, dress, trade, etc.

    C. Creation of New Greek cities, writing of Septuagint

    D. “Wisdom Literature”

Lesson 4: Hasmonean Rule

    A. Jason allows Jerusalem to be Hellenized: given Greek city status, build gymnasiums, etc.

    B.  Maccabee Revolt; discussion about the idea of zealotry vs terrorists.  

    C. Lessons of the Revolt

    D. Hasmonean Rule until 63 BCE

    E. Discussion of what do we make of the Maccabean story? 

Lesson 5: Emergence of Sectarianism: Pharisees & Sadducees, Essenes

    A. Discussion of what each group stood for, and their religious differences

    B. Concepts from each group which remain part of “mainstream” Judaism

Lesson 6: Judea under Roman Rule

    A. How the Romans assumed rule

    B. Judea at the time of Jesus

    C. The Destruction of the 2nd Temple

Lesson 7: The Rise of Rabbinic Judaism.

    A. Pharisees as the “last sect standing,” viewed by Romans as representatives of the Jews.      B. Establishment of the Patriarchate & Yavneh

     C. Bar Kochba Revolt

    E. Patriarchate reestablished by Rome, eventually under leadership of Judah Ha Nasi (160-200)

    F.  Writing of the Mishnah

Lesson 8: Writing the Talmud

    A. Following the completion of the Mishna, the “chain of transmission” was further weakened;     decentralization of authority 

    B. Drafting of Babylonian Talmud

    C. Discussion of Gemara

    D. Exercise: review Talmudic discussion of eye for an eye

Lesson 9: Life Under Islam

    A. Review history of the Prophet and Jewish life in Arabia

    B. Jewish Life under Islamic rule: “jizya” and “dhimmis”

    C. Review Pact of Omar

Lesson 10: The Gaonim

    A. Establishment of academies of Sura & Pumbetha. 

    B.  Authority of the Gaon of Baghdad, opposition to him by Karites, rabbinate from other areas

    C.  Review of life and work of Saadia Gaon: 

    D. Exercise: compare life in Saadia’s Babylon with life in America today

Lesson 11: Expansion of Jewish Life from Arabia to Iberia

    A. Expansion of Jewish mercantile class, expansion into trade and other commerce along with     Islamic expansion across Africa      

    B. Growth of Iberian Jewish settlement and civilization        

    C. Maimonides: His life and times

    D. Exercise: review and discuss his Rules of Charity

Lesson 12: Golden Age of Spain

    A. Continue discussion of Maimonides

    B. Discuss and review works of Hasdai Ibn Shaprut (correspondence with Khazars), Ibn Ezra,     Judah ben Shmuel HaLevi.

    C. Review and discuss examples of his poetry. 

Lesson 13: The Great Migrations into Christian Europe

    A. Carolingian Period (Jews of France), early persecution

    B. Rashi: his life and times; review examples of his work

     C. Crusade Epoch: discussion of reasons for Crusades, Jewish suffering

    D. Exodus to Germany and discussion of life in Mainz and Metz: the beginning of Ashkenazic     Judaism (10-13th centuries)

Lesson 14: Jewish Life in the Byzantine Empire 

    A. Background about Byzantine Empire    

    B. Jewish in the Byzantine Empire: unique status, life in Byzantium, Thebes, impact of passing     crusaders.

    C.  Shabtai Tzvi

Lesson 15: The Jews of Poland 

    A. Invitation of Boleslaus III (settled throughout Poland, as far as Kiev). 

    B.  Jewish Poles as new Middle Class

    C.  Review 1264 General Charter of Jewish Liberties, granted all Jews the freedom of worship,     trade and travel. 

    D. Growth of Yeshivot; Poland as center of world Jewish life

Lesson 16: The Spanish Inquisition & its Aftermath

    A. Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition (to ensure the orthodoxy of recent converts,     especially Jews)

    B. Conversos or New Christians. 

    C. Jews expelled from Spain in 1492

    D. Inquisition continued for 2 centuries, focuses on “conversos”. 

    E. Review transcript of Inquisition Trial

    F. Migration of expelled Jews from Spain to Portugal, Amsterdam, Venice, Greek Coast, New     World

Maryana Harouni: 7 - 8th Grade Tanakh: Authority and Rebellion: Fall 2019

  1. Authority Accepted

  1. Akeda

  2. Yiftach

  3. Shaul-David


  1. Authority Rejected

  1. Korach

  2. Achan

  3. Shaul-Shmuel


  1. Taking the Law in their Own Hands

  1. Tamar

  2. Moshe 

  3. Pinchas

  4. Dina

  1. Bargaining with God

  1. Avraham

  2. Golden Calf

  3. Spies


  1. Abuse of Authority

  1. Navot

  2. Batsheva

  1. Civil Disobedience

  1. Shifra and Puah

  1. Dina