Most of my teaching deals with medieval Hebrew texts. I am fortunate to teach at an institution that has a major research library with an enormous collection of manuscripts, including a huge collection of Genizah fragments. The availability of these materials makes it easy for me to supplement my textual teaching by showing students the raw materials from which these texts are derived and from which they make their way to printed editions. Putting students into such close contact with these materials makes concrete for them the ways in which medieval Hebrew literature was used, preserved, and transmitted, besides providing them the thrill of contact with earlier times.
Thus, in my courses on Hebrew liturgical poetry, a visit to the library demonstrates, more forcefully than anything I could say, the prominence of poetry in the liturgical practice of earlier times. The illuminations in some manuscripts afford another way of looking at the texts besides the more philological work that we do in class. For a course on medieval Hebrew rhymed prose stories, I developed a session on the history of the illustrations of Ibn Sahula’s Meshal ha-kadmoni, the first-known Hebrew work that was designed by the author to be illustrated. Our holdings are sufficiently extensive to enable me to show the class nearly every premodern edition and the ways in which different illustrators interpreted the text. When teaching a course on Judah Halevi’s poetry, I was able to show the class two autograph Genizah manuscripts of Halevi’s documenting his famous pilgrimage. They were thrilled to find that they could make out the Arabic title (written in Hebrew letters) of the Kuzari in Halevi’s own handwriting!
I almost always devote a session of my liturgical poetry courses to the associated music, inviting a cantor/musicologist who lectures, plays recordings, and demonstrates at the piano. Last year I also invited a performer who specializes in Jewish music of the Near East and Israel to demonstrate Middle Eastern piyyut chants and to address the current piyyut fad in Israel.
I have occasionally organized field trips. For an undergraduate course on Islam and Judaism, I arranged for a trip to the 96th St. Mosque, where the imam kindly met with the class; and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where a docent guided us through the collection of Islamic art. I once organized a tour to the Cloisters for students interested in Medieval Studies, again with the guidance of a docent. For an undergraduate class on common motifs in Greek and biblical narratives, I held an after-hours showing of the 1977 film Iphigenia in Aulis (with pizza) to provide an opening for our discussion of the play.