Introduction to Judaism Course

in partnership with the Miller Introduction to Judaism Program
with Rabbis Leider and Steinberg

Kol Shofar offers this 18-week course each year in partnership with the Miller Introduction to Judaism program at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles.

This 18-week course is for those who would like to learn about Judaism from the ground up, or to fill in gaps from what they learned (or didn’t learn) as a child. The class also prepares those considering conversion. It covers biblical and rabbinic writings, history and culture, holy days, festivals, Shabbat, Jewish concepts of God and ethics, life cycle, dietary laws and Israel. Students who wish to take a single class by topic may do so. Topical learning begins a half hour into the session. This year class will be held on Zoom until further notice.

Tuition: $275 for the 18-week series; Free for members or $20 per class for the community. Classes will begin on October 12, 2021 and goes from 6:00-8:00 p.m. on Tuesdays on Zoom. To register or for more information, contact Sara at sglass at kolshofar dot org or (415) 388-1818 x130


 Dates & Topics:

Oct 12 | Beginnings: From Creation to the Edge of the Wilderness
Torah as the lens for foundational Jewish concepts, including Tselem Elohim and Brit. Using “beginnings” stories from the Torah (Creation, Lech Lecha, Exodus) to frame and share our own stories of Jewish journeys. This class will also serve as the “Orientation” session, covering class expectations and spending time on group building activities. 

Oct 19 | The World of the Bible
Exploring the breadth of Tanakh literature and the ancient history (Exodus to the Babylonian Exile) of the Jewish People. Examination of representative texts from the Tanakh and introduction to the way that Jews study sacred text.

No Class October 26

Nov 2 | Heart of Many Rooms: Understanding Jewish Diversity
Distinctions between Jews of different geographic and ethnic backgrounds. Exploration of the differences between the modern denominations. Introduction of the concept of “mitzvot” as a lens to examine the philosophy and practice of the contemporary denominations. 

Nov 9 | Holy Days: The Wheel of the Jewish Year
Overview of all the major Jewish holidays and the cycle of the Jewish year. Emphasis on the core themes of the holidays and the ways that the Jewish calendar illustrates the core values of Judaism.

Nov 16 | Shabbat: Palace in Time
In-depth discussion of Shabbat, from its origins in the Ten Commandments to our contemporary practice. Exploration of the basics of Shmirat Shabbat and a focus on the meaning and practice of Shabbat rituals in the home and synagogue. 

Nov 23 | When Do I Bow? And Other Questions About Jewish Prayer
Exploration of both the mechanics and meaning behind Jewish prayer. Focus on the general rubrics of the prayer service, keva/kavanna, ritual garb and symbols, and general comfort in the synagogue environment. Familiarity with basic prayers and blessings—including Sh’ma, Amidah, Kaddish, and the basic blessing formula.

Jan 25 | Passover: The Jewish Master Story
The meaning and value of the Passover narrative as the “master story” of the Jewish People. Examination of the basics of hametz and Passover observance. Model seder to explore the rituals and themes of the Passover holiday, with an emphasis on building comfort with attending and participating in a seder.

Feb 1 | God: Encountering the Holy
Jewish approaches to God—what does it mean to have an authentically Jewish spiritual life? Exploration of texts about God in the Bible, rabbinic literature, the siddur, and modern philosophy. What must a Jew believe—if anything? 

Feb 8 | Talmud: Argument for the Sake of Heaven
Distinction between Biblical and Rabbinic Judaism and the nature and goals of the rabbinic project. Historical context of the Second Temple Period and the particular challenges of Jewish life after the Destruction of the Temple. Examination of illustrative examples of rabbinic literature, particularly noting how rabbinic texts adapt, expand, and update Biblical concepts. 

 Feb 15 | Starting Over: The High Holy Days
Focus on themes of teshuvah and personal renewal, as well as an exploration of key pieces of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur liturgy and symbolism. What to expect from a High Holy Day service? 

Feb 22 | Kashrut: The Original Soul Food
Outline of the practice of Kashrut—its basic rules and concepts and how to practically apply them to daily life. Focus also on the place of food in Jewish life and the practice of brachot before and after eating. 

Mar 1 | Philosophers, Poets and Mysteries The Jewish Middle Ages
History of Jews in the Middle Ages. Focus on the personalities of Rashi, Rambam, and Joseph Karo. Development of kabbalah, including basic explanation of the sefirot, Zohar, and Lurianic Kabbalah. What role does the contributions of the Middle Ages—literary, halakhic, and mystical play in contemporary Judaism? 

Mar 8 | Marriage, Love & Kosher Sex
Jewish rituals for sanctifying relationships, with an in-depth focus on marriage rituals. Exploration of the concept of mikvah—both for conversion and for sanctification of sexuality. What role does Jewish ethics play in defining an ethic around intimate relationships? Inclusion of LGBT Jews in contemporary Jewish life. 

Mar 15 | From Birth to B’nai Mitzvah: Raising a Mensch
Rituals and meaning behind Brit Milah and Simchat Bat, with a focus on the significance of circumcision both for infants and for converts. Choosing a Jewish name, again focusing on both infants and conversion. Jewish parenting and the significance (and cost) of Jewish education. The significant of the B’nai Mitzvah ceremony and Jewish teen life. 

 Mar 22 | A Time to Mourn: Traditions for Death, Grief, & Healing
The significance of Bikkur Holim and other rituals of healing. End of life issues and the Jewish approach to issues like artificial respiration, autopsy, etc. Funeral and burial practices. Shiva, shloshim, yartzeit, and the unique Jewish approach to managing grief. Jewish views on the afterlife. 

Date TBD | Out of the Darkness: Stories from the Holocaust
History of anti-Semitism, from Biblical stories (Purim & Hanukkah), to Jews under Christian and Muslim rule, to the advent of racial anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. Reasons for anti-Semitism. Holocaust survivor testimony and discussion of Jewish responses to the Holocaust. 

Mar 29 | Israel: Dreaming of Deliverance
The Land of Israel in Jewish life and history. Birth of Modern Zionism and the Founding of the State of Israel. Israeli culture, geography, and significant highlights. Why are American Jews so connected to Israel? How are we to understand and respond to Israel’s political challenges—with her neighbors and internally? 

Apr 5 | The Jewish Mission to Heal the World
The Jewish responsibility to bring Tikkun Olam—healing and justice to a world that has great brokenness. The value and practice of Tzedakah. The centrality of the concept of Tselem Elohim and our responsibility to preserve human dignity. Closing rituals for the class and next steps.