Glenn Dynner

BA, Brandeis University. MA, McGill University. PhD, Brandeis University. Scholar of East European Jewry, with a focus on the social history of Hasidism and the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment). Author of Men of Silk: The Hasidic Conquest of Polish Jewish Society, which received a Koret Publication Award and was a National Jewish Book Awards finalist. Received textual training in several Israeli yeshivas and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Additional interests include Polish-Jewish relations, Jewish economic history, and popular religion. Recipient of the Fulbright Award. Member (2010-11), Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University. SLC, 2004–

Undergraduate Courses 2018-2019

Religion

Modern Jewish Literature

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring

As Jews were emancipated in Europe, many began to grapple with the challenges of modernity through literary genres like poetry, autobiography, and fiction. Writers like Franz Kafka, Isaac Babel, Primo Levi, S. Y. Agnon, Sholem Aleichem (whose works formed the basis of Fiddler on the Roof), Grace Paley, and Cynthia Ozick achieved universal acclaim. But the path of the modern Jewish writer nearly always entailed alienation, rebellion, nostalgia, and a need to grapple with increasingly virulent forms of anti-Semitism—culminating in the Holocaust. In new centers in America and Israel, the Jews’ improved status yielded new kinds of alienation, witnessed especially in works by authors like Philip Roth, Amos Oz, and David Grossman. Despite the tension and occasional anguish that runs through modern Jewish literature, we will discover works of beauty, poignancy, and illumination. The Jewish writer's “pariah” status seems to have offered a unique perspective on the world and profound insights into the modern condition.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

The Jews of Europe

Open , Lecture—Fall

This course conceives European Jewry as forming a dynamic counterpoint to dominant non-Jewish European societies down to today. First, we examine the Talmud-centered, insular “Ashkenazic” Jewish communities of medieval France and Germany. Then we proceed to the more worldly “Sephardic” Jews in Muslim and Christian Spain, encountering poets, philosophers, Kabbalists, and secret Judaizing “Conversos.” We follow the exiles of Spain as they return to open Jewish practice and examine the widespread embrace of a messianic pretender named Shabbetai Tzvi. We then turn to the blossoming Jewish life in Eastern Europe, with its extensive self-government, economic niches, world-renowned yeshivas, and popular mysticism (Hasidism). In the last part of the course, we examine the dissolution of the “ghetto” throughout Europe, the rise of religious innovations like Reform Judaism and Orthodoxy, the simultaneous rise of racial anti-Semitism, and Jewish political responses like Zionism, Socialism, and radicalism down to the destruction of European Jewry in the Holocaust. Throughout, we attempt to balance negative flashpoints like Crusades, blood libels, the Inquisition, pogroms, and genocide with European Jewry’s major economic, intellectual, and spiritual innovations.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

First-Year Studies: Judaism, From Religion to Radicalism

Open , FYS—Year

Judaism, since the biblical age, has defied easy categorization—oscillating between religion and ethnicity, law and spirituality, tradition and rupture. This dynamism is further complicated by the very nature of the diasporic experience, which has involved both resisting and appropriating aspects of the dominant culture (e.g., gender, magic, mysticism, and martyrdom). This course provides an introduction to Jewish spirituality and culture by looking at the interplay between its texts and contexts. We begin with formative works like the Bible, the Talmud, classics of Jewish philosophy, and Kabbalah. We then engage with texts produced by modern movements that challenged, displaced, or reinforced normative Jewish practice, such as messianism, Hasidism, nationalism (e.g., Zionism), Freudian psychoanalysis, and revolutionary Marxism. The desired outcome is an awareness of how the Jews’ outsider status has helped produce bold, varied conceptions of the world that, in turn, challenge our own.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Previous Courses

The Holocaust

Open , Seminar—Spring

The Holocaust raises fundamental questions about the nature of our civilization. How could a policy of genocide be carried out by one of the most advanced and sophisticated countries of Europe? In this course, we will examine how these appalling events took place, beginning with anti-Semitic ideology and policy. At the same time, we will confront a surprisingly neglected perspective of the victims, whose perspective—how they chose to respond to the impending catastrophe (through art, diary-writing, mysticism, violence, hiding, etc.)—has not been integrated into an overall history of the Holocaust. Finally, we will attempt to come to grips with the crucial but neglected phenomenon of bystanders—non-Jews who stood by while their neighbors were methodically annihilated, rescued Jews, or became perpetrators themselves. We shall inevitably be compelled to make moral judgments. But these will be of value if they are informed and based on a fuller understanding of the perspectives of the various actors in this dark chapter of European history.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Jewish Mysticism From Antiquity to the Present

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring

This course examines a vibrant countertrend within Judaism known as mysticism. We begin with the biblical and ancient “Chariot” mysticism, proceed to ascetic medieval German pietism, and dwell at length on the erotically-charged “Kabbalah” that emerged in medieval Spain and Southern France—observing its unique conceptions of God, evil, demonology, sin, death, sexuality, and magic. We then follow the emergence of circles of mystics in 16th-century Safed (Land of Israel) that eventually sparked a mass messianic movement around the figure of Shabbetai Tzvi. In the second semester, we delve into the most popular and enduring Jewish mystical movement, Hasidism. Founded on the teachings of the Ba’al Shem Tov (The Besht) in 18th-century Eastern Europe, Hasidism was forged into a mass movement by charismatic miracle-workers called “tzaddikim” and spread by means of oral and written tales. We follow the emergence of Hasidic dynasties, gauge Hasidic responses to modern phenomena like Zionism and the Holocaust, and follow the movement’s continued flourishing today in tight-knit communities from Brooklyn to Jerusalem. Finally, we will examine popular contemporary neo-Kabbalah. Throughout, we strive to appreciate different manifestations of Jewish mysticism within their changing historical contexts.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Jews and Violence: From the Bible to the Present

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring
The critical theorist Daniel Boyarin once proudly described Jewishness as a “culture and cultural memory within which ‘real men’ were sissies” who abhorred the violent masculinity of the dominant culture and valued, instead, scholarship and piety. Indeed, many works of Jewish literature, from the Talmud to Fiddler on the Roof, suggest an aversion to physical violence. Yet counterexamples abound, most prominently in biblical and modern Israel. A similarly stark contrast appears within antisemitic art and literature, where Jews are depicted both as bloodthirsty killers of Christ and children and, alternatively, as cowardly military shirkers who seek power through money and other nonphysical means. This course analyzes depictions of Jewish nonviolence and violence spanning the Bible, Christian iconography, Crusades, blood libels, pogroms, The Holocaust, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. In addition to examples of traditional quietism and victimization, we encounter Jewish revolutionaries, gangsters, Zionists, and messianic settlers. Throughout, we will consider the theories of Arendt, Benjamin, Ghandi, Fanon, Malcolm X, King Jr., Kahane, and more.
Faculty
Related Disciplines

The Jews in Europe

Open , Seminar—Fall

How did a Jewish civilization develop throughout the triumph of Christianity in the West? This course conceives of Judaism as a counterpoint to the dominant cultures of Europe. We begin with the arrival of Jews to the Roman Empire and proceed to the insular “Ashkenazic” Jewish communities of medieval France and Germany. Next, we trace the appearance of “Sephardic” Jews in Spain, including worldly poets and philosophers, other-worldly Kabbalists, and secret Judaizing “conversos” throughout the period of Inquisition. We then follow the exiles of Spain as they begin openly practicing Judaism again in the Land of Israel and other places; trace the growth of the popular movement around the false messiah Shabbetai Tzvi; and witness the blossoming of Jewish life in Eastern Europe, with its extensive self-rule, new economic niches, and world-renowned yeshivas. In the last part of the course, we examine the dissolution of the “ghetto” during the process of emancipation, the rise of more virulent forms of anti-Semitism, modern political responses like Zionism and Socialism, and the destruction of European Jewry during the Holocaust. Throughout, we will attempt to balance negative flashpoints like the Crusades, blood libels, Inquisition, pogroms, and genocide with more affirmative features of Jewish life such as economic vitality, self-government, and spiritual developments like Hasidism, Jewish Enlightenment (Haskalah), and Reform and Orthodox Judaism.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

First-Year Studies: Jewish Spirituality and Culture

Open , FYS

Judaism since the biblical age has defied easy categorization, oscillating between religion and ethnicity. This course provides an introduction to Judaism with an eye toward gender, sexuality, and responses to Western values of heroism and chivalry. We begin with the Bible and ancient Israel and witness the emergence of “rabbis” and their formative texts (Talmud, Midrash, Medieval Bible commentaries). We then encounter movements that challenged Judaism, including Christianity, medieval philosophy, poetry, Kabbalah, false Messianism, and Hasidism. Next, we follow attempts to create a modern-Jewish synthesis through Enlightenment (Haskalah), Zionism, Jewish Socialism, modern literature, modern philosophy, and Jewish Feminism. We then explore attempts to transform Judaism into something more akin to strictly religion (Reform, Conservative) and attempts to resist modernity through the invention of Orthodoxy. Finally, we explore Jewish responses to the Holocaust and proceed to chart the course of Jewish religion and culture in America and Israel, examining assimilation and the roots of the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Throughout, we will gauge the interplay between Jewish conceptions of law, chosenness, exile, sin, redemption, sexuality, death, etc. and grapple with challenges like anti-Semitism and secularization.

Faculty
Related Disciplines