University of Sydney Handbooks - 2017 Archive

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Jewish Civilisation, Thought and Culture

The Jewish Civilisation, Thought and Culture Program is administered by the School of Languages and Cultures (SLC).

About the major

Jewish Civilisation, Thought and Culture is an interdisciplinary program that explores the historical development of Jewish identity, religion and culture. The major focuses on how the Jewish experience has been shaped both internally by key Jewish thinkers, and externally through the interaction of Jewish communities with surrounding, predominantly non-Jewish, and majority populations. It provides insight into the rich cultural heritage of this small minority and their significant contributions to broader world culture in both the Christian and later Muslim worlds in three periods: the Classical (Talmudic and post-Talmudic periods) in Palestine, the Middle East and Asia; the Medieval, with a focus on the key centres of Spain and later Poland; and finally the Modern Era, with emancipation, the challenges of modernity, the Holocaust, Jewish nationalism and statehood. It traces this experience over five continents looking at communities as far flung as the Jews in Kaifeng (China), Spanish Jewry and the history of Australian Jewry. Unlike other programs in Jewish studies in Australia which focus primarily on the Modern Era, the major allows students to appreciate the broad sweep of Jewish history while providing ample opportunity to deepen their knowledge according to their specific research interests.

There are no foreign language requirements for undergraduate study as all units of study are conducted in English and use texts in English. Study of Hebrew is, however, encouraged in conjunction with JCTC units of study, and a basic knowledge of at least one language associated with the Jewish experience (either Hebrew Classical or Modern, or German) is required for honours and postgraduate study.

Pathway through the major

A major in Jewish Civilisation, Thought and Culture requires at least 36 senior credit points including 24 credit points from core units of study of which 18 must be at 2000 level and 6 must be at 3000 level.

Junior units of study (1000 level)

The standard pathway through the major begins with the choice of one or both of the two junior units, JCTC1001 Palestine: From Rome to Islam and JCTC1002 Jewish Settlement Outside Palestine. The junior units provide a foundational knowledge of Jewish religion and practice as well as the Jewish historical experience during the Classical period.

Senior-intermediate units of study (2000 level)

The senior units then trace the subsequent historical evolution of the Jewish people, with a focus on the European experience. The two medieval units JCTC2603 Jews Under the Crescent and the Cross and JCTC2604 From Expulsion to Regeneration explore the important developments in Jewish thought and culture during the Middle Ages, interactions between Jewish and non-Jewish communities and the emergence of Christian antisemitism.

Four senior units dealing with the modern period then complete the major. The first: JCTC2605 From Emancipation to the Holocaust centres on the modern European Jewish experience within the framework of political emancipation and enlightenment. The second: JCTC2606 The Holocaust: History and Aftermath focuses on the background, events and aftermath of the Holocaust, one of the major events of the 20th century. The third unit deals with the emergence of the modern state of Israel: JCTC2607 Israel in the Modern Middle East.

Senior-advanced units of study (3000 level)

In order to complete the major, students must complete a 3000 unit, namely JCTC3602 Contemporary Jewish Identities. While the unit will allow for completion of the major, it also aims to train students in high-level research, analysis and writing skills leading to Honours and postgraduate work; filling a gap in the current structure between intermediate level and Honours level by providing an advanced research and writing unit in the undergraduate degree itself.


A number of students who major in Jewish Civilisation continue to an Honours year in Jewish Studies. Admission to honours requires completion of the major with a credit average of 70 percent or above. This requirement includes the six senior units of study required for the major and two language units, from either Modern or Classical Hebrew. The language units can be studied in a semester abroad at the Hebrew University, and participation in a semester in-country exchange experience is encouraged. An honours year allows you to focus on a specific area of specialisation within the broad spectrum of the Jewish experience.

Most students choose a thesis topic within the modern Jewish experience, usually relating to the Holocaust, Israel or Australian Jewry, which are the specialist areas of academics within the Jewish Studies program. You are encouraged to place your Honours thesis within the broader context of Jewish Civilisation and to continue with your language studies during an Honours year. This represents the department’s philosophy of the close connections between language, culture and in the Jewish case the Hebrew language and religious belief and practice. At the higher levels, whether relating to Biblical Studies or Jewish Civilisation, some knowledge of the Hebrew language is considered vital to a full understanding of the Jewish literature and heritage.

Contact/further information

Department website:

Course Coordinator: Dr Avril Alba
Department of Hebrew Biblical and Jewish Studies Room 640 Brennan MacCallum Building A18
Phone: +61 2 9351 5226.

or contact the SLC office at