A sample of courses I teach (new ones are always being prepared).
Shorter Courses (1-3 sessions):
The Old, Weird Bible
The Bible as we have it is a palimpsest for earlier stories and myths which occasionally peek up between the editorial seams of the text. Inspired by Greil Marcus's "The Old, Weird America," we discover a Bible that is a much stranger and funkier than it is credited with being.
Monsters and Myths in the Bible
Hidden away in plain sight lie a slew of pre-Israelite monsters, myths, and demons. In this class, we explore those ancient beasts that the Bible superseded, and we investigate what they’re still doing there on those pages.
Where the Bible Happened
A discovery of the important places in the Torah reveals some amazing narratives that connect times and people. If you love maps and geography, you’ll get a big kick out of this course; even if you don’t, you’ll love the rediscovery of Biblical sagas in ways you haven’t seen them before. What connects Shechem throughout the centuries, and throughout the Bible? How does the legacy of Abraham shape David’s destiny in Hebron? Place-names can be seen as a “golden thread” that links the narratives throughout the Bible. (This can be three or more separate sessions, each devoted to a site, or a single 90-minute session.)
Topics include: Shechem, Beit-El, Hebron, Be’er-Sheva, Megiddo, Hazor, Shiloh, Timna, Arad, and more…
Esther & The Comedy of the Bible
The Tanakh, contrary to expectations, is full of humor (unfortunately many Bible readers are not!). Lots of examples to explore—including Esther, the Bible’s comedic masterpiece.
The Wisdom of Proverbs
The centerpiece of biblical "wisdom literature," the Book of Proverbs is an often-neglected, hard-to-approach enigma among the latter biblical writings. It's also provocative, challenging, and a daringly fun book for study, once its unique approaches and styles are understood.
Jonah in Context and in Midrash
The Book of Jonah is one of the best-loved biblical tales, the strange saga of an anti-prophet. Midrash brings Jonah to some truly bizarre places, and liturgy—by making this the reading for Yom Kippur afternoon—cements his importance in Jewish spiritual life.
In the world of "23 and Me," the search for personal origins is more popular than ever. In this class, we explore the evidence from the Torah, the Ancient Near East, and recent scholarship for uncovering the mysteries of where, precisely, the Jewish people comes from.
Who Was Solomon? An Exploration of a Biblical Life and Myth
King Solomon looms large in the biblical imagination. But the Bible is surprisingly circumspect about the details of his life and reign over the united commonwealth of Israel. Who was this monarch and what was his complicated legacy? And why does tradition attribute three very different books—Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs—to his hand? (Optimally, this is a multi-part course, although it can be abridged.)
Torah through the Lens of the Hasidic Masters
Torah through the Lens of Midrash
Torah through the Lens of Kabbalah
Torah through the Lens of Rashi
We read the text through the prism of Jewish tradition: the Hasidic and Kabbalistic masters who brought forth spiritual pearls from beneath the words; the sages of the Midrashic literature who taught us that nothing about the text is quite what it seems; and RaSHI, the medieval genius who asked the most prescient questions about what it all means.
Israel / Progressive Zionism:
SPECIAL COURSES MARKING ISRAEL'S MILESTONES:
In-depth Study on the History & Meaning of Crucial Moments in Israeli History:
100 Years Since the Balfour Declaration
120 Years Since the First Zionist Congress
70 Years Since the UN Partition Resolution of November 1947
70 Years Since the Independence of the State of Israel
The Case for Liberal Zionism Today
Did you ever feel like a pariah because of your support for Israel? Must our love for Israel always be marked with an *asterisk? Let's talk about how to make the unabashed case for contemporary liberal Zionism. It's more important than ever.
The role of messianism in Zionist thought is a double-edged sword. While the messiah can be outright dangerous in contemporary politics, to what degree have messianic ideas shaped the modern State of Israel?
The Beginning of Redemption's Flowering: Why and How We Pray for Israel
The strange and fascinating history of the Prayer for Israel in Jewish prayerbooks - traditional and liberal, Israeli and Diaspora, Sefardi and Ashkenazi - reveals a lot about what, exactly, the State of Israel has come to mean.
Israel's Declaration of Independence
Generations from now, Israel's Declaration of Independence will be studied as a primary text in the line of great Jewish documents. We examine the Jewish themes embedded in the Declaration—and the incredible tale of how it came to be.
Eretz Yisrael in Legend and Midrash
The Jewish sages were enraptured with the Land of Israel. Together we excavate the paeans they wrote to the Land and their relationship to it—and the responsibility that that relationship entailed. Great for groups preparing to go to Israel and for Israel committees.
Herzl & Ahad Ha'am: Two Visions for the Jewish State
Theodor Herzl (1860-1904) and Ahad Ha'am (1856-1927), two of the founding fathers of Zionism, offered two quite different visions of what Israel could and should be. Whose view was more influential? And how do these conflicting views play out in Israeli society today?
Old New World: An Introduction to the Thinkers Who Created Israel
The intellectual founders of Israel were an extraordinary and diverse group. To know their ideas is essential for understanding why and how the State of Israel came to be.
Jerusalem of Gold: How Israel’s Most Stirring Song Came to Be
The story of Naomi Shemer’s legendary song—and its fans and critics—reveals a lot about Israel before and after the Six Day War of 1967.
Tikkun Olam / Tzedakah / Social Justice:
When Hate Comes to Town: Illinois Nazis, Skokie, and the First Amendment
Forty years ago, a group of American neo-Nazis petitioned to march in Skokie, Il, a town full of Holocaust survivors. This launched a deep debate in the Jewish world about the limits of our commitment to free speech. It's a poignant anniversary, ripe for re-opening questions about speech and Jewish tradition.
The Civil War, Slavery, and American Jews
What were Passover seders like in the American South during the era of slavery? Were there Jewish abolitionists? And how did the Jewish role in the Civil War inform Jewish views on civil rights for a century? We explore these questions, including the great debate between Rabbis Morris Raphall (1798-1868) and David Einhorn (1809-1879) over the biblical view of slavery.
Tikkun Olam: The Twisting Path of Judaism's Most Important Idea
By excavating Talmudic, Kabbalistic, and modern sources, we trace the origins and development of "Tikkun Olam," the call for world-repair.
When the Stranger Resides among Us
Who is the biblical ger? What are our responsibilities to him or her? And how is this ancient commandment so crucially relevant in our community today?
Bal Tashchit—The Commandment Against Senseless Destruction: A Walk through the Sources
The biblical commandment against wanton destruction in wartime became, in the hands of the Rabbis, striking and startlingly relevant for our age of rampant consumerism and urgent environmentalism. This session is also a useful lesson in how a biblical evolved over time: an excavation of Jewish sources from the Tanakh, through the Talmud and medieval texts, to contemporary writings.
How Do You Say “Tikkun Olam” in Hebrew?
Great for launching a Mitzvah Day or a Tzedakah Committee, my favorite Jewish texts about the art of Tzedakah, Chesed, and Tikkun Olam.
How to—and How Not to—Take Care of a Sick Friend
The Mitzvah of bikkur cholim (caring for sick people) is an art; we dive into Jewish texts to explore the best ways to do it as individuals and as a community. This class is also an accessible introduction to Jewish halakhic (legal) literature.
Unlocking Doors: Judaism and Disability
What does Jewish law and lore say about disability? Sharing my own challenges with being hearing-impaired, we explore the texts and the tasks to make Jewish life truly accessible to all.
Maimonides on Tzedakah: The Best Ways to Give Your Money Away
An exploration for adults and teens (and bar/bat mitzvah students!) about the skill and joy of giving Tzedakah.
Talmud, Midrash, Kabbalah, & Rabbinic Literature:
Sages & Dreamers: The Lives of the Rabbis of the Talmud
Why does Judaism look the way it does? Why don't we offer sacrifices today? Why did the Rabbis and the early Christians part ways? We study the primary sources of the Talmud and Midrash and learn the amazing lives of the sages who took biblical religion and shaped Judaism as we know it. (We can separate this into single-session units: Hillel, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Meir & Beruria, Rabbi Joshua ben Levi, etc.)
Shared Stories: The Sacred Narratives of Judaism, Islam, & Christianity
Several biblical tales—the Garden of Eden, the near-sacrifice of a patriarch, the saga of Jonah—are shared by the three Abrahamic traditions as sacred. Yet the three different lenses of tradition bring us to startlingly different conclusions about these shared stories.
Older Than Forever: The Deathless Serach bat Asher
The amazing story of Serach bat Asher: only briefly mentioned in the Torah, in the midrash she lives on for ages, saving the Jewish people from oblivion. She has much to teach us about survival, aging, and the rabbinic imagination.
Satan and the Jews
For people who “don’t believe in” Satan, he sure seems to surface a lot in Jewish lore and literature! We explore the dark side of Jewish legends and myths, from the Bible and Midrash, and we investigate why mainstream Judaism diverged so sharply from Christian ideology about this.
Lilith: Feminist Recovery of an Ancient Israelite Demoness
The legends and midrashim about Lilith are a fascinating entry into the demonic underbelly of early Jewish mythology. And the contemporary reclamation of Lilith is a testimony to how each generation renews ancient traditions and infuses them with new meaning.
The RaMBaM, the greatest mind of medieval Judaism, is amazingly relevant for Jewish discourse in the 21st century. His Moreh Ha-Nevukhim (Guide of the Perplexed) is one of the most curiously written books in Jewish history: he practically dares us to see if we can follow his trail.
An introduction to Responsa literature (she’elot u’teshuvot), “archaeological” explorations of Jewish law throughout the millennia to answer today’s ethical dilemmas.
What Happens after I Die?
Jewish literature—ancient, medieval, and modern—has offered a wide spectrum of wisdom about this primary religious question.
Jewish Thought & Spiritual Living:
Every Grain of Sand: Biblical & Kabbalistic Ideas in the Lyrics of Bob Dylan
The greatest American songwriter—a/k/a Shabtai Zissel ben Avraham—is steeped in Bible and mysticism. Together we explore some of his most Jewish lyrics.
The Messiah and Reform Judaism
Contrary to the way most people think of it, early Reform Judaism was a messianic movement; its founders firmly believed that humankind was on the precipice of a new epoch. We examine how this and other eschatological ideas profoundly shaped liberal Judaism as we have come to know it.
Speak My Name: Startling Insights about the Name of G-d in Jewish Tradition
Jewish spiritual wisdom has tried to put many names the experience of encountering the divine. This class offers some unexpected observations from the Bible, rabbinic literature, and Kabbalah about what it means to give a name to the Transcendent: from the Torah’s ineffable four-letter Name, to unusual metaphors, to the kabbalists’ 72- (actually 216-) letter mystery.
How to be a Friend in Judaism
Did you think that “friendship” was a modern construct? Of course not; Jewish sources and history have a lot to say about what the nature of a caring relationship, beyond family and lovers, is and can be.
The Resurrection of the Dead in Jewish Thought
We explore the textual history of one of the most controversial ideas in Jewish philosophy; an idea that has had a surprising...revival among contemporary Jewish thinkers.
I.L. Peretz and the Stories of Modernity
The master of the Yiddish short story, Yitzhak Leib Peretz (1852-1915) created some of the most beloved and important Jewish writings of the modern era. His stories stand on the seam of tradition and modernity, satirizing Jewish piety while cherishing a world that what rapidly disappearing. Through his stories, we discover a great deal about this crucial moment of transition in Jewish history.
Like an Unread Letter: Dreams & Their Interpreters in Jewish Literature
The meaning and significance in dreams, from Joseph in the Torah through the Talmud, Kabbalah, Freud and today.
How to Wake Up in the Morning
The opening chapters of the 16th Century Shulchan Aruch present a prescription for embracing every new day with awe and wonder.
Finding My Religion: An Introduction to Jewish Ideas of G-d
Jewish faith does not mean “anything goes”—but the wide varieties of Jewish lessons about G-d are positively liberating to seekers of authentic spiritual wisdom without dogma. (2-4 sessions)
Longer Courses (3+ sessions)
Messiah, Complex: The Messianic Idea in Judaism from Antiquity to Modernity
Since late antiquity, Judaism has proposed the audacious idea of a Messiah—a redemptive figure that will herald a new epoch in human history. We will explore the development of this idea in its most provocative incarnations: from the Bible, the Talmud, the classical Siddur, and medieval Kabbalah; through Zionism, liberal Jewish movements, Chabad, and modern understandings of Tikkun Olam. We will explore how the messianic idea has proved valuable for preserving hope during times of duress, and how it has proved to be dangerous and scandalous at other moments in Jewish history.
From the Corners of the Fields to the Repair of the Universe:
How Judaism Teaches Justice, Righteousness, and Peace
Since the days of Abraham, Jews have been instructed to pursue “what is just and right”. This course will explore many strata and eras of Jewish history, from the Bible, Talmud, and law codes through Kabbalistic ideas of tikkun olam, Zionism, and 20th- and 21st-Century Jewish experience, to understand how that ancient model evolved and shaped later understandings of social justice.
What are the origins of the People Israel? And how is our destiny rooted in the Land of Israel? Looking at the biblical text—and the lenses of interpretation both classical and modern—we explore the meanings of the People and the Land, and what the Torah expects in the covenanted relationship between the two.
Who Was Solomon? An Exploration of a Biblical Life and Myth
King Solomon looms large in the biblical imagination. But the Bible is surprisingly circumspect about the details of his life and reign over the united commonwealth of Israel. Who was this monarch and what was his complicated legacy? And why does tradition attribute three very different books - Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs - to his hand? (Optimally, this is a multi-part course, although it can be abridged.)
Money, Sex, & Power in Jewish Tradition
Three things we’re not supposed to discuss in public: money, sex, and politics. But the sages had no fear of putting their stamp on the touchiest issues of our lives.
The Passover Haggadah
The Haggadah is the midrashic work with which most Jews are familiar; it is a masterpiece of expanding and expounding the biblical text. We explore its Mishnaic roots and medieval and modern expansions to understand how this unique piece of Jewish literature took shape. We will also devote some time to understand the variety of contemporary incarnations of the Haggadah.
Classic Yiddish Stories
Reading and understanding the masters of the 19th & 20th century: I.L. Peretz, Sholom Aleichem, Mendele Mocher Soferim, Sholem Asch, I.J. Singer, I.B. Singer, and lesser-known authors.
The Early Hasidic Masters
Understanding the last great spiritual revolution in Judaism, through primary texts about the lives of the Hasidic masters of the 18th & 19th centuries, from the Baal Shem Tov through Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk.
Big Ideas: The Beliefs of Judaism
It’s a misnomer that Judaism is “about action, not belief.” We investigate the central tenets of Jewish faith, guided by the most important Jewish spiritual creation: the Siddur.
The Joseph Saga
The hidden novella implanted in Genesis, the Joseph story is a literary masterpiece that deserves to be studied as such—on the same shelf as similar ancient classics of world literature.
The Prophets of Israel
Exploring the works of the spiritual geniuses and madmen who flourished throughout the Tanakh, with an emphasis on Elijah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and Zechariah.
The Five Megillot
Five unusual books of the Tanakh, each linked with a season of the Jewish calendar: the Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther. Each can be taught as a single unite as well.
The Life of David: Readings in the Book of Samuel
The Book of Samuel is a literary masterpiece—and an ancient soap opera of political intrigue, deception, madness, and sex.
Introduction to the Art of Midrash
Midrash is a quintessential Jewish literary form: Taking the ancient texts and searching, insisting, and demanding that they yield meaning in every generation.
Creating Amazing Passover Seders
Great ideas to renew, energize, and invigorate any family’s seder.
Yesodot: The Tools for Building a Jewish Home
The fundamentals of building a Jewish home, for every family—but specially designed for partners from faith backgrounds other than Judaism.
To bring any of these offerings to your community, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.