Jewish Diversity: An Online Class

Traditions of Judaism is an introduction to the things all Jews have in common as well as an exploration of the vast diversity in Jewish life. The goal of this course is to acquaint students with Jewish communities worldwide, and equip them to appreciate and interact with Jewish cousins whose customs are different from yours. Some students will also learn more about the histories behind their own family stories.

We’ll start with the things we have in common: Shabbat, the synagogue, and the prayer service. While each of these has analogs in other religions, the Jewish approach to Sabbath, to organizing ourselves, and to prayer are quite distinct. I’ll offer a model for understanding the prayer service so that you will be able to attend a service anywhere, in any language, and get something out of the service.

Then we’ll move on to explore many of the communities and traditions within Judaism today, and how they came to be distinct. We’ll look at Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and Mizrahi history and traditions, the Movements (Conservative, Reform, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Renewal, etc), American Judaism, Jews in Israel, and then come full circle to look at Jewish food traditions.

Here is a list of topics, by week:

  1. Welcome & Shabbat
  2. Synagogue & Siddur
  3. Ashkenazi Judaism: History & Culture
  4. Sephardic Judaism: History & Culture
  5. Mizrahi Communities: History & Culture
  6. North American Judaism (including Canada)
  7. Jewish Communities in Israel
  8. Judaism & Food Traditions / What’s Next for You?

The class is also available by via recordings if you are busy on Sunday afternoons. Lectures are only a part of the class; we use a Facebook group for discussions and all students are welcome to schedule online one-on-one sessions with Rabbi Adar.

Online Class: To sign up for the online class, go to its page in the Lehrhaus Judaica catalog. Begins Sunday, March 31, 2019 at 3:30pm, Pacific Time.

Berkeley Class: If you are interested in the offline Wednesday night class in Berkeley, CA, it has a different page in the Lehrhaus catalog. This class begins on Wednesday, March 27, 2019, at 7:30pm. The links will also give you more specific info on tuition, scheduling, and locations.

This class (either on- or off-line) is the Spring portion of a three part series that can be taken in any order.  (Fall: Lifecycle & Holidays, Winter: Israel & Texts, Spring: Traditions of Judaism.) Every class also works as a stand-alone entity, for those who already have some knowledge of Judaism but want to enrich their learning on a particular area. The course is not a conversion class; it is open to anyone who is interested in learning more about the varieties of Jews in the world and their traditions.

I love teaching this class – it’s my passion. If diversity of Jewish experience interests you, I hope you’ll join us!

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Free Sample for Regular Readers!

Image: Studying from a Torah Scroll with my study partner, Fred Isaac. Photo by Linda Burnett.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I teach an online class called Introduction to the Jewish Experience. In the winter, the topic is “Israel & Texts,” an exploration of the library of books that have shaped Jewish experience since the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE.

Tomorrow, Feb 3, 2019, I’m going to open that class to auditors for one meeting only. In other words, you can get a free sample of the class simply by clicking the link below.

Class meets from 3:30 to 5 pm Pacific Time (6:30 Eastern, 5:30 Central, 4:30 Mountain, etc.) The topic will be “Torah, Tanakh, and Midrash.” I’ll explain what those are, and we’ll learn where they came from and what Jews do with those texts.

Why am I doing this? I have several bees in my bonnet about the NFL and American football. I’d like to give anyone who forgoes the annual concussion-fest of “SuperBowl” a little treat, and this is what I have to offer.

I am not going to publicise this via Twitter for obvious reasons – only those who subscribe to this blog or is a friend on Facebook will see it.

Three requests. By clicking on the link below you agree to all three of these requests:

  1. When you click the link and enter the Zoom classroom, your microphone will be muted. Please leave your microphone off during the class and let the registered students do the talking and asking questions.
  2. You are welcome to send me your questions at my email rabbiadar-at-gmail-dot-com, and I will answer them in upcoming blog posts.
  3. Please do not publicise this offer via social media of any sort. I am not set up to wrangle vast numbers of pop-in visitors.

And now, THE LINK.

See you in class!

New Projects, New Priorities

Image: My little office assistant, Jojo, likes to sunbathe when she can. This is a photo of her enjoying the sunshine with the caption, “California Girl.”

I’ve hardly posted in the month of December, 2018. Some of that has been because I was traveling on a family vacation. Some of it has been because I had two different accidents that have taken time for recovery. But the big reason is that I’m starting some new projects, and something had to give.

First new project: This spring I’m co-teaching two terms of “Angels in the Bible and Beyond” with Dr. Jehon Grist through Lehrhaus Judaica. You can find information about those classes in our online catalog, on the page where my classes are listed. Teaching a new class means first doing a lot of reading and sorting: what that I know can be conveyed in x number of sessions and will be both interesting and possibly useful? What can I learn, to add to what I already know, that will make the class better? I love getting ready for a new class, because there’s so much for me to learn and to think over.

Second new project: I’m taking an old interest of mine, ritual studies, and turning that lens on the process of gerut, conversion to Judaism. There are several parts to such a project: my studies in ritual studies stopped in 1981, when I graduated from the Divinity School of the University of Chicago, but the field has been perking right along with new ideas and postmodernism and such. So task #1 was to catch up on what I’ve missed. Task #2 was to take a long hard look at the texts that underlie modern-day gerut, mostly but not exclusively in Talmud and in the codes. And Task #3 was to take my own memories of being a giyoret (female of ger) and of being a rabbi guiding people through conversions, to look at the rituals involved. I hope the result will be an academic article, but I’ll just have to see how it all goes.

Third new project: I’m looking at a new format for teaching online. Writing blog articles has been helpful to people, but I’m running out of topics and I have been told there’s a huge audience unlikely to read even short essays. So I am working on moving to video in the near future. Instructions on how to find me will be posted here, of course.

I’m not officially closing this blog, but it isn’t the focus for my creative energy right now. I will post from time to time, so those who subscribe to the blog will get notice of it, and those who follow me on Twitter will hear of it. So no worries!

 לַכֹּל, זְמָן; וְעֵת לְכָל-חֵפֶץ, תַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם. 


To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.

Ecclesiastes 3:1

As the seasons change, and the years turn, we change and turn to new tasks. I wish us all a peaceful conclusion to the old year of 2018, and many good works in the upcoming year.

Basic Jewish Book List – 5779 Update!

Image: A wall of books surrounding a blue doorway. (pixabay/ninocare)

Every year I take a hard look at the list of books I recommend to the Intro to the Jewish Experience students. This year’s list omits some oldies and adds a few new books. No one needs to own ALL of these – I offer this list as a browsing list for your next step in growing your interest in specific Jewish topics.

*Books with an asterisk are those I strongly recommend to my Intro students. If I weren’t so concerned about their budgets, I’d require them.

General Introductory Texts on Judaism

*Settings of Silver by Stephen Wylen. (The only text I require for Intro to the Jewish Experience)

What is a Jew? by Morris N. Kertzner. Another good basic text.

Living a Jewish Life by Anita Diamant. 

Jewish Literacy by Joseph Telushkin.

Judaisms: A 21st Century Introduction to Jews and Jewish Identities by Aaron J. Hahn Tapper (A college text, a little more challenging but a truly wonderful book.)

Jewish Bibles

*Every Jewish home should have a Tanakh, a Jewish Bible. Most Reform and Conservative synagogues use a JPS Tanakh. (JPS is the Jewish Publication Society.) 

If you are curious as to how the Jewish Bible is different from the Christian Bible, read Beginners’ Guide to the Jewish Bible. For a discussion of the various translations of the Tanakh available, read Which Bible is Best, Rabbi?

If you would like to own a commentary on the Torah, a book with footnotes that explain things in the text, some of the most popular are:

The Torah: A Modern Commentary, ed. Gunther Plaut (in many Reform synagogues)

Etz Chaim: Torah and Commentary, ed. JPS (in many Conservative synagogues)

The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, ed. Tamara Eskenazi and Rabbi Andrea Weiss

A Torah Commentary for our Times, ed. Harvey J. Fields

About the Bible

What’s In It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Jewish Narratives by Stephen Fuchs  This little book is helpful for those who wonder what a collection of old stories and rules has to say to modern Jews today.

Who Wrote the Bible?, by Richard Elliot Friedman is a basic, readable explanation of the “documentary hypothesis,” the idea that the Torah is a blend of several different voices.

*Haggadah

Every Jewish home should have at least one copy of the haggadah, the script by which we lead the seder every year at Passover.  There are many to choose from, from some rather uninspiring free haggadot to very expensive art books. Some of the best fall in between those two extremes. The best way to find one is to go to a bookstore during the month before Passover and browse them until you find the one that speaks to you. Some households write their own haggadot; that’s a project that’s best done after you’ve been to a few seders.

Jewish Holidays

Seasons of our Joy by Arthur Waskow. 

Guide to the Jewish Seasons editor Peter Knobel. 

*The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel (Specifically has to do with Shabbat.)

Keeping Passover by Ira Steingroot 

The Days of Awe by S.Y. Agnon (High Holy Days)

This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation by Alan Lew (High Holy Days) 

Jewish Home

The Jewish Home: A Guide for Jewish Living (New Edition) by Daniel B. Syme

*On the Doorposts of Your House, CCAR Press (also in .pdf format)

How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household by Blu Greenberg (orthodox practices) 

 

Jewish Lifecycle

Gates of Mitzvah: A Guide to the Jewish Life Cycle by Simeon Maslin

The New Jewish Wedding by Anita Diamant

A Time to Mourn, A Time to Comfort: A Guide to Jewish Bereavement by Dr. Ron Wolfson and David J. Wolpe

Mourning and Mitzvah by Anne Brener (A guide for mourners)

Jewish Parenting

Jewish Spiritual Parenting: Wisdom, Activities, Rituals and Prayers for Raising Children with Spiritual Balance and Emotional Wholeness by Rabbi Paul Kipnes and Michelle November, MSSW

How to Raise a Jewish Child by Anita Diamant

The New Jewish Baby Book by Anita Diamant

Putting God on the Guest List: How to Reclaim the Spiritual Meaning of Your Child’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah by Salkin, Lebeau, and Eisenberg

Conversion to Judaism

Choosing a Jewish Life by Anita Diamant (conversion)

Choosing Judaism by Lydia Kukoff (conversion)

Jewish Thought

*Judaism’s 10 Best Ideas: A Brief Book for Seekers by Rabbi Arthur Green

*Finding God: Selected Responses by Rifat Sonsino and Daniel Syme. Clear and simple approach to the question, What do Jews think about God?

The Book of Jewish Values by Joseph Telushkin

Jewish History

Your choice of history book will depend on how you feel about history. Choose the one that works for you. *Do read at least one of these!

The Story of the Jews by Stan Mack (graphic novel format but quite good, an excellent choice if you are ambivalent about fat volumes.)

Wanderings: Chaim Potok’s History of the Jews by Chaim Potok Potok is a story teller. 

My People: Abba Eban’s History of the Jews by Abba Eban Eban was Israel’s first representative to the United Nations, and he was a major player in the foundation of the State of Israel.

A History of the Jews by Paul Johnson An outsider history of the Jews, very well done. Strikes a balance between scholarship and storytelling.

A Short History of the Jewish People by Raymond Scheindlin A shorter history, good if you want “just the facts, ma’am” history.

Israel

Israel: A History by Martin Gilbert A detailed history of Israel from 1862-1997. Predominantly Zionist in its point of view.

Israel is Real by Rich Cohen Very readable. There are a few minor errors, but it is remarkably clear-eyed about the complexity of Israel and its emotional connection for American Jews.

A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time by Howard M. Sachar A scholarly approach, staunchly Zionist.

The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements 1967-1977 by Gershom Gorenberg. Gorenberg is an Israeli journalist. If you are curious about the roots of the current situation and the occupation of the West Bank, this is a good choice.

The Israel-Arab Reader: A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict, 7th Edition by Walter Laqueur A reader of primary documents. Better if you already know a little bit of the history of Modern Israel.

My Promised Land: The Triumph and the Tragedy of Israel by Ari Shavit. The writer is controversial, but the book is excellent and centrist in stance.

Introduction to the Jewish Experience

Image: Me, lighting Shabbat candles. You’ll learn how to do this, and what it all means. (Photo by Linda Burnett.)

I teach a course called Intro to the Jewish Experience, a class that begins with Basic Judaism. It’s designed to equip students to participate in Jewish community, whether that’s the local synagogue or the local Jewish Film Festival.

For info on where and how to sign up, check out A Course in Basic Judaism!, which I posted last week. There is an online section of the class, which you may attend “live” or via recording, and a completely separate but parallel regular class that will meet at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley, CA.

The class has three separate terms. Students are welcome to take them in any order. Each will also work nicely as a stand-alone course. Here are the topics covered, with the caveat that depending on the interests of class members and on opportunities for interesting visitors, there may be changes:

Fall Term: Jewish Holidays and Lifecycle Events (Oct – Dec)

  1. The Sabbath – Basic Concepts
  2. God, Covenant, & Mitzvah
  3. Spring Holiday Cycle: Purim, Passover, & Shavuot
  4. Fall Holiday Cycle: Elul, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, & Sukkot
  5. National Holiday Cycle: Chanukah, Tu B’Shevat, the Yoms, & Tisha B’Av.
  6. Death & Mourning as a Jew
  7. Bar/Bat Mitzvah & Jewish Weddings
  8. Welcoming New Jews: Bris, Brit Bat, & Conversion to Judaism

Winter Term: Israel & Texts (Jan – Mar)

  1. The Sabbath – looking at a text of Shabbat
  2. Ancient Israel – History & Archaeology
  3. Torah, Tanakh, and Midrash – Stories about Ancient Israel
  4. Rabbinic Judaism (70 CE – 800 CE) – History of the Rabbis
  5. Rabbinic Texts – What is the Talmud? – with text study
  6. Codes, Responsa and Law – How does “Jewish Law” really work?
  7. Anti-Semitism
  8. Zionism & Modern Israel

Spring Term: Traditions of Judaism (Apr – May)

We begin with the things that all Jews share, and then look at the great diversity in the Jewish world:

  1. The Sabbath: Havdalah 
  2. Synagogue, Siddur, and Service
  3. Sephardic Judaism: History & Culture
  4. Ashkanazi Judaism: History & Culture
  5. Mizrahim: Histories & Culture
  6. North American Judaism and Movements of Judaism
  7. Jews of Color
  8. Jews & Food, Jewish Social Action

As you can see, each term begins with the Sabbath. That will tell you how central I believe the day is to understanding Judaism. In the fall, we look at it as the biggest holiday in the Jewish year. In winter, we learn how to do Jewish text study by studying the Kiddush together. In the spring, it is the first of the three things the Jewish world has in common.

If this sounds like it might be for you, you can find more information and registration links here:

Online Class:

Class meets on Sunday from 3:30-5pm Pacific Time, starting on October 22. To register, visit the course page in the Lehrhaus Judaica online catalog.

Class in the San Francisco East Bay:

Classes will meet at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley on Wednesdays starting October 10 from 7:30 – 9pm. For more information and to register, visit the course’s page in the Lehrhaus Judaica online catalog.
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Financial assistance is available for students who need it. Contacts are available in our online catalogue at Lehrhaus.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Course in Basic Judaism!

Image: My first “Intro to the Jewish Experience” class, in 2009. Photo by Scott Wexelberg.

Right after the High Holy Days, I start my “Intro to the Jewish Experience” series over again.

Intro to the Jewish Experience is a course in Basic Judaism offered by Lehrhaus Judaica and taught by Rabbi Ruth Adar – me.
Who takes this class? People who for whatever reason never got a basic Jewish education and want one. They may be born-Jewish, they may be considering conversion, they may be marrying into a Jewish family, or maybe they’ve taken a job at a Jewish institution. This class will give a good foundation in the basics, and also some insights about how Jewish communities actually work.
My goal is to equip all my students for whatever Jewish connections they want in their lives.
Class in the San Francisco East Bay:
Classes will meet at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley on Wednesdays starting October 10 from 7:30 – 9pm. For more information and to register, visit the course’s page in the Lehrhaus Judaica online catalog.
Online Class:
If Wednesday evenings are not convenient, we offer the same course online on Sunday afternoons from 3:30-5pm Pacific Time, starting on October 22. To register, visit the course page in the Lehrhaus Judaica online catalog.
The course takes place in three terms, which may be taken in any order:
  • In the Fall (Oct – Dec) Jewish Holidays & Lifecycle Events.
  • In Winter (Jan – March)  Israel & Texts. (History of Judaism and Jewish Texts)
  • In Spring, (April – May) we learn about the the diversity in world Judaism and the similarities that hold us together, in a class we call Traditions of Judaism.

Information about the class is available at the class website, Jewish Experience Online.

 

Online Classes Starting Soon!

Image: A laptop sits on a desk at home beside a notebook.

Lehrhaus Judaica is a non-denominational center for Jewish learning, and in recent years, we’ve grown our online offerings.  This winter we’re offering a variety of classes online. Click on the class name to go to the catalog, where you can see a video about the class, get a fuller description, dates and times, tuition figures, and links for registration.

I’m happy to answer questions about the classes; feel free to leave them in the comments section. However, most of the answers you want will be in the catalog, to which I’ve supplied links.

Israel & Texts: A class for those who want to learn more about Jewish texts in the context of Jewish history and the land of Israel.  I’ve written at length about the class here. No Hebrew required.

Beginning Prayer Book / Biblical Hebrew: An introduction to Hebrew basics, taught by Dr. Jehon Grist, whom I can recommend heartily because I learned from him, myself.

Intermediate Prayer Book / Biblical Hebrew: This course will take you from “beginner” status into actually reading Biblical texts. Also taught by Dr. Grist.

Advanced Biblical Hebrew 3: The Book of Esther: Join a group of advanced Hebrew students working on translation of the Book of Esther. Quoting from Dr. Grist’s description of the class: “We will translate and analyze selected passages from this amazing story, visiting both the ancient Persian Empire and additional versions of the text to discover how Esther’s tale developed and what its meaning is for us today.”

Traditions of Judaism: An 8-week spring course on the various expressions of Judaism: Movements, Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrahi, American Judaism, etc. I’m the teacher for this one.

Israel at 70: An Ancient and Modern Adventure: This is the recommended pre-tour course for the Lehrhaus/Tiyul Jewish Journeys trip to Israel with an optional extension to Petra, but is also open to those who want to learn more about our original homeland. Dr. Grist, an accomplished archaeologist with deep roots in the land will lead this course.

The Book of Esther(Tuesday evenings) Dr. Jehon Grist and I are studying Esther together. He comes at it as an academic, a translator, and as an archaeologist. I come at it from a rabbinic perspective. Then each of us teaches a course on the book! This link is to my version of the class, available both at Temple Sinai in Oakland or online.

The Book of Esther – (Wednesday evenings) The same as above, but with Dr. Jehon Grist teaching. Our project is to look at the scroll of Esther with new eyes and perhaps get some new insights before Purim. We’ll have one meeting post-Purim to share how our study has influenced our experience of the holiday. Dr. Grist will teach the class at Congregation Bnai Israel in Berkeley, CA, as well as online.

The Jews of Italy: A Journey of 2,000 Years – A web-based course on the history of Judaism in Italy, taught by Dr. Jehon Grist. Whether you’re planning a trip to Italy or simply interested in exploring the topic digitally, we’ll help you discover the people, places and key events that make this one of the most compelling stories of the Jews in Europe.

Traditions of Continuity and Diversity: The Rise of Rabbinic Judaism and Classical Christianity –  Judaism and Christianity have a long and sometimes uncomfortable relationship. The goal in this class is to provide a firm historical basis to begin anew a more fruitful discussion and true dialogue based on mutual respect and appreciation. This course will presume no previous historical knowledge of this era and will use audio-visual, textual, and lecture and discussion formats to carry us through the material. Jews, Christians, and anyone else interested in the topic are encouraged to attend. The class will be taught by the Rev. Bruce R. Bramlett. He is an Episcopal priest and theological scholar. He has spent his academic career exploring and understanding the long, complex , and often tragic history of the Jewish-Christian encounter throughout the west.