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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Martin S. Jaffee
SISJE 490
Seattle Campus

Special Topics

Content varies.

Class description

This course is both an introduction to the various styles of ancient rabbinic literature and an introduction to the role that oral performance and oral tradition played in the shaping of written rabbinic literary works. After some preliminary discussions of the various ways in which scholars have approached the “orality” of rabbinic writings, we will spend the bulk of the quarter reading translations of selected rabbinic texts with an eye towards understanding ways in which they preserve various dimensions of their origins in an oral-traditional milieu.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

The reading assignments for the course include both academic essays on various aspects of rabbinic literature and extensive samples of rabbinic literature. Students should prepare for class by reading all materials assigned for that day. Students will be randomly invited to read assigned passages of rabbinic literature “out loud” as part of our creation of an “oral-performative” textual milieu. Therefore, you should prepare for class by practicing your delivery of the written text in oral performance. Students are asked to pursue a theoretical question regarding orality and rabbinic literature through some secondary scholarly literature and to report on their inquiry in the form of a 10 page paper due on the last day of class. I encourage you to pursue a question grounded in the “background reading” assigned for one of the topical units in the syllabus. Undergraduates might want to study another article or two (or a book) beyond the reading assigned for the course. Graduate students should consult with me regarding a suitable written project. Students taking HEBR 490 should present their own translation of a rabbinic text to be selected in consultation with me. 50% of the course grade will consist of my evaluation of your preparation for class as evidenced in your contribution to our textual discussions. The other 50% of the grade will be based upon your written project.

Recommended preparation

Suggested Prior Experience: One or more courses dealing with ancient Judaism or some aspect of oral tradition in a folkloristic or comparative literature perspective. This course is taught in translation and thus presupposes no prior knowledge of rabbinic Hebrew. But students with some modern or biblical Hebrew will be able to supplement our work with reference to the original texts. Students wishing to take this option should register for 2 credits of HEBR 490 in addition to 3 credits of NE 496/SISJE 490. All 5 credits will count towards Hebrew language requirements

Class assignments and grading

The reading assignments for the course include both academic essays on various aspects of rabbinic literature and extensive samples of rabbinic literature. Students should prepare for class by reading all materials assigned for that day. Students will be randomly invited to read assigned passages of rabbinic literature “out loud” as part of our creation of an “oral-performative” textual milieu. Therefore, you should prepare for class by practicing your delivery of the written text in oral performance. Students are asked to pursue a theoretical question regarding orality and rabbinic literature through some secondary scholarly literature and to report on their inquiry in the form of a 10 page paper due on the last day of class. I encourage you to pursue a question grounded in the “background reading” assigned for one of the topical units in the syllabus. Undergraduates might want to study another article or two (or a book) beyond the reading assigned for the course. Graduate students should consult with me regarding a suitable written project. Students taking HEBR 490 should present their own translation of a rabbinic text to be selected in consultation with me.

50% of the course grade will consist of my evaluation of your preparation for class as evidenced in your contribution to our textual discussions. The other 50% of the grade will be based upon your written project.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Loryn Hazan Paxton
Date: 10/24/2002