Jewish Studies

Academic Program Introduction

Jewish studies is the interdisciplinary study of Jewish people, ideas, culture, and institutions. Any student’s intellectual journey can include Jewish studies. We are a small, flexible program. Students explore religion, history, philosophy, art, literature, cultural patterns, and institutions. We offer robust financial and logistical support to students who want to learn a language, study abroad, or complete an internship in the U.S. or overseas.

Learning goals

  • Understand the breadth and diversity of Jewish civilization through interdisciplinary learning.
  • Build specialized knowledge in one area, e.g., biblical studies, Sephardi history, Yiddish language and literature, or U.S. Jewish culture.
  • Establish proficiency in Hebrew, either biblical or modern, or another relevant language.

Programs of study

Jewish studies major and minor

Students gain an understanding of foundational texts, central ideas, and institutions that have influenced Jewish history and culture.

Course Highlights

  • The roles played by Jews in the development of modern American literature are complex and contradictory. Influential American authors expressed anti-Semitic views in their correspondence and work, and prejudice excluded Jews from many literary and cultural opportunities well into the 20th century. Nonetheless Jewish publishers, editors, critics, and writers were extraordinarily influential in the development of the field, founding leading publishing houses, supporting freedom of expression and movements like modernism and postmodernism, and writing some of the most influential and lasting works in the tradition. In this course, we will explore the ways Jews have been represented in American literature and their roles in modernizing and expanding the field. Fulfills the English Department’s Diversity of Literatures in English requirement. (ENG 270 and JWST 270 are cross-listed courses.)
  • Traditionally, the study of Judaism has neglected the senses, the body, and emotions as worthy objects of inquiry. This course aims to fill this gap in our conception of Judaism by surveying key Jewish traditions from antiquity to the present through the lenses of sensory studies, new materialism, and affect theory. We will explore, for instance, the centrality of pleasant and foul odors to premodern Israelite religiosity, notions of attention as a bodily experience in medieval Jewish mysticism, and modern debates about love and shame as determining factors in Jewish law. To appreciate the sensory, somatic, and affective realms of Jewish history, we will engage analytical tools that focus on texts’ representation of textures of lived experiences and apply these methods to sources such as the biblical Song of Songs, the talmudic tractate Berakhot (“prayers and blessings”), hassidic tales of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, and Noah Kahan’s Twitter feed. (JWST 212 and REL 212 are cross-listed courses.)

Research highlights

  • Eric Jarrard, wearing a mask, points at a TV screen with a slide about Mesopatamia and Levant.

    “Now You’re in the Sunken Place,” by Eric X. Jarrard, visiting lecturer in religion, appeared in the April 2022 issue of the journal Biblical Interpretation. Jarrard compares Daniel 7 and the film Get Out to show how early Jewish communities living in the Hellenistic empire and contemporary Black Americans render the political status quo of their times in monstrous form and use the horror narrative to dramatize their struggles.

  • Jacq Roderick '23 softly smiles in front of an arch on Wellesley's campus.

    In summer 2022, Jacq Roderick ’23, worked as a research assistant for Josh Lambert, examining the papers of the poet Adrienne Rich at Harvard to explore Rich’s thinking about Jewish identity and politics.

  • Ayelet Kaminer ’25 stands next to a poster and smiles.

    Ayelet Kaminer ’25 presented a paper, “Perverting the Past: A Comparative Analysis of Ka-Tzetnik’s House of Dolls and the Stalag Novella I Was Colonel Schultz’s Private B****,” at the 2023 Undergraduate Judaic Studies Conference at the University of Chicago.


  • Financial support

    We offer financial support for on- and off-campus opportunities related to Jewish studies. Successful applications have included production costs for a student performance and travel costs for a visit to a cultural landmark. Financial support is also available for students to study Jewish languages or intern with Jewish nonprofit organizations.

  • Diarna internships

    We award up to three paid internships per year with Diarna: The Geo-Museum of North African and Middle Eastern Jewish Life. Diarna works to preserve endangered ancient sites through digital mapping technology, traditional scholarship, and field research. Diarna creates virtual entry points to once vibrant, now largely vanished, communities.

  • The Jacqueline Krieger Klein ’53 Fellowship

    The fellowship enables graduating seniors and recent alums in any field to pursue further education in the field of Jewish studies.

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Our newsletter

Published annually, our newsletter features recent or upcoming classes, students’ first-hand accounts of summer internship or language study experiences, interviews with faculty, recent publications of alums and faculty, and more.

Jewish Studies Program

Founders Hall
106 Central Street
Wellesley, MA 02481
Barbara Geller, Sergio Parussa
Program Co-Directors