The following presentations may be expanded into a series or weekend program
Reform Judaism: History and Evolution
The European Enlightenment of the 18th C transformed more than art and politics and science. It quite specifically affected both Jewish and Christian religious communities. The "Reform Movement" began in Germany, a product of the Haskalah, and quickly spread throughout Europe, eventually coming to America with Reform-trained rabbis. German Reform found fertile ground in America, and by the Civil War it had become the predominant Jewish philosophy here. The reformers faced significant challenges, both within their ranks and externally where their efforts were opposed by the traditional Jewish community. Ours is a fascinating story that says as much about Reform as an "American Religion" as it does about Reform as an authentic understanding of post-Biblical Judaism.
American Judaism: Unique in Jewish History
American Judaism begins in 1654 when 23 Sephardic Jews from Reciffe Brazil were abandoned on the docks of New Amsterdam (later New York City). German Jews began arriving in the 19th C, and the tidal wave of Eastern European Jews began in 1880. The North American Jewish experience is unique in Jewish history, nurtured by the independent pioneer spirit of the New World. Reform Judaism forced the organization of the Orthodox community and the necessity of creating Conservative Judaism. Ours is a fascinating history that spans over 350 years, resulting in the most powerful, energetic and expansive Jewish community the world has known.
Overview Of Judaism
A one session overview of the message and meaning of Judaism, based on its three-part foundation of Creation - Revelation - Redemption. A nice introduction to Judaism and the Jewish Heritage as it is expressed within today's Reform, Conservative and Orthodox communities.
Making Sense of the Ineffable Name
God’s “Ineffable Name”, unable to be pronounced or grasped, is perhaps not a name at all. Perhaps it represents a sophisticated theology that transcends our finite ability to understand the Divine Presence. Interesting as well is what our Jewish tradition has done to and with “The Ineffable Name” beyond its appearance in Torah
From Pharisees To Rabbis
The Roman destruction of Judea, Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 CE demanded a radical reformation of Bible-based, sacrifice-centered, and priestly-led Judaism. The Pharisees, with their innovations of Oral Torah and resurrection, transformed Judaism in the 1st C into "Rabbinic Judaism" from which our modern movements have all come. Using ordination, midrash and halacha, the rabbis created a religion that was no longer dependent on place or person.
Jewish Life-Cycle Events
The history and evolution of Brit Milah, Pidyon haBen, Confirmation, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Marriage and Divorce, Conversion, Death, Burial and Mourning.
Jewish Rite And Ritual
An in-depth exploration and explanation of kashrute (Jewish dietary laws), tallit and tzitzit (prayershawl and fringes), mezuzah (doorpost), kipa (headcovering) and t'fillin ("phylacteries"), Synagogue Ritual/Choreography, Shabbat and Festival Rituals.
This exploration of Jewish Messianism from the Biblical Prophets to the 20th C. will discuss the evolution of false messiahs and messianic theology from Scripture through the Rabbinic Period and Middles Ages, into modern times.
History Of The Hebrew Alphabet
The Evolution and Revolution of the Hebrew Alphabet is the story of how the Hebrew alphabet became the first practical alphabet, and changed forever Western Civilization.
A Taste Of Talmud
Beginning with a brief introduction to the history of Talmudic literature as it develops from Pharisaic oral tradition, the presentation explains the texts of 3rd C Mishna and 6th C Gemorah. A variety of Talmudic texts representing both civil and religious rabbinic law will be explored.
Superman's Secret Identity: The Jewish Origins of our Comic-book Superheroes
Second and third generation Eastern European Jews not only produced the "Golden Age of Comics" (1933-1955), but continue as the secret identities of our superheroes.
Maimonides and his Guide
Moses ben Maimon (1138-1204), known as Maimonides and Rambam, was an Aristotelian religious rationalist who did not believe that God had any direct contact with or influence in our world. This put him in conflict with the Jewish Biblical literalists of his day (and ours!). In his Guide for the Perplexed, he affirms that there can be no contradiction between the religious truths about God and the findings of the human mind in science and philosophy. Maimonides was harshly criticized by Ashkenazi rabbinic authorities and his Guide was banned. Selected readings from the Guide will be discussed,.
Our Festivals: The Rest of the Story
Explore the historical, cultural and religious back-stories behind Jewish Festivals. These questions among many others:
New Testament Studies
Who was Jesus? And how did he become the Jewish Messiah of the Church?
What can we know about Jesus of Nazareth, what was his message and mission, and when did he become God? How do the three Synoptic Gospels adjust their stories to promote their own agendas and theologies, differently describing the mission and message of Jesus? How are we to understand his transition from Jesus the preacher to Jesus the Christ?
Who was Paul?
Paul, in every way, was the Father of Christianity. His letters are the earliest records of the growing Jesus-community. Paul's theology, a blending of Hellenistic thought and Jewish theology, becomes our window into the character and conflicts of the early Church. What are we to make of Paul's "conversion" from a Pharisaic Jew to believing in the Risen Christ?
The Parting of the Ways
We tend to be unaware of the chaos and crisis that characterized 1st C Judea, the cauldron in which both Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity were created. In answering the question: Why did believers in Jesus-the-Jewish Messiah become a religious community that is not Judaism? We have to understand the historical reality of Jesus’ time, and the various religious communities that were vying for power and control. What prompted the “Parting of the Ways”? And how did these two communities understand their common past and separate futures?
After the "Parting"
After the 4th C, the reciprocal antagonism between Rabbinic Judaism and the Early Church created a legacy of hostility and distrust that has only begun to subside in our lifetime. Beginning with the writings of the early Church and Rabbinic literature from the 4th C., later manifestations of their mutual antipathy became expressed in displays of Ecclesia vs. Synagoga. It is only recently that we have begun to mend fences
Jesus' Jerusalem-- A Guided Tour
A visual tour of Jerusalem as it was in Jesus' day. The presentation includes a history of Jerusalem, the evolution from Desert Tabernacles, to Solomon's Temple to Herod's Temple, and concludes with an archaeological tour of Jerusalem today.
Hebrew Scripture Studies
Why Two Creation Stories?
The first two chapters of the Book of Genesis appear to be two completely different stories of Creation. They differ markedly in what God creates and when and why. Not only is God identified differently, but the narratives seem to directly contradict each other. Surely there is a reason behind the juxtaposition of these two stories, a message to be learned about God and God's Creation.
Thank God We Got Out of the Garden!
Perhaps God’s plan for Adam and Eve was always that they would leave the Garden of Eden. If so, then why was it necessary to tempt them to eat the forbidden fruit and why place that tree right in the middle of the Garden? Since nowhere in this story, or the rest of Hebrew Scripture is eating the fruit called a “sin”, perhaps we should rethink the “punishment” of our exile from the Garden.
Cain as Tragic Hero
Cain is often portrayed as a cold-hearted murderer, yet his story in chapter four of Genesis suggests that he better fits the literary archetype of tragic hero. Instead of reading his story as one of anger, revenge and exile, this narrative is better understood for the very sophisticated theology and social message that it offers.
The Jacob Narrative: What Goes Around, Comes Around
Genesis chapters 25-35 is an elaborate narrative of recurring thematic reversals that tells the story of Jacob’s transformation and redemption. Its sophisticated literary patterns are comparable to the intricate writing of Charles Dickens. Jacob “the heel” learns lessons that enable him to become “Israel” the great Patriarch and namesake of our people.
The Joseph Narrative: Reconciliation and Restoration
The longest continuous narrative in Torah is the story of Joseph, comprising chapters 37 – 50. Though it seems clear that the Joseph Narrative is comprised of two separate stories and traditions, the editor/redactor has skillfully woven them into a single story. It’s instructive to compare the “northern” and “southern” versions to the final narrative as it is presented in Torah.
Revelation at the Burning Bush: Making Sense of God's Name
When Moses meets God at the burning bush, and asks for God’s name, he is given what scholars call the Ineffable Name: unable to be pronounced or grasped. Perhaps it is not a “name” at all. Perhaps it represents a sophisticated theology that transcends our finite ability to understand the Divine Presence. Interesting as well is what our Jewish tradition has done to and with "The Ineffable Name" beyond its appearance in Torah.
The "Ten Commandments": What exactly did the people hear?
Jewish tradition does not understand Exodus 20 as the "Ten Commandments", but rather the ten "sayings" or "statements". And when one reads the Exodus text itself, it appears that when they are given no one is up there with God on the mountain! Yet the Israelites did hear something, for they tell Moses that what they did hear was quite enough, and Moses should then intercede on their behalf and let them know the rest of the Revelation. Was Revelation just these "Ten" or all of Torah? And what exactly did the Israelites hear at Sinai?
Re-imagining the Ten Plagues
The plagues that God brought upon Egypt to “convince” Pharaoh to let the Israelites go are listed differently in Psalms than described in the Book of Exodus. Rabbinic thought has imagined patterns and themes in Exodus plagues, in addition to the scholars who have attempted to explain them as naturally occurring events.
Mothers of the Messiah
In the Book of Ruth we read at that the Moabite Ruth and her Israelite husband Boaz will become the great-grandparents of David, the “anointed king” and precursor of the Messiah. The genealogies of both Ruth and Boaz reveal rather startling parallels that inform us of the messianic “rest of the story”.
Biblical History In One Sitting
From the Hebrews of Abraham and the patriarchs, to the Israelites of Moses and David, to the Jews of Ezra and Nehemiah, the story of our people is told in Tanach, the Jewish Bible (the Christian "Old Testament"). This comprehensive overview of that history can be told in one session.
Sing a New Psalm
This series closely examines selected Biblical psalms with a focus on their structure, word-play and literary sophistication. We tend to take the Psalms for granted reading them merely as liturgical poetry reflecting an “old fashioned” Biblical theology. However, within many of the Psalms are intricate structures and hidden secondary messages, waiting to be uncovered.