“New Views on the Jews:
Ethnic and Racial Identity and Interaction in American Jewish History”

390E (American Jewish Diversity: Judaic 343)
Professor Dr. Aviva Ben-Ur
Spring 2003

Classroom: To Be Announced
Office: Herter 731
Office Telephone: (413) 577-0649
Office Hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9:00-11:00 a.m.
e-mail: aben-ur@judnea.umass.edu

     America/The United States has always placed enormous emphasis on ethnicity and race, both on an official level (e.g. slavery, racial censuses, national origin quotas) and on a layman’s level (social taboos regarding intermarriage; ethnic and racial stereotyping; ethnic and racial strife). Where does the Jewish community fit into these configurations?
     This course focuses on the American Jewish community from 1654 until the present. We will explore self- and ascriptive Jewish identity through three often overlapping lenses: religious, ethnic and racial. Topics to be considered include Jewish identity as white, Asian, African, non-white, and “other”; American Jewish efforts to secure “white status”; inter- and intra-ethnic relations, particularly Ashkenazic/Sephardic, Jewish/African American; Jewish/Hispanic, and Jewish/Arab-American. The Jews for Jesus movement and its blurring of Jewish/Christian identity barriers, and homosexuality as a cultural identity in the Jewish community will also be addressed. A special emphasis will be placed on the impact of Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews (Jews of Iberian, African and Middle Eastern origins) and on the image and identity of the American Jewish community. This course will combine historical with sociological approaches, emphasizing “race” as an ever-transforming, socially constructed category.

Required textbooks

Course Requirements
     This class emphasizes both attendance and class participation. Each class will focus on the assigned readings and discussions of these readings. Reading averages 30 pages per class. In each class, one or two students will give a brief presentation on the readings and then lead the class in the discussion. There will be an open-book midterm and final exam in the form of essay questions. Students will also prepare two critical reviews of movies viewed in class.


Week 1: Overview: Jewish Self- and Ascribed Identity and Jewish Intra- and Inter-Ethnic Relations

Week 2: “Old” Sephardim: Setting the Stage

Week 3: Jews and/as Germans

Week 4: Jews and/as Eastern Europeans

Week 5: German and Eastern European Jews

Week 6: Jews as a Racial, Religious and/or Ethnic Group

Week 7: Jews and/as Hispanics/Latinos

Week 8: Jews and the Crypto-Jewish Movement of the Hispanic Southwest

Week 9: Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews

Week 10: How the Jews Became White

Week 11: Jews and/as African Americans

Week 12: Jews and/as Arab Americans

Week 13: Jews and/as Christians: Jews for Jesus, Messianic Jews, and the Question of Inclusion

Week 14: Jews and/as ‘Queers’: Homosexuality as a Cultural Identity

Week 15: Epilogue-Jews Fitting In: Race, Ethnicity and Religion Today
Final Exam: time and place to be announced