Jewish Thought in America
Religion 305a, Fall 2005
Monday, 1:30-4pm

Ken Koltun-Fromm
Gest 201

Office hours: Monday 4:00-5:00 pm


We will focus this seminar on the ways in which Jewish thinkers conceive of America, becoming American, and establishing Judaism within an American culture and civilization. Some of the readings derive from immigrants to America or Canada, and others from those born in America, but each author is concerned with certain features of American Jewish identity. To establish America as a home for Jews, the authors (and/or their readers) must reconstruct a notion of American culture or American practice in such a way that America becomes a home to modern Jewish identity. In this seminar we want to ask: how is America imagined to make room for a vibrant Jewish presence? What must America be for Judaism to thrive and become a significant force for American Jews? Do these Jewish thinkers imagine themselves as Americans, and if so, what kinds of Americans are they? These and other questions that focus on the relations between and within religion and society, and in particular American Jewish identity in that society, will drive our discussions of American Jewish thought.


Class attendance for the seminar is, of course, mandatory and necessary to insure continuity from week to week. Missing one class is equivalent to missing an entire week's worth of classes. You should also come prepared to discuss strenuously the readings for that week. I will ask one student each week to prepare the class for the readings for that Monday. This may include asking students (before the Monday class) to focus on particular sections of the readings, or to provide a close reading of a portion of the text. The student will take the first 10-15 minutes of each class introducing the particular issues to be worked out for the rest of that day, and the student should be prepared to engage the group throughout the class. The introductory remarks should not be a general review of the reading, but a focused analysis of some text, topic, or theme that the student would like all of us to explore in more detail. These remarks may come in the form of questions to pose for the class, a lengthy critique, or a well-constructed argument for or against claims made in the text. Please feel free to be creative in your remarks, and use whatever visual or other materials to better introduce your material.

I will post on blackboard a five-page written text on the Tuesday following each Monday class that discusses the texts read for that class. Each student will read my written work and offer a paragraph of critical responses to it, and will post those responses on blackboard for each of us to read by Friday morning of the same week. We will take the first part of the next Monday class to discuss issues raised in your responses to my work.

Each student will also produce a typed 20 page, double-spaced final paper due December 16th at 12 noon. We will devote the last class of the seminar to discuss your final papers, so you should begin reflecting and working on your topic before finals period. The final paper could be a research paper, but it need not be. I suggest scheduling an appointment with me so we can discuss your final project. If you require an extension for your final paper, you must speak to your dean first before asking me for an extension. In most cases, a complaint of too much work is not sufficient to grant an extension.

Students who think they may need accommodations in this course because of the impact of a disability are encouraged to meet with me privately early in the semester. Students should also contact Rick Webb, Coordinator, Office of Disabilities Services (, 610-896-1290) to verify their eligibility for reasonable accommodations as soon as possible. Early contact will help to avoid unnecessary inconvenience and delays.

Grading will be based on class participation, your class presentations, and your final paper.

Texts to Purchase:

Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man
Soloveitchik, Lonely Man of Faith (buy used: check AddAll Used Books or Amazon)
Adler, Engendering Judaism
Heschel, The Sabbath
Fackenheim, God’s Presence in History (buy used: check AddAll Used Books or Amazon)
Kaplan, Judaism as a Civilization (buy used: check AddAll Used Books or Amazon)
Borowitz, Renewing the Covenant (buy used: check AddAll Used Books or Amazon)
Liebman, Peace of Mind

Aug. 29

Sept. 5

Sept. 12

Sept. 19

Sept. 26

Oct. 3

Oct. 10


Oct. 17

Oct. 24

Oct. 31

Nov. 7

Nov. 14

Nov. 21

Nov. 28

Dec. 5