College of Jewish Studies

Hosted by Rabbi Ed Feinstein

Free and open to the community.
The VBS College of Jewish Studies is made possible by grants from the
Lill & Jess Beim Family Keruv Fund and the Harold M. Schulweis Institute

Visit our Watch and Listen page for video recordings

2017-2018 DATES & SPEAKERS:

Wednesday, October 18 at 7:00 p.m.
“Beginning the Journey”
Guest Speaker Rabbi Ed Feinstein, Ph.D.Senior Rabbi, Valley Beth Shalom
Our own beloved Rabbi Feinstein serves on the faculty of the Ziegler Rabbinical School of the American Jewish University, the Wexner Heritage Program, the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and lectures widely across the United States. He is the author of several books, including: Tough Questions Jews Ask – A Young Adult’s Guide to Building a Jewish Life, (Jewish Lights, 2003), was chosen for the American Library Association’s Top Ten Books on Religion for Young Readers and a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award. Most recently, Chutzpah Imperative! - Empowering Today's Jews for a Life that Matters (Jewish Lights, 2014), offers a new way to “do Judaism,” Rabbi urges us to recover this message of Jewish self empowerment, or chutzpah, to reshape the world. An engaging lecturer and storyteller, Rabbi Feinstein unites the ancient Jewish love of ideas with the warmth of Jewish humor. This year, Rabbi Feinstein received his Doctorate in Education from the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) at Park Avenue Synagogue in New York for his dissertation: Rabbi Harold Schulweis and the Reinvention of the American Rabbinate

Wednesday, October 25 at 7:00 p.m.
"Why Jews Have Survived Through the Ages"

Guest Speaker Professor David Myers, President, CEO, Center for Jewish History, New York
David Myers was the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History in the UCLA History Department. This June, he was appointed the new president and CEO of one of the world’s principal centers for Jewish historical research, located in New York City, which conducts scholarly research and provides a home for a range of archival collections. Located in downtown Manhattan, the center — which was founded in 1995 and opened its doors in 2000 — contains more than five miles of archival documents spanning one thousand years of Jewish history. A prolific author, his books include Resisting History — an examination of German-Jewish thought — and Between Jew and Arab — a study of the Polish-Jewish philosopher Shimon Rawidowicz. Myers intends to deepen the research ties between the center and historians in Israel as part of its work in situating the achievement of a Jewish state within the epic sweep of Jewish history. 

Wednesday, November 1 at 7:00 p.m.
“The Whole Bible on One Foot”
Guest Speaker Rabbi Ed Feinstein, Ph.D.Senior Rabbi, Valley Beth Shalom (See bio above)

Wednesday, November 8 at 7:00 p.m.
“The Book of Jeremiah: A Prophet for Our Times”
Guest Speaker Rabbi Zoë KleinSenior Rabbi, Temple Isaiah
Rabbi Klein graduated from Brandeis University with a B.A. in Psychology with a passion for ancient texts, mythology, liturgy and poetry. She received ordination from Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in 1998. She serves as Senior Rabbi at Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, giving numerous presentations and keynote speakings at various assemblies all over the country. She is a resource for reporters in regional newspapers and has appeared as a commentator on the History Channel in “Digging for the Truth.” Rabbi Klein is a wonderful storyteller and has written multiple novels and short stories. She has also written articles for numerous publications including Harper’s BazaarTikkun, and Torat Hayim. She has written chapters in a number of collections including The Women’s Torah Commentary and Holy Ground: A Gathering of Voices on Caring for Creation. Her poems and prayers are used in houses of prayer around the country. A book of her poetry House Plant Meadow is contracted to be published by David Godine Publishers.

Wednesday, November 15 at 7:00 p.m.
“King David”
Guest Speaker Rabbi David WolpeSenior Rabbi, Sinai Temple
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. He previously taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York, the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, Hunter College, and UCLA. A columnist for, has been published and profiled in the New York Times, the LA Times, the Washington Post’s On Faith website, The Huffington Post, and the New York Jewish Week. He has been on television numerous times, including the Today Show, Face the Nation, ABC this Morning, and CBS This Morning. In addition, Rabbi Wolpe has been featured in series on PBS, A&E, the History channel, and the Discovery channel. Rabbi Wolpe is the author of eight books, including the national bestseller Making Loss Matter: Creating Meaning in Difficult Times. Rabbi Wolpe’s new book is titled, David, the Divided Heart, a finalist for the National Jewish Book Awards.

Wednesday, November 29 at 7:00 p.m.
“An Introduction to The Rabbinic Period”
Guest Speaker Rabbi Ed Feinstein, Ph.D.Senior Rabbi, Valley Beth Shalom (See bio above)

Wednesday, December 6 at 7:00 p.m.
"The Rabbinic Minds: Talmud and Midrash"
Guest Speaker Professor Christine HayesYale University 
Christine Hayes is Robert F. and Patricia R. Weis Professor of Religious Studies in Classical Judaica. Before joining the Yale faculty in 1996, she was Assistant Professor of Hebrew Studies in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University for three years. Her published works include several books and many articles in Vetus TestamentumThe Journal for the Study of JudaismThe Harvard Theological Review, and various scholarly anthologies. Hayes’s most recent book, What’s Divine about Divine Law? Early Perspectives, received the 2015 National Jewish Book Award in Scholarship, a 2016 PROSE award for best book in Theology and Religious Studies from the American Publishers Association, and the 2016 Jordan Schnitzer Award from the Association of Jewish Studies.

Wednesday, December 13 at 7:00 p.m.
"Rabbi Akiba - The Greatest Rabbi Who Ever Lived​"

Guest Speaker Professor Joel GereboffArizona State University
Professor Joel Gereboff teaches at Arizona State University's School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, the largest transdisciplinary school in the humanities at Arizona State University. He is chair of Jewish Studies Institute at ASU which was launched with his help in 1997, quoting, "I envision more faculty, more visiting faculty, more classes, an expanded graduate program with scholarships, scholarships to send students to Israel, and a place where the community can come - a resource to the community." The Religious Studies program brings together perspectives and approaches from history, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, and literature to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the individuals and traditions that constitute religions and cultures. In our increasingly cosmopolitan world, the need to understand the root beliefs and values of diverse cultures has become a political and moral imperative. Gereboff explores the deep intersections between religions and cultures which have shaped, and continue to shape, personal and collective identity. Gereboff authored the book Rabbi Tarfon, the Tradition, the Man, and Early Rabbinic Judaism

Wednesday, January 10 at 7:00 p.m.
Guest Speaker Professor Josh Holo, Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion
"Brave New World -- Jews in the Medieval World"

Dr. Holo is the Dean of the Los Angeles Campus and Associate Professor of Jewish History at HUC-JIR/LA. He served as Director of the Louchheim School of Judaic Studies from 2006-2010. Dr. Holo's publications focus on Medieval Jews of the Mediterranean, particularly in the Christian realm. His book, Byzantine Jewry in the Mediterranean Economy, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2009. Learn more >

Wednesday, January 17 at 7:00 p.m.
Guest Speaker Professor Deena Aronoff, University of California, Berkeley
"The Real Rambam: The Many Faces of Moises Maimonides"

Deena Aronoff is Assistant Professor of Medieval Jewish Studies at the Graduate Theological Union. Her interests include rabbinic literature, medieval patterns of Jewish thought, and the broader question of continuity and change in Jewish history. She is particularly interested in linguistic speculation as a means by which Jewish scholars articulated cultural affinities and boundaries in ancient, medieval and modern times. Prof. Aronoff teaches courses on Jewish society and culture in the medieval and early-modern European context. She completed her Ph.D. in 2006 in the department of history at Columbia University with a dissertation titled In Pursuit of the Holy Tongue: Jewish Conceptions of Hebrew in the Sixteenth Century. Learn more >

Wednesday, January 24 at 7:00 p.m.
Guest Speaker Professor Sarah Abrevaya Stein, UCLA Department of History, Social Sciences Division
"A Judaism in Color: The History of the Sephardic Community"

Sarah Abrevaya Stein received her A.B. from Brown University in 1993 and her doctorate from Stanford University in 1999. Her scholarship has ranged across the Yiddish and Ladino speaking diasporas and the British and French imperial, Russian, American, Ottoman and wider Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and North African settings, but is always engaged with the cultural, economic, and political intricacies of modern Jewish culture. An elected member of the American Academy for Jewish Research and a 2015 Guggenheim Fellow, Stein is the author of Extraterritorial Dreams:  European Citizenship, Sephardi Jews, and the Ottoman Twentieth Century (University of Chicago Press, 2016), winner of a 2016 National Jewish Book Award, Saharan Jews and the Fate of French Algeria (University of Chicago Press, 2014), Plumes: Ostrich Feathers, Jews, and a Lost World of Global Commerce (Yale University Press, 2008), winner of the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, and Making Jews Modern: the Yiddish and Ladino Press in the Russian and Ottoman Empires (Indiana University Press, hardback 2004), winner of the Salo Wittmayer Baron Prize for Best First Book in Jewish Studies for 2003 and finalist for the Koret Jewish Book Award in 2004. Stein is  co-editor, with Lia Brozgal, of Ninette of Sin Street (Stanford University Press, 2017), with Julia Phillips Cohen, of Sephardi Lives: A Documentary History, 1700-1950 (Stanford University Press, 2014), winner of a 2014 National Jewish Book Award: and co-editor, and, with Aron Rodrigue, of A Jewish Voice from Ottoman Salonica: The Ladino Memoir of Sa’adi Besalel a-Levi (Stanford University Press, 2012), finalist for a National Jewish Book Award. Learn more >

Wednesday, January 31 at 7:00 p.m.
"The Explosion: Judaism Meets Modernity"

Guest Speaker Rabbi Feinstein Ph.D.Senior Rabbi, Valley Beth Shalom (See bio above)

Wednesday, February 7 at 7:00 p.m.
"Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood and America"

Guest Speaker Professor Steven Ross, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences
Steven J. Ross is Professor of History at USC. The first person in his family to go to college, Steve received his B.A. from Columbia University, a Bachelor of Philosophy from Oxford University, and a PhD from Princeton University. Professor Ross has written extensively in the areas of working-class history, social history, film history, and political history. His first book, Workers On the Edge: Work, Leisure, and Politics in Industrializing Cincinnati, 1788-1890 (1985) was adapted for the screen by Cincinnati unionists and made into a documentary entitled “They Build the City: The Working People of Cincinnati.” His second book, Working-Class Hollywood: Silent Film and the Shaping of Class in America (1998), received the prestigious Theater Library Association Book Award for 1999. It was named by the Los Angeles Times as one of the “Best Books of 1998” and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award in History. Professor Ross's latest book, Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics, received a Pulitzer Prize nomination and a Film Scholars Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. This is the academic equivalent of an “Oscar.” The New York Times Book Review selected it as one of its “Recommended Summer Readings” for 2012. Ross' Op-Ed pieces have appeared in the Los Angeles TimesWall Street JournalWashington PostInternational Herald-TribuneNewark Star LedgerWashington IndependentPolitico, Hollywood Reporter, and HuffingtonPost. Steve’s work on movie stars and politics has led to appearances on The Today ShowABC Evening News with Peter JenningsNightline with Ted Koppel, CNN’s American Morning and The Situation Room, Fox News, NBC News, and programs broadcast on Canadian, British, French, Swiss, German, and Australian television—as well as numerous documentaries about Hollywood. Learn more >

Wednesday, February 14 at 7:00 p.m.
"Creating a Modern Judaism"

Guest Speaker Dr. Gil Graff, Executive Director, Builders of Jewish Education
Gil Graff has served as Executive Director of BJE since 1993.  During his tenure, BJE – through the collaborative efforts of its board and staff, and the partnership of individuals and organizations with shared goals -- has earned a national reputation for innovation and excellence in advancing the mission of encouraging participation in, enhancing the quality of, and promoting access to Jewish education.  Gil’s experience in Jewish education spans many years as a teacher and administrator at day and complementary schools and as Director of a residential summer camp.  His academic background includes several teaching credentials, a Masters Degree in Educational Administration (CSUN) as well as a J.D. (UCLA School of Law) and Ph.D. in Jewish History (UCLA). Gil has been a California Senate Fellow, a Jerusalem Fellow, and a Visiting Scholar at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. Learn more >

Wednesday, February 21 at 7:00 p.m.
"Israel at 70: The Price and Prospects of Jewish Sovereignty"

Guest Speaker Daniel Stein Kokin, Visiting Assistant Professor at the UCLA International Institute
Daniel Stein Kokin is Junior Professor of Jewish Literature and Culture at the University of Greifswald in Germany. He will be a Visiting Assistant Professor at the UCLA International Institute in 2017-2018, with a primary focus on Israel Studies. In 2015-16, he served as the Viterbi Professor of Mediterranean Jewish Studies at UCLA. During the academic year, Professor Stein Kokin will teach three undergraduate courses in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures: “Symbolic Places and Spaces in Modern Israel and the Palestinian Territories”; “Settlement in Israeli History”; and “Introduction to Jewish Studies.” He will also teach “Europe and Israel: The History of a Vexed Relationship” in the International and Area Studies program of the International Institute. Professor Stein Kokin’s research ranges across Renaissance, Jewish, and Israel Studies and has been supported by Villa I Tatti: The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies in Florence, Italy and the Käte Hamburg Kolleg of the Ruhr University Bochum in Germany. A native Angeleno, Daniel Stein Kokin received his B.A. in Classics from The University of Chicago and his PhD in Renaissance Intellectual History from Harvard University, completing additional coursework in Jewish Studies at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Learn more>


Explore our Vast Archive of Past Programs
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Ever wanted to take a great course on Jewish culture, history and topical subjects, taught by experts? Well this is it. The VBS College of Jewish Studies offers Jewish adults an experience of university-level learning without homework, tests, sororities or football

Each year a different area of focus is selected, and our Rabbis, along with their guest speakers, provide us with insights and history that is just wonderful. And did we mention the cost - none!