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

Posts tagged ‘Judaism’

Rabbinic Judaism

page du Talmud Source : scanner illustration l...

A Page of Talmud (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This Sunday we took a quick look at Rabbinic Judaism. We talked about the 2nd Temple Period, with its ferment of disagreement in the Jewish community.  The rabbis were one group within many in Judaism of the period: there were also Sadducees, Essenes, early Christians, followers of John the Baptist, Zealots, and others. Most of those groups ceased to exist during or soon after the wars with Rome, and Rabbinic Judaism eventually became the dominant form of Judaism, as it is today.

We learned about the Mishnah, a collection of discussions among the rabbis who were attempting to flesh out what exactly it means to live a life of Torah:  what does it mean, to “keep Shabbat?” How large is the “corner of the field?” Rabbi Judah ha Nasi closed the Mishnah in 200 CE, and it was “frozen” at that point.

Discussions continued, and we call the record of those discussions “Gemara.”  In the rabbinic academies of Eretz Israel, Mishnah and Gemara were collected into the Jerusalem Talmud.  In the Babylonian academies, they collected Mishnah and their Gemara into the Babylonian Talmud.  A generation of rabbis called the Sevoraim (Aramaic for “reasoners”) redacted the Babylonian Talmud into the form we have today.

Our handouts this week:  Rabbinic Literature and Rabbinic Timeline.  We also did a brief text study on Peah, the corners of the field. (If you would like a copy of that text study, please contact me directly.)

Next week:  medieval Judaism and the Codes.  Yes, I know we are going fast!  Jewish history is vast!

— 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


Nice to Meet You!

Sukkahs in Jerusalem

Sukkot in Jerusalem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was a pleasure to meet each of you at our first class meeting this past Sunday morning! This will be s small class, but that will give us time for questions and discussion – wonderful!

We learned a little bit about each other, and I gave out the initial handouts, the class info and syllabus. Since the class info handout has my phone number on it, I’m not going to post it on the internet, but you can find a copy of the syllabus online by clicking on “Syllabus” at the top of this page.

We also took a quick look at the Jewish year: just a little taste of what we will do over the next three weeks.

Between now and next week, we have the holiday of Sukkot. To learn more about Sukkot, you can read Sukkot 101 at myjewishlearning.com or, if you want a very quick basic intro, A Beginner’s Guide to Sukkot  on my blog at coffeeshoprabbi.com.

The greetings for Sukkot are “Chag sameach!” [chag sa MEH ach, with the “ch” sound pronounced like the ch in “Bach”] or “Sukkot Sameach!” [soo COAT sa MEH ach].  If someone says that to you, you can just repeat it back to them. The first means “Happy holiday!” and the second, “Happy Sukkot!”

And now, I wish you a Sukkot Sameach!  See you next week!

– Rabbi Adar

L’hitraot — Goodbye for now.

Torah procession

Torah procession (Photo credit: vidalia_11)

We’re done for the year.  We took time in the final class to look at the reasons each of you took the class, what you got out of it, and what feedback you offer for future classes.  You also voted on our last Tzedakah Fund project.

I appreciate the feedback:  you asked for more about music, and a more complete and leisurely history class.  You also mentioned that you felt the class time was rushed, that one hour was not enough.

You have some wonderful future plans:

Many of you are in the Adult Bnei Mitzvah program, and you will be busy next year learning the service and preparing your Torah portions.

Some of you are in the process of exploring conversion to Judaism.  This class is only a small part of that process:  spend time with Jews!  Go to services.  Go to events.  Rent a movie.  Visit the Magnes museum in Berkeley, and the Contemporary Jewish Museum in SF.  Do stuff!  And if you have not yet found your rabbi, find yourself one!

Some of you came to remedy the Jewish education you didn’t get as a child.  Keep studying!  Temple Isaiah offers lots of classes on a wide variety of subjects.  One of the things “Exploring Judaism” was supposed to do was to give you a foundation for comfort and understanding in those classes.

Some are about to begin serious Hebrew study.  That’s wonderful!  It will open doors to you in the Jewish world that will delight you.  Whether you just learn the aleph-bet, or you keep going to total fluency, it will enrich your Jewish life more than you dream.

Finally:  You voted to send the $100 in our tzedakah box to Rabbi Graetz’s Discretionary Fund.  I know he’s going to put that to good use.  Sarah, thank you for accepting the task of actually getting those funds to the office.

Thank you for the opportunity to learn with you for the past year.  You are a gracious, patient, curious, lively group of people, and it was a pleasure to spend an hour of Sunday morning with you!

B’ahavah [with affection]

Rabbi Adar

Exploring the Shabbat Services, Part 1

Air Force Jewish Chaplain (Capt.) Sarah Schech...

Air Force Jewish Chaplain (Capt.) Sarah Schechter leads Jewish Services, wearing traditional Jewish prayer shawl (tallit), at 332 AEW Jt. Base Balad, Iraq, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What are we doing on Friday nights, when we gather for Shabbat services?  That’s the question we explored together this past week.

The core of the Friday night service is the same as every other daily Jewish prayer service:  the Shema and the Amidah.

There is a commandment in the Torah to say the Shema “when we lie down and when we rise up.”  (Deut. 6:7)  We say the Amidah at the time originally appointed for the sacrifices, a set of commandments we cannot keep because the Temple has been destroyed.  The Amidah is structured like an audience with a powerful ruler:

1. Avot – We are the descendants of the patriarchs & matriarchs.  It is by their merit [z’chut] that we address God in this prayer.

2. Gevurot – You are God, there is nothing and no one greater.

3. Kedushat HaShem – We praise God’s holiness.

4. Kedushat HaYom – We praise God, who made this holy day, the Sabbath.

5. Avodah – May our prayers be acceptable to God.

6. Hoda’ah –We give thanks to God for our many blessings.

7. Shalom – We pray for peace.

The Amidah goes by other names as well:  Tefilah [“Prayer”], and Shemoneh Esreh [“Eighteen,” for the original number of prayers in the weekday Amidah].  The word Amidah means “standing,” which is the posture for the prayer.  (More about posture and choreography in our class on April 15.)

Other elements in the service lead us up to the Shema, then gently bring us back to earth after the Amidah.  For a full breakdown of the parts of the service and the blessings in it, download the Maariv Outline.

Next week, we will look at the Shabbat Morning service, Shabbat Shacharit.  See you then!

— Rabbi Adar

See you March 11!

English: The Lower East Side Tenement Museum a...

The Tenement Museum Image via Wikipedia

I can’t believe that we are already done with the History and Text part of our series!  This past week was our last class meeting until March 11.  We talked about Zionism and the foundation of the State of Israel, and agreed that an hour was not enough time to do justice to the subject. One online resource I forgot to mention is the Virtual Israel Experience available through the Jewish Virtual Library.  If you are planning a trip to Israel, or want to stimulate your memories of Israel, it’s a wonderful resource on the Land.

You voted on where to give your Tzedakah Fund for this term, and chose the Tenement Museum in New York City.  Sarah gave us a rapid (but very succinct!) description of the museum, and you are sending over $100 to support their programming.  I have linked to their website, because even if you can’t go to the museum this month, their website is full of interesting materials about life among the Jewish immigrants to NYC in the early part of the 20th century.

Where to from here?  The last segment of our class is more tachlis [Hebrew and Yiddish for “practical stuff”] about Jewish prayer, specifically the kind of prayer that Jews do as a community.  The service can be rather sterile or baffling if you don’t understand the logic of it, so we’re going to start at the beginning talking about prayer (Why pray?  Why repeat the same words every week? etc.) and then look at the services, and at the “God” to whom those prayers are addressed.  My goal is to give you a basic familiarity with the service, and to help you find your way to a meaningful prayer experience.  As with everything else in Jewish life, there are many opinions!

In the meantime, I invite you to think over some questions:

1.  Do you ever pray?  Have you ever prayed?

2.  When you prayed, what were you doing?   Have you prayed in different ways?

3.  Were you comfortable? Uncomfortable? Bored? Excited? Dutiful? Annoyed? Angry? Ecstatic? Calm? Distracted? Confused? Something else?

4.  What do you think you OUGHT to be doing and/or feeling when you pray?

5. What was the best prayer experience of your life?  The worst?

I am not going to put anyone “on the spot” in class with these questions.  We aren’t going to discuss them directly in class.  If you keep them in mind, though, they will give you a personal context for the material we’ll be covering, and I think you’ll be able to get more out of the class.

I look forward to seeing you again on March 11!

— Rabbi Adar

My Least Favorite Subject

English: Antisemitic graffiti in Klaipėda, Lit...

Image via Wikipedia

This past Sunday we had an excellent discussion about a topic that’s easily my least favorite:  Anti-Semitism.  It’s very important, an absolute necessity in any survey of Judaism, and I would never think of skipping it, but I never enjoy it, either.

In case you couldn’t be with us, here are some essentials:

1.  The word “anti-Semitism” was coined in the 19th century in Germany by journalist William Marr, as a scientific sounding substitution for Judenhass [“Jew-hatred”].  It’s a pity that it stuck, because it’s a misnomer.  “Semite” means “person who speaks a Semitic language” which would also include all Arabic or Aramaic speaking people.  However, the term anti-Semitism applies to the hatred of Jews only.

2.  In classical times, Jews were regarded as odd, difficult, and sometimes as lazy, since we insisted on keeping the Sabbath, but there does not appear to have been anything like modern Jew hatred.

3.  After Christianity became the established religion of the Roman Empire, and after the rise of Islam, Christians and Muslims looked upon Jews as people who had rejected revelation in the form of Jesus or Mohammed.  This gave rise to many problems, laws against Jewish practice, laws against conversion, etc.

4.  In 1480 in Spain, the Inquisition was established to deal with heretics against Christianity, including Jews and “Judaizers,” converts to Christianity who were suspected of returning to their Jewish loyalties.  In Spain, we got the first sign of more than a purely religious objection to Jews, because converts to Christianity from Judaism were regarded as suspect, and their descendants were suspect forevermore.  This is the first we hear of “Jewish blood” or DNA being the problem.

5.  Speaking of blood, you need to know about the “blood libel,” the horrible belief that Jews use the blood of Gentiles, especially Gentile children, for ritual purposes.  Often the rumor includes a description of making matzah from Gentile blood.  (Clearly no one who says this has ever seen or tasted matzah.)  The blood libel first appeared in 1144 in England, but it has surfaced again and again, most recently in the Saudi Arabian press in 2002.

The blood libel is heinous since it has no base in fact whatsoever, and yet it has been used as a justification for the murder of countless Jews.  Traditional Jewish law forbids the consumption of blood in any form, and has rejected human sacrifice since the earliest times.

6.  Another lie that persists is a document titled “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”  It was published in Russia in the early 20th century, and claimed that there was an international conspiracy of Jews planning world domination.  The document is fantasy, but it continues to circulate on the Internet and in print even today.  (For more info on the Protocols, click on the link above.)

7.  True anti-Semitism arose in modern times, combining the original religious objections to Judaism with the racist thought of William Marr and others in Europe and the United States.  The article on Marr in the Jewish Virtual Library puts it well:

Over the centuries, antisemitism has taken on different but related forms: religious, political, economic, social, and racial. Jews have been discriminated against, hated, and killed because prejudiced non-Jews believed they belonged to the wrong religion, lacked citizenship qualifications, practiced business improperly, behaved inappropriately, or possessed inferior racial characteristics. These forms of antisemitism, but especially the racial one, all played key parts in the Holocaust.

Anti-Semitism was not limited to Germany. No country in the world, including our own United States, would accept the Jews that desperately tried to leave Germany in the 1930’s.  Leading voices for anti-Semitism in the United States were Henry Ford and Father Coughlin.

8.  Since the 1980’s we have seen the rise of what is sometimes called the “new” anti-Semitism which cloaks the same old anti-Semitism in the language of criticism of the modern State of Israel and Zionism.  It is perfectly legitimate to criticize any government, including that of Israel, but not when the assumption underlying that criticism is a prejudice against Jews and the denial of the right of Israel, the Jewish state, to exist.

9.  Organizations to know:

 OK, enough already!  In two weeks we will meet again to talk about a much more pleasant subject, the foundation of the modern State of Israel.  We’ll also have a quick vote to see where you want to send your Tzedakah Fund this term.

See you then!

— Rabbi Adar