Jewish Intellectual History: 16th to 20th Century

Rated 5 out of 5 by from The best teacher ever I absolutely loved this course, so far I have listened to it 3 times, and come back once in a while to a specific lecture to brush up my memory. Professor Ruderman is the best teacher who knows how to explain things, he is not too slow or too fast, he doesn’t seem bias, and his knowledge seems limitless. Thanks ever so much .
Date published: 2020-12-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Broad deep insights Gives insight into the development of Jewish thought during difficult and changing times
Date published: 2020-01-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fully absorbing Professor Ruderman does a fine job of tying the many thinkers he presents into a coherent whole. I would have liked to see a more in depth treatment of Hasidism, but the twenty-four lecture format may not have allowed adequate scope for that purpose.
Date published: 2019-12-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very enjoyable My husband and I enjoy the pace and approachable content, and no papers or exams!
Date published: 2019-11-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course on Jewish thinking and philosophy thr I purchased this online course as an adjunct to the adult education courses and lectures I am taking at my synagogue. The professor is excellent and speaks clearly about complex topics. He is obviously very knowledgeable in his field. The videos are interesting to watch; and the quality of the videos is very good. I am really enjoying this course and I am learning a lot.
Date published: 2019-11-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Judaism in transition. Intellectually superior. Well organized and delivered. Offered comprehensible understanding evolving Judaism during those missing years from Medieval to current era.
Date published: 2019-11-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Jewish 16th to 20th centuries Very pleased and very well presented the information was sometimes taken away from the bottom line of the point to get it across.
Date published: 2019-06-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Timely, concentration demanding Upon receiving the course, it appeared its content was going to be substantially different than what had been expected. After seriously considered returning it, found the error was mine and the description of the course was accurate. Hard to say how it had become so distorted in my mind. But now a new sense of intrigue had taken over and the foray into a hitherto a largely unknown area of knowledge became necessary. Professor Ruderman was easy to listen to. He displayed a great range of knowledge on the topic. His presentation was smooth and generally well arranged. The movement from period to period, philosopher to philosopher, were well done and the flow of the course was clear. However, one had to stay very focused to keep track of exactly where the lecture was, or get quickly lost. From time to time the effort was almost too much, but it ultimately was worth the concentration. Ruderman had an easy familiarity with the philosophers and their theories, for a neophyte this sometimes took a great deal of effort to keep straight – causing one to lose the current line of the lecture due to mentally reviewing a theory from a prior lecture. It was imperative for me to be mentally alert and rested to not drift away, and found it required a reversal of the lecture and need to relisten to parts to catch back up with the lectures flow. The course is somewhat dated, recorded in 2002. It could use some revisions, and improvements in the recording itself. Well worth the effort.
Date published: 2019-04-19
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On Studying Jewish History
1: On Studying Jewish History

Defining "Jewishness" has been a problem for centuries of Jewish existence. Jews have had to ponder the problem of spatial and temporal discontinuities. Without a common government, language, and land, how do Jews share a common history?

33 min
Defining Modern Jewish History and Thought
2: Defining Modern Jewish History and Thought

The views of some major historians are considered, including Heinrich Graetz (1817-91), Simon Dubnov (1860-1941), Ben-Zion Dinur (1884-1972), and Gershom Scholem (1897-1982). In the modern era, the problem of providing a rationale for Jewish particularism led to three approaches: the insider, the outsider, and the rejectionist.

31 min
Cultural Transformation in the Italian Ghetto
3: Cultural Transformation in the Italian Ghetto

Professor Ruderman argues that the ghetto system in late 16th- and early 17th-century Italy ushered in a new era of Jewish-Christian relations and a restructuring of Jewish cultural life.

31 min
Seventeenth-Century Marranism and Messianism
4: Seventeenth-Century Marranism and Messianism

A primary feature of the Jewish experience in the 17th century was the return to Jewish life of large numbers of Iberian Christians whose ancestors had originally been baptized and left the Jewish community. Their experience sets the stage for understanding the philosophy of Benedict (Baruch) Spinoza.

31 min
The Challenge of Baruch Spinoza
5: The Challenge of Baruch Spinoza

Baruch Spinoza (1632-77) was crucial in shaping the evolution of modern Jewish thought. His Theological-Political Treatise first appeared in 1670 and repudiated the assumptions upon which Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) built his rational edifice of Judaism.

31 min
Moses Mendelssohn and His Generation
6: Moses Mendelssohn and His Generation

In Jerusalem, Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786) responded partly to Spinoza's conclusions and partly to his intellectual circle in Berlin, who had accepted him despite his Jewish ancestry. Mendelssohn's strategy to rescue Judaism from the assault of Spinoza and the Enlightenment failed.

31 min
The Science of Judaism
7: The Science of Judaism

A small group of German Jewish intellectuals founded the Society for the Culture and Science of the Jews in 1819. By studying Judaism "scientifically," they hoped to reveal the greater significance of Jewish civilization within the general intellectual and spiritual context of humanity.

31 min
Heinrich Graetz—Jewish Historian
8: Heinrich Graetz—Jewish Historian

Heinrich Graetz (1817-91) authored the monumental History of the Jews in 11 volumes. Graetz used history as a battleground to defend the integrity of Judaism against its Christian detractors, especially the renowned German historian Heinrich von Treitschke (1834-1896).

31 min
Abraham Geiger—The Shaping of Reform Judaism
9: Abraham Geiger—The Shaping of Reform Judaism

Abraham Geiger (1810-74) utilized his vast knowledge of Jewish sources in the service of his own ideology of Reform Judaism. He challenged the Christian scholarly world, as Graetz was doing, to recognize the significance of rabbinic Judaism in understanding its own religious origins.

31 min
The Neo-Orthodoxy of Samson Raphael Hirsch
10: The Neo-Orthodoxy of Samson Raphael Hirsch

Samson Raphael Hirsch (1810-88) became the leading proponent of Neo-Orthodox Judaism and a prominent critic of the Reform movement. He represented a different kind of orthodox rabbi from Moses Sofer (1762-1839). Sofer was unyielding in his opposition to university education, linguistic assimilation, or any change.

31 min
Zecharias Frankel and Conservative Judaism
11: Zecharias Frankel and Conservative Judaism

Zecharias Frankel (1801-75) participated in the deliberations of Reform Jewish leaders but left, fearing that the reformers had instituted changes in Judaism that were too radical.

31 min
Samuel David Luzzatto—Judaism and Atticism
12: Samuel David Luzzatto—Judaism and Atticism

Samuel David Luzzatto (1800-65) viewed the history of western civilization as an opposition between Judaism and "Atticism." By the latter he meant the Greek love of philosophy, arts and sciences, the development of the intellect, and the love of beauty. Judaism, on the other hand, gave the world religion and morality, which spring from the heart, not the mind.

31 min
Zionism's Answer to the Jewish Problem
13: Zionism's Answer to the Jewish Problem

By the second half of the 19th century, the optimism regarding Jewish political and social emancipation had diminished. In Eastern Europe, massive numbers of Jews lived in restricted areas. A political movement calling for the creation of a Jewish state in Israel emerged as a novel response.

31 min
Three Zionist Visions
14: Three Zionist Visions

Ahad Ha-Am (1856-1927) saw Israel as a spiritual center attracting an elite leadership who would shape a new secular culture for Israel and the Diaspora. Jacob Klatzkin (1882-1948) believed the only meaningful goal of Zionism was to regain the land of Israel and normalize the conditions of Jewish existence. Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) believed that Zionism exemplified the highest ideals of American culture.

31 min
The Jewish Adventure with Socialism
15: The Jewish Adventure with Socialism

Socialism and Marxism had an enormous appeal for Jews living in Western and Eastern Europe. Socialism's utopian ideas resonated as a radical means of alleviating their wretched status in European society. Unfortunately, when the socialist revolution lost its initial élan, Jews were left more frustrated than ever.

31 min
Hermann Cohen's Religion of Reason
16: Hermann Cohen's Religion of Reason

Hermann Cohen (1842-1918) represents both a final stage of 19th-century Jewish thought in Germany and the beginning of a new set of responses to the challenges of Jewish identity in the 20th century. For Cohen, the essence of Judaism was ethical monotheism grounded in a prophetic universalism stressing moral commitments to humanity and emphasizing a mission to bring about a utopian future.

31 min
Leo Baeck's Mystery and Commandment
17: Leo Baeck's Mystery and Commandment

Leo Baeck (1873-1956) pursued a prominent career as a rabbi in Berlin. Like Cohen, he underscored the central role of ethical monotheism in Judaism, but departed from him in stressing the role of religious consciousness as well.

31 min
Martin Buber's Religious Existentialism
18: Martin Buber's Religious Existentialism

Martin Buber (1878-1965) is probably the best-known Jewish social and religious philosopher of the 20th century. His works embody his guiding principles of dialogue and meaningful human encounter with the other and with the divine.

31 min
Jewish Law—Martin Buber vs. Franz Rosenzweig
19: Jewish Law—Martin Buber vs. Franz Rosenzweig

Buber's closest collaborator was the Jewish theologian Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929). They disagreed intensely, however, on Jewish ritual observance. In a work addressed to Buber entitled The Builders, Rosenzweig challenged him to adopt the same openness towards Jewish observance that he had demonstrated towards the study of Jewish texts.

31 min
Mordecai Kaplan and American Judaism
20: Mordecai Kaplan and American Judaism

Mordecai Kaplan (1881-1983) was perhaps the most original of American Jewish thinkers who "reconstructed" Judaism to meet the needs of second-generation American Jews. Anthropology offered Kaplan a rationale for Jewish group cohesiveness in place of the traditional doctrine of chosen-ness.

31 min
Abraham Heschel—Mystic and Social Activist
21: Abraham Heschel—Mystic and Social Activist

Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-72), although the product of the Hasidic world of Eastern Europe, wrote for American Jews. He attempted to describe the concept of divine revelation: the process by which God reaches out to human beings.

31 min
Theological Responses to the Nazi Holocaust
22: Theological Responses to the Nazi Holocaust

In the first edition of After Auschwitz, published in 1961, Richard Rubenstein (1924- ) claimed that the destruction of European Jewry meant Jews could no longer affirm the myth of an omnipotent God or its corollary, the election of Israel. Emil Fackenheim (1916- ) provided a meaningful response to Rubenstein in his 1970 work God's Presence in History.

31 min
Feminist Jewish Theology
23: Feminist Jewish Theology

The emergence of feminist theology within the Jewish community is a relatively recent phenomenon of the 1960s and 1970s. Jewish feminism has contributed to a new understanding of Judaism through new readings of classical texts and liturgy, new scholarship in Jewish history, and new theological perspectives that take gender into account.

31 min
Current Trends in Jewish Thought
24: Current Trends in Jewish Thought

It is difficult to summarize and appraise the most recent theological thinking. Arnold Eisen has argued recently that the ruminations of Jewish thinkers are irrelevant to most Jews. Ultimately, are the questions of God, Torah, and Israel only of interest to intellectuals?

31 min
David B. Ruderman

Jewish history, though interwoven with the history of world civilization, is unique in one particular respect: It is unique in its landlessness.


Hebrew University, Jerusalem


University of Pennsylvania

About David B. Ruderman

Dr. David B. Ruderman is Joseph Meyerhoff Professor of Modern Jewish History at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also the Ella Darivoff Director of the university's Center for Advanced Judaic Studies.   He was educated at the City College of New York, the Teacher's Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and Columbia University. He earned his rabbinical degree from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and his Ph.D. in Jewish History from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.   Prior to taking his position at Pennsylvania, he held teaching positions at Yale University and the University of Maryland. At Maryland, he won the Distinguished Scholar-Teacher Award.  Professor Ruderman is the author of numerous books, articles, and reviews. His works include Jewish Thought and Scientific Discovery in Early Modern Europe and Jewish Enlightenment in an English Key: Anglo-Jewry's Construction of Modern Jewish Thought, for which he received the Koret Book Award. His book, The World of a Renaissance Jew: The Life and Thought of Abraham B. Mordecai Farissol, was honored with the JWB National Book Award in Jewish History.  Professor Ruderman is president of the American Academy for Jewish Research and is the recipient of a lifetime achievement award for his work in Jewish history from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture. 

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