It is possible to alter the amount of sessions for a given class or to create a new class.
KABBALAH : THE MYSTICAL JEWISH TRADITION: (This class can be taught in more or less sessions if needed)
In search of spirituality and greater meaning in their lives, people long alienated from mainstream religion are seeking out more esoteric mystical paths. Kabbalah is suddenly hot. Madonna, Britney, Demi Moore and Paris Hilton are counted among current devotees. With Jews and non-Jews flocking to Kabbalah, it may appear to be a stand-alone set of mystical doctrines and practices disconnected from the rest of Jewish life and history. In fact, while Kabbalah had been of marginal and decreasing significance for Jews in the modern West for two hundred years, Kabbalah – and Jewish mysticism generally — was central to Jewish religious thought and feeling for more than two thousand years. In this course we will explore the rich and multifaceted dimensions of the Jewish mystical tradition, considering its varied expressions across the millennia and exploring how these extraordinary products of the Jewish religious imagination have the power to enrich and illumine our lives today.
UNIT 1: Introduction and Mysticism in Biblical Period – Creation Story and Chariot of Fire
UNIT 2: Jewish Mysticism in the Middle Ages: Sefer Yetzirah and Sefer Bahir
UNIT 3: The Zohar
UNIT 4: Post-Expulsion Kabbalah: Isaac Luria and Moses Cordovero
UNIT 5: Hasidism
PSALMS AND PROVERBS (This class can be taught in more or less sessions if needed)
“It is a tree of life to those who hold fast to it” “A woman of valor, who can find her…,” “Behold how good and how pleasant it is when brothers and sisters sit together (hiney mah tov…)…,” “The righteous one flourishes like the palm tree, grows like a cedar in Lebanon.” These are verses from two profoundly beautiful biblical works, often attributed to King David (10 th century BCE) and his son, King Solomon, that reflect both the wisdom of the heart and the deepest longings of the soul. Found in theKetuvim (Writings) section of the Tanakh (Bible), the Book of Proverbs is a compendium of wise counsel in the conduct of everyday life, while the Book of Psalms captures the human attempt to communicate with a God both hidden and revealed. Each book explores a different aspect of the journey through life – the struggle to live ethically in the day-to-day while building a connection with the infinite. Together we will study some of the most compelling selections from these texts, engaging in conversation about their assertions and themes. Through the process we will establish a relationship with the wisdom and poetry we often encounter in well-known sayings and in our own prayer books, yet often without knowing their sources.
UNIT 1— Suffering Evil and Theodicy
Psalms 10:1-18, 12:1-9, 13:1-6, 73:1-28, 94:1-23
UNIT 2 – Wisdom Psalms I: Wisdom, Morality and the Good Soul
Psalms 1:1-6, 15:1-5, 24:1-10, 34:1-22, 94:1-23
Psalms 8:1-9, 19:1-14, 90:1-17
UNIT 3– Prayers, Praise and Cries of Woe
Psalms 33:1-22, 44:1-26, 88:1-18, 130:1-8
UNIT 4 – Songs of the Nation
Psalms 74:1-23, 79:1-13, 126:1-6, 136:1-26, 137:1-9
UNIT 5 – Psalms of Healing and Protection
Psalms 23:1-6, 27:1-14, 30:1-12, 91:1-16, 121:1-8
UNIT 6 – In Praise of Wisdom
Proverbs 3:13-26, 8:12-36, 9:1-18
UNIT 7 – Wealth and Poverty
Proverbs 19:1-29, 22:1-9, 22:22-23
UNIT 8 – The Tradition of the Parents
Proverbs 1:8-9, 4:1-19, 6:20-23, 23:12-14, 23:22-25
UNIT 9– The Wise vs. the Foolish
Proverbs 9:8, 10:17, 12:1, 15:5, 15:10, 10:1-32
UNIT 10 – On Speech
Proverbs 12:13-22, 13:2-3, 18:4-8, 18:20-21
Women’s Voices in the Bible (This class can be taught in more or less sessions if needed)
Women are actively involved in the most important conversations about contemporary Jewish life. While for centuries the voices of women in Judaism have been largely implied, today they are strong, passionate, and vibrant. Yet our voices ring with the stories of our ancestors, their lives, their struggles, their passions, and their pains. The texts we have inherited tell the stories of the women who have come before us, stories that we must learn in order to tell our own. They are the stories of our matriarchs- Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah; of the prophets Miriam and Deborah. We will study these narratives and many more, convening a conversation of women that transcends time and spans generations.
The story continues with Sarah, the first matriarch of the Jewish people. As she is often silent in the text of the Torah, we are left to fill in the blanks regarding her personality, her strengths, and her role as the mother of Israel. Is she, a visionary, possessed with unique qualities that make her a prophet in privileged communication with God? Or is she weak of spirit, incapable of dealing with the tragedies and tribulations that life brings? Who is this woman with whom the Covenant between God and the People Israel begins?
We now get acquainted with our other three matriarchs: Rebecca (Rivka), Rachel and Leah. Rebecca is the first woman in the Torah actively to choose her fate, agreeing of her own volition to accompany Abraham’s servant to meet Isaac, her future husband. In addition, her act of deception positions Jacob (who later becomes Israel) as the third patriarch. Rachel and Leah, the daughters of Laban, are caught in a game of bargaining and deception that eventually yields the twelve tribes. Who are these women and what are their legacies? How do we come to know them, not only through their progeny but also through their own words, struggles, and actions?
Miriam is one of few women in the Tanakh (Bible) to be referred to as a prophet (neviyah). And yet the precise reason why she has come by this title remains a mystery that goes unresolved in the text. She is at once a rallying presence, a caretaker, and an agitator, and her path as a leader takes a variety of curious turns. Who is Miriam? How do we understand her role as a leader, her contributions and the lessons she teaches? How does she function in relationship to the community, and to her brothers, Moses and Aaron?
Deborah is known as a prophet and as a judge. A strong leader who refers to herself as “a mother in Israel,” Deborah challenges us to struggle with female power and authority in the Bible. What is the nature of Deborah’s power, what is the scope of her authority?
For over a generation, the North American Jewish community has enjoyed abundant resources, unprecedented freedom, and power. Ironically, we now find that the challenges presented by these blessings are significant. We must now imagine how to integrate the richness of our inherited traditions into the high-tech, fast-paced, globalized, thrill ride of twenty-first century American life. As leaders, it is our job to create models of Jewishness that can speak to large numbers of highly successful, highly educated, and highly cosmopolitan Jews in languages that they understand, without abandoning the languages of past ages.
In this course, we will explore major turning points in our Jewish past — times and places in which Jewish life was characterized by major change. Our goal is to understand how Jewish communities and their leaders responded to these transformations. In this way, we gain very important insights into how our people have been able to adapt their stories, texts, social structures, and world-views in order to flourish in a changing world.
Our very earliest Jewish memories are of family or clan experiences, and of the experience of slavery. These two facets of our communal consciousness both underwent radical change. We evolved from an extended family, a tribe, into a nation, and we left slavery for freedom. Both developments presented Israel’s leaders with enormous challenges: how could the people go through such fundamental structural changes and still remain “the same”? How different can we be and still be “us”? Different variations of these questions engage us in every successive generation, to our own day.
SESSION 2: MONARCHY AND PROPHECY
The Covenant was meant to be lived out in the land of Israel, but the system of leadership based on the use of charismatic figures in moments of crisis proved inadequate. The establishment of the monarchy and its personification in David and Solomon seemed to embody the religious fervor, political power, and religious values called for by the Torah. But monarchy also proved susceptible to moral breakdown, class struggle, and political corruption. The prophets provided a check for the kings, but it can be argued that the prophets could not be effective leaders. Is a two-tiered leadership structure the solution, or can we imagine a prophet-king?
Solomon’s Temple was destroyed and the Jews were exiled by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. How was the Covenant to survive? Could it be re-invented in exile? If so, what would the new structure look like? Was the only hope a speedy return to the Land? How would life after the exile be affected by the years of being away? One response to exile was to focus on reinventing the people traditions. After the return it was primarily a land-based renewal and reinvention of tradition. A second response appeared. We found ourselves in the midst of some of the most attractive, sophisticated, and subtly seductive cultures ever. First under the rule of Greece, then under that of Rome, we had to decide how, and how much, we wanted to adopt of the culture of Hellenism. Once again, the central question for leadership was about how comfortable we could be as our people integrated into the ambient social, intellectual, cultural and moral environment.
The Temple in Jerusalem and the religious, social, political and economic structures it housed, had been the backbone of the Jewish nation. In the wake of their destruction, the leaders of the people had to re-invent what it meant to be Jewish. The result, what we have traditionally called “Rabbinic Judaism,” seems very traditional to those who perceive it as ancient, inherited tradition. But in reality, virtually every aspect of the new way of life was revolutionary, and required tremendous imagination and courage. The birth of Rabbinic Judaism raises basic questions about the meaning of cultural continuity and discontinuity, authenticity and inauthenticity.
The advent of Islam in the seventh century led to the rise of an empire which, by the early eighth century, brought approximately 90% of world Jewry under its rule. While life for Jews in the middle ages was precarious under Islam as well as under Christianity, the former nurtured a Jewish “Golden Age” of religious and secular creativity. Jewish religious and cultural and intellectual leaders were able to gain tremendously by borrowing methodology and content from their Muslim neighbors. How were they able to do so without feeling the threat of assimilation?
SESSION 6: CRUSADES AND THEIR AFTERMATH
By contrast to life under Islam, Jewish life under medieval Christianity was uncertain at best, and deadly at worst. Two questions arise from the period that resonates deeply for our own experience: (1) Why was it so much easier for Jews to be accepted by Muslims than by Christians? (2) How did the “meaning makers” of Jewish society try to make sense of the often vicious attacks that were directed against the Jews?
SESSION 7: THE HOLOCAUST, ISRAEL AND THE JEWISH PEOPLE
The methodical attempt to destroy the Jewish people in World War II seems to have been qualitatively different from all previous assaults on us. Struggling to understand the horrors of Auschwitz, their ultimate meaning for us as Jews and as human beings, remains an overwhelming and crucial challenge for contemporary Jewish leadership. The modern Zionist movement, which began in the late 19 th century, seemed to come to fruition with the declaration of Israel’s independence in 1948. The dreams of generations of pioneers, and the longings of Jews who had never felt “at home” in the Diaspora, seemed to be resolved. Over half a century later, we are struggling with the meaning of independence, power, and nationhood. In the generations ahead, Jewish leaders will need to think deeply about the meaning of the State of Israel and their relationship to it.
SESSION 8: CONTEMPORARY CHALLENGES
The post-World War II era through the present day will be examined. Special attention will be paid to the 1960s and beyond when access to the general society was much easier and society even began “courting” Jews to become members. Jews became widely accepted into all different professional fields (i.e., lawyers, college professors, bankers, etc.). Anti-Semitism waned. This era set the stage for the society of which we are a part today. Today, Jews are a largely accepted part of the American culture. In this final session, we will discuss how we can use what we have learned about the experiences of Jewish history to create “a way of Jewishness” for us and our children.