Introduction to Judaism at Ohef Sholom

September 2, 2019

What’s Happening

Begins Saturday, September 14, 9 am

What is Judaism? is the name of Ohef Sholom’s course introducing Jewish ideas. The class is open to anyone interested in learning more about the distinctively Jewish way of thinking and relating to life.

In recent years, the 10-session course, which meets twice a month, has attracted would-be converts, people simply curious to know more about the foundational faith of Western Civilization, and some born Jews who stopped learning in childhood and wonder what they might have missed.

The course is not about how to light candles or bake challah. It begins with The Beginning and considers the meaning of life. It goes on to introduce the language of Jewish thinking and the foundational texts of Jewish history and philosophy. Included are practical things about how the prayer book is organized, and a mention that the Christian “Old Testament” includes all the same books as the Hebrew Bible, but uses them in a different sequence to come away with a different world view.

The classes try to unpack what may be confusing about holidays because they had an agricultural origin—evident in their dependence on the moon’s schedule—and then they got an overlay of Biblical historical meanings on top of which, during the diaspora, they picked up local recipes and games. So, at the end of the barley harvest and the weaning of lambs, Jews celebrate getting Torah at Sinai, and eat dairy foods in European recipes–each element having been added on in successive millenia.

The class explores what distinguished different groupings: the 12 tribes of Biblical times, then Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes of Temple times, followed by the diaspora cultures of Sephardic, Ashkenazic, and Mizrachi Jews and finally, today’s varied Jewish religious movements. There are sessions on a lifetime sequence of celebrations, and on the history and concept of Tzedakah.

For those raised in authoritarian faiths, the big moment usually comes in the first session when they learn that Jews encourage, expect, and honor questioning. Often the class will stop, while members try to be sure they understand. From then on, questions keep the class very lively.

Kathryn Morton

Letter to the Editor