The Jewish Studies program allows students to access thousands of years of wisdom, values, thought and culture.
The Jewish Studies program allows students to access thousands of years of wisdom, values, thought and culture. Our teachers guide students in asking and answering questions of ultimate concern and developing their individual identities. We train students to observe the nuances of language as a central skill in the critical thinking process. We teach students that they have a responsibility to themselves, to their peers and to the text in their learning. The Jewish Studies curriculum focuses on four core subject areas (Bible, Rabbinic Literature, History, and Culture) as well as different levels of study. We believe these subject areas represent the core of Jewish literacy as well as provide a solid foundation for lifelong Jewish learning.
Our program seeks to build and expand student skills in the areas of textual analysis, analytical and critical thinking and traditional text study. Our students develop sophisticated intellectual tools to develop their own personal Jewish identity and sustain their learning into adulthood. Our diverse course offerings allow students to explore the Jewish tradition broadly or dive deeply into particular areas of study.
Levels of Study in Jewish Studies Courses
Students are placed in different class levels based on past exposure with Jewish texts, knowledge of Hebrew and critical thinking and writing abilities.
All our levels prepare students for continued Jewish learning at the university level. Additionally, our advanced Hebrew intensive courses prepare students for continued Jewish text study in traditional Jewish settings.
This course focuses on the skills of textual interpretation, meaning making and narrative analysis. Our sacred texts help us think about who we are and who we want to be. Students in this class will encounter Jewish texts predominantly from the Tanach (Bible) and will explore what it means to be their “true self” and how individuals play a role in the building of community and a nation. Students in this class will learn how to read carefully, write analytically, speak persuasively and listen closely to their peers and the text. Students will wrestle with questions of freewill, leadership, responsibility and consequences.
Please Note: Students in "English" will use texts only in English. Students in "Dual" will encounter the texts in English and develop their skills in reading the Hebrew text. Students in "Hebrew" will read the text in the original Hebrew, with specific focus on learning how to translate and identify literary devices to understand the complexity of the text.
Rabbinic literature is a collection of thoughts and ideas of the rabbis, compiled over several centuries. Their ideas and conversations became the basis for many of the ways Jewish life is practiced today. The conversations found in their works (Mishna,Talmud, and Midrash) generate a variety of values and viewpoints. In studying the works of the Rabbis students will begin to develop and solidify their own personal identities. This course will introduce students to the world of the Rabbis and their texts, while developing essential skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, and collaboration.
Prerequisite(s): Introduction to Rabbinic Literature & Hebrew III or Department Approval
This course is geared toward students who enter JCHS with moderate to strong Hebrew language skills and at least one year of exposure to Mishna and Gemara. As a guide for essentially every aspect of life, the Talmud frames issues of personal growth. The Mishna and Gemara will be studied in their original Hebrew and Aramaic, with close attention paid to their recurring logical and literary structure in order to develop Talmud study skills. As students attempt to understand the minds of the Sages, they will explore themes related to their own growth such as responsibility, perspective, identity, and priorities. As students continue to “think like the Rabbis'' they will develop 21st century skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, and collaboration.
This class focuses on the major events, ideas and figures of modern Jewish history. Students will explore the unique experiences of different Jewish communities throughout Europe and the Middle East, including: Jewish responses to the challenges of modernity and nationalism, the origin and development of Jewish denominations, the Holocaust (Shoah), the rise of Zionism, and the establishment of the State of Israel. Students will develop the tools of historical analysis and strengthen their writing skills.
What can Jewish thinkers teach us about life in the 21st century? Is Judaism something we define or does it define who we are? Students will explore these and other philosophical and theological themes, such as free will and the problem of evil, through Biblical sources, Rabbinic texts and modern Jewish thought. Students will grapple with these big questions through class discussions, chevruta work and integrated assignments with the English department. Students complete a 10-15 page “Senior Thesis” where they conduct an in-depth research paper in a topic of philosophy.
Students in this class immerse themselves in challenging philosophical primary sources that address major questions about what it means to be both Jewish and Human. Students track select topics in a history of ideas approach that tracks the evolution of Jewish thinkers and texts over time. Topics covered include: “the intersection of tradition and modernity”, “theology and the problem of evil”, “memory and Jewish History” and “existentialism”. This course is integrated with Senior English and students complete integrated assessments that reflection the intersection of both courses. Students in this class devote considerable time to research based and analytical writing. Students complete a 15-20 page “Senior Thesis” in this course where they conduct an in depth research paper in a topic of philosophy.
Subject Area: Tanach (Bible) Open to: 10, 11 Prerequisite(s): Department Approval
Torah teaches us that our relationship with God is defined by our relationships with ourselves, other people and the world around us. We will trace how our relationship with God and our community shifts over time from the period of wandering in the desert, the conquest of the land, the building of the Temple and its destruction. We will grapple with the essential question that will frame our learning: How do we relate to God, our community, our friends and family and ourselves? Students will advance their reading and analysis skills to the point of being able to work independently in chevruta.
Subject Area: Tanach (Bible) Open to: 11, 12 Prerequisite(s): Two years of Tanach study and Department Approval
This is an advanced Hebrew text skills course designed to explore the development of seemingly neutral (parve) biblical characters to villains. Our quest is to trace that development and see how commentators arrived at their interpretations. We will explore how these characters have been reinterpreted over centuries and trace that development from pre-chazal to modern literature. Students will advance their reading and analysis skills to the point of being able to work independently in chevruta.
Prerequisite(s): Mishna & Gemara and Department Approval Last Offered: 2019-20 (bi-yearly course)
In this course, students engage in traditional intensive Talmud study on select topics that change from year to year. Students will build on their skills of reading, decoding, translating and punctuating the Talmud. This course also emphasizes the application of Rabbinic issues, language and methodology to contemporary questions and issues. Students are assessed on their skills on a daily basis and also engage in project-based assessments over the course of the semester. Topics covered in the past have been: Relations between Jews and Non-Jews, Bikkur Cholim (visiting the sick), leadership, fasting, consumer rights, death penalty, and tort-law. As the year progresses and students' skills and vocabulary develop, they become accustomed to fewer learning aids and assistance from their teacher.
Please Note: Advanced Rabbinic Literature and Advanced Talmud alternate years. Students can receive separate credit for both courses.
This course introduces students to a range of religions and explores their practices, beliefs, cultures, and communities. The year begins with an overview of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam and moves on to explore a variety of themes and topics, analyzing and comparing how those themes are expressed within each culture.
Students will encounter practitioners of various faiths, explore sacred spaces and texts, and compare central myths, practices, and philosophies. Students will reflect on how their own perceptions of the world are influenced by expressions of other religions, and emerge with a sense of how truth, meaning, and humanity’s purpose is presented in cultures around the world, and with a sense of the value of diversity in a complex world.
How do we make sense of social injustice in the world today? What can we do to make positive change? In this course students will grapple with contemporary social issues and consider how personal experiences and identities shape our understanding of justice. Drawing upon ancient and contemporary Jewish texts, students will explore what it means to be a thoughtful and engaged community of global citizens. Students will learn to use a critical social justice framework, practice cross-cultural communication skills, build awareness of marginalized narratives, and practice various strategies for social change.
In this class we will investigate modern Jewish identity and values through an in depth look at 20th century media, studying works created by Jews as well as depictions of Jews by non-Jews. Through examining films, television, articles, stories, comics, and posters, we will explore the following topics: Jewish humor, stereotypes, anti-semitism, propaganda, early American Jews, the Golden Age of Hollywood, and contemporary American and Israeli Jewish identities. Exposure to curated media, class discussions, readings, and projects will provide us with the opportunity to think more deeply about our own personal Jewish identities and to become aware and intelligent consumers of media and pop culture more generally.
From political and financial scandals to rapid progress in biomedical science and technology, the complex issues of modern society are, at their core, issues of ethical and moral concern. Now more than ever, we require a solid understanding of how Jewish ethics can inform our discussions and decisions about the critical questions of the day. Judaism has a long history of wrestling with moral questions, responding to them in a way that considers all sides of an issue. In this course, we wil examine, amongs others, the challenging field of medical ethics looking at examples such as human cloning, surrogate motherhood, genetic identity, assisted suicide, and genetic manipulation. We will look at the ethics of global citizenship, learning about the ethical dimensions of food production, mass incarecration, modern day slavery and the ethics of torture.
Subject Area: Tanach (Bible) Open to: 10, 11, 12 Texts are in English
Mystery of Connection is an integrated Tanach/Psychology/Sociology course which unpacks the question: What makes a good life? Students focus on texts from Shemot, B’Midbar, Kings and Eicha to understand people’s quest for a good life and to evaluate the challenges that get in the way. In addition, students learn about revelation and the creation and destruction of the Temple, through the lens of architecture and design.
In the second semester, students use architecture/design skills to create a personal temple, using the skills and concepts from first semester. Students end the year by learning about collective trauma and ways in which people struggle through historical and personal challenges to rebuild after hardships. Grades are a function of quizzes and longer-term projects.
Prerequisite(s): Mishna & Gemara and Department Approval Last Offered: 2020-21 (bi-yearly course)
In this course, students engage in traditional intensive Talmud study on select topics that change from year to year. Students will build on their skills of reading, decoding, translating and punctuating the Talmud. This course also emphasizes the application of Rabbinic issues, language and methodology to contemporary questions and issues. Students are assessed on their skills on a daily basis and also engage in project-based assessments over the course of the semester. Topics covered in the past have been: Relations between Jews and Non-Jews, Bikkur Cholim (visiting the sick), leadership, fasting, consumer rights and tort-law. As the year progresses and students skills and vocabulary develop, they become accustomed to fewer learning aids and assistance from their teacher.
The Shoah (Holocaust) is one of the central events of modern Jewish history. In this course students will explore the Shoah using a historical/analytical approach. Topics will include Jewish life between the World Wars, European anti-Semitism, the rise of totalitarianism in general and Nazism in particular, the uses of propaganda and mass communication, the evolution of Nazi treatment of Jews in Germany and in the lands conquered by the Wehrmacht, the development and implementation of the final solution within the context of World War Two, Jewish responses to the Nazis, Jewish resistance, international reaction to the Nazi Genocide and the aftermath of Shoah and the Second World War. By the end of this course students will have developed a deep and complex understanding of the Shoah and its impact.
Students will explore the Arab-Israeli conflict within the context of the critical historical trends of the Middle East since the late 19th Century. Topics will include: Zionism in its many variations, Palestinian nationalism, competing and opposing conceptions of national self-determination, rightful claims to the Land of Israel/Palestine and historical narratives, each of which asserts the rightness of their sides' cause, Arab nationalism, Pan-Arabism, Arab Socialism, Islamic Fundamentalism, and the development of terrorism as a political tool. At the end of this course, students will have developed a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the complexities of the Israeli-Arab conflict.
How do our eyes affect our empowerment and disempowerment? How do we reveal and conceal certain elements of ourselves and the world around us - in order to empower / disempower ourselves and others? What is the role of power in conflict and resolution? The Tanach is deeply interested in these questions, and students will see what it has to say, focusing on an epic story covering about 200 years during the time leading up to Israel’s central kingship, encountering such biblical figures such as Gideon, Samuel, David and Jeremiah. Students will use both traditional methods (kushiot and terutzim) in combination with a) design thinking and b) social media research to wrestle with questions related to personal responsibility, ethics, power, love and conflict.
JCHS is grateful for generous operational, programmatic, and financial support from:
The Jewish Community High School of the Bay (JCHS) is a unique college preparatory high school committed to integrating deep learning, universal wisdom, and Jewish values. We empower each student to embrace her or his Jewish identity, generate empathy and compassion, delight in lifelong education, and improve the world.