The Introduction to Judaism Program

by Rabbi Stephen C. Lerner

On the pages that follow, you will find the syllabus for the Introduction to Judaism program of The Center for Conversion to Judaism. The order of sessions will vary to accommodate the Jewish calendar.

In 36 sessions over 12 months, we cover the material described and more. We ask that you purchase the Conservative prayer book, Siddur Sim Shalom and the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh, published by the Jewish Publication Society. These are the basic books which every Jewish home should possess. You will be asked to read at least one book in each of the following areas: Jewish thought, Jewish history and Jewish practice. We do hope that you will read the starred volumes or suggested alternatives to them. Since Judaism is a religion which greatly respects learning, the sky's the limit in what you choose to read. We have listed certain important books to supplement your basic reading. Center teachers are always delighted to suggest books on matters of special interest to you.

BOOKS TO READ

I. JEWISH THOUGHT

* The Book of Jewish Belief – Louis Jacobs

* Emet Ve-Emunah: Statement of Principles of Conservative Judaism

Alternatives:
Basic Judaism
- Milton Steinberg

Embracing Judaism - Simcha Kling

This is My God - Herman Wouk

For Enrichment:
A Jewish Theology - Louis Jacobs

Between God and Man - Abraham J. Heschel

Judaism as a Civilization - Mordecai M. Kaplan

II. JEWISH HISTORY

* Wanderings - Chaim Potok

Alternatives:
A History of the Jewish Experience - Leo Trepp

 For Enrichment:
The Course of Modern Jewish History - Howard Sachar

Conservative Judaism: A Contemporary History - Herbert Rosenblum

III. JEWISH PRACTICE

*The Complete Book of Jewish Observance - Leo Trepp

Alternatives:
A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice - Isaac Klein

The Book of Jewish Practice - Louis Jacobs

Celebration and Renewal - edited by Rela Geffen

Special Areas of Practice:
* The Jewish Dietary Laws - S. Dresner, S. Siegel and D. Pollack

*Service of the Heart - Evelyn Garfiel

*Passover Haggadah: The Feast of Freedom - Rabbinical Assembly

For Enrichment:
The Three Jewish Catalogues - edited by M & S Strassfeld

The Sabbath - Abraham J. Heschel

Days of Awe - S. Y. Agnon

The Jewish Holidays - Michael Strassfeld

IV. HEBREW

* Rosh: A Hebrew Primer - J. Levbarg & B. Grayzel

V. REFERENCE

Encyclopedia Judaica and its Yearbooks - This is when you win the lottery or want to buy a very special gift for yourself.

The Jewish Books of Why - A. Kolatch

Encyclopedia of Jewish Concepts -P. Birnbaum

Jewish Literacy - J. Telushkin

Back To the Sources - B. Holtz

HOW TO BUILD JEWISH COMMITMENT

You are expected to attend Sabbath services regularly - at least three times a month. If you do not already have a synagogue affiliation where you live, you should spend the first two months exploring Conservative synagogues near you and choose one which you will attend and ask its rabbi to be your sponsor. You should meet with the rabbi every month or six weeks and he or she will monitor your progress and deal with any pressing issues you may raise. At the end of the process, the sponsor and Rabbi Lerner will determine whether you are ready to come before the bet din, the Jewish court, for conversion.

During this period, you should make every effort to attend services for every holiday and to begin the process of living as a Jew. Essential areas of commitment include making the Sabbath and its practices and prohibitions part of your life and to incorporate kashrut into your life as well.

The goal is to climb a ladder of Jewish observance, faith and commitment. Since the ladder stretches toward heaven, we recognize that no two people will reach the same rung. But we expect to see you well along the way. Where there is a Jewish partner, we expect him or her to participate in classes, study and Jewish growth.

We wish you well on what we pray will be a great and transforming adventure for you.

FINDING A COMPATIBLE CONSERVATIVE SYNAGOGUE AND A SPONSORING RABBI

Judaism is a religious way of life which places great emphasis on community, worship and study. Consequently, an inviting Conservative synagogue is essential to a successful conversion. In the New York Metropolitan Area, one has a wide range of Conservative synagogues from which to choose.  

All things being equal, it makes most sense to join the congregation which is within walking distance. More important than proximity, however, is your feeling of compatibility with the synagogue and its rabbi who will become your sponsor. Ideally, the rabbi should be accessible to you and you should seek to meet with him/her four to six times during your period of study. The rabbi should be an important source of guidance, inspiration and learning for you.

Different people will be attracted by various aspects of congregational life. For most, egalitarianism is an essential desideratum and most Conservative congregations now accord women equal rights with men. For some, the traditional combination of mixed seating with limited participation for women is preferable. Such congregations are still found in some numbers in the New York area.

Successful integration into congregational life is best achieved when the synagogue has an active membership of people of all ages. It is especially important that the congregation provides you with the possibility of finding peers, people similar to you in age and education, who have some interest in Jewish growth and with whom you can form friendships. Most people find informality and extensive participation in the service to be attractive; some prefer a more formal, stylized service.

In any case, a synagogue with a decent number of interested and welcoming regular worshippers who form a lively community will prove most important in introducing you to Judaism and Jewish life and in strengthening and furthering your commitment.

The Center will assist you in providing names of synagogues for you to explore. You will need to attend synagogue regularly- at least three times a month. Generally, this should be on Shabbat morning, the main service of the Jewish week. The Friday night service is an acceptable alternative.

Synagogal participation must lead to a real and continuing relationship with the organized Jewish community. Upon your conversion, you will be expected to maintain your pattern of synagogue attendance and to join the synagogue you1ve been attending. You will need to commit to maintaining a synagogue affiliation wherever you live throughout your life.

Our hope is that synagogue life will prove to be a spur  to your continued spiritual, intellectual and emotional growth as a Jew. One day you might become your synagogue's president or rabbi!

INTRODUCTION TO JUDAISM COURSE: SYLLABUS

RABBI STEPHEN C. LERNER

1.  Ground Rules of the Program: Conversion and the Conversion Process. An Overview of the Essential Character of Judaism.

2. The Encounter with Modern Times: Pre-Modern Judaism. What Happened When Jews Entered the Modern World: Emancipation, Enlightenment, Assimilation, Acculturation.

3. Modern Jewish Religious Movements: Reform, Modern Orthodoxy, Conservatism.

4. Modern Jewish National Movements: Zionism, Yiddish. Socialism/Diaspora Nationalism.

5. Sacred Survival --The Basic Commitment of Most Contemporary Jews. Our Challenge to Put the Fragments Together in a Meaningful Whole.  

6. Hebrew Reading: How to Get the Hang of It. Synagogue Services: What to Expect and What to Do. Home Observances: How to Begin.

7. God: The Classic Jewish View of God: Other Views. The Problem of Evil. The Holocaust.  

8. Revelation and Torah: Traditional and Modern Views. How Conservative Judaism Differs.

9. Jewish Law (Halakhah). The Position of Women in Jewish Law as Understood by Conservative Judaism.

10. Jewish Ethics: The Relationships between People and the Environment. Judaism and the Animal World.

11. Jewish Peoplehood: The Notion of the Chosen People: Jewish Ethnicity.

12. The Sabbath: The Cornerstone of Jewish Religious Life: Its Meaning. Preparation for the Day. How and What to Celebrate: What to Avoid.

13. Kashrut: The Hallmark of the Jewish Home: The Reasons and the Rules.

14. How to Keep Kosher.

15. Synagogue and Prayer: The Symbols in the Sanctuary. The Theory and History of Jewish Worship.

16. The Siddur: Its Geography and Themes. Personal and Home Ritual Objects—Mezuzah, Tallit/Tsitsit, Tefilin.

17. The High Holy Days: Rosh HaShanah: Repentance. Judgment.

18. Yom Kippur: Atonement.

19. The Jewish Calendar: The Three Pi1grimage Festivals, Sukkot and Shemini Atseret/Simhat Torah.

20. Hanukkah: Its History, Meaning and Observance. Why it Looms So Large Today. Thanksgiving and Christmas: The First to Embrace. The Second to Avoid.

21. Tu B'Shvat and Purim -- Other Bright Spots in the Winter.

22. Pesah: Its Meaning and and the Rules.

23. Pesah: The Seder--The Greatest Home Observance of the Year. How to Enrich Your Seder.

24. The Omer Period, Shavuot and the Summertime. The New Holidays of the Spring -- Recal1ing the Holocaust: Celebrating Israel's Independence and Jerusalem's Unification. The Time of Revelation. The Three Weeks and Tishah B'Av.

25. The Life Cycle. Birth Rites, Jewish Education, Bar and Bat Mitzvah.

26. Marriage and the Family: Jewish Sexual Ethics, Divorce and Illness.

27. Death and Mourning.

28. The Messiah and the Messianic Age. The World to Come.

29. Jewish History: The Miracle of Jewish Survival. Patterns and Periods of Jewish History. Anti-Semitism.

30. The Biblical Period: from Abraham to Saul.

31. From David to the Maccabees. The Beginning of a People and Its Unique Way.

32. The Pharisaic-Talmudic Period: Hellenism. Jesus and the Beginning or Christianity.

33. A Look at Talmud and Midrash. The Geonic Age. The Karaites.

34. The Medieval Period: Sephardim through their Reestablishment in the Ottoman Empire.

35. The Medieval and Early Modern Period: Ashkenazim. France, Germany, Poland.

36. The Modern Period: The Paradox of Jewish Integration and the Growth of Anti-Semitism. Jewish Life Today: The Pluses and the Minuses. The Challenge for Each of Us.

If you are interested in the Introduction to Judaism Program, e-mail Rabbi Lerner, ravsteve@earthlink.net, and he will respond to your request for information.