JTS’s Context program is a two-year intellectual journey that fosters a sense of being at home in Jewish culture, religion, text, and civilization. Participants meet weekly, studying with major scholars and forming a close, supportive learning community.
- Encounter the sweep of Jewish history and the core texts of the ancient, medieval, and modern periods.
- Engage in close reading of texts and stimulating discussion guided by JTS’s outstanding faculty and other expert scholar-teachers.
- Explore the development of Jewish belief and practice, and encounter the richness and diversity of Jewish civilization.
- Enjoy access to the facilities and resources of the new JTS Library and campus.
A new cycle of Context will meet on Tuesday evenings on the JTS campus starting in October
Fall Semester: The Bible and Ancient Israel with Dr. Robert Harris, professor of Bible and Ancient Semitic
Languages at JTS.
Spring Semester: The World of Rabbinic Judaism with Rabbi Mordecai Schwartz, PhD, director of the
Beit Midrash and assistant professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at JTS.
Who It’s For
Share the journey with other adult learners from diverse backgrounds who are committed to serious Jewish study. Context classes evolve as vibrant learning communities that support and sustain each participant’s dedication to understanding the Jewish past and exploring its meaning for our lives today.
Context is taught by JTS faculty and other distinguished scholars associated with JTS who are committed to sharing their love of Jewish learning beyond the academy.
What Past Context Students Have to Say:
- “Context is a bountiful feast for the mind, taught by professors who enlighten and inspire.”
- “My Context classmates were insightful and eager to delve into new material. Although we came from various Jewish educational backgrounds, there was a true sense of accomplishment via the collective learning process.”
- “Context added layers of intellectual and emotional meaning to my Jewish life and gave me the opportunity to study with the most knowledgeable and inspiring teachers that contemporary Jewish scholarship can offer.”
Fees and Registration
Tuition for Context is $995 per year. A $145 deposit is due upon registration.
Payment plans are available. One student in each Context cohort supports the JTS staff as an administrative and technology liaison and receives a 50 percent tuition discount in appreciation for these services.
The Context Curriculum
- Year 1 – Fall Semester: The Bible and Ancient Israel
The Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh, is the central text of ancient Israel and the foundational text for Judaism. This semester balances an overview of the Bible with focused discussion of core texts, such as the Creation narrative, the Exodus, the Revelation at Sinai, and the prophetic books. You will examine various biblical genres, structures, and concepts, as well as the historical and religious experience of ancient Israel. Biblical texts will be analyzed through different lenses: literary, historical-comparative, and rabbinic commentary. This in-depth exposure to both familiar and less familiar texts and to different modes of reading will challenge you—and may lead you to reconsider some long-held views.
- Year 1 – Spring Semester: The World of Rabbinic Judaism
The rabbinic period—from the Second Temple to the completion of the Babylonian Talmud—saw the emergence of new Jewish leaders whose approach continues to define our Jewish lives today. The Rabbis developed a new vision of Judaism grounded in learning, and a legal system that has shaped the contours of Jewish community, culture, and behavior for the past two millennia. This semester you will explore the Jewish encounter with empires of the ancient world and become familiar with the key collections of rabbinic texts and how to read them. Secondary readings will convey how the Rabbis grappled with urgent theological, ethical, and communal issues. When examined in conjunction with biblical texts, these sources will reveal how central beliefs and practices evolved radically over time.
- Year 2 – Fall Semester: Jews in the Medieval World
Jewish life during the Middle Ages (roughly the 7th century through the 17th century) built upon earlier rabbinic foundations to generate the construction of a Jewish civilization with distinctive approaches to communal life, social norms, beliefs, values, and religious practice. During this semester, you will encounter core texts that highlight key dynamics of the Middle Ages, including Jewish political and cultural relations with Muslim and Christian host societies; the creation of new modes of community in the Diaspora; and the vast expansion of Jewish culture in the realms of philosophy, mysticism, liturgy, and textual commentary.
- Year 2 – Spring Semester: Jews in the Post-Enlightenment World
Beginning with the 18th century Age of Enlightenment, modernity posed a significant challenge to Jewish culture, community, and identity. It generated new social and economic opportunities, but also threatened traditional Jewish values and society. As in previous eras, modern Jews engaged with sacred texts—suggesting that, however great the rupture and discontinuity, their passion for reading and interpretation continued to be a source for Jewish creativity and thought. During this semester, you will delve into core philosophical, political, and literary texts that reflect an ongoing engagement with the Jewish past, as well as profound interaction with and involvement in the broader surrounding culture.
Frequently Asked Questions
- How often do classes meet?
Context consists of four 10-session semesters over two years, for a total of 40 sessions (80 hours of instruction). Classes meet weekly. Each year ends with an informal session for reflection and synthesis.
- How long is each class session?
Each session consists of two hours of study and a 15-minute break. Classes begin at 7:00 p.m. and end at 9:15 p.m.
- How much reading is required?
The amount of reading varies depending on the class and instructor. On average, 30 to 60 pages of reading, including both primary and secondary sources, are assigned each week. Instructors will typically review each week’s assignment in advance and prioritize readings that are most central for the next class.
- What if I can’t do all the reading?
You are encouraged to complete all assignments to maximize your learning experience; however, instructors understand that adult learners are busy individuals who do not always have time to complete the reading.
- What if I have to miss some classes?
Regular attendance is important for your own intellectual progress and for building a learning community. If you do need to miss a class, a recording of the session will be available online.
- Do I need to have previous Jewish Studies knowledge to take Context?
Context participants have diverse backgrounds, from those with minimal formal Jewish education to those familiar with Jewish texts and traditions. The range of experiences contributes to a vibrant class dynamic.
- Is knowledge of Hebrew required?
All Context classes are conducted in English, and texts are studied in English translation. Instructors do not assume that students know Hebrew.
- Are there any written requirements?
There are no tests, papers, or grades.
- Is there an additional cost for materials?
Some instructors may require students to purchase a few books per semester. The number of required books varies depending on the class and instructor. The total cost of required books will not exceed $100 per year.
- Can I join the program once it has already begun?
Because each Context semester builds on the material covered in previous semesters, you may enroll only at the beginning of the two-year program.
- What if I need to withdraw?
There is a $100 non-refundable administration fee. The full refund schedule is posted on the registration page.
How will I access course materials and information?
Yes; course communications are disseminated via email, and Internet access is required to download readings and other materials from the course website and to listen to digital recordings of sessions. You will be responsible for bringing assigned readings with you to class, either in print or on an electronic reader.
- Who are the instructors?
Context is taught by members of JTS’s renowned Jewish Studies faculty and by other outstanding local scholar-teachers. They bring a level of scholarship typically encountered only in university settings.
- Is Context a degree-granting program?
No. Upon completion of the two-year program, certificates are conferred in a graduation ceremony.