Moments of Decision, Great Debates: Judaism in the 20th Century

Stipend: $10,000 ($4,000 for NYC-area residents)
Application Deadline: Applications for Fall 2013 are now closed


The history of the Jewish people in the 20th century is one of great dramas in human history—with tragedies and triumphs, ideological battles and great leaders, heroic achievements and existential failures, that together offers an education in the problems and possibilities of mankind writ large. For Jews, this history defines where we have been and who we have become; and it sets the terms for what we should do and how we should live, as a people and a nation, in the decades ahead. The big battles, the grand arguments, the great leaders, the moments of decision—the people and events that shaped the Jewish past will help define, for better or for worse, the possibilities for the Jewish future.

This course will study 20th century Jewish history by looking at a few of these key leaders, moments, and debates. With intellectual historian Allan Arkush, we will study Theodor Herzl and his critics, and then, along with Israeli intellectual Ran Baratz, the great debates between Jabotinsky and Weizmann over the meaning and strategy of modern Zionism. With Middle East scholar Michael Doran, we will study the great battles and bold decisions that surrounded the birth of Israel in 1948. With Rabbi J.J. Schacter, we will explore the theological arguments that helped define Jewish life in mid-century America. With Henry Kissinger, we will discuss his own role in the grand diplomacy surrounding the Yom Kippur War. With Elliott Abrams, former Middle East Advisor to the U.S. president, we will explore the Soviet Jewry movement and the last two decades of efforts to forge a new and stable peace between Israel and its neighbors.

Key Texts & Topics

  • Selections, articles, and essays by Theodor Herzl, Ahad Ha’am, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and Chaim Weizmann
  • Speeches and writings of Ben Gurion and Menachem Begin
  • Historical work by Avi Shlaim and Avraham Sela
  • Essays and articles by Joseph Soloveitchik, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Mordecai Kaplan
  • Excerpts from Elliot Abrams, Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Seminar Schedule

The planned class schedule for this seminar is the following:


  • November 18, 2013: 1:30-4:00 pm
  • November 19, 2013: 1:30-4:00 pm
  • November 20, 2013: 1:30-4:00 pm
  • November 21, 2013: 1:30-4:00 pm
  • November 22, 2013: 9:00-11:30 am
  • November 25, 2013: 1:30-4:00 pm
  • November 26, 2013: 1:30-4:00 pm
  • November 27, 2013: 10:30 am-12:30 pm
  • December 2, 2013: 1:30-4:00 pm
  • December 3, 2013: 1:30-4:00 pm
  • December 4, 2013: 1:30-4:00 pm
  • December 5, 2013: 2:00-4:30 pm
  • December 9, 2013: 1:30-4:00 pm
  • December 10, 2013: 1:30-4:00 pm
  • December 11, 2013: 1:30-4:00 pm
  • December 12, 2013: 1:30-4:00 pm


In addition, participants are expected to prepare carefully the daily readings—usually around 30 to 50 pages per day—which are distributed well in advance. We encourage—but we do not require—institute participants to be in residence with us full-time for the complete length of their respective seminar. For more information on seminar schedules and expectations of participants, please see our Overview page.

Who Should Apply?

Any men and women of achievement in professional life who want to expand their intellectual range and influence. This course may be especially appropriate for:

  • Members of the US or Israeli public sectors;
  • Academics, scholars, and writers on Jewish thought and affairs;
  • Members of the rabbinate in the US or Israel; and
  • Board members of organizations dedicated to the advancement of Jewish intellectual, political, or religious life.