David Ruderman

From July ’06 Spotlight: We’ve hit mid-summer when many of us are spending long hours in our cars fighting traffic jams on the Dan Ryan Expressway, or driving back and forth to our favorite vacation spots. If the voices on your radio are beginning to annoy you and you find yourself yearning for more depth, you’ll find no better travel companion than David Ruderman.

Ruderman is a professor of Modern Jewish History at the University of Pennsylvania and Director of Penn’s Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. Winner of both the JWB National Book Award from the Jewish Book Council and the International Jewish Book Award from the Koret Foundation, Ruderman has assembled two courses for The Teaching Company: “Between Cross and Crescent: Jewish Civilization from Mohammed to Spinoza” and “Jewish Intellectual History: 16th to 20th Century.” Each box set is 12 hours long (24 lectures, 30 minutes each), and both are available as audio tapes, CDs, and/or DVDs.

I called Professor Ruderman in Philadelphia recently to discuss the relevance of “Between Cross and Crescent” to our own historical moment. I was struck not just by the relationship of various Jewish communities to those two poles, but by the internal diversity. In what sense, I asked, is Jewish history “continuous” given so many continents and so much change over time?

“I think there is a continuous thread in terms of the sacred text themselves,” Ruderman replied, “and the relationship that each community has with those texts. Whether or not historians see these communities as being the same or different, they perceive themselves as being connected with each other. Jewish communities, in every age, create their own exegesis with respect to the sacred texts (and with respect to their collective memory), and that process, is, in fact, the continuous thread. While each manifestation is different, the fact that each community creates something in relationship to the past is the same.”

The process of working with The Teaching Company “was a very complex, very intense experience; getting tenure was easier!” So what motivated him? “Who is listening to me out there? Could I get my word out beyond my classroom? And the bottom line is that people have responded to this in ways that I could never imagine. Almost every day I get e-mails from people asking me follow-up questions. There is a thirst for this!”

To order your set of lectures, visit The Teaching Company website:

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