Temple Isaiah classes for adults exploring Jewish life, history, and practice.

Solomon Schechter studying documents from the ...

Solomon Schechter studying documents from the Cairo Geniza, c. 1895. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I hope that all of you had a nice break!

We’re starting back up on January 6 with a series of classes on Jewish Texts and History.  You might wonder, why mix those two? And the answer is, they are easier to understand together.

If you are joining the class for the first time, welcome!  You will need to get access to a text as soon as possible. Click “Texts and Readings” on the tab above to get information about that.  The text readings will make class much more enjoyable for you. All readings are marked on the syllabus, marked “Syllabus” above.

We are about to embark on some of the richest material in this course. I look forward to exploring it with you!


Rabbi Adar


This week we discussed the ways that people become Jews:  birth and conversion.  If you were not able to be with us, here is the class handout:  Birth&ConversionFactSheet.

We have one more meeting before the winter break: this coming Sunday we’ll talk about Jews and Food.

Hanukkah sameach!  Happy Hanukkah!

— Rabbi Adar

Home of eternity

Jewish Cemetery, Oakland, CA (Photo credit: danielxlii)

I usually begin a series on life cycle events with Jewish funerals and mourning practices so that we will go from sorrow to joy, instead of the other direction.  Today was “let’s talk about funerals” day.

There are two basic tasks that we have to perform at the end of a life: we have to care for the dead, and comfort the mourners.  Caring for the dead involves respect for the person who has died: keeping the body safe, handling it gently and respectfully, and laying it to rest. Comforting mourners is done with our presence: they move through a process of grief, but Jewish tradition makes sure that they do not have to make that passage alone.

We had two handouts today that contain the important concepts from today’s lesson:

Rules for Shiva


Several of you had to miss class due to Thanksgiving travel or illness.  Let me know if you have questions about the material in the handouts, and be sure to read the pages in Settings of Silver.

Class will NOT meet next Sunday. See you in two weeks!

— Rabbi Ruth Adar

Last week, we explored the idea of a Jewish home. We looked at some things you might find in a Jewish home, beginning with the essential ingredient: Jews!

Judaism is a culture as well as a religion. A Jewish home may be Jewish in many different ways, but those things will set it apart from “regular” American culture.

We used this handout to think about the ways in which our homes were Jewish: Jewish Home Inventory

This Sunday we will learn about Jewish death & mourning practices. Don’t worry – it is not the happiest topic, but it is one of the ways that Jewish tradition is both distinctive and wise. Prepare for an interesting class!

— Rabbi Adar

Keeping Shabbat

English: Shabbat Candles Deutsch: Schabbatkerzen

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Today we talked about Shabbat: what it is and how we might keep it.  I recommended the book The Sabbath by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. What I forgot to mention was that even though it’s a very short little book, it’s pithy — so full of good things that it may take you a while to read it.


We had two handouts today: Texts about Shabbat, a collection of texts that explore the idea of Shabbat and Simple Shabbat, a step-by-step outline for a simple Shabbat dinner.


Shabbat is a day to be, rather than to make or to do. Human beings are more than the sum of what we can produce in our lives. Shabbat is a day for stopping to simply be, to connect with the Holy and with one another, and with ourselves.


See you next week!


— Rabbi Adar


English: Purim spiel performance at The Jewish...

English: Purim spiel performance at The Jewish Theatre in Warszawa, Poland in March 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve never taught Purim so close to Halloween, but it certainly made for a great discussion in class last Sunday!  We talked first about the holiday of Purim, which is based on the Story of Esther.  Today in America it is mainly a holiday for children, with costumes and masks and candy and of course the Purim Shpiel, a play about Esther.

For the essential information about Purim, I gave out this handout:  Purim Facts

We also talked a bit about Jewish spooks:  the Dybbuk and the Golem. (For more information on those, follow the links.) We talked about the film, The Dybbuk, which was not only interesting for the Jewish folklore, but also because it was filmed in Poland, in Yiddish, in 1937. The world of that film no longer exists, so it is in a way a double ghost story. It is currently available with English subtitles from Netflix.

Next week we begin a new cycle of classes, this time on the Jewish lifecycle events. We’ll start with something that is both a Jewish holiday and something we celebrate with family every week: Shabbat. See you Sunday!

Rabbi Adar

The last night of Chanukah; Menorah with all 8...

The last night of Chanukah; Menorah with all 8 candles burning. I used a combination of a ceiling facing strobe and a LED flashlight to create the shadow on the wall. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are three cycles to the Jewish Year:

The Fall Cycle, which has to do with Creation and Judgment, with cosmic questions like “Where are we going?” and “Is that where we want to go?” (High Holy Days, Sukkot)

The Spring Cycle, which asks the question, “Who are We?” — I think of that as the Mythic Question, because it goes to identity. (Passover, Shavuot)

and finally —

The National Cycle, which has to do with events in historical time, things that happened on dates we can point to.

Chanukah – the holiday when we remember how our ancestors struggled with questions of assimilation, and ultimately chose to rededicate themselves to Judaism, just as they rededicated the Temple after it had been used for Greek sacrifices.

Tu B’Shevat – the “New Year of the Trees” which began as an accounting device for counting the tithe for the Temple, but which became a festival of our relationship with the Land of Israel and with the Earth itself.

Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day – which comes right after Passover and the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, to help us remember that Jews DID fight back against the Nazis.

Yom HaAtzmaut – Israeli Independence Day – Almost two millenia after the fall of Jerusalem and the end of Jewish self-rule in the Land of Israel, a new Jewish State declared its independence.

Tisha B’Av – 9th of Av – the summertime remembrance of the destruction of the 1st temple in 586 BCE, the 2nd Temple in 70 CE, and the terrible Expulsion of the Jews from Spain.

I promised to upload the class handouts.  Here they are: HowToNC <– How To Light Chanukah Candles

and The National Cycle <– summary of things to know about these holidays

Next week we are going to talk about Purim – a very interesting holiday that fits into no category, but that also links all three cycles.  Then for the rest of the time, we’re going to have questions and discussion, so BRING YOUR QUESTIONS!

— Rabbi Adar