I teach about Judaism online. Some of it, like this blog, is free to anyone who accesses it. But if you’d like something a bit more organized, especially if you need a formal “Introduction to Judaism” course for conversion or a wedding, I also offer a class through Lehrhaus Judaica of Berkeley, CA.
This year’s “Online Intro” class will begin on October 23, at 3pm Pacific Time. We use Adobe Connect, a program that will allow most people to access the class if they have an Internet connection and a computer.
If Sunday afternoons (or evenings) don’t work for you, don’t worry. I will email a link to class recordings to everyone who is registered for the class. I am happy to meet with you via Skype or phone to answer questions, and you can participate in class discussions via the class Facebook page.
The class comes in three parts. You can take one of them, or all three, in any order:
Fall: Lifecycle and Holidays – exactly what it sounds like (begins October 23)
Winter: Israel and Texts – a look at Ancient and Modern Israel via traditional texts (begins January 15, 2017)
Spring: Traditions of Judaism – a look at the vast diversity of the Jewish world: Mizrahi, Sephardic, Ashkenazi, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, American, and other possibilities. (begins March 26, 2017)
A new online Intro to the Jewish Experience class starts Sunday at 3:30pm Pacific Time. As always, I’m excited.
The Spring segment of the class is “Traditions of Judaism.” We look at all the different communities and traditions within Judaism today, and how we came to have those various communities. We’ll look at Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and Mizrahi traditions, the Movements (Conservative, Reform, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Renewal, etc), American Judaism and why it is unique, the Prayer Book [Siddur] and the service, and finish up with Jewish food customs. Given that this is an election year, we may talk a little about American Jews and politics, too.
This class (either on- or off-line) is the Spring portion of a three part series that can be taken in any order. 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. (Fall: Lifecycle & Holidays, Winter: Israel & Texts, Spring: Traditions of Judaism.)
I love teaching “Intro” – it’s my passion. If the subject above interests you, I hope you’ll join us!
This morning I had a comment from a reader that he deleted before I could reply to it. The gist, as I recall: Why shouldn’t a person take online classes as part of preparation for conversion? Reading it on my smartphone, I realized that I’d communicated something poorly. I flagged the question to answer when I got to my laptop – but then it was gone. I am grateful that this person’s question has prompted me to clear up some confusion.
I’ve come out pretty strongly against online conversion to Judaism in two separate blog posts: Can I Convert to Judaism Online?and Online Conversion, Revisited. The very short version of my reasoning is that conversion to Judaism isn’t a private matter; a candidate needs to have a local community of Jews with whom to live Jewishly. Ideally, that community will have a rabbi with whom a candidate can work towards conversion.
The process of conversion normally includes at least a year of living Jewishly, an Introduction to Judaism class, pastoral counseling and study with a rabbi, and significant Jewish involvement before one moves to the mohel, the mikveh, and the beit din to fulfill the requirements for conversion. The reason it takes so long is that once a person becomes Jewish, they and the Jews are stuck with one another. Kol Yisrael aravim zeh l’zeh: All Israel is responsible, one for another. This is a very big deal, not to be entered upon lightly.
Anyone is welcome to take an Introduction to Judaism class online or offline. Taking the class is not conversion; it can be a step towards conversion, no more. I strongly recommend that anyone who wants the class to “count” towards conversion find the rabbi first and get their approval on it, lest you wind up having to take yet another Intro class, spending more time and tuition.
I will confess to having a stake in this, since I teach an online Introduction to Judaism class. I will make announcements on this blog before the next class begins.
I have had students who work with Reform, Conservative, and Renewal rabbis take my classes. If your rabbi would like to talk with me to consider whether the class is suitable for their process, I am happy to do that.
However, I don’t sponsor candidates for conversion online. I’m not a congregational rabbi, and I firmly believe that it is best to convert into a Jewish community, not just “to Judaism.” If you are seeking a rabbi with whom to convert, be sure and check out their credentials. The acceptability of your conversion in various Jewish communities will depend on your rabbi’s credentials. There is no “ultimate” conversion: even if you go through an Orthodox conversion there will be some communities that do not recognize it. However, what you want is a rabbi whose credentials will qualify you for the Jewish community with whom you want to live. An ethical rabbi will explain to you the realities of conversion with that rabbi.
So that’s the story. I teach Intro (I love teaching Intro!) and I do teach it online. My class is suitable for people studying for conversion provided their rabbi approves it, and it is also suitable for anyone looking for a basic Jewish education. If there is a synagogue in your area, check with them about Basic Judaism or Intro classes – they may offer live classes, and you’ll get to know the rabbi into the bargain.
I hope this clears things up. And I do hope that the mystery questioner returns, because it was a very good question!
It’s that time again – I’m teaching the class on antisemitism tonight.
I looked over my old lesson plan, and almost changed it. We’re in a different world all of a sudden. We’ve had antisemitic “incidents” in Europe ranging from murder to riots, and an ugly inquisition at a student government meeting in California.
I decided to stick with my old lesson plan, because it is the basis for what my students need to know. Hatred of Jews goes way back in history. It has taken various forms over the centuries. Roman and Greek thinkers believed Jews lazy and disrespectful by nature. Christian antisemitism began as a set of religious beliefs about Jews. Religous antisemitism gradually took political forms, as Christianity became the established religion of Europe. By the 16th century in Spain, there was talk about “Jewish blood” and a sense of Jews as a race began to creep into the European vocabulary. Judaism was no longer an error of belief: it was a physical characteristic. Meanwhile, justifications for doing worse and worse things to Jews piled up.
And then, yes, the 20th century came and with it the horrors of the Holocaust. What I want my students to understand is that the Holocaust wasn’t just “a German thing” and it wasn’t just an episode. All of European history led up to it, and unfortunately, many of the same beliefs and attitudes that gave rise to it are with us today.
Some things have changed for the better: Vatican II brought a radical change of doctrine from the Roman Catholic Church, repudiating its old antisemitism. In the United States and in some parts of Europe, there is a strong feeling of “never again.” Organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center track hate speech and hate crimes.
But we have also slid backwards in other ways. Nazi propaganda made its way into the Arab world during WWII, and so the blood libel and other horrors are still circulating, believed as fact. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an ugly antisemitic hoax, is still circulating, too. And there are hate groups in the West as well: anyone who searches for “Jew” on Google will be greeted by an avalanche of filth.
The modern state of Israel has become a magnet for antisemitic rhetoric. Criticism of Israel is certainly a valid activity – I am not madly in love with many policies of the State of Israel and its government – but a frightening amount of the anti-Israel rhetoric one hears tumbles over the line into antisemitism.
So that’s what’s on my mind tonight. I need to make sure that those studying towards conversion understand that they are signing up for this, and that it isn’t going away. I want to communicate ways of responding, and ways to stay centered while reading the news. It’s a big job, and I feel one of the most important things I do as an “Intro to Judaism” teacher. I’ll finish with questions I’m going to ask the students:
What do you do when you hear someone say something antisemitic? How do you decide what you are going to do? What about hatred aimed at other groups such as people of color or Muslims? When did it last happen, and what did you do?
Have you ever wished you could take a class to sort out what words like Torah, Tanakh, Gemara, Mishnah, and Talmud really mean? Wondered how “Jewish law” is related to the Torah text? Ever wished you could learn more about the history of Israel and the Jews?
Registration is open for the Winter session of Intro to the Jewish Experience, “Israel and Texts” and it includes an online option! Class meetings will take place at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley, CA on Wednesday evenings from 7:30 – 9pm (PST) beginning January 14. For those who cannot attend in Berkeley, we offer the option of attending via Adobe Connect, a cloud-based classroom. All meetings are recorded, so that students also have the option of watching the class recordings.
All classes are taught by me except for Jan 21 and 28. I’m honored to welcome Dr. Jehon Grist as our guest lecturer on Israel.
Jan 14 – Welcome & Introductions: Jews, Texts, and Shabbat Jan 21 –Ancient Israel – Guest: Dr. Jehon Grist Jan 28 –Modern Israel & Zionism – Guest: Dr. Jehon Grist Feb 4 – Torah, Tanakh & Midrash Feb 11 – Beginnings of Rabbinic Judaism Feb 18 – What is the Talmud? Feb 25 – Codes, Responsa and Jewish Law March 11 – Jewish Values, Jewish Ethics
Lehrhaus Judaica is a unique non-denominational Jewish studies adult school. Every course is open to the general public, and all interested adults are welcome, regardless of age, religion, or ethnicity.
I’m too excited about tomorrow: the new cycle of Intro classes starts promptly at 10:10 tomorrow, when I meet a new roomful of strangers. Over the next eight months we’ll get to know one another very well as we wade through Jewish holidays, Jewish lifecycle events, Jewish texts, Jewish history, and a bunch of other topics. More than anything, I’ll try to equip them for living in Jewish community.
Some were born Jewish, but never got a Jewish education. That can generate a lot of shame, but it really isn’t their fault. I love seeing them realize what they know, and what they can learn.
Some are considering conversion to Judaism. I’ll try to equip them for this journey. They need not just facts and “how to” directions, but some clues about the context of American Judaism today, and their own Northern California Jewish community. They need some help in navigating this new Jewish world they seek to enter.
Some are there because they love someone Jewish. They want to understand the language and crack the codes. If I can help with that, their families will be stronger and Judaism will be the better for it.
Some will say they there because it’s Sunday morning, their kids are in Religious School, and someone (their rabbi?) suggested they take the class while they’re waiting. Later in the year I may (or may not) find out what they are hoping to get from the class.
Some will be shy. Some will be full of questions. Some will want to talk all the time, and others will be loathe to talk at all. Some will be easy to love, and some will challenge me to find the tzelem Elohim [image of God] in them.
I have my bag packed, my handouts at the ready. I really need to get some sleep.
Are you curious about Judaism? Interested in getting a basic introduction to the subject? Considering conversion, or just want to figure out your in-laws? It’s that time of year again, folks – “Intro” classes are beginning in many synagogues!
I teach two such classes in the East Bay Area of CA: “Exploring Judaism” starts this Sunday at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, CA. The class meets for an hour each Sunday, starting at 10:10am. For more information, click on the link which will take you to the registration page. My other class “Intro to the Jewish Experience” will begin October 22 at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley, CA. That class meets for an hour and a half on Wednesday evenings, starting at 7:30pm. For more information or to sign up, check out the class page in the online Lehrhaus Judaica catalog.
Don’t live in Berkeley or Lafayette? Check with your local synagogue or Jewish Federation to find out what classes are starting in your area.
Some concerns I hear every year:
Will you expect me to convert? [No]
Will you burn me at the stake because I’m L, G, B, or T? [No, I’m a lesbian myself.]
Will you be mad if I don’t believe in God? [No, we’ll talk about the many different Jewish ideas about God.]
What are you “selling,” rabbi? [Nothing other than a learning experience.]
This class is very expensive! [If it is too much for you, say so. Financial aid is often available.]
If you have questions or needs, speak up. This is your first lesson in Jewish community.
My classes have multiple entry points. If not now, maybe then! Get in touch for more information.
I hope that you find an “Intro” class in your area! If you will be taking one of mine, feel free to leave a comment and say “Hi!”
By the way, the images I use on this blog are all either in the public domain, or they have a Creative Commons license. There’s a wordpress widget that finds them for me and keeps me from sinning against my fellow creative person (and out of copyright trouble.)
I enjoy teaching basic Judaism: it’s my true love, my mission, my passion. “Intro,” done well, can make it much easier for outsiders to become fellow travelers in Jewish community, whether they are Gentile relatives of a Jew, or Jews who got no Jewish education, or someone looking to become a Jew. It has to be more than facts and how-to’s, because Judaism isn’t just a religion, it’s a vast array of ethnicities, customs, history, and culture – as Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan famously titled his book, Judaism is a civilization. As an “Intro” teacher, I’m a tour guide, den mother, demystifier, and spiritual director.
But there’s one class in every series that I hate to teach. Not coincidentally, it is the only class specified by the tradition as a requirement. Rabbinic tradition is rather vague about what converts to Judaism must be taught before they go to the mikveh, but it is adamant that they understand that Jews have been a despised and persecuted people. In other words, they need to be acquainted with anti-Semitism.
Some students who have been engaged Christians at some point in their lives practically writhe with discomfort. I name those feelings, and acknowledge that when you’ve got one foot in each community, this can be very hard listening. I share the fact that it was hard for me, when I took the class long ago. Some Jewish students look distant, and I suspect they are running through unpleasant memories and feelings. Maybe, like me, they just hate the topic.
My impulse is to comfort. I bring cookies. I reassure. But I march relentlessly through that lesson plan, because it is important that they know this stuff. I have a duty to see to it that they understand that when you sign up to be a Jew, you sign up for this, too. For Gentiles in the class, it is important to know why Jews seem “sensitive” about some things, why some topics are funny only if you are a genius like Mel Brooks and can take them all the way off the deep end.
Usually the evening ends off topic: I get to the end of the list, and we trail off from “Jews run the media” into jokes and trivia about Hollywood and Jews. If I’m artful, we’ll leave on an upbeat note. But I’m always relieved when the evening is over, because I hate this topic. I hate, hate, hate it.
We are now in the midst of the Yamim Noraim – the Days of Awe. It’s a time of serious spiritual work. It’s also, for many of us, a time of getting ready for the fall activities that will begin after the holidays are past.
I’m preparing for these fall classes in the San Francisco Bay Area now:
Exploring Judaism – This “Intro to Judaism” class meets on Sunday mornings from 10:10 to 11:10am at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, CA. It’s a year long course, but you can sign up for shorter parts of the class, too. Non-members are welcome. For more information including registration arrangements, check out the class description on the Temple Isaiah website.
Intro to the Jewish Experience (aka Jewish Foundations) – a Lehrhaus Judaica course for newcomers and others who are interested in getting the basics about Judaism in the context of a class community. We’ll meet on Wednesdays from 7:30 – 9pm at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley, CA. You can learn more and register on the class page in the Lehrhaus Judaica online catalog. Begins Oct 17.
Homer & Moses, Poets of their People – a Lehrhaus Judaica course for theater lovers (or Torah lovers!) who are interested in exploring two ancient blockbusters, the Iliad and the Torah via lectures by a classics teacher and a rabbi (yours truly) and a performance of the Iliad at the Berkeley Repertory Theater. Why do we love the Iliad so much? What is it about the Torah that captures the imagination? You can learn more and register for the three-session class on the class page in the Lehrhaus Judaica online catalog. Begins Oct 18.