Learn the basics of Judaism at Temple Har Shalom
September 27, 2013
Jim Simon, the interim rabbi at the Temple Har Shalom, wants to introduce Judaism to the community, so he is introducing a series of classes that will be held in the synagogue’s library.
The classes are as follows:
No background in the Torah is required to attend any of the classes.
The reason Simon wants to start the classes is simple.
"The word rabbi means teacher and rabbis are supposed to teach in every setting possible formal, informal, public and private — to kids from ages 4 to adults up to 90," he said during an interview. "A rabbi’s goals is to make sure their congregants are ‘Jewishly literate,’ because the more they understand about Judaism, the more they can make intelligent Jewish decisions. Many rabbis, regardless of where they are, feel that doing some teaching in some form or another during the year is important."
Though the classes will or may be basic, that doesn’t mean they are for just for children.
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"Like a college 101 course, these are introductory courses that can also be very challenging," Simon said.
Still, the classes are open to everyone in the community, and all classes, with the exception of Girl Torah, are free.
The Girl Torah class is free to Temple Har Shalom members, and will cost $50 per mother and daughter for books, materials and handouts, Simon said.
"I may waive that fee if people can’t afford it," Simon said.
That class, which the rabbi has taught twice before in different communities, is also only open to mothers and their daughters ages 12 to 17.
"I have found it my experience in teaching this class that it really works if we only have mothers and daughters in the class," he said. "There is a nice special feeling that develops in the room, because everyone there is a mother or a daughter."
"Also, some of the things that we talk about relate to some of the issues concerning mothers and daughters," Simon explained. "I have found that if other people like brothers or fathers or even a grandmother there, they won’t be interested in that, and I don’t want people who will be bored, looking bored or being boring in the class, because it’s a very focused class."
Simon hopes that, in addition to the knowledge learned, that moms and daughters will use the class as a bonding event.
"This is a chance for them to do something they don’t usually do together and is something that allows them to develop something in common that they can talk about before and after class and share with each other," he said. "That’s up to them. I’m just going to do the teaching."
The Torah studies, on the other hand, are like what other religions call weekly Bible classes.
"In every synagogue in the country, there is probably some form or another of a weekly Torah study class," Simon said. "It’s traditionally taught on the Sabbath — Shabbat morning — but not everybody can be there then."
That’s why he will offer the same class on Wednesdays at lunch time.
"People can bring a lunch and we’ll provide the drinks," he said.
The Judaism 101 covers the basics of the Jewish religion and history.
"We encourage our congregants to participate in this class because their knowledge levels of Judaism may not be as high as they could be," Simon said. "There will also be others in the class who are thinking about converting to Judaism.
"It is a good way for them to gain a knowledge of Judaism so they can make a decision based on realism and not just because they like lox and bagels," the rabbi said with a smile in his voice.
During every class, Simon encourages some sort of discourse.
"Rabbis always say, ‘The only stupid questions are those that are not asked,’" he said. "I think raising questions and having discussions are good. I also think arguments are good, too, as long as they are conducted in such a way that they lead to some sort of consensus and don’t degenerate into insults."
While he has taught these classes many times in the past, Simon said that he is constantly learning new things as well.
"We always say, the Torah never changes, and we read the same passages every year, but we learn new things every year because we change and the world changes," he said. "I see things is the Torah today that I never saw 20 years ago, and that either means I was really dumb then or I’m getting smarter."
It also means that people are affected by the world their experiences.
"For example, during the Girl Torah classes we examine things that show women in very different light than how they have been portrayed by other faith traditions in society," Simon said. "I read some of that stuff in the 1980s, but now I see it in a totally different context. I’m a great believer in the idea that if the mind is ready, a teacher appears.
"So, I’m always learning," he said. "I add new notes and find new articles. There isn’t much I do anymore that is old and rigid. Because that doesn’t work, because you always have to find new things and ways to teach."
Simon also said the classes aren’t all about learning
"We’ll also do a little bit of eating, too," he said. "We’ll have coffee and bagels and, with the Girl Torah class, I’ll have some sandwiches because it’s held later in the afternoon. I found when students are hungry, they find it hard to focus."
For more information about the community courses at the Temple Har Shalom, visit http://www.templeharshalom.com or call (435) 649-9973. Because of space, pre-registration is mandatory.