Course Description

Course Name

History of Jewish Communities in Central Europe

Session: VPGS1124

Status: Closed

Hours & Credits

45 Contact Hours

Prerequisites & Language Level

Taught In English

  • There is no language prerequisite for courses at this language level.


**Please note there may be some additional costs associated with field trips around Prague for this course. All costs are to be paid by the participant directly to the professor of the course.

Today, most Jews living in the U.S. (the largest Jewish community in the world) trace their descent
back to Central or Eastern Europe. The course explores Jewish presence primarily in the history of
Central Europe and the ambiguous character of Jewish experience fated not only by prejudice,
contempt, and suffering, which culminated in the Holocaust, but also rich in the undeniable
contribution of Jews to the life and culture of the countries and nations of Central Europe.

The course pursues the following two objectives:
Students become familiar with the phenomenon of the Jewish Diaspora, the variety and cultural
richness of the Jewish Diaspora groups, and the common identity shared by those groups that
historicallyreaches back to events and religious development which played out in Ancient Palestine. At
its core, the course dwells on study of the history of Ashkenazi Jews from the Medieval to Modern
times. Students are supposed to acquire a basic understanding of the social organization of Jewish
communities before the emancipation, the general social status of Jews in medieval Christian society,
as well as the benefits and pitfalls of Jewish coexistence with local Non-Jewish populations.

A very important part of the course is dedicated to Jewish religion. Students will acquire a basic
familiarity with its ideas and religious practice. They will get a basic glimpse ofreligious and cultural
heritage accumulated by generations of rabbis living in Germany, Austria, Bohemia and Moravia,
Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary. Close attention will be paid to Enlightenment and to the impact of its
ideologyon the Jews of Central Europe at the close of the 18th century, which set off a significant
social and culture transformation that culminated in the emancipation of Jews and their integration
into modern European society by the mid-19th century. The various factors that led up to the
Holocaust will be addressed too, among them Anti-Semitism and ethnic Nationalism, both nurtured by
the 19th century philosophy of Romanticism.
Students will also profit from a trip to Prague Jewish quarter, visiting its synagogues and the famous
Jewish cemetery in the Old Town.

By the end of the course students will be able:
1. to find their way through general Jewish history and Jewish religious tradition from Antiquity to Modern times;
2. to understand the basic facets of Jewish life in Central Europe, including the ambiguous character of the coexistence of Jewish communities with local Non-Jewish populations, often affected
by various manifestations of Anti-Semitism and hatred toward Jews;
3. to appreciate the richness and variety of Jewish culture thriving in Central Europe before the Holocaust.


Historical variety of the Jewish Diaspora: Oriental, Sephardic, Ashkenazi Jews, and other minor Jewish
communities; the variety of Jewish identities and its impact on the social and cultural environment in
the present day State of Israel. American Jews: the largest Jewish community in the world ? its history
and present.
SARNA, Jonathan D. American Judaism, pp. 1-31.

Beyond the Diaspora diversity: the origins of the Jewish nation in Ancient Palestine; the Hebrew Bible
as the foundational text of Jewish religion.The rise of Rabbinic Judaism after 70CE; the Talmud.
FINKELSTEIN, Israel. The Bible Unearthed,Who were Ancient Israelites? (Ch. 4), pp. 97-122.
SCHWARTZ, Seth. Imperialism and Jewish Society 200 BCE to 640 CE, The Jews of Palestine to 70 CE
(Ch. 1), pp. 19-48
COHEN, Shaye J.D. From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, The Emergence of Rabbinic Judaism (Ch. 7),
pp. 214-230.

The beginnings of Ashkenazi settlement in Rhineland and its migration eastwards: Yiddish: the
vernacular of Ashkenazi Jews; Yiddish literature and Yiddish authors in the 19th and 20th centuries.
CHAZAN, Robert. The Jews of Medieval Western Christendom, The Newer Jewries of the North:
Germany (Ch. 5), pp. 170-198.
HAZAN, Robert. The Jews of Medieval Western Christendom, Spiritual Challenges, Successes, and
Failures (Ch. 8), pp. 244-267.

The history of Jewish community in Prague from its beginnings till 1782: Rabbinic and other leading personages of the community; synagogues and other communal buildings; the sanitation of Jewish town at the turn of the 20th century.
KIEVAL, Hillel J. Languages of Community.The Jews of Bohemia and Moravia to 1918, pp. 10-37.

Preparation for the visit to the Jewish Museum in Prague: Jewish traditions and customs.
SHERBOK, Dan Cohn, Judaism. History. Belief and Practice, Chapters 77-88.

A visit to the Jewish Museum in Prague

Jews in Christian medieval society: Christian medieval anti-Judaism: its ideological and social
background; the destruction of Jewish communities in Rhineland during the First Crusade 1096-98.
Blood libel and other anti-Jewish prejudices: origins and history; Martin Luther and Jews.
MARVIN, Perry. Antisemitism: Myth and Hate from Antiquity to the Present. Ritual Murderers:
Christian Blood and Jewish Matzos, pp. 44-77.

The Jews of Poland: Kazimierz ? the history of the Jewish quarter in Cracow; the legacy of Chasidism.
POGONOWSKI, Iwo. Jews in Poland.Jewish Autonomy in Poland 1264-1765. pp. 59-86.

The progress of Jewish emancipation in the 18th and 19th centuries: Moses Mendelssohn ? his life and
philosophy; the beginnings of the emancipation of Jews in the Austrian Empire and Prussia toward the
end of the 18th century; The French revolution and the liberation of European Jews.
ELON, Amos. The Pity of It All ? A Portrait of German-Jewish Epoch 1743-1933, The Age of
Mendelssohn, pp. 33-64.

Jews in the 19th century: The legacy of Reform Judaism; the assimilation of Jews into European
society; the rise of the modern anti-Semitism in Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy at the
turn of the 20th century; Theodor Herzl and Zionism.
ZIMMERMANN, Moshe. Wilhelm Marr ? the Patriarch of Antisemitism, Prologue, pp. 3-7.
ZIMMERMANN, Moshe. Wilhelm Marr ? the Patriarch of Antisemitism, The Victory of Judaism over
Germanicism, pp. 70-95.
NYISZLI, Miklos. Auschwitz: A Doctor`s Eyewitness Account. New York: Arcade Publishing 1960, 306

Hitler`s rise to power in 1933 and his anti-Semitic policy in pre-war Germany.
KAPLAN, Marion A. Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish life in Nazi Germany, In Public: Jews are
Turned into Pariahs 1933-1938 (Ch. 1), pp. 17-49.
NYISZLI, Miklos. Auschwitz: A Doctor`s Eyewitness Account. New York: Arcade Publishing 1960, 306

The Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution of the Jewish Question in Nazi occupied Europe.
The legacy of the Holocaust
NYISZLI, Miklos. Auschwitz: A Doctor`s Eyewitness Account. New York: Arcade Publishing 1960, 306

The legacy of the Holocaust
NYISZLI, Miklos. Auschwitz: A Doctor`s Eyewitness Account. New York: Arcade Publishing 1960, 306

Course evaluation
Class preparation and activity (reading assignments, participation in discussions, small quizzes) 20%
Class presentation 20%
Midterm exam 30%
Final exam 30%

The grading scale:
100 ? 96 % A
95 ? 90 % A -
89 ? 87 % B +
86 ? 83 % B
82 ? 80 % B -
79 ? 76 % C +
75 ? 70 % C
69 ? 60 % C -
59 ? 0 % F

Attendance of classes is mandatory. Only one unexcused block of classes is tolerated and it will not
affect a final class grade.
In case of more than one block of unexcused absences, studentĀ“s final grade of the class will be automatically lowered by one step on the grading scale; one absence for one step on the grading scale.

Class protocol
Students are required to be involved in class activities. They are expected to show their preparation
by active participating in the class activities, by asking relevant questions, being critical and analytical
with the contents presented in class as well as by sharing their ideas and opinions.
It is expected that students arrive to class on time and that they return promptly to class after any
given a class break. (Regularly missed minutes could be counted together and can make another unexcused absence, as mentioned above.)

*Course content subject to change