Jewish Community Life

Bowdoin has students, staff and faculty who are Jewish in all the dynamic and diverse meanings of the word. While we have work to do in both understanding historical and contemporary challenges of Jewishness we do so in and outside of the classroom in a variety of offerings that focus on Judaism, Jewish life, and antisemitism among many other topics.

Resources for Learning

What follows is information about some of the formal educations happening on the topic on campus.

Courses offered since fall 2020:

HIST 2507 Spain of the Three Religions: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism in Medieval Iberia  

Seminar. For over seven hundred years, the Iberian Peninsula saw Muslims, Jews, and Christians living in close proximity, and thus historians dub it “Spain of the three religions.” This course examines how relations between Muslims, Christians, and Jews evolved across time. We will explore questions about religion and identity and what work both do in shaping communities, cultures, and prevailing historical narratives. Specific themes include forced conversion, trade, intellectual exchange, and religious polemics. Our readings begin with the Islamic conquest of Iberia in the early eighth century and end with the fall of Muslim Granada in 1492, the purity of blood statutes, and the dawn of the Spanish Inquisition. The primary sources encompass many different mediums and genres, including famous The Song of the Cid, Inquisition proceedings, treatises on conversion, law, and illuminated manuscripts. Note: This course is part of the following field(s) of study: Europe. It also meets the pre-modern requirement. (Same as: REL 2579)

REL 2239 Judaism in the Age of Empires  

How did the Hellenistic, Roman, and Christian empires shape Jewish history? Investigates how ancient Judaism and Jewish society materialized under the successive rule of ancient empires. Analyzes both how the Jews existed as a part of and yet apart from the culture, religion, and laws of their imperial rulers. Readings include a cross-section of literature from antiquity--including the books of the Maccabees, the writings of Flavius Josephus and Philo of Alexandria, the New Testament, the Dead Sea Scrolls, apocalyptic literature, the “Mishnah,” and early Christian anti-Jewish polemic--to understand the process by which the Jews created Judaism as a religion in opposition to Christianity and Greco-Roman traditions.

REL 2214 A History of Anti-Semitism  

Introduces students to a history of anti-Semitism (and its antecedent, anti-Judaism) as discursive operations in the world. Its title reflects the approach to this topic— rather than trace a linear narrative of the history of anti-Semitism, students will investigate particular moments, cases, loci, and flashpoints of anti-Semitism via film, drama, short stories, treatises, dialogues, and scripture. Focusing on a range of forms and contexts, the course analyzes the continuities and discontinuities within the polemical discourses representing Jews and Judaism. The course will consider, for example, Biblical supersessionism; Blood Libel; The Merchant of Venice, Protocols of the Elders of Zion; Christian Zionist anti-Semitism; the Jewish Museum of London’s recent exhibit Jews, Money, Myth; contemporary politics and BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions); and the rise of white nationalism. (Same as: ENGL 2903)

REL 2207 Modern Jewish Identities  

Investigates the origins, development, and current state of modern Jewish identities. We will examine both perceptions and the historical realities of Jews’ positions in hierarchies through the emergence of modern movements such as Zionism, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and Hasidic Judaism. Course emphasizes how members of these movements perceive themselves as integrated into or apart from the rest of society. Topics include Jews and whiteness, Judaism as ethnicity, and Judaism as a global community.

Support Resources

The Rachel Lord Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, the Center for Multicultural LifeCounseling and Wellness Services, and other offices within the Division of Student Affairs are resources for all students. Additionally, faculty, and staff contact the Office of the Ombuds to facilitate fair and equitable resolutions to concerns that arise in the workplace.

Student Experience

Hillel, a student organization aims to provide students with a Jewish home on campus by celebrating Jewish holidays, planning Jewish educational events, and offering a social hub and the Rachel Lord Center for Religious and Spiritual Life provides support and guidance for students and groups around religious observance, religious pluralism, and spiritual practice.

Reporting an Incident

Members of the College community who have experienced antisemitism, other forms of identity-based harm, or behaviors that are inconsistent with Bowdon’s stated values or policies are encouraged to report it. Reports can make a difference. Even if you don't want or expect any action to be taken, the report helps the College to better understand and address issues and occurrences of bias. Information about reporting options are available on the Institutional Equity and Compliance website

Community Resources

There are many synagogues and community programs in southern and Midcoast Maine that have a history of welcoming members of the Bowdoin community, including:

Beth Israel Congregation (Reform) 
862 Washington St.
Bath, ME 04530
Phone: (207) 443-4606

Beth Israel Congregation (Conservative) 
291 Main St
Waterville, ME 04901
Phone: (207) 872-7552

Chabad Jewish Center of Brunswick 
12 Pleasant St
Brunswick, ME 04011
Phone: (207) 370-4522
Services: Friday 6:30pm

Congregation Bet Ha’am (Reform)
81 Westbrook Street, South Portland, Maine
Phone: (207) 879-0028

Congregation Shaarey Tphiloh (Orthodox) 
400 Deering Ave #4a
Portland, ME 04103
Phone: (207) 773-0693

Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine
1342 Congress Street
Portland, ME 04102
Phone: (207) 772-1959

Maine Jewish Film Festival
(207) 831-7495

Temple Beth El (Reform) 
3 Woodlawn St
Augusta, ME 04332
Phone: (207) 622-7450

Temple Beth El (Conservative) 
400 Deering Ave
Portland, ME 04103
Phone: (207) 774-2649

Temple Shalom (Non-denominational) 
74 Bradman St
Auburn, ME 04210
Phone: (207) 786-4201