Jewish History and Culture

The program in Jewish History and Culture focuses on the history and literature of the Jewish people from late antiquity to modern times. While students generally choose to focus their interests by period, the program itself stresses "vertical" competence: all students are expected to gain some competence in chronological periods other than their main one. 

The program in Jewish History and Culture is divided chronologically into five periods.  The periods are as follows:

  1. The Hebrew Bible in its Jewish Interpretive Context
  2. Ancient Jewish History and Culture
  3. Medieval Jewish History and Culture
  4. Modern Jewish History and Culture
  5. Modern Jewish Literatures

As an alternative to specialization by chronological period, students may choose to focus their studies along thematic lines, for example on the history of Jewish biblical exegesis. Ability to work with classical Hebrew sources in the original is a prerequisite for admission to the program.

Students will generally develop their own individualized course of study in consultation with their advisors; at the same time, it is expected that all students will achieve significant mastery of the broad sweep of Jewish cultural history, and of the areas outside Jewish History and Culture most appropriate to their field. For example, a student specializing in modern Jewish cultural history in Europe would be expected to demonstrate general knowledge of the course of pre-modern Jewish cultural history as well as the relevant areas of modern European culture. 

Students pursuing a graduate degree in Jewish History and Culture are required to meet the general graduate requirements for all students pursuing graduate degrees in the Department of Near Eastern Language and Civilizations. 

In keeping with the rules of the Department, graduate students in Jewish History and Culture must demonstrate research-level competence in two departmental languages, one of which must be Hebrew, plus a reading knowledge of two modern languages of scholarship, one of which must be French or German. A common template for general and special exams would be one exam in Hebrew texts, in which a student will translate, annotate, and contextualize one or more classical Hebrew texts; one exam in the cultural history of the Jews in a period or periods in which the student is not specializing; an exam in the period and discipline (history, literature, philosophy, Yiddish studies, etc.) of specialization, which can also reflect the thematic focus of the student's work; one exam in an appropriate area outside of Jewish History and Culture. Other templates may be developed in consultation with the student’s advisory committee. See “Ph.D. Requirements” for more information on general and special examinations.



Shaye J.D. Cohen, Nathan Littauer Professor of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy
Jay Harris, Harvard College Professor and Harry Austryn Wolfson Professor of Jewish Studies
Jon Levenson, Albert A. List Professor of Jewish Studies (Divinity School)
Peter Machinist, Hancock Research Professor of Hebrew and other Oriental Languages