C LIT 396 A: Special Studies in Comparative Literature

Winter 2021
TTh 11:30am - 1:20pm / * *
Section Type:
Joint Sections:
NEAR E 296 B , ENGL 312 A , JEW ST 312 A
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

Jewish Literature: Biblical to Modern

Please note: students may sign up for this course under the prefix NEAR E, C LIT, ENGL, or JEW ST.  It is the same course! If you have any questions about how the credits may count toward a major or minor in NELC, in English, in Jewish Studies, or in Cinema and Media Studies, please speak with the advisors in Humanities Academic Services. (Ask for Nancy Sisko: nsisko@uw.edu).  NO PREREQUISITES!


Winter 2021 – TTh 11:30-1:20


5 credits


ENGL 312  5 VLPA and DIV


NEAR E 296B  I&S


Prof. Naomi Sokoloff

220C Denny Hall



Office Hours: Wednesday 11:-12:30 or by appointment


From the Hebrew Bible to the Hogwarts Haggadah, from the traditional prayer book to today's feminist poetry, Jewish literature presents endless commentary on foundational texts. New stages of writing reinterpret, alter, illuminate, and/or develop what they receive from the past. This course provides an overview of 3000 years of literary history and considers texts from a wide variety of genres, including scripture, Midrash, medieval poetry, Hasidic tale, modern fiction, television satire, popular music lyrics, and more.

All readings will be in English, but the course will include material from the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and America, composed originally in Hebrew, Aramaic, Yiddish, Ladino, and Italian, as well as English. No Prerequisites!


Learning Objectives:

By the end of the course students are expected a) to have acquired a basic knowledge of major genres of Jewish literature, from antiquity till today, and to be able to identify important features of classical sources such as Bible, Talmud, Midrash, Prayer Books, Haggadah, Medieval poetry, and Hasidic Tale; b) to  have examined a range of modern Jewish texts and to understand how they respond to earlier sources through debate, allusion, adaptation to new genres and media, and other artistic reinterpretation; c) to have considered diversity within Jewish cultures and Jewish experiences as a minority culture and as a majority culture; d) to have discussed how women’s voices, which for centuries were mostly excluded from Jewish writing, have become tremendous creative forces in 20th and 21st century writing; e) in the course of discussing sacred and secular writing, to have encountered continuity and discontinuity in themes that span millennia: for example, prayer, from traditional sources to contemporary innovation; response to persecution and catastrophe, from the ancient world and medieval times till the Nazi Holocaust; covenant and freedom, from the Book of Exodus to the 20th century civil rights movement.


All required readings will be available on the course website.

Students are expected to complete required readings, attend class regularly, and participate in class discussion. Students who cannot attend class via Zoom will always have the option to do alternative written work. Assignments for everyone will include three short quizzes, 1 essay, and a final project, plus brief written homework and discussion board posts on Canvas. Final grades will be determined as follows:


3 quizzes                                                                                  30%

Discussions on Canvas                                                           10%

Participation in class                                                               10%

1 essay (750-1250 words)                                                       30%

1 final project/presentation                                                    20%


This is a “W” optional course. W credit requires significant amounts of writing, editing, and revision. A student taking this option will write a longer essay (1250-1500 words), and they are required to identify  the essay topic early in the quarter, identify secondary sources in consultation with the instructor, launch the project with an outline or opening paragraph, receive feedback on early drafts, make revisions, and then complete a rewritten, final draft that polishes the prose.

There will be several optional assignments for extra credit. Successful completion of an assignment adds .1 to the final course grade.

 Grading scale:

98-100   = 4.0

96-97     = 3.9

94-95     = 3.8  

92-93     = 3.7

91          = 3.6

90          = 3.5

89          = 3.4

88           =3.3     etc.



Jan. 19 -- Quiz I

Feb. 2 – Quiz II

Feb. 23 – Essay – first draft due

Feb. 25 – Quiz III

March 17 -- Rewrites and extra credit assignments



Course Information & Online Resources

The plan is to meet via Zoom Video Conferencing.   Access to both Canvas and Zoom is necessary for completing readings and homework assignments and for earning participation points.

 I would rather teach this course in person, but we will find a way to make learning a positive experience under the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 era. Let's be patient with each other and keep a sense of humor!!

Types of Communication

 In an online course, our communication will visible to all. For private communication, we will use individual email and Zoom office hours.

Online Course Policies

  Expectations of students:

  • Come to class fully prepared.
  • Attend all online sessions and actively participate in the forum.
  • Complete assignments on time. If difficulties turn up (such as illness, caring for others who are ill, technological problems, working from home where children need attention, etc.), let me know. We will figure out what to do to keep your learning on track.
  • Abide by the standards of academic honesty and student code of conduct.
  • Seek help. I’ll do my best to help you succeed in this class.
  • Have access to a camera and audio. The expectation is that you will be  visible/audible to me and to your classmates, but you can control those options. If you are not feeling well and want to listen in but not speak up or be seen, we will accommodate those circumstances. And, if the servers/processors/whatevers are overburdened and the video is slowing down or disrupting our communication, we'll adapt as necessary to those circumstances.
  • I plan to record Zoom sessions that include lecture/Power Point presentations. If you must miss class and want to catch up later, you should be able to access the recorded material. (I usually don't lecture for more than 20 minutes on any given day; I prefer to devote class time to discussion and other kinds of more interactive activities. )

 For Zoom recordings:  the recording will capture the presenter’s audio, video and computer screen. Student audio and video will be recorded if they share their computer audio and video during the recorded session. The recordings will only be accessible to students enrolled in the course to review materials. These recordings will not be shared with or accessible to the public.

The University and Zoom have FERPA-compliant agreements in place to protect the security and privacy of UW Zoom accounts. Students who do not wish to be recorded should:

  • Change their Zoom screen name to hide any personal identifying information such as their name or UW Net ID, and
  • Not share their computer audio or video during their Zoom sessions.


Course Etiquette:

  • Get to class on time. Test your camera and audio prior to class time.
  •  In general, it is good policy to "mute" yourself during a Zoom meeting, until you are ready to speak to the entire group. Keep phones and other devices from making background noise or disruption.
  • Respect each other.



If you would like to request academic accommodations due to a disability, please contact Disabled Resources for Students, 448 Schmitz, 206-543-8924.  If you have a letter from DRS indicating you have a disability that requires academic accommodations, please discuss with the instructor any accommodations you might need for the class.

In cases of academic misconduct, such as plagiarism or receiving inappropriate assistance on an assignment, offending students will be penalized in accordance with the policy of the College of Arts and Sciences. If you are unsure what constitutes plagiarism or how to properly attribute credit to source materials, consult with the instructor.

 Please keep a copy of all graded work. This is very useful in case the instructor’s record of grades is lost or damaged, or in case the student wishes to discuss a grade.  Protect yourself by keeping a copy.

For additional guidelines on academic integrity, Incompletes, grade appeal, concerns about an instructor, equal opportunity, disability accommodations, absences due to religious observances, sexual harassment, and safety, see the homepage of our course website and the following link:

https://registrar.washington.edu/staffandfaculty/syllabi-guidelines/ (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.)



It is important that we take care of ourselves inside and outside of class by learning how to care for our body, mind, and spirit. Toward that end, there are many different kinds of support services on campus, including the Counseling Center, Hall Health, and the IMA. If you are concerned about yourself or a friend who is struggling, Safecampus, at 1-800-685-7233, is a very helpful resource to learn more about how to access campus-based support services. Please save the number for Safecampus, 1-800-685-7233, into your cell phones.

**It is understood that students may miss class on religious holidays and that these are excused absences. Please inform the instructor if you plan to miss class.


Course Outline:

(links to readings are available on the course Homepage for enrolled students)



 Shema  and the Ten Commandments


Jan. 5

   Deuteronomy 6:4-9 amd 11:13-21; Numbers 15:37-41

   Marcia Falk, “Shema”

   ASL “Shema”

   Primo Levi, “Shema”    


Jan. 7

   Ruhama Weiss, “Shema”

  Hava Pinhas-Cohen, “Hear”

   Chelly Abraham-Eitan, “Corona of the Divine Presence and the Holy Kingdom”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57hvs-CErKE&list=PLZu0QcFDKA7PdXtR-     jPazih82OllG1dn5&index=4&t=0s


   Exodus 20:2-14

   Deuteronomy 5:6-18

   Yehuda Amichai,  “My Father Was God”


   Hayehudim ba’im – The Ten Commandments.




Cain and Abel


Jan. 12

   Gen 4: 1-25

   Dan Pagis, “Autobiography”; “Brothers”; and “Written in Pencil”

   Abba Kovner, “Near”

   Amir Glboa, “And My Brother Said Nothing”




Jan. 14

   Gen. 29.1-30:43, 31:1-32:3, 35:16-21

   Rachel [Bluwstein] – “Rachel”, “Sad Melody”, Barren”

   Rachel Morpurgo, “On Hearing She Had Been Praised in the Journals”

   Dalia Rabikovitch, “Like Rachel”

   Itzik Manger, “Rachel Goes to the Well for Water” “The Patriarch Jacob Meets   




Hurban habayit – the Destruction of the Temple

Jan. 19

  Quiz I


  The Laughter of Akiba, Talmud, Makkot 24b

  Ilana Kurshan, If All the Seas Were Ink, ch. 1 and 2

  Ruby Namdar,  The Ruined House, pp. 2-5, p. 121, pp. 414-17, pp. 419-20


Jan. 21

  The Book of Lamentations

  Lamentations Rabbah

  Kurshan, p. 38



Prayer Book


Jan. 26

  Marcia Falk – “Hamotziah

  Esther Raab, “A Woman’s Poem”

  Zelda, “let Your Voices be Heard, O Morning Blessings”


Jan. 28

  Psalm 23 and Psalm for Tuesday

  Yehuda Amichai, “Open Window and Psalms”

  Admiel Kosman, “Psalm of the Day


Feb. 2

  George Oppen, “Psalm”


  Quiz II


Medieval Literature


Piyut, Golden Age Poetry, and Sephardic Culture


Feb. 4


 Yehuda Halevi, “My Heart is in the East”

 Moni Amarilio, “Libi bamizrach”

 Etti Ankri, “Avdei zman [Slaves of Time]”

 “Kuando el rey Nimrod”

Unetaneh tokef

 Leonard Cohen, “Who by Fire”


Akeda  and martyrs


Feb. 9

  Gen. 22: 1-14

  Anonymous, “The Martyrs”

  David Bar Meshullam of Speyer, “The Sacrifices”

  Judah Samuel Abbas of Aleppo, “Where the Gates of Mercy”

  Leonard Cohen – “The Story of Isaac”


Feb. 11

  Amichai – “The Real Hero of the Akeda”

  Amir Gilboa – “Isaac”

  Hayim Gouri – “Heritage”

  Yehudit Kafri, “In the Beginnings”

  Itzik Manger– “The Sacrifice of Itzik” and “Abraham Takes Itzik to the Sacrifice”



The Passover Haggadah


Feb. 16


  The Four Questions

  The Four Sons


Feb. 18

  Yehuda Amichai, “Seder Night” from “Gods Come and Go, Prayers are Here to Stay”

  Henry Roth, Call It Sleep, pp. 220-237

  Allegra Goodman, “The Four Questions”


Feb. 23:

  Essay: first draft


Feb. 25

   Quiz III



Hasidic Tale and Yiddish Folklore


March 2

Hasidic sayings and tales

  Nahman of Bratslav, “The Loss of the Princess”


March 4

  Wise Men of Chelm

  I.L. Peretz, “Bontsha the Silent”

  Isaac Bashevis Singer, “Gimpel the Fool”



  1. Conclusions


March 9 and 11

Student presentations 




Recommended secondary reading:


These volumes, from the Princeton University Press series on Great Religious Books, are all available online through UW Libraries:


Ron Hendel, Genesis: A Biography.

Joel Baden, The Book of Exodus: A Biography.

Barry Wimpfheimer, The Talmud: A Biography.

Vanessa Ochs, The Passover Haggadah: A Biography



Also available through UW Libraries:


Barry Holtz, Back to the Sources

Robert Alter, The Literary Guide to the Bible

The World According to Itzik, trans. and ed. Leonard Wolf and David G. Roskies

David Roskies, A Bridge of Longing



Available in part on Google Books:

H.N. Bialik and Y.H. Ravnitsky, The Book of Legends


Other titles:


Lawrence Hoffman, ed. My People’s Prayerbook.

Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative

                        The Art of Biblical Poetry.

                        Canon and Creativity

                        The Literary Guide to the Bible (ed. With Frank Kermode)

                        After the Tradition

                        Hebrew and Modernity

Ilana Pardes, Countertraditions in the Bible

Kaufman, Shirley, Galit Hasan-Rokem, and Tamar S. Hess, eds. The Defiant Muse, Hebrew Feminist Poems from Antiquity to the Present

Meir Sternberg, The Poetics of Biblical Narrative

Kenneth R.R. Gros Louis et al, Literary interpretations of Biblical Narratives

Michael Fishbane, Text and Texture

Adele Berlin, Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative

Eric Auerbach, “Odysseus’ Scar, “ in Mimesis

Geoffrey Hartman, Midrash and Literature

Stanley Burnshaw et al, The Modern Hebrew Poem Itself

Jonathan Culler, Structuralist Poetics

David Jacobson, Creator, Are You Listening?

                        Does David Still Play Before You? Israeli Poetry and the Bible

Ruth Kartun-Blum, Profane Scriptures

Shalom Spiegel, The Last Trial





Catalog Description:
Offered by visitors or resident faculty. Content varies.
Department Requirements Met:
Literature Elective
GE Requirements Met:
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Last updated:
June 6, 2024 - 5:58 pm