The Talmud, the Rabbis, and History
University of Connecticut
JUDS 5397.001/CLCS 5301.001
Professor Stuart S. Miller Fall 2020
Stuart.Miller@UConn.edu W 3:30 – 6:15 (Meets Online)
Open to advanced undergraduates with permission of the instructor.
This course is a unique introduction to Talmudic narrative and related writings of the ancient rabbis of Roman Palestine and Sassanian Babylonia.
The aim is to gain both an appreciation for the ways Talmudic writings inform history and why they continue to fascinate not only scholars of Judaism and rabbinic law, but also philosophers, theologians, legal and literary theorists.
Some discussion will be devoted to the unique discourse of the ancient rabbis and especially to “midrashic thinking.” Of late Talmudic literature has been of great interest to scholars of American juridical thinking, for example, the Yale legal scholar, Robert Cover, the author of the influential Narrative, Violence, and the Law. We will examine how his work has had an impact on legal thinking. We will also take a detour into the work of Emmanuel Levinas to understand better why Talmudic writings have generated much interest among philosophers and theologians.
Usually thought of as works of religious law, the two Talmuds, that of Babylonia and the lesser known “Talmud of the Land of Israel,” are a treasure trove of information about the rabbis’ times, their neighbors, and, of course, their outlook on life. Seminar meetings will be devoted to discussion of diverse Talmudic and “midrashic” passages. Students will gain knowledge of the overall rabbinic corpus, the modes of rabbinic discourse, and the challenges they pose for scholarly inquiry.
Although the rabbis were primarily interested in articulating their program for sanctifying daily life, they reveal much about their lives and times (first through fifth centuries C.E.) and especially about their perspectives towards other Jews and non-Jews among whom they lived. Special attention, therefore, will be devoted to the rabbis’ perception of history, and especially their relations, interactions, and attitudes towards others, including women, apostates, heretics, Samaritans, Romans/pagans, Zoroastrians, and Christians.
For more information, contact Stuart Miller at email@example.com.