Anthropology 280R/Jewish Studies 258: “Anthropology of the Jews” 


Spring 2010, Tuesday & Thursday 2:30-3:45, Tarbutton 105


M. Konner, Ph.D., M.D., 106 Anthropology, 7-4195.

My assistant is Kathy Mote, 404-377-5614,

Office Hours:  Tuesday  4-6 or by appointment (contact Kathy)

FAIR WARNING #1: I do not use a LearnLink or Emory email address. You can email me only at:


I have a website for Jewish subjects that may interest you: Scroll back through past blogs and leave comments if you like.


Course Description: This course will introduce the study of the major Jewish populations, societies, and cultures in the framework of the four fields of general anthropology: biological anthropology, archeology, cultural anthropology, and linguistics. It will begin by defining the Jewish populations in space and time and then take up the origins and major movements of those populations using the evidence of demography, genetics, archeology, ethnology, and history. Jewish cultures considered include those of the First and Second Temples, the Talmudic and medieval eras, the Central European Diaspora (especially the culture of the shtetl), the Jews of Spain and Islam, the Yiddishists of modern Europe, the Jews of the United States, and the cultures of the kibbutz and the army in modern Israel. Distinctive Jewish communities such as those of Ethiopia, Yemen, India, and China will be discussed.  The primary Jewish languages--Hebrew, Yiddish, Judeo-Spanish, and others--will be briefly considered, along with their use for purposes as distinct as Biblical exegesis and troubadour poetry, prophetic declamation and modern comic fiction, prayer, curse, contract, song, and magic, will be touched upon.


FAIR WARNING #2: This is not a religious studies course, it is an anthropology course. I as the instructor am not a religious person. I am respectful of, but not deferential to, the religious beliefs of others. Some material in this course may be inherently offensive to some religious beliefs, especially those of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim students.


Purposes and Credit:  This course partly fulfills the area distribution requirement necessary for majors in anthropology. 


Required texts:

            Konner, Unsettled: An Anthropology of the Jews (distributed free)

            Konner, The Jewish Body (available at the Emory bookstore or on Amazon)

            Harris, Lis, Holy Days: The World of a Hasidic Family (available on Amazon)

            All class handouts (you are responsible to get them if you are absent)


            Gilbert, Martin, The Routledge Atlas of Jewish History


            Myerhoff, Barbara, Number Our Days (extra credit; available on Amazon)



Requirements and Basis of Grading: 

Two midterm examinations (multiple choice/true-false), 30 points each.

Final examination, partly cumulative, (multiple choice/true-false & essay), 30 points.

Class participation, 10 points


An optional paper, about ten pages in length, may be written by students who are concerned about examination performance.  This paper will add at most five points to your final grade. However, letter grades will first be calculated from the curve of numerical grades; this means that there will be no relative disadvantage for students who do not write a paper. See the end of the lecture outline for detailed instructions. All assigned material should be read before the class meeting under which it is listed.



Lecture Outline


January 14:   Introduction & Plan of the Course. Who Are the Jews? The Jewish Populations in Time and Space


January 19:   Archeology I: Ancient Israel: What We Really Know


            Unsettled, Ch. 1, “Genesis”, Ch. 2, “Kingdom Come”


January 21:   Circumcision and “The Savage” in Judaism


            Jewish Body, pp. 13-34: Ch. 1, “God’s Body” and Ch. 2, “The Fruitful Cut”


January  26:  Archeology II: The Second Temple: Restoration, Revolt, Destruction


            Unsettled, Ch. 3, “Babylon” ; Jewish Body, Ch. 3, “Greeks and Jews” 


January 28:   Sex and the Jews: Procreation, Purity, Bonding


            Jewish Body, Ch. 4, “Adam’s Rib” & Ch. 5, “Dangerous Bodies”


February 2:    The Jewish Cultural Context of the Ministry of Jesus


            Unsettled, Ch. 4, “Roman Ruin”


February  4:   The Jewish Calendar: Fast, Feast, and Ritual in an Agricultural Kingdom


            Review Unsettled p. 11; Harris, Ch. 3, 7, 11, 15


February  9:   The Emerging Culture of Halakhah: Living Rabbinic Law in the Diaspora


            Unsettled, Ch. 5, “Diaspora;” Ch. 6, “Crossed Swords;” pp. 21-30; Harris, Ch. 4


February 11:  The Jews of Islam: the Middle East and North Africa (Film & discussion)


            Unsettled, Ch. 7, “Under the Minaret”


February  16: no class: Study Time


February  18: First Midterm Examination


February  23: The Jews of Spain: Origins, Exile, and the Double Diaspora;

                        Judaeo-Spanish and Ladino Languages and Literature


            Unsettled, Ch. 8, “Spain and Beyond”


February 25:  The Culture of the Ashkenazi Shtetl


            Unsettled, Ch. 11, “Yidn;” Harris, Ch 2 & 4


March 2:  Jewish Languages: A Very Brief Overview


            Unsettled, review pp. 22-23, 155-158; Ch. 12, “Mameh-Loshn”; handouts


March 4: Jewish Child Care, Education, and Rites of Passage


            Harris, Ch. 1, 13 & 14; review Jewish Body, Ch. 2, “The Fruitful Cut”


Spring Break: Enjoy!


Note: You may want to lighten your load later in the course by reading the rest of Lis Harris’s Holy Days and (if you are doing the extra credit paper) starting on Myerhoff’s Number Our Days; most students find both books easy and enjoyable.


March 16: How Anti-Semites Defined the Jews


            Jewish Body, Ch. 7-9


March 18: Jewish Life and Culture in the Shoah (Holocaust)


            Unsettled, Ch. 13, “Smoke,” & Ch. 14, “Fire”


March 23: Rabbis and "Secular Rabbis": Spinoza, Heine, Marx, Freud, Einstein, Kafka and others—Does Their Jewishness Matter, and If So, How?


            Jewish Body, Ch. 6, “God’s Beard;” Unsettled, Ch. 9, “Brightness”


March 25: American Jewish Culture


            Unsettled, Ch. 15, “The Golden Land;” pp. 421-426; Harris, Ch. 8 & 10


March 30:  Passover, NO CLASS


April 1: Return of the Body; Modern Israel: Culture and Meaning


            Jewish Body, Ch. 10-15; Unsettled, Ch. 16, “Ha’aretz”


April 6: The Jews of Ethiopia (Film & discussion)


            Unsettled, pp. 200-208


            Jewish Body, Ch. 12, 15


April 8: Second Midterm Examination


April 13: The Jews of India and China (Film & discussion)


            Unsettled, pp. 208-222


April 15: Women in Jewish Life: Reverential Partnership or Sexist Oppression?


Unsettled, Ch. 17, “Women of Valor;” Harris, Ch. 5-6; Jewish Body, Ch. 16, “Deborah’s Daughters”


April 20: Genetics of the Jews: Racial Myths and Genetic Realities


            Jewish Body, Ch. 17, “Jewish Genes?”


April 22: Arguing with God: Oppression, Ethnicity, and the Ideal of Social Justice


            Unsettled, Ch. 18, “Conclusion;” Jewish Body, “Epilogue”


Final Examination: Friday, April 30, 4:30-7 PM


Optional Term Paper: The optional ten-page paper will be a “compare and contrast” exercise between the Jewish culture described in Holy Days by Lis Harris and the one described in the optional book Number Our Days, by Barbara Myerhoff. For those who choose to write a paper, the paper grade will add a maximum of five points to your overall numerical grade. No other paper topic will be accepted.