American Jews have achieved tremendous success and Judaism has gained “favored status among American religions” during the three hundred and fifty years since a small group of unwanted Dutch Jewish refugees settled in New Amsterdam (later New York). In 2020, we live in an American society that boasts a “Judeo-Christian” heritage, even though Jews make up less than 2% of the United States population.
How did this small group of people play such an integral role in the construction of American cultural, political, social, and economic infrastructure? Furthermore, what defines this group as a distinct entity—is it a religion, an ethnicity, a nation, or a culture? Can any of these categories adequately describe a population of six million individuals who self-define as: Reform, Buddhist, Orthodox, ethnic, Zionist, ethical, feminist, Conservative, cultural, assimilated, New Age or “just-Jewish” Jews? How did such a variety of expressions of Judaism develop in America?
This online course addresses these questions by exploring the creation and evolution of the American Jewish community during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We will investigate the ways in which Jews and Judaism adapted in response to the political, social, religious, and intellectual currents of American history. We will pay particular attention to the strategies developed by Jewish intellectuals and leaders to construct a seamless synthesis between definitions of Americanism and Judaism. In order create such a synthesis, Jews simultaneously transformed Judaism and also attempted to redefine American citizenship. Through the careful examination of primary sources—texts, photographs, films and music—this course will analyze the historical developments of the Jewish community in the United States and challenge your assumptions about the development of religious, ethnic and national identities in America.
- Hasia Diner. The Jews of the United States (available for download at the UW library site) (Links to an external site.)
Your grade will be determined by:
- 1 Weekly Discussion Board Assignments-Due every Friday by 10am (20%)
- 1 Weekly Lecture Open Book Quiz-Due every Thursday by 10am (10%)
- Group Media Assignment (20%)
- Take-Home Midterm Exam (25%)
- Take-Home Final Exam (25%)