professor
Jonathan Schorsch

May 2011

Professor Schorsch is a scholar of the highest order whose dedication to his subject and students ought to be evident to any who takes this course. His style is passionate and well-informed par excellence. Any student with even the slightest interest in Judaism, philosophy, or general intellectualism will find fantastic outlets for those interests in this course. The course's thesis is deliberately general--how have different thinkers responded to Judaism's confrontation with modernity philosophically, historically, sociologically, theologically, etc.--such as to allow students to project their own interests onto the course's trajectory. Professor Schorsch is always open to questions, and his extensive knowledge of all things academically Jewish makes his insights highly valuable. The course is discussion-based, so student participation is welcomed and understood as an essential component to cultivating understanding. The texts used in this course are highly stimulating (of course that is a subjective valuation, but I don't think it's so farfetched) and I, as well as others whose interest was evident from their comments, certainly appreciated the opportunity to come to class and talk about our reactions rather than simply listen to Prof. Schorsch lecture, even though that is a stimulating activity in itself. This course is a fair amount of work, both in terms of volume and the often impenetrable nature of its content. If you're looking for an easy A, take another class. But if you possess an earnest curiosity, or even a modicum of interest in the subject, this is where you want to be. You will learn tremendously under the auspices of a fantastic, compelling lecturer and walk away with knowledge that will infiltrate many aspects of your life in ways that those other "easier" classes never will. This is a far cry from a B-S lecture offering cursory overviews that will ultimately leave you hardly informed of the material. Jewish or not (because this course assumes very little prior knowledge), the ambitious student will leave this course understanding exactly why he or she came to Columbia--to learn from the best and cultivate a genuine thirst for knowledge.

Sep 2010

In contrast to the many negative reviews, which unfairly paint Professor Schorsch in a negative light, Professor Schorsch is one of the more knowledgeable and approachable professors on campus. I cover the specifics of his courses more in the “Workload” section. In general, though, he is more than willing to answer student questions, encourages discussion, holds frequent office hours, and always answers e-mails promptly. I’ve had professors that were absolutely impossible to get in contact with, so it is a refreshing change of pace to have one actively encourage it and willing to elucidate any topic you did not understand in class or discuss related topics not covered in the general syllabus.

Sep 2010

Professor Schorsch is definitely one of the smartest professors I've had. He's the type that simply knows everything about the subject. Moreover, when he does not know something, he freely admits that he is unsure and researches the topic for next class (this is unfortunately not the case with most professors.) The assigned readings are long and not very interesting, but the truth (and this is pretty true for any college course) is that you don't need to read everything. The class is at its best when there is discussion. Professor Schorsch delights in students asking questions and actively encourages participation. Without class participation, Professor Schorsch will lecture non-stop. My suggestion to those who have trouble focusing is to start a class discussion. You can make the class better, but it requires doing some reading and asking the right questions. The papers are not difficult. The topic is very broad allowing you to choose what interests you most. He is a fair grader, but he expects a high level of performance (which considering the small amount of work, it's fair for him to ask that you put in some effort.) Finally, I want to echo the sentiment most of the reviews have expressed which is that he is a truly great person. He will make time for you and go out of his way to help you. I really recommend getting to know him.

Jan 2010

Although Mr. Schorsch is a very intelligent and interesting person, this class could have been so much more than it was. The weekly reading were impossible. You had to read like 100 pages or a whole book, and often he would fail to upload the files on time, so you have very little time to read it. Some read the material in the class while he was giving his lecture, some just gave up. I do want to mention that he was very flexible with students' personal interest and was open to (virtually) any subject that is somehow related to judaism. In addition, he encouraged class discussion which is a very important part of such class.

Dec 2009

Professor Schorsch is a sweet, brilliant man but this class was completely terrible. His lectures went above everyone's heads. Most of the class stopped doing the reading maybe after the third week. He assumes you have done the reading, and so maybe the class would have been interesting if I had done it, but it wasn't during those first three weeks for me, and I think most of my classmates voted the same with their feet. Only maybe half the class showed up most of the time, and probably of that half most were on facebook through the class because really, it is 100% unengaging. The syllabus listed attendance as 10% of the grade, but he never took role and there had to be too many people in the class for him to keep track in his head. To his credit: -He did stop for questions/discussion at the end of each lecture but questions were barely ever asked, which is sad because it seemed like he really wanted to hear what we had to say. Too bad he didn't realize nobody was responding because we had no idea what the hell he had been talking about. -He seems completely happy to talk to anyone in office hours/after class. -He smiles a lot and makes cute jokes.

May 2009

so, this class was pretty awful. There were only about twelve students in the class and Professor Schorsch didn't really know how to get the students involved in the discussion. The class focused on the Jewish text, "Ethics of the Fathers," one of the most interesting and discussion-worthy texts, yet every class, no one had a thing to say. I do not blame this on the material. The professor has no idea how to engage a discussion. Often, the class was painfully awkward. He had us write these ridiculous biographies that "were not allowed to be about the commentator's life." I am still unclear as to what this means. The grading on it seemed to be pretty random. He seemed to give a lot of B+ and A-'s. I was never excited to go to this class because I knew that it was going to be awkward. Worst part about it: there is no wireless connection in the classroom. That was just painful...

May 2009

This class was easy and at times informative, but generally it was quite dull. We focused in one the one text (Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers) and studied it using different rabbinic commentaries, and each class we discussed only a small portion of the text. Professor Schorsch is a sweetheart and he does seem to know everything. He doesn't really care if you hand in papers late, as long as he gets them at some point. This includes the final research paper. He responds well to emails and is happy to meet with students outside of class. He has a tendency to do all the talking, though that might have been a function of a general lack of engagement on the students' part (it was also a reaction to our general lack of engagement). The issue was that there were few threads throughout the semester to tie the text together as a whole, and so a lot of our discussions ended up feeling pedantic or pointless (whether we discussed as an entire class or in small groups). It's hard to tell how much I've actually learned this semester, but my guess is that that means that I didn't learn all that much. This class is very easy, but if you don't go into it already engaged in rabbinical texts in some way, it can be dull and confusing. Speaking/reading Hebrew is a plus, but it is in no way required, and not speaking it really didn't hold me back.

Dec 2008

I took him for Inquisitions in the Christian Empire. The class was very informative, though admittedly it was a bit repetitive. Schorsch knows freaking everything on the subject (he wrote a book about it) but he continually stresses the same core questions regardless of what particular aspect of the Inquisition we were focusing on. Schorsch is extremely friendly and very laid back and is very helpful about finding research topics and materials. He will often refuse to give a straight answer to questions, which is probably more truthful than just making broad generalizations but is also frustrating when you just want to hear a distillation of the material and he refuses to give you his opinion. All in all, a very good course to take if you are interested in the subject and want to hear from an eminent scholar in the field, but it will be a bit tedious at times.

May 2006

As someone who was somewhat familiar with Hasidism in the past, I did find this class very stimulating and interesting. The title of this course says it all: explorations, as this class was a haphazard adventure through Hasidism, both the scholarly perspectives and Hasidic perspectives from within. Schorsch assigned about fifty pages of reading for each class, which were either never available on Courseworks due to “technical reasons” (and a lazy T.A.), or rarely read by more than a handful of students in the class. It’s OK, as if not even to expect students read them in the first place, he summarizes them in class anyway! Yet, he will catch you if you pretend like you did the reading - at times he answered idiocy with sarcastic or satirical retorts. Schorsch’s humor and witticisms are like an oasis in an endless desert of humdrum lecturing. There were a few students in the class who seemed to contribute to the class discussion from only their own personal agendas, be it feminist, or otherwise, yet Schorsch was determined to face the controversial issues head on (including relationship to Christianity, women, hypocricy, etc…). We even discussed smoking, alcoholism, "neo-Hasidism," music, and other interesting topics in Hasidism.

Apr 2006

I felt compelled to write this review about Schorsch because the reviews below have been way too negative. I remember on the first day of class, this kid told me that "Schorsch is a push-over, and you won't hear anything brilliant from him". If that kid was still in this class, he'd be taking those words back. Sure, Schorsch does allow discussion to meander once in a while, and does allow students to make irrelevant remarks which he'll often quip back with "right". But he is indeed a brilliant teacher, and makes many many insightful comments about the books we read. Maybe you won't appreciate him that much in the first semester because the works aren't really that interesting. But once you hit the modern texts, that's where he unleashes his real powers. The great thing about Schorsch is that you can tell that when he teaches, he is Schorsch himself and doesn't put on any pretentious, arrogant front like other obnoxious CC teachers. He'll joke about his kids, 5 to be precise, and often make fun about his Jewish identity (which makes him very endearing). Honestly, if you want a "hardcore" CC class that is jammed-packed with details on a very intensed level, that stay away from him. But if you're just looking to take away one or two insightful points from each book after every class, and don't want any of that "class-presentation BS" (which is a bloody waste of time), then Schorsch is your man.

Mar 2006

I'd say this class was an easy A except that I didn't get an A. I went throught the entire semester in a little bit of a daze wondering what the point was and when we would start the actual material. I learned absolutely nothing which is a shame because I went to every single class and read every single book (in its entirety! because that's how much was assigned- a dense book a week). I'm not sure what the repercussions would have been had I not gone, not read, not volunteered. Honestly I don't care. I never even picked up my paper to find out how I did. The class was a waste of time. Kind of a shame, because Schorsch is a really nice guy and "Modern Jewish Thought" is a really rich subject.

May 2005

Schorsch is very bright, knows a lot, and is very amiable, but there was one consistent problem with our section. No one spoke. It is likely that students just found the material dull, and I guess I can't say that Schorsch was successful in making the students love the material. But I'm fairly convinced that people didn't read the material in the first place. How can people expect to find discussion riveting when they didn't do the reading? Anyway, if there weren't previous posts on Culpa saying that Schorsch is poor at running discussion, I would have totally attributed the lack of good discussion in class to the students. As it is, I'll say that Schorsch is a very good professor who just happens to teach an early morning section that doesn't have very many interested students and isn't able to wake them from their collective stupors. Schorsch is pretty historical in his methodology. He likes talking about the political and social contexts of works, which some find fascinating and others find deadly boring. The few times students got excited about material is when he really applied arguments to current events. Like "What do you all think about Britney Spears"-type questions. He's also very nice and approachable. Students would routinely speak with him after class and he always welcomed and encouraged student comments.

Apr 2004

Avoid this man at all costs. The Religion department changes the prof. on this class every semester, so do yourself a favor and wait a semester or even a year to take this with anyone else. Schorsch assigns books he seems to not have read, and doesn't check into the price of the books when he is assigning them. Had I not bought over half my books used from Amazon, I would have had to spend over twice as much on this class as I did on any other. While the readings are occasionally interesting, they are completely disconnected and useless. The class itself, in fact, has no coherent theme, the lectures are mostly summaries of the books with some discussion, and the essays are completely superfluous. The only thing that made this class bearable for me was a good TA, who admitted to me that she couldn't find any organization or theme to the course either, and that she and the other TA's had to talk Schorsch out of giving us a final. In her words, "what did he think he was going to test you on?" Schorsch is new in the religion department, he's actually a historian, and in my opinion he had no business teaching a class on Religions and the Modern World. This class was a waste of three credits which I could have used to take something interesting or useful.

Dec 2003

not recommended. Prof. Schorsch is a genuine man who is pleasant, holds extended office hours, and is responsive to his students. Most students did not read the books--which Schorsch seemed perfectly okay with. His standards were low, the class met them, and class was very painful.... Schorsch does not return assignments in a timely manner and cancelled class an exceptional number of times. His lectures were more historical than philosophical which was not particularly applicable in a class called "Masterpieces of Western Philo." Schorsch also provided the most un-inspriring final ever: summarize the arguments of the books (choose 10) then respond to 10 of the arguments using the other texts. Class not recommended for the at all philosophically inclined.

Dec 2003

Contrary to the other reviews, Schorsch is an excellent professor. Schorsch is an extremely knowledgeable man that understands the subtleties of texts both historically and philosopically. Perhaps if the other reviewers actually paid attention to what Schorsch said in class, they would realize that it's not "babbling" and that he DOES have a point behind everything he says. Also, Schorsch always encourages discussions in class. At the beginning of every session, he always asks questions to provoke discussions, and at the end of class, he always asks if people have any questions. Lastly, he holds office hours regularly and is an extremely approachable person. Try not to pay attention to all the whining in the other reviews. In all honesty, Schorsch is a professor who does care about CC and his students. All you need to do is be open-minded enough to allow him to teach you.

Dec 2003

Like any other CC class, to make the class interesting you have to do the reading and participate. The philosophical purposes of the texts were backed strongly by how informative the lectures were. Schorsch asks questions important to the understanding of the texts, although sometimes hindered by the use of strong vocabulary The grading wasn't easy, but was fair. Most papers done at 5 a.m. weren't given the (A-)'s but still nothing lest than deserving - - Not recomended for the oh so common easy A

Dec 2003

If you have any interest at all in CC, I highly suggest that you run, don't walk, to Eileen Gillooly and get out of this class. Schorsch is a really nice guy, but he couldn't care less about CC. He lectures endlessly in a sleep-inducing monotone on historical tangents (because guess what? he knows nothing about philosophy!), leaving the class wondering which book it was that they are supposedly discussing. Discussion, by the way, is not something Schorsch understands. He seems to get overwhelmed when more than three comments are made. You'll walk away having read nothing (class is less painful that way- at least you're not disappointed), and having learned even less. Total waste of 4 hrs a week, and ps he's not even a particularly easy grader.

Nov 2003

Prof Schorsch is an extremely intelligent, well-articulated man. I find his lectures on the books that we read to be interesting and beneficial. His lectures can definitely detract from class discussion, but hey, I don't care because I am just chilling. He has a good sense of humor ,and he is very approachable and kind. If you want a lax environment CC class, I highly recommend him.

Nov 2003

this class is probably the most boring class i have ever taken! schorsch just goes on talking for the entire class without coming up for breath- or to even think about what he is saying. He does not care to answer questions, pretends to be open to them but then goes off on his own tangents. the only good part about the class is the easy work load