Class Notes 4/29

Something positive about traditional Jewish observance: There are so many great themes in the Torah. Concepts such as taking a day off for rest, praising and thanking G-d for all of the gifts bestowed upon humans. A traditional Jewish life sets up the structure to enact these concepts.

Class Notes 3/25

Defining key terms and how we use them
Short explorations and presentations

Key terms:
  • צדקה: from Hebrew--justice, in American, it is translated as charity. It usually implies giving money to help create a just world. Usually in the form of giving to needy in the community
  • Donation (תרומה): something given without expecting it back.
  • תיקון עולם: Hebrew: Repairing the world--interpreted as a huge blanket term for doing anything good for anyone else.
  • חסד: Lovingkindness--feeling something in your heart and acting on it, גמילות חסדים Acts of lovingkindness: emphasizes where the act came from
  • Fundraising: raising money for wants and needs, internal--what a community does for itself, happens in wealthy communities
  • Needy: Someone who lacks something essential; based on a standard set by the community: shelter, sustenance, healthcare, loving/caring environment, dignity, education)
  • Privacy: free from intrusion or disturbance in one's life
  • Maimonides' 8 Levels of Giving: stratifying צדקה in several ways: helping someone become independent --> addressing a momentary need; giving anonymously --> giving known; giving willingly --> giving begrudgingly; if the giver/receiver know one another
  • Priorities of Giving (from Give first to matters of life and death, then to immediate family members in need, then to needy Torah scholars and other poor persons, then to the wider community, then to financing mitzvot
  • Commandment: G-d gives commandments, but it is only a commandment if both parties believe in the commandment; מיצוות given
  • Activism:
  • Social Justice: short for socialism, equality for all

Defining schools; defining ourselves
  1. Why do we categorize Jewish schools denominationally, and why is money is so important? (X)
  2. Why do we value wealth over all other forms of giving (giving time and effort)? (X)
  3. Local/parochial/insular vs. global/universal
  4. Socialism/taxes: what does it mean to give in a welfare state?
  5. The individual and the community's role? (X) Whose job is it to give money?
  6. Prioritization: how do prioritize what makes sense?

Journaling: Socialism is the ultimate form of צדקה. What is the big idea behind צדקה, תיקון עולם, and גמילות חסדים? That we should have empathy to those less fortunate and act to bring justice to the world. Socialism has the same goal--that everyone should have their basic needs cared for, and that nobody should be deprived of their essentials. So, if the end goal is to make sure that everyone's basic needs are available, socialism (done well) is the answer. Why do people give? What are the advantages of giving on a voluntary, individual level? From what I can tell, it's to give people who give a morale boost, to make themselves feel better. Socialism achieves the end goal of attending to people's needs.

Class Notes 3/11

Is there a value in picking one definition of Jewish people? Is it a peoplehood? Is it a religion? Is it a culture? Political, cultural, religious and biological, as defined by Halkin, but he adds a fifth: familial.
  • ANNE: There may be people who would define Judaism as just a religion, but it's so much more to her. Why would we academically pursue the exercise of defining Judaism?
  • JACOB: All of the denominations' answers: it's not just a religion, or just a people, or a culture.
  • ME: Who would even define Judaism not using the religious component?
  • JACOB: If we break up Judaism into the components--religion, culture, peoplehood, ethnicity--then we can start to defend them and talk about the consequences of each. For example, if we talk about Judaism as an ethnicity, we can start to argue that: If it's an ethnicity, then there is a biological link. This presents a challenge to converts. If we are an ethnicity, then we have a common biological link, and there could be a genetic way to identify them. However, if your ancestors converted to Judaism, you are still identified as a Jew. For example, there are studies that show that Cohanim share similar DNA. There are genetic diseases that are more prevalent in Ashkenazik Jews.
  • Halkin poses that if Israel broke up the Rabbinate's monopoly on aliyah, marriage, death, and conversion, there would be consequences. (See Halkin's reading.)
  • Just like Americans refer to their "founding fathers," Jews talk about the forefathers and foremothers, בני ישראל, and the like. The "peoplehood" definition is what Halkin calls familiar, or trying to create some kind of unity, where its members see the community as a family. Terms such as "brothers" and "sisters" are thrown around, and if Jews in Israel were in trouble, that was our family.
  • As much as these might be personal or political choices, teachers/Jews get to choose the language we use. There is a lot of personal autonomy, especially pluralistic schools, for teachers to talk about what the definition of Judaism is.
  • ANNE: The question just doesn't do it for me.
  • SERENE: How would you frame the question?
  • ANNE: Maybe: 'Make the case for Judaism as an ethnicity.'

Definition: Religion -- having these beliefs about ritual, practice, values. (Belief is the crux of what religion is)
  • Evidence for: One can convert to a religion if they really want to, regardless of what they were born into.
  • Evidence against:

Definition: Culture -- set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practice that characterize an institution, organization or group
  • Evidence for: Jews tend to vote democrat, umbrella of food, shared languages, value of education and goals, Jewish humor (Jews talk freely about themselves)
  • Evidence against: There are Jews who don't fall into these categories, such as humorless Jews, Republicans
  • Consequences: Lines are fuzzy: can you be Jewish if you are just really into the culture? Someone who wants to date a Jew goes onto JDate. Thai workers in Israel send their children to schools, and they speak

Definition: Race -- Judaism is a race, meaning Jews are a group of people who share biological material.
  • Evidence for this definition: Shared diseases, there is a stereotype of what Jews "look like" just like other ethnicities look a certain way. Jewish names.
  • Evidence against this definition: There are people who are Jewish who don't "look" Jewish, yet they are. There are Jews who don't share the genetic material. Where do you draw the line? Challenge of DNA: only recently can we test DNA, which might "prove" that famous Jews aren't really Jews (descendants of converts)
  • Consequences for adopting only this definition: allows for dilution of Jewish component, could encompass Christians into the definition. Would exclude/preclude conversion. This even broadens the definition in some ways, and narrows it in some ways. Under this definition, anyone with any Jewish ancestry is part Jewish.

JACOB: It sounds like people are saying that they wouldn't want anyone to tell them they aren't Jewish. A Jewish school thinking about who to accept into its community needs to account for personal definition, but also take a responsibility for defining Judaism.
ME: On this note, we wouldn't want someone to come into the Jewish community who defines themselves as Jewish, yet they have their own definition of Jewish, which may or may not conflict with the community definition.

"Jewish cannot be destroyed because it never existed." --Halkin

"...almost all Jews feel a sense of connectedness to each other that many find hard to explain, define, or even understand..."

JES is merged with Philosophy of Jewish Education throughout the semester.
Goals for the course:
  • Short and direct readings before each class
  • Final: philosophical essay about Jewish education: ex. how you view Jewish integration
Topics for this essay:
  • balancing personal beliefs, school beliefs and family beliefs.
  • how personal beliefs play out in the classroom
  • teaching about G-d
  • integration of Jewish and general studies
  • integration of parent life into the school