Tuesday, July 17, 2007

To all my fans...

All one of you.

I'm finally updating about my third class, which was July 8.

It was by far my favorite class. It's unfortunate that Ryan couldn't go, but he had to work. (Speaking of work, my boss is considering moving me to having weekends off, which would conflict with my conversion classes. Hopefully she'll let me leave early for class. Fingers crossed.)

In class, we talked about the Torah, and I learned a lot that I never knew before. First, for novices, I should state the Torah specifically is the first five books of the Hebrew Bible and Old Testement of the Christian Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The five books cover the creation through the entering of the Promised Land. The entire Hebrew Bible, including the Torah, is 24 books. They are broken up into three sections: Torah, Prophets and Writings. The last two books are considered lesser than and consistent with the Torah.

For example, the Christian Old Testament is arranged in a different order than the Hebrew bible. The order was set after the modern book was invented. Before that, the order was unneccessary because everything was written on individual scrolls.

In the Christian version, the Old Testement ends with Malakai. In the Hebrew bible, it ends with Chronicles II. Chronicles II ends with a direction: "Go back and build the temple." And if you go back to the beginning of the writings section, the Jews are establishing the temple. The Jews arranged it this way for it to be a cyclical story that has no beginning and no end. How different is that than the Christian version!

We also talked about Midrash, which are stories a lot of us know that don't appear in the Hebrew bible. One that the rabbi recounted that I learned at some point is the story of Abraham and the idols. Abraham's father left him to watch his idol-making shop. While his father was away, Abraham smashed all the idols but the biggest one. His father came back and yelled at Abraham. Abraham claimed the biggest idol smashed the others. Of course, Abraham's father had to admit that idol's weren't real and couldn't do that.

Another interesting difference we talked about was the concept of a high-context book versus a low-context book. The rabbi said the concept of a low-context book is tied to Protestantism. A large belief in Protestantism is that the Bible is extremely user friendly and literal more often than not. The Jews disagree with that. They consider the Torah a high context book, which requires a teacher for understanding.

We also discussed the "oral Torah." Almost all Jewish sects acknowledge laws that aren't written exclusively in the Torah but are interpreted from it. For example, the Torah tells you how to get married, but not divorced. Throughout history, rabbis have studied and determined what those oral laws are. There is a sect of Jews, called Karasites, that do not acknowledge the oral Torah. The name of the sect comes from the word meaning reading.

We talked about a lot more, but that's a (somewhat) brief recap. I don't mean to bore you with it, but I want to recount as much as I can and flesh out my notes.

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I also wanted to add a little something regarding my last post about the mourner's kaddish. I don't know if I could have participated (since I'm not Jewish) had I remembered, but it occurred to me later that the 15th anniversary of my sister's death was on Wednesday. Maybe next year I'll be able to participate.

It's also my grandparents' 65th wedding anniversary this Saturday! I spent the weekend with them. My grandpa told me meeting my grandmother was the best decision he has ever made. I assumed that of course, but it means something to hear him say it. Of course, if she had heard him say it, she probably would have rolled her eyes and swatted him.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

More than a Minyan

This morning, Ryan and I attended a Kaddish service in remembrance of the rabbi's father passing away two years ago.

We hadn't planned on attending. We live about 30 minutes north of the Hillel house, and it seemed a bit cumbersome to drive there for a 10-minute prayer recital. But the rabbi called me yesterday, saying he was one short of a minyan, and he hoped Ryan could make it. How could we say no to that?

Minyan is the requirement of having 10 adults present for Jewish services. Ryan has told me that the synagogue in Joplin often didn't have services because of this requirement. The most common origin of the requirement dates back to the 10 brothers of Joseph who went to Egypt to get food during a famine.

So we made the short trek to Fayetteville and found a full house.

I could tell that the rabbi was pleasantly surprised so many people showed up. He said a few kind words about his father, said the prayers and it was over. Then I poured the juice for the blessing and only spilled a few times...

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Second Class

So far so good.

We did our homework. Showed up on time. I even made some banana bread.

There were a few new people in class on Monday; some people from last class didn't return. So it evened out. All told, about the same amount of people showed up.

We talked a lot about basic differences between Judaism and Christianity. Some people struggled with talking about those differences in a positive way. Obviously, a lot of people convert to Judaism because they were turned off by some aspect of their "inherited" religion.

The main difference we talked about was Judaism's lack of focus on G_d.

I've mentioned this before. It's a weird concept to wrap your head around. In Christiaity we talk about G_d (and Jesus) A LOT. What ELSE is there to talk about, right? You're raised to follow G_d's will and get out of G_d's way, so to speak.

The rabbi explained that Jews consider G_d more of an experience and not something that needs to be talked about. In fact, talking about G_d takes away his or her otherworldiness.

So instead of reciting a creed every week, Jews profess their belief in G_d by acting in a godly way.

Jews don't think of themselves as sinners, which is unlike the Christian view of Original Sin. Jews believe humans weren't born bad, and there is no quest to save ourselves from damnation.

In fact, the rabbi said, Jews believe you can use your bad qualities to do good. If you're greedy, for example, you'll work hard at your business and perhaps provide a needed item at a good price.

The rabbi gave the example of the rabbi featured in the TLC show, "Shalom in the Home." Rabbi Jacob said he had met Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and it was clear that he loved to be the center of attention. Some may see that as a negative, but he has been able to turn it into a positive by reaching people through a television show and becoming a "rabbi to the stars."

Well, that's about it. More next week.