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Course Description

Understanding Antisemitism (3 cr.)
Alvin Rosenfeld
JSTU-J 203 Arts & Humanities Topics in Jewish Studies #25818 / HON-H 234 Literature of Time and Place (#27706 - for Honors College students)
TR 2:30-3:45

The term “antisemitism” was coined only in the late 19 century, but the phenomenon it describes -- intense hostility to Jews and/or Judaism -- dates back millennia. Sometimes called “the longest hatred,” antisemitism begins in the ancient world and, with varying degrees of virulence, has continued over the centuries in the lands of both Christendom and Islam. At its most destructive, in the Nazi Holocaust of European Jewry, it turned genocidal, but well before that catastrophe, and also since, it has been the cause of humiliation, denigration, persecution, and murder, sometimes on a mass scale. Dormant for a time following the end of World War II, antisemitic passions have reawakened in recent years and pose serious challenges today in certain parts of the world.

The aim of this course is to help students understand this complex and often lethal form of hatred. Students will be introduced to the history of anti-Jewish hostilities and become familiar with some of their most prominent manifestations, especially in the modern period. They will learn that antisemitism is rooted in a range of sources--theological, legal, social, political, economic, and mythical – and that it both resembles and differs from other kinds of social bias and antagonism.  Through close readings of antisemitic texts, they will become acquainted with the full repertoire of antisemitic tropes: Jews as agents of cosmic evil and murderers of God, children of the Devil and followers of the Antichrist, money manipulators and usurpers of other peoples’ possessions, political connivers and conspirators, sexual predators and social corrupters, and more. How these negative stereotypes get encoded and transmitted and why they continue to have appeal will be a continuing concern during our study.

The final list of readings is still to be determined, but it will include an historical survey of antisemitism (e.g., Walter Laqueur’s The Changing Faces of Antisemitism), excerpts from well-known antisemitic texts (e.g., Martin Luther’s On the Jews and Their Lies, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Hitler’s Mein Kampf , William Pierce’s The Turner Diaries), literary works that project antisemitic stereotypes (e.g., Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, some of the poetry of Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot), novels that describe the nature and consequences of antisemitic activity (e.g., Andre Schwarz Bart’s The Last of the Just and Bernard Malamud’s The Fixer), and one historical case study (Jan Gross’s Neighbors or, by the same author, Fear ). A few films will also be shown.

Beginning Summer 2011: GenEd A&H, CASE A&H
Before Summer 2011: A&H, JS Language & Literature, Literature & the Arts, History & Society