Introduction to Judaism



January – December 2015


Key: B= Jacobs, Book of Jewish Belief ; P= Jacobs, Book of Jewish Practice, * = Thursday

Syllabus Attachments:

January 6:         Registration


What Is Judaism?

Jacobs, B 1-9; P 1-3

Lamm, Fore Words, pp. xxv – xxix; pp.270-273

Jacobs P 122-125

Topics and Questions:

1. The Biblical origins of the word “Jew”

2. Why is a definition of Judaism elusive?

3. How is Judaism different from other religions?

4. Does Judaism have a creed?

5. What makes Judaism distinctive?

6. The Problem with “Jews for Jesus”

7. “Israel, God, and Torah are One”

8. When does Judaism begin?


January 13:       God: The Core of Jewish Belief

Jacobs, B 10-18

Lamm, pp. 278 – 296

Topics and Questions:

1. What is the difference between theism and atheism?

2. What are the differenet kinds of theism?

3. Why is the existence of evil a particular problem to theists?

4. What is the cosmological proof for the existence of God?

5. What is the teleological proff for the existence of God?

6. What is the ontological proof for the existence of God?

7. What is the argument from tradition?

8. The four attributes of God

9. The additional attributes that Judaism associates with God

10. The seven Holy Names and two rabbinic names for God and the implications

Vocabulary:  Tetragrammaton, omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence

January 20:        Torah: A Gift and a Guide

Jacobs, B 19 –37; P 4 – 11

Lamm, pp. 94 – 115; 297 – 304

Questions and Topics:

1. What is the root meaning of the word ‘Torah’?

2. What are the names of the five book that compose the Torah?

3. What has the word ‘Torah” come to mean in its narrowest and broadest senses?

4. What is the dilemma attached to the giving of the Torah?

5. What are the various ways the Torah is conceived and divided?

6. What is a commandment? What does a commandment imply?

Vocabulary:  mitzvah, mitzvot, oral law, written law

Sunday, January 25: HEBREW READING MARATHON, 9:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. at Beth David B’nai Israel Synagogue, 55 Yeomans Ave.  (Bathurst and Sheppard)

January 27: Torah (Continued)

Genesis: Chapters 1-4, 12-18, 21-22, 26-30:24, 37-50

Exodus, entire

Leviticus: Chapters 18-20, 23

Numbers: Chapters 13-15, 20:1-13

Deuteronomy: Chapters 7, 10:12-12:28, 29:9-19, 30:11-20

Handouts: Genealogy, “Notable and Quotable”

Topics and Questions:

1. Who are the Patriarchs?

2. Who are the Matriarchs?

3. The three central events of early Israelite history

4. What are some the essential teachings of the Torah?

February 3:        The Bible and How It Came To Be

Jacobs, B  46-55

Scheindlin, pp. 1-50

Handout: “Old Testament Canon”

Topics and Questions:

1. What are the three components of Hebrew Scriptures?

2. What is a prophet?

3. How to Jews refer to te Bible?

4. What is the Masoretic text?

5. Who determined the content of the Bible and when?

6. What is lower Biblical criticism?

7. What is higher Biblical criticism?

Vocabulary: apocrypha, pseudepigrapha, TaNaKh,

February 10:        Talmud and Midrash

Jacobs, B 56-66

Scheindlin, pp. 51-70

Handout: “Orders and Tractates”

Topics and Questions:

1. The real beginning of Judaism

2. What three characteristics separates Israelite religion from Judaism?

3. Whate separated Judaism from Christianity?

4. Why was interpretation necessary?

5. The Babylonian vs. Jerusalem Talmud

Vocabulary:  mishnah, gemara, Talmud, order, tractate

February 17:        Rabbinic Literature Expands

Jacobs, B 67-76

Handout: “Sources of Jewish Law”

Jewish Philosophy and Philosophers

Jacobs, B 77-85

Scheindlin, pp. 71-95

Questions and Topics:

1. The inverted pyramid of the evolution of Rabbinic literature

2. Why were commentaries necessary?

3. Why were codes necessary?

4. How did Jewish philosophy begin?

5. Who are the major Jewish philosophers?

Vocabulary: midrash, tosefta, geonim, rishonim, aharonim. responsa

February 24:        Purim

The Book of Esther (in the Bible)

Jacobs, P 122-125

(Klein, pp. 232-240)

Sourcebook: “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry”

Topics and Questions:

1. What is the essential message of Purim?

2. What book of the Bible is associated with the holiday?

3. What are the three unique features of that book?

4. What problems have scholars raised with the story?

5. What four mitzvot are performed on Purim?

Vocabulary: Shabbat Zakhor, Ta’anit Esther, Vashti, Mordekhai, Hadassah, Ahashverosh (Artixerxes), Haman, groggers, “ad lo yasda,” mattanot, l’evyonim, mishlo’ah manot, hamantaschen, purim spiel, shushan purim

March 3:              Demystifying Jewish Mysticism

Jacobs, B  86-95

Scheindlin, p. 116-117

Topics and questions:

1. What is mysticism?

2. Why is mysticism universal?

3. When does Jewish mysticism begin?

4. Why was mysticism secretive

5. What is Lurianic Kabbalah or practical mysticism?

6. What is the state of Jewish mysticism today?

Vocabulary:  Ein Sof, sefirot, Zohar, tzimtzum, shevirat ha-kelim, tikkun

March 10:              Israel: The Chosen People and the Promised Land

Jacobs, B  38-45

Lamm, pp. 273-277

Handouts: Jewish Communities of the World

“Jewish Brainpower is a Mixed Blessing”

Questions and Topics:

1. What are three ways that the concept of chosenness is explained?

2. How does each refelcet the outlook of the major modern movements?

3. What is the Jewish populaton of the world today?

4. Why do Jews have a deep affinity with the State of Israel?

March 17:           Understanding the Jewish Calendar

Lamm, pp. 305-310

(Klein, pp. 255-268)

Handouts: “Principles of the Jewish Calendar”

“The Important Dates of the Jewish Year”

Topics and Questions:

1. Why is a calendar so important?

2. What are the principles of the Jewish calendar?

3. What Biblical requirements makes precision necessary?

4. What are the dates of the Jewish holidays and fast days?

5. Which Jewish month has no holidays or fast days?

6. What is a leap year?  When does it occur?

Vocabulary: intercalation, solar year, lunar year, nineteen year cycle, adar sheni

March 24:           Pesah: Festival of Freedom

Jacobs, B 105 – 106; P 81-91

(Klein, pp. 103- 147)

Donin, pp. 109-121

Haggadah Shel Pesah

Song of Songs (in the Bible)

Topics and Questions:

1. Why is Passover the foundational holiday of Judaism?

2. When does preparation for Passover begin and why?

3. What is hametz?

4. What are the three means of preparaing for Passover?

5. What is the seder?  What are its objectives?

6. What text is essential to the seder?

7. What symbolic foods are eaten at the seder?

8. What symbolic foods are not eaten at the seder?

9. What foods are required to be eaten?

10. What is the afikoman?

11. Why do we set out a Cup of Elijah?

12. How long is Passover celebrated in Israel? Outside of Israel?

13. What are the intermediate days of the festival and how are they observed?

14. What special prayers are incorporated into the synagogue service?

Vocabulary: Pesah, z’man heruteinu, hag ha-matzot, hag ha-aviv, nisan, “hametz b’ma-shehu,” koshering, mekhirat hametz, bedikat hametz, seder, haggadah, karpas, haroset, matzah, maror, afikoman, l’shanah ha-ba’ah, tal, yizkor

March 31:            EXAM

April 7: Shabbat: An Island In Time

Jacobs, B 96-104; P 74-80

Lamm, pp. 335-346

(Klein, pp. 54-94)

Handout: Shabbat Blessings

Topics and Questions:

1. What is the purpose of Shabbat?

2. How is Shabbat a ‘day on’ rather than a ‘day off?’

3. Prohibitions vs. Opportunities

4. When does Shabbat begin and end? How is each marked?

Vocabulary: melakhah, muktzeh, shevut, hadlakat nerot, kabbalat Shabbat, Kiddush, hallah, lehem mishneh, zemirot, birkat ha-mazon, pesukei d’zimra, shaharit, musaf, se’udah shlishit, havdalah, neshamah yeterah

April 14:              Shabbat Continued

Donin, pp. 256-263; 319-336

April 21:              The Synagogue

Jacobs, B 115-125

Donin, pp. 24-64

Topics and Questions:

1. When were synagogues invented and why?

2. What are the three names/purposes of synagogues?

3. How are synagogues oriented?

4. How are synagogues named today?

5. What features in common do all synagogues share?

Vocabulary: bet kenesset, bet midrash, bet tefillah, bimah, amud, mizrah, aron kodesh, ner tamid, mehitzah, hazzan, shaliah tzibbur or ba’al tefillah, ba’al koreh, nusah, minhah, ma’ariv, gabbai, petihah, hagbah, gelilah, aliyah/aliyot

April 28: Tallit, Tefillin, Mezuzah

Jacobs, B 124-131; P 28-40

Donin, p. 29-37

Lamm, p. 329

(Klein, pp.49-52; 1-9)

Sourcebook: “And You Shall See It…”

Questions and Topics:

1. What are the purposes of wearing a tallit and tefillin?

2. What is the purpose of affixing a mezuzah?

3. To which doorposts is a mezuzah attached?

4. How is the construction of the tallit designed to convey its meaning?

5. How are tefillin worn?

Vocabulary: tallit, tzitzit, tefillin, tefillah shel yad, tefillah shel rosh, peshutim, peshutim mehudarim, gassot, tefillin shel rabbenu tam

May 5:                 Kashrut

Jacobs, B 132-139; P 66-73

Lamm, pp. 330-334

(Klein, pp. 302-378)

Donin, pp. 305-310; 284-304

Questions and Topics:

1. What does the word kosher mean? What is its origin?

2. What are the six pusposes for keeping kosher?

3. What five types of dietary laws are specifically mentioned in the Torah?

4. What are the signs for kosher animals?

5. Why must milk and meat be separated?

6. What happens when milk and meat are accidentally mixed?

7. How long must a Jew wait to eat dairy after eating meat?

8. How long must a Jew wait to eat meat after eating dairy?

9. How does transference occur?  What are the remedies?

May 12:              Shopping Kosher Field Trip

Questions and Topics:

1. What is COR?

2. Are there other kashrut supervisory agencies?

3. How can we tell what product is kosher?

4. What is “Glatt Kosher?”

5. Are all fruits and vegetables kosher?

6. Why does water have a hekhsher? Canned fruits and vegetables?


May 19:                Shavu’ot: Festival of the Giving of the Torah

Jacobs, B 107; P 92-97

(Klein, pp. 147-153)

The Book of Ruth (in the Bible)

Questions and Topics:

1. What are the five names for the holiday?

2. Why is there no tractate in the Talmud devoted to this holiday?

3. What book of the Bible is associated with Shavu’ot and why?

4. What are the central themes of Shavu’ot?

5. Why are dairy foods eaten?

Vocabulary: Hag Ha-Shavu’ot, Hag ha-katzir, Atzeret, z’man mattan toratenu, Hag ha-Bikkurim, Ruth, Naomi, Bo’az, tikkun leil Shavu’ot, akdamut

May 26:                 Prayer

Jacobs, P 129-138

Donin, pp. 9-22; 144-166

(Klein, pp. 41-49; 11-39)

Handout: “The Changing Role of the Synagogue Rabbi”

Topics and Questions:

1. What are the two reasons for prayer?

2. What are reification and catharsis?

3. What are the four kinds of prayer?

4. How often do Jews pray?

5. In what language may Jews pray?

6. What tools are used in prayer?

7. Community and Quorum

Vocabulary:  tefillah, kavanah, nusah, tzibbur, minyan, kippah (yarmulka)

June 2:                  Prayer Continued

Donin, pp. 68 – 108; 167 – 225

Topics and Questions:

1. What is the building block of Jewish prayer?

2. Which prayer is recited during every prayer service?

3. What is the “kaddish” and what purpose does it serve in prayer?

4. How are the various prayer services organized?

Vocabulary:  berakhah, Shema, Amidah, Shemoneh Esreh, k’negged avot tiknum, k’negged korbanot tiknum

Tish’a B’Av

Handout: “Remembrance is the Secret of Redemption”

Topics and Questions:

1. What are the “Three Weeks?”

2. What events are commemorated during this period?

3. What is the saddest day of the Jewish year?

4. Why is Tish’a B’Av still observed today?

Vocabulary:  Shiv’ah Assar B’Tammuz, Bein Ha-Metzarim. T’lata d’puranuta, Shabbat Hazon, Tish’a B’Av, Shabbat Nahamu, Shav d’Ne­hamta

June 9:       The Pursuit of Holiness

Jacobs, B 196-203


Jacobs, B 166-195; P 19-27; 139-144

Topics and Questions:

1. Is it possible to follow the Torah and still be ethically deficient?

2. Why do Jews place holiness ahead of happiness?

Vocabulary:  naval birshut ha-torah, lifnim mishurat ha-din, shvil ha-zahav, Kiddush hashem, hillul hashem, gemilut hesed, tzedakah, derekh eretz, tzni’ut, anavah, lashon ha-ra, kavod ha-beriyot, bal tash-hit, tza’ar ba’alei hayyim, “ha-ba l’hargekha hashkem l’hargo”

June 16: EXAM

September 8:          Rosh HaShanah

(Klein, pp. 176 – 202)

Jacobs, B 109-110; P 107-112

Topics and Questions:

1. The month of E.L.U.L.

2. What are the four names of the holiday?

3. How many days is Rosh Hasjanah celebrated?

4. How is the eve of Rosh Hasahanh distinct?

5. What is the proper greeting for the first night of Rosh Hashanah?

6. What specific mitzvah is associated with the holiday?

7. How is the Jewish new year different from the secular new year?

Vocabulary:  teshuvah, mahzor, shofar, teki’ah, shevarim, teru’ah, kittel, malkhuyot, zikhronot, shofarot, tashlikh, l’shanah tovah, g’mar hatimah tovah

*September 17:      Yom Kippur

Jacobs, B 110-111; P 113-117

(Klein, pp. 204 –224)

Topics and Questions:

1. What are the ten days of repentance?

2. What is Shabbat Shuvah and when does it occur?

3. What controversial ceremony is performed on the eve of Yom Kippur?

4. What are the five prohibitions of Yom Kippur?

5. What is atonement?

6. What are the four steps that must precede atonement?

7. With what special prayer does Yom Kippur begin?

8. What two long additions are added to the musaf service?

9. What book of the Bible is read in its entirety on Yom Kippur and why?

10. How does Yom Kippur end?

Vocabulary:  asseret y’mai teshuvah, shbbat shuvah, kapparot, al het, kol nidrei, avodah, Jonah, Ne’ilah

*September 24: Sukkot: Festival of Booths

(Klein, pp. 156-166)

Jacobs, B 108-109; P 98-104

Book of Kohelet (in the Bible)

Topics and Questions:

1. What are the four names for the holiday?

2. What makes a sukkah kosher?

3. What makes Sukkot historically unique?

4. How many days is Sukkot celebrated?

5. What is the name of the last day of the holiday?

6. What four items are bundled together and what do they symbolize?

Vocabulary: Hag, hag ha-sukkot, hag ha-assif, z’man simhatenu, noi, hiddur mitzvah, ushpizin, lulav etrog, hadassim, aravot, hakkafot,

September 29:       Shemini Atzeret and Simhat Torah

Jacobs, P 104-106

(Klein, pp. 166-173)

Topics and Questions:

1. How many days is Shemini Atzeret celebrated?

2. What does the name of this holiday mean?

3. What two special prayers are added to the musaf service?

4. What does Simhat Torah celebrate?

Vocabulary: “hag bifnei atzmo hu,” geshem, yizkor, hatan torah, hatan bereshit, kol ha’n’arim, hakkafot

*October 8:          One Torah, Many Movements

Scheindlin, pp. 97-121; 173-197

Jacobs, B 140-148

Topics and Questions:

1. What is Hasidism?

2. What is Musar?

3. What are the three major modern movements in Judaism?  To what phenomenon did each react?

4. What is the only modern movements in Judaism to originate in  orth America?

5. What are the differences in outlook among the major movements?

October 13:           Zionism

Scheindlin, pp. 123-147; 217-233; 235-248

Jacobs, B 156-165

Topics and Questions:

1. When and why did Zionism arise?

2. What is the definition of Zionism?

3. Who were the founder/ thinkers of Zionism and what were their ideas?

4. How is Zionism still relevant today?

October 20:           Marriage and Divorce

Jacobs, B 212-220; P 41-46

(Klein, pp. 379-414; 450-508)

Lamm, pp. 393-404

Handout: “Judaism and Birth Control”

Topics and Questions:

1. What are the two purposes of marriage?

2. What are the trems used to describe marriage and what do they imply?

3. What are the implications of these purposes?

4. What are grpunds for divorce?

Vocabulary: kiddushin erusin, nissu’in, hatan, kallah, ketubah, mikveh, bedekken, niddah, fasting, get

October 27:          Family

Jacobs, P 47-53

(Klein, pp. 414-418; 420-438)

Scheindlin, pp. 249-263

Topics and Questions:

1. What ceremonies are associated with the birth of boys? Girls?

2. What obligations do parents have towards their children?

3. What concept ought to inform married life?

4. What obligations to children have toward parents?

5. Jewish Education: Costs and Challenges

Vocabulary:  shalom zakhar, shalom bat, brit milah, mohel, sandek, kvatter/kvatterin, pidyon haben, Talmud torah/hinukh, bar/bat mitzvah, se’udat mitzvah, tza’ar giddul banim, shalom bayyit, kibbud av v’em

November 3:       The Conversion Process I

Lamm, pp. 119-137

(Klein, pp. 439-448)

Sourcebook:  Articles on Conversion

Topics and Questions:

1. Who is the paradigm for conversion to Judaism?

2. What acts are required for conversion?

Vocabulary: hatafat dam brit, tevilah, mikveh, kabbalat ha-mitzvot, bet din

November 10:      The Conversion Process II: Visit to the Mikveh

(Klein, pp. 509-522)

Lamm, pp.  156-202; 205-234; 3-58

Topics and Questions:

1. What makes a mikveh kosher?

2. What are the three configurations of a kosher mikveh?

3. What matters to the Bet Din?

November 17:       The Holocaust

Scheindlin, pp. 199-215

Jacobs, B 149-156; 113-114

Elie Wiesel, Night

Handouts: “Chronology of Anti-Semitism”

“Theology After the Sho’ah”

Topics and Questions:

1. Why is the term Sho’ah preferred?

2. What are the two major theological issues associated with the Sho’ah?

3. What are the traditional and modern approaches to resolving those issues?

November 24:          Hanukkah

Jacobs, P 118-122

Lamm, pp. 367-373

(Klein, pp. 226-232)

Donin, pp. 137-138

Topics and Questions:

1. What is the difference between a major and minor Jewish holiday?

2. What accounts for the popularity of Hanukkah in North America? In Israel?

3. What is the popular story of Hanukkah?

4. What is the real story of Hanukkah?

5. Who were the Maccabees? The Hasmoneans?

6. How is the hanukkiyah lit?

7. Why are fried foods eaten?

8. Is gift-giving on Hanukkah justified?

9. The December Dilemma

10. Syncretism and Assimilation

Vocabulary: menorah, hanukkiyah, shammash, dreidl, latkes, sufganiyot

December 1:         Death and Mourning

Jacobs, P 60-65

(Klein, pp.269-300)

Lamm, pp. 404-414

Topics and Questions:

1. Preservation of Life and End of life

2. Leading towards death

3. Attitudes to the dead

4. From grief to recovery

5. The Mourning Syndrome

Vocabulary:  bikkur holim, kavod ha-met, nivul ha-met, hevra kaddisha, taharah, takhrikhim, shemirah, somer, keri’ah, levayah, nihum avelim, shivah, shelsohim, kaddish, yahrzeit, unveiling

December 8:         Messiah and Afterlife

Jacobs, pp. 221-238

Topics and Qusetions:

1. What is the origin of the concept of messiah?

2. What does messiah mean literally? Figuratively?

3. What is the connection/order among the End of Days, the messianic idea, the Last Judgment, and Resurrection of the Dead?

4. What is the concept of the soul?

5. What is gilgul?

6. Do Jews believe in re-incarnation?

Vocabulary:  mashiah, tehiyyat ha-metim. Neshamah, metempsychosis

December 15:         EXAM


If you have questions or concerns about this course or related issues, please feel free to speak with your instructor or sponsoring rabbi.  You may also contact the leadership of the Ontario Rabbinical Assembly, the sponsoring organization for this course:

Rabbi Dan Selsberg  Beth Jacob Synagogue 905-522-1351

Rabbi Jarrod Grover Beth Tikvah Synagogue 416-221-3433

Rabbi Sean Gorman Pride of Israel Synagogue 416-226-0111

Rabbi Adam Cutler Beth Tzedec Congregation 416-781-3511


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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