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Between Cross and Crescent: Jewish Civilization from Mohammed to Spinoza

Investigate the fascinating history of Jewish culture and society from the rise of Islam to the dawn of modernity in the 17th century, and learn how this faith maintained unity in the shadow of two other powerful faiths.

Between Cross and Crescent: Jewish Civilization from Mohammed to Spinoza is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 59.
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Rated 1 out of 5 by from DISAPPOINTMENT. Jewish people deserve better. It is unacceptable that the professor injects his one politician in the lectures. I had to stop listening after lecture #17. The professor needs to check what this land was called during the Roman Empire. And why was it changed in the middle of the second century. Because otherwise the Professor confuses the listener.
Date published: 2024-01-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly Informative and Engaging I learned a lot from this course, and appreciated Prof. Ruderman's style of presentation. Admittedly, Jewish intellectual thought and religious scholarship are emphasized much more than culture and society, but the latter are not neglected. Among other things, this course stimulated my interest in learning about Maimonides and Spinoza. Also, I found this course to be an excellent follow-up to Prof. Gafni's "Beginnings of Judaism."
Date published: 2022-09-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from EXCELLENT COURSE I enjoyed the course immensely 0 Instructor was interesting informative and the pace was just right
Date published: 2022-05-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good for Those with the Background This is somewhat of a specialized course for those who have some background in Jewish culture and Jewish history. For those with the prerequisite background, this is an enlightening course. This course addresses the question: “How does a religious tradition/community survive or even thrive as a small minority in a much larger competing religious society?” The course starts with the rise of Islam in the Near East at the end of the first millennium of the Christian Era, proceeds through the Crusades and the rise of Anti-Semitism, and concludes with the advent of religious toleration as manifest in Amsterdam and Spinoza. (This leads to Dr. Ruderman’s other course, Jewish Intellectual History: 16th to 20th Century.) While the course does address oppression such as expulsions from Western Europe, it also addresses surprising acceptance and freedom in Muslim and Christian lands before the Crusades. It also discusses different perspectives in Jewish society in Northern Europe (Ashkenazi) and in Southern Europe (Sephardi). Dr. Ruderman lectures in an almost conversational style. He definitely does not read a lecture. Rather, I get the impression he has something he really wants to tell me personally. At times, I got frustrated that the time constraints of a course limited what Dr. Ruderman wanted to convey. I suspect that Dr. Ruderman was frustrated, too. I suppose it would have been rewarding to be one of his students in real life. I wish the course guide had recommended a translation of Rashi’s commentary. I used the audio version. I think that some visual aids might have helped a little but it was perfectly fine for audio-only circumstances such as while exercising or commuting.
Date published: 2022-04-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Overview of Jewish Philosophy This lecture series captures a critical period in the reformulation of Jewish thought during intense persecution by the Christian world. A fascinatino view into the world of the Talmud!
Date published: 2022-03-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course As I non-Jew, I gained a great deal from taking this course. While I have heard of terms like Talmud, Kabbalah, Karaite, Ashkenazi, Sephardic and Midrashim, I did not really understand their significance until now. Ruderman captures the richness of Jewish history and culture, as well as the philosophical and religious cross-currents with Islam, Christianity and Aristotelianism. He masterfully evaluates sources and discusses other historians’ interpretation of them. I also found it very interesting to have an ‘outsider’s perspective’ upon Western Medieval history. I do have a few quibbles. I think he misunderstands some important aspects of Augustine’s approach to the Old Testament and that lecture broadly had its weaknesses in analyzing the Jewish roots of nascent Christianity. (The New Testament “Letter to the Hebrews,” for example, is a fascinating work in this respect.) Also, he tends to focus on the intellectuals and the oligarchs; it would have been interesting to spend at least some time on other economic classes. All the same, a tremendously enriching experience.
Date published: 2022-01-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Shalom I am not Jewish. Regarding the subject matter of this course, I knew something of some of this and nothing of much of this. I believe that the same can be accurately said among Jews whom I know. This is a history that has been remote to most students of history. And although The Teaching Company characterizes this course as being within its "Philosophy and Intellectual History" curriculum, it is at heart a History course. Indeed, it is a very fine History course. Professor Ruderman does a splendid job of synthesizing a vast amount of social, cultural, and religious history and of presenting it in an engaging way. He is enthusiastic and animated, but not distractingly so. He is also quite erudite, yet genuinely relatable. For instance, in Lecture 11 he says "I think this stuff is really complicated." Some of it is, but it is really interesting as well. And some of it I found really surprising, such as Baghdad having been for several centuries the center of Judaism's Rabbinic Legacy. I happily recommend this course, particularly to those who enjoy learning.
Date published: 2021-11-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Jewish History from about 800 BCE to 17th CE I am so very happy to be listening to this history. Very interested in my history. Engaging voice of the professor.
Date published: 2021-07-18
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What is it like to practice your faith in an environment dominated by another? To evolve as a people when all of the world around you moves to religious and cultural rhythms very different from your own? To maintain your unity as a living community—and always to be aware of that sense of community—even when your numbers have been scattered across many lands, without a common government, a common country, or even a common language? Moreover, how might these circumstances affect not only your own history, but also the history of those other cultures through which you move? What might you take from them? What might you give them? For 10 formative centuries, the answers to questions like these helped define a developing Judaism, whose history was forever affected by its encounters with the surrounding social, economic, political, and intellectual environments of both medieval Islam and Christendom. Investigate the fascinating history of Jewish culture and society from the rise of Islam to the dawn of modernity in the 17th century, and learn how this faith maintained unity in the shadow of two other powerful faiths.


David B. Ruderman

Jewish history, though interwoven with the history of world civilization, is unique in one particular respect: It is unique in its landlessness.


University of Pennsylvania

Dr. David B. Ruderman is Joseph Meyerhoff Professor of Modern Jewish History at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also the Ella Darivoff Director of the university's Center for Advanced Judaic Studies.   He was educated at the City College of New York, the Teacher's Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and Columbia University. He earned his rabbinical degree from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and his Ph.D. in Jewish History from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.   Prior to taking his position at Pennsylvania, he held teaching positions at Yale University and the University of Maryland. At Maryland, he won the Distinguished Scholar-Teacher Award.  Professor Ruderman is the author of numerous books, articles, and reviews. His works include Jewish Thought and Scientific Discovery in Early Modern Europe and Jewish Enlightenment in an English Key: Anglo-Jewry's Construction of Modern Jewish Thought, for which he received the Koret Book Award. His book, The World of a Renaissance Jew: The Life and Thought of Abraham B. Mordecai Farissol, was honored with the JWB National Book Award in Jewish History.  Professor Ruderman is president of the American Academy for Jewish Research and is the recipient of a lifetime achievement award for his work in Jewish history from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture. 

By This Professor

On Studying Jewish History

01: On Studying Jewish History

This opening episode presents some preliminary observations about Jewish history and the approach taken with material often laden with ideological presuppositions.

32 min
The Rabbinic Legacy prior to Islam

02: The Rabbinic Legacy prior to Islam

After the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Babylonians, the increasing complexity of life in the remaining community gives rise to new sectarian groups.

30 min
The Beginnings of Jewish Life under Islam

03: The Beginnings of Jewish Life under Islam

With the rise of Mohammed's new religion in the 7th century, the cultural environment under which Jews lived in the Middle East, in North Africa, and in the Iberian Peninsula was transformed. But it is clear that early Islam was in dialogue with the Jewish tradition from its very inception.

30 min
Baghdad and the Gaonic Age

04: Baghdad and the Gaonic Age

This episode examines the institutions that governed Jewish life in Baghdad, including the structure of (and threats to) rabbinic power and Jewish communal autonomy.

30 min
Saadia Gaon and His World

05: Saadia Gaon and His World

This episode begins your examination of the life and career of an intellectual giant whose meteoric rise to power offers a rich portrait of the community as a whole.

30 min
The Philosophy of Saadia Gaon

06: The Philosophy of Saadia Gaon

In writing a Jewish philosophy, Saadia Gaon sought to defend the integrity of the Jewish faith not only against his Muslim colleagues but against those rationalists who questioned its veracity and against the Karaites who undermined the rabbinic underpinnings of the Jewish tradition.

30 min
The Rise of the Spanish Jewish Community

07: The Rise of the Spanish Jewish Community

The Spanish Jewish community begins to assert its independence of the hegemony of Baghdadian Jewry. Writing in Hebrew verse to distinguish themselves from their Arab counterparts writing in Arabic, they initiate a remarkable efflorescence of literary creativity for several centuries.

30 min
Judah ha—Levi’s Cultural Critique

08: Judah ha—Levi’s Cultural Critique

Look at the work of Judah ha-Levi, whose writings denounce the excessive integration of Spanish cultural values into Judaism and the fusion of philosophy and Judaism.

30 min
Moses Maimonides’s Philosophy of Judaism

09: Moses Maimonides’s Philosophy of Judaism

The lecture examines the work of Moses Maimonides, the dominant cultural figure within the Jewish world of his day and for centuries following his death, and whose masterpiece, The Guide to the Perplexed, originally composed in Arabic, achieved a revered status within the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian intellectual worlds.

30 min
Jewish Beginnings in Christian Europe

10: Jewish Beginnings in Christian Europe

This lecture examines the emergence of Jews in Christian Europe, from their first appearances along trade routes to the beginnings of a system of communal authority and interconnectedness that transcended the local level, reflecting the emergence of what came to be called Ashkenazic Jewry.

30 min
The Church and the Jews prior to 1096

11: The Church and the Jews prior to 1096

Beginning with the foundations of Church policy towards Jews in the Gospels themselves, this lecture looks at how Augustine's arguments shape the standard policy of the Church of antiquity and of the early Middle Ages.

30 min
The Crusades and the Jews

12: The Crusades and the Jews

The fears of European Jews as to what the Crusades against Muslim "infidels" might mean to them prove accurate. Five thousand Jews die during the first crusade, some massacred by Christians; many take their own lives as martyrs.

30 min
Patterns of Jewish Culture—Rabbinic Learning

13: Patterns of Jewish Culture—Rabbinic Learning

As Talmudic scholarship shifts geographically to northern France, the commentaries of a rabbi known to us as Rashi are an instant success and become indispensable guides to the study of biblical and rabbinic literature.

30 min
Patterns of Jewish Culture—Kabbalah

14: Patterns of Jewish Culture—Kabbalah

This lecture introduces us to Kabbalah, the collective traditions of Jewish mystical contemplation of the divine, and explores how its proliferation in the 13th century was, to a great extent, a negative reaction to the influence of rationalism and philosophy on the Jewish community.

30 min
Patterns of Jewish Culture—German Pietism

15: Patterns of Jewish Culture—German Pietism

In Germany, a small community of Jews introduces a unique social philosophy and set of religious practices that come to be known as German pietism, whose colorful folklore and moral literature leave a lasting imprint on Jewish culture in later ages.

30 min
The Medieval Jewish-Christian Debate

16: The Medieval Jewish-Christian Debate

The 12th and 13th centuries mark a re-evaluation of and departure from previous official Church policy regarding the Jews, with the prevalent Augustinian tolerance displaced by a more aggressive policy of vilifying Judaism and missionizing among Jews.

30 min
Understanding Medieval Anti-Semitism

17: Understanding Medieval Anti-Semitism

Historians have offered a variety of explanations for the decline in medieval Jewish life from the 12th century on. We see that the reasons go well beyond Church doctrines alone, encompassing wider and deeper social, economic, and political issues.

30 min
Notes on the Medieval Jewish Family

18: Notes on the Medieval Jewish Family

This lecture places a sharper focus on a once-neglected area of medieval Jewish history: the study of Jewish women and their families, in relation to both male Jews and non-Jewish women.

31 min
The Decline and Expulsion of Spanish Jewry

19: The Decline and Expulsion of Spanish Jewry

Until the end of the 14th century, the Jewish community remained secure despite Christian hostility toward Jews elsewhere in Europe. All this changed in 1391, with a never-seen-before reaction by Jewish victims.

30 min
Italian Jewry in the Early Modern Period

20: Italian Jewry in the Early Modern Period

By the end of the 15th century, new Jewish communities have emerged in Italy. Created in the context of significant social, political, and intellectual changes, they have a profound cultural impact - including the paradoxical results of ghettoization.

30 min
Kabbalah and Society in 16th-Century Safed

21: Kabbalah and Society in 16th-Century Safed

The Spanish emigration of 1492 infused new vitality into Jewish cultural and religious life in Ottoman lands, including an enormously influential interpretation of Kabbalah.

31 min
Shabbetai Zevi—The Mystical Messiah

22: Shabbetai Zevi—The Mystical Messiah

This lecture examines the explosion of millenarian fervor within the Jewish community that is focused on the frenzied behavior of a self-proclaimed messiah named Shabbetai Zevi, whose nihilistic ideology proves to have wide appeal.

30 min
The Rise of Eastern European Jewry

23: The Rise of Eastern European Jewry

Jews begin migrating to Poland in the 14th and 15th centuries. With few economic restrictions, they assume diversified economic roles for the Polish nobility and king, and Ashkenazic rabbinical scholarship reaches unsurpassed heights in the receptive political and social climate of Eastern Europe.

31 min
The Sephardim of Amsterdam

24: The Sephardim of Amsterdam

As Amsterdam invites former Jewish victims of Spanish persecution (forced by circumstance to convert) to settle within its borders, a vibrant new Jewish community is formed and becomes a significant incubator of modern Jewish consciousness.

31 min

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