May 26, 2018 •
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History Through Text with Rabbi Kulwin

The Jewish Religion
History Through Text is offered throughout the year by Rabbi Kulwin.
Taught in blocks of several weeks, each class will also be a stand-alone unit so that an inability to attend all (or even most) of the sessions will not be an impediment to an enjoyable and simulating learning experience.

The Jewish Religion
When I say “Judaism,” I know what I mean, but is that what you mean when you say it? And are either of those the same as what our forebears meant millennia, centuries, or even just decades and years ago? Ever since Abraham, Judaism has meandered, twisted and turned, met dead ends in back alleys and sped forward on straightaways, constantly (and perhaps inevitably) evolving.

In these sessions, we will explore Judaism has meant at different times and in different places. Hopefully, the course we chart will not only educate us but lead us to a better personal understanding of what Judaism means to us.

Class Descriptions & Schedule

Thursday, June 14, 7:00-8:30 PM
Orthodoxy today may see itself as Rabbinic Judaism’s heir, but it is far from monolithic. Chasms of belief, outlook and practice separate Satmars from Kiryas Joel, Syrian Jews at the Jersey shore from the modern Orthodox strolling down Pleasant Valley Way on Saturday morning. A consideration of liturgy, memoirs and communal edicts will show us where these communities agree and where they don’t.

Israeli Judaism
Thursday, June 21, 7:00-8:30 PM
Israeli Judaism is not Diaspora Judaism. Given Hebrew as the vernacular language, Israel as the Jewish state literally constructed on Jewish history and world Jewry’s many faces claiming a stake in the land, this is no surprise. But how does Judaism manifest itself in Israel, and why the way that it does? Reading statements by Israel’s Founding Fathers, polemics by leaders of the religious establishments and counter polemics by opponents, we will gain insight into what Israeli Judaism looks and why, as well as where, it’s headed.

Judaism of the Bible- Completed
The Bible tells us just what Judaism –a word it never uses!– was during the Biblical period.  Several Jewish sects emerged from that era, each understanding differently how the Bible directed them to live as Jews:  the Pharisees and Sadducees, the Essenes, Karaites and Samaritans, and others. We will read several texts from or accounts of these groups to understand what they shared and what they didn’t.

Judaism Before Modernity—Completed
Jewish prayer books from 9th century Germany, 13th century Spain and 17th century Poland may have looked similar, but the minhag, the worship customs of each community, differed, sometimes greatly. The Hasidim and the Mitnagdim, for example, were all observant, but threatened each other with excommunication (and worse). We will examine rabbinic literature, prayer texts and first-person accounts to gain both an understanding of the Judaism of the time and how it set the stage for what was to come next.

Rabbinic Judaism: Completed
While some ancient sects, notably the Karaites and the Samaritans, still exist, Rabbinic Judaism, formulated by the rabbis of the Talmud, prevailed. The basis of what we call Orthodoxy, Rabbinic thought created rules of interpretation so rabbis could systematically apply Biblical teachings not only to worship but to daily life. Study of several Talmudic passages will illustrate core beliefs of Rabbinic Judaism.

Liberal Judaism in Germany- Completed
Jewish religious reform began in Germany, with the founding of Wissenschaft des Judentums, (Science of Judaism), the 19th century movement premised on critical examination of the Jewish past. This led to the establishment of Reform Judaism in Germany as new theological understandings made innovations in liturgy possible, and departures from rigorous observance acceptable. Happily for us, the early leaders loved to write, and their papers, diaries and liturgy paint a vivid picture of their Jewish world.

Liberal Judaism in America-Completed
Reform and Conservative Judaism were born in Germany but America is where they flourished, becoming the dominant forces in American Jewish religious life. Formal resolutions by governing bodies and writings by leading rabbis make it clear what these movements wanted to achieve. They also give insight into why this country has been so good for Jews, which itself tells us more about Judaism than we might have thought.

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