Modern Jewish Thought

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Religions and Philosophies

Module overview

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

Course aims

At the end of the course a student should be able to:

  • understand the development of Jewish intellectual history from the 18th to the 20th century.
  • Assess the differences between medieval and modern Judaism.
  • Understand the varieties of Judaism in modern times.
  • Discuss the major Jewish philosophical approaches.
  • Understand the development of modern Jewish denominations.
  • Explain the meaning and significance of a secular Jewish identity.
  • Assess the impact of multiculturalism on Judaism.


  • To have gained an understanding of the development of Jewish intellectual history from the 18th to the 20th century.
  • To be able to assess the major differences between medieval and modern Judaism.
  • To have been introduced to the varieties of Judaism and Jewish denominations in modern times.
  • To be able to compare major Jewish philosophical approaches.
  • To have gained an understanding of religious and secular definitions of Jewish identity.

Scope and syllabus

This course will introduce students to the varieties of Jewish thought which developed from the time of the Enlightenment, French Revolution and eventual Jewish Emancipation onwards. After providing a historical overview of developments in Judaism in the 18th and 19th century, the issue of Jews’ encounter with modernity will be addressed. This encounter radically transformed Judaism from a rather monolithic medieval halakhic system to a plurality of approaches and denominations. Once Jews began assimilating to western European culture in various ways, the definition and expression of Jewish identity became a major issue and many different types of religious and secular Judaism besides the traditional “orthodox” worldview and way of life emerged.

Method of assessment

  • The written exam will count for 50%.
  • 2 pieces of coursework will count for 50% (25% each) towards the final mark.

Suggested reading

All of the following books are available in the SOAS library:

  • Blumenthal, D.R. Understanding Jewish Mysticism. A Source Reader. 2 vols. New York, 1978-82.
  • Cohen, S.M. American Modernity and Jewish Identity. New York and London, 1983.
  • Frank, D.H. et al. (eds) The Jewish Philosophy Reader. London and New York, 2000.
  • Gillman, N. Sacred Fragments. Recovering Theology for the Modern Jews. Philadelphia, 1990.
  • Golding, J.L. Rationality and Religious Theism. Aldershot, 2003.
  • Giuttman, J. Philosophies of Judaism. London, 1964.
  • Leaman, O. Jewish Thought: An Introduction. New York and London, 2006.
  • Leibowitz, Y. Judaism, Human Values and the Jewish State. Cambridge/Mass. and London, 1992.
  • Malino, J.D. (ed.) Judaism and Modernity. The Religious Philosophy of David Hartman. Aldershot, 2004.
  • Meyer, M.I. Response to Modernity. A History of the Reform Movement in Judaism. New York, 1988.
  • Neusner, J. The Transformation of Judaism: From Philosophy to Religion. Urbana, 1992.
  • Rose, G. Judaism and Modernity: Philosophical Essays. Oxford and Cambridge/Mass., 1993.
  • Sacks, J. (ed.) Orthodoxy Confronts Modernity. Hoboken, 1991.
  • Samuelson, N.M. An Introduction to Modern Jewish Philosophy. Albany, 1989.
  • Samuelson, N.M. A User’s Guide to Franz Rosenzweig’s Star of Redemption. Richmond, 1999.
  • Susser, B. Existence and Utopia: The Social and Political Thought of Martin Buber. Rutherfors/NJ, 1981.
  • Wright, T. The Twilight of Jewish Philosophy: Emmanuel Levinas’ Ethical Hermeneutics. Amsterdam, 1999.
  • Yaron, Z. The Philosophy of Rabbi Kook. 2nd ed. Jerusalem, 1992.


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