Introduction to Judaism

Course No. 6423
Professor Shai Cherry, Ph.D.
Congregation Adath Jeshurun
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Course No. 6423
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Course Overview

What could be simpler than a single people worshiping a single God for more than 3,000 years? But Judaism is far from simple, and as a religion, culture, and civilization, it has evolved in surprising ways during its lengthy and remarkable history. Consider the following:

  • Although Judaism is defined by its worship of one God, it was not always a pure monotheism. In I Kings 8, King Solomon addresses the Lord by saying, "There is no God like You," suggesting that the Israelites recognized the existence of other gods.
  • The practice of Judaism was focused on animal sacrifice until the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in the 1st century, which forced a radically new approach to worship.
  • The political emancipation of the Jews in 18th-century Europe transformed a 1,000-year-old style of Jewish life. "You can’t find an expression of Judaism today that is just like [the way] Jews lived 300 years ago," says Professor Shai Cherry.

Yet for all it has changed, Judaism has maintained unbroken ties to a foundation text, an ethnicity, a set of rituals and holidays, and a land.

A Journey of Religious Discovery

In these 24 lectures, Professor Cherry explores the rich religious heritage of Judaism from biblical times to today.

He introduces you to the written Torah, and you learn about the oral Torah, called the Mishnah (which was also later written down), and its commentary, the Gemara. And you discover how the Mishnah and Gemara comprise the Talmud, and how they differ from another form of commentary called Midrash.

He teaches you about the three pillars of the world defined more than 2,000 years ago by Shimon the Righteous: Torah, worship, and deeds of loving kindness.

He takes you through the calendar of Jewish holidays, from the most important, the Sabbath, to the key holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover, and Pentecost (Shavuot); and to historically minor celebrations such as Channukah, which is now a more visible holiday.

You also learn about the origins and attributes of the different Jewish movements that formed in the wake of Emancipation in the late 1700s and the resulting full emergence of Judaism into Western society. These include the Reform, Conservative, Modern Orthodox, and Reconstructionist movements.

"Although Jewish history is not one long tale of travails," says Professor Cherry, "there have been several catastrophes that powerfully shaped the Jewish consciousness." He includes discussions of the impact on Jewish thought of the Babylonian exile and the destruction of the Second Temple in antiquity, and the Holocaust in the 20th century.

"We will see that for every topic that we cover we have a multiplicity of responses and a multiplicity of answers," says Professor Cherry, noting that this course could just as easily be called "An Introduction to Judaisms."

What’s in a Name?

Judaism’s sacred text is the Bible, also called the TaNaKH, the Torah, the Hebrew Bible, and, by Christians, the Old Testament. As Professor Cherry points out, these terms have different implications:

  • TaNaKH: This is the Hebrew acronym for the three sections of the Bible—the Torah (the first five books, known as the Pentateuch), Nevi’im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings).
  • Torah: The word torah means "a teaching," and it can refer to the Pentateuch, the entire TaNaKH, or even the whole corpus of Jewish thought.
  • Hebrew Bible: This is a religiously neutral term used by scholars for the TaNaKH. Professor Cherry notes that his expertise is in the TaNaKH, not the Hebrew Bible, since he approaches the text from the Jewish interpretive tradition.
  • Old Testament: Christians refer to the TaNaKH as the Old Testament, since in their eyes it has been superseded by the New Testament. For Catholics, the Old Testament has a number of books that are not included in the TaNaKH.

Interpreting the Scriptures

Jews and Christians not only have different names for the Bible, they understand it very differently. For example, Christianity takes an episode that is relatively minor in Jewish tradition—the temptation of Adam and Eve—and extracts from it the doctrine of original sin.

Similarly, early rabbis took the repeated phrase, "And there was evening and there was morning," in the enumeration of the six days of creation and concluded that the day begins in the evening, which is why Jews start the celebration of their holidays at sundown.

As a case study in interpretation, Professor Cherry delves deeply into the prohibition against seething (boiling) a kid in its mother’s milk, mentioned in Exodus and Deuteronomy, which led to the kosher practice of strict separation of meat and milk products. Recently, a scholar pointed out that the original Hebrew could be interpreted to mean fat instead of milk.

A prohibition against seething a kid in its mother’s fat makes more sense, because it is another way of saying that the mother and offspring should not be slaughtered on the same day, in accord with the biblical injunction against killing two generations of the same species on the same day.

But the rabbis had very good reasons to read the passage as they did, says Professor Cherry, who shows the theological logic that has resulted in the dietary separation of meat and milk, a practice observed by traditional Jews today.

Unlocking Mysteries of Jewish Thought and Ritual

"Let’s unpack this," Professor Cherry says often during these lectures, as he takes a concept, a biblical passage, or an episode from history and explores its meaning in Jewish thought and ritual.

In doing so, he is following the footsteps of the acknowledged master of this form of analysis, the medieval Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides, who figures prominently throughout the course and is treated in depth in Lecture 14.

There, Professor Cherry focuses on Maimonides’s Guide of the Perplexed and its discussion of creation, prayer, and the reasons for the commandments. Maimonides is filled with insights into how Judaism evolved as it did, noting, for example, that the practice of ritual animal sacrifice in early Judaism was God’s way of taking a pagan rite that the Israelites had learned from the Egyptians and redirecting it.

In a subsequent lecture, Professor Cherry shows how Maimonides’s success at putting Judaism on a logical footing set the stage for a reaction that produced the Jewish mystical system called the Kabbalah.

Professor Cherry unlocks other mysteries, such as why the first day of the seventh month (Tishrei) is the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah). It seems likely, he says, that "this was the time of the Babylonian New Year. So when the Jews were exiled to Babylonia, they saw that the Babylonians celebrated their New Year on that day, and said, ‘We’ve got some sacred occasion where we blow the trumpets, so let’s make that our New Year, too.’"

He also explores different concepts of the Messiah, profiling two controversial candidates. The first is Shabbatai Tzvi, who was proclaimed Messiah by followers in 1665, and whose travels across Eastern Europe eventually landed him in Turkey, where he converted to Islam to avoid execution by the authorities.

The other candidate is Rebbe Menachem Mendel Scheersohn, a charismatic leader of the Lubavitch Chassidim in Brooklyn, who died in 1994. Rebbe Scheersohn’s widely touted messianic credentials created intense debate and division in the Ultra-Orthodox community.

From the Decalogue to Fiddler on the Roof

From the first lecture on the Torah to the last on the Jews as the Chosen People, this course is packed with fascinating information, including:

  • Jews use the term Decalogue, instead of Ten Commandments because there are actually more than 10 commandments in the Decalogue. For instance, "On six days you shall work and the seventh day shall be a Sabbath to you." Usually that counts as one: that you should have a Sabbath on the seventh day. But there is also, "On six days you shall work."
  • The prophets in the biblical period served the same function as today’s free press. They tell the king what he doesn’t want to hear.
  • When people die in the TaNaKH, everyone goes to the same place, Sheol—a shadowy underworld that is neither heaven nor hell.
  • After crushing the Bar Kochvah revolt of the Jews in the 2nd century, the Romans changed the name of the land of Israel and Judaea to echo the Israelites’ ancient enemies, the Philistines. This is how the region came to be called Palestine.
  • Today, the designation "Temple" on a Jewish house of worship is usually a sign that it is a Reform congregation because Reform Jews no longer look toward the dream of rebuilding the Jerusalem Temple.
  • Orthodox Judaism is just as much a product of modernity as is Reform because several varieties of Orthodoxy emerged in the 19th century as a response to Emancipation, the Enlightenment, and the founding of the Reform movement.

In addition, Professor Cherry devotes several lectures to complex issues such as the problem of evil and suffering, the Zionist movement, the place of women in the Jewish world, and how Judaism understands Christianity.

Throughout, Professor Cherry is articulate, engaging, and passionate, with a gift for making a point by means of a memorable cultural reference. He calls attention to an echo of Jewish mystic Rav Kook in a Joni Mitchell song; to the Kabbalistic nature of "the force" and "the dark side" in George Lucas’s Star Wars; and to the Sabbath lesson given by Gene Wilder as an Old West rabbi in The Frisco Kid, when he dutifully dismounts his horse at sundown, risking capture by bandits.

Professor Cherry notes that when he teaches introductory Judaism at Vanderbilt University, he asks his students to see two films: Fiddler on the Roof, for its picture of the breakdown of tradition as Jews confront modernity; and Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, for its treatment of secular Jews grappling with contemporary issues of faith and ethics. Both films repay viewing in light of the lessons you’ll learn in this course.

In his final lecture, Professor Cherry sums up: "The Judaisms we’ve examined in this course reflect the ongoing struggles of the Jewish people from their ancient life as a sovereign nation, to the travails of exile, to the opportunities of acculturation in modernity, and finally to the re-establishment of the state of Israel. Hearing God’s words anew—receiving Torah every day—has meant reinterpreting the tradition, creatively rereading the words of the past, whether they relate to core ideas like the notion of evil and the notion of the Chosen People, or mitzvot such as the prohibition of idolatry, or the laws of marriage and divorce. Even the basis for reinterpreting the tradition, the claim that God’s words do not cease, is itself a rereading of Torah."

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Torah, Old Testament, and Hebrew Bible
    Professor Cherry introduces the themes of the course and examines the relationship between the Hebrew Bible, the Torah, the TaNaKH, and the Old Testament—and these are not simply different terms for the same text. x
  • 2
    From Israelite to Jew
    This lecture surveys ancient Jewish history from the destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C.E. to the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 C.E. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and other Jewish sects of the period are also covered. x
  • 3
    Repentance
    Teshuvah, or sincere repentance, became the central concept of Rabbinic Jews—the successors to the Pharisees—after the destruction of the Second Temple. This lecture examines the growth and elaboration of this powerful religious idea. x
  • 4
    Study
    The ancient High Priest Shimon the Righteous said that the world stands on three things: on Torah, on worship, and on deeds of loving kindness. This lecture covers the first of these and introduces Rabbinic texts such as the Mishnah, Talmud, and Gemara, as well as Midrash. x
  • 5
    Prayer
    The second of Shimon the Righteous's pillars of the world is prayer. Professor Cherry traces the development of prayer from the biblical period to the 20th century, and discusses the rise of the "prayer house," or synagogue. x
  • 6
    Deeds of Loving Kindness
    The third of Shimon the Righteous's pillars of the world—deeds of loving kindness—is an outgrowth of the commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself." This lecture traces the Jewish struggle to live up to this duty. x
  • 7
    Messianism
    Professor Cherry examines the different concepts of the Messiah within the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud, and profiles a 17th-century false Messiah and the most recent candidate, a Chassidic leader in New York who died in 1994. x
  • 8
    The Coming World
    The Hebrew Bible says surprisingly little about what happens after we die. This lecture explores concepts of the afterlife, resurrection, and the immortality of the soul that developed in post-biblical Judaism. x
  • 9
    Sabbath
    Professor Cherry introduces the notion of holiness in time by examining the weekly Sabbath, arguably the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Commemorating God's day of rest after the six days of creation, the Sabbath has evolved a complex system of rituals. x
  • 10
    Law and Spirit
    This lecture probes deeper into the connection between law and spirit exemplified by the Sabbath by exploring different kinds of laws within the Torah, and by tracing their development in the Talmud and the writings of medieval commentators. x
  • 11
    Fall Holidays
    Continuing the study of holiness in time, Professor Cherry looks at the fall cycle of holidays, beginning with the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and continuing with Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah. x
  • 12
    Spring Holidays
    The exodus from Egypt is the paradigm of Jewish existence, celebrated in the most important spring holiday, Passover. Seven weeks later comes Pentecost (Shavuot), commemorating the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. x
  • 13
    Minor Holidays—Then and Now
    Though not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, Channukah and Purim have become two of the most celebrated days in the Jewish year. This lecture suggests reasons for their popularity and looks at several other historically minor holidays. x
  • 14
    Medieval Jewish Philosophy—Maimonides
    This lecture examines the ideas of the great medieval Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides, focusing on his Guide of the Perplexed, which deals with such issues as the creation of the world, prayer, and the commandments. x
  • 15
    Medieval Jewish Mysticism—Kabbalah
    The same issues addressed by Maimonides received very different responses from the Jewish mystics who produced the Kabbalah, which combines Neo-Platonic philosophy with ancient Near Eastern mythology. x
  • 16
    Evil and Suffering—Biblical and Rabbinic
    Why do the innocent suffer? And why do the guilty go unpunished? This is known as the problem of theodicy, which received haunting expression in biblical texts such as Job and searching analysis by Rabbinic commentators. x
  • 17
    Evil and Suffering—Medieval and Modern
    Continuing the study of evil, Professor Cherry examines different explanations for evil by Jewish thinkers from the Middle Ages to the present, concluding with a discussion of the Holocaust, which Jews call the Shoah (catastrophe). x
  • 18
    Emancipation, Enlightenment, and Reform
    Traditional Jewish life began to break down in Western Europe at the end of the 18th century with Emancipation, the movement to assimilate Jews by granting them fuller political rights and educational opportunities. Reform Judaism was one response to this liberalized climate. x
  • 19
    Orthodox Judaisms
    In the 19th century, several varieties of Orthodox Judaism emerged as a response to Emancipation and Reform Judaism. While Modern Orthodoxy struggled to balance traditional Judaism and an open posture toward Western European culture, Ultra-Orthodoxy rejected secular studies, Western dress, and European languages. x
  • 20
    Israel and Zionism
    The longing to return to the land of Israel goes back to the Babylonian exile in antiquity and achieved its modern fulfillment in Zionism, which saw the establishment of a Jewish state in the 20th century. x
  • 21
    American Judaisms
    America's appeal to rugged individualism attracted Reform-minded Jews, mostly from Germany, in the pre-Civil War waves of Jewish migration. Later immigrants came from a range of countries and tended to be more traditional, seeding America with a diversity of Jewish beliefs and practices. x
  • 22
    Women and Jewish Law
    This lecture highlights three Jewish legal issues of particular concern to women: the laws of marriage and divorce, the plight of the agunah (a woman bound to a husband who is either missing or refuses to divorce her), and the question of abortion, which in Jewish law defies categorization as either pro-life or pro-choice. x
  • 23
    Judaism and the Other
    Like most ancient law codes, the Hebrew Bible distinguishes between insiders and outsiders. This lecture looks at the Jewish struggle with interreligious accommodation, especially as it relates to Christianity. The talk concludes with recent developments in Jewish-Christian relations. x
  • 24
    The Chosen People?
    The claim of being chosen by God has been both a source of pride and puzzlement to Jews. This final lecture examines the origin of this claim, its mixed blessings throughout history, and the surprising nuances of its interpretation by Jewish thinkers. x

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Your professor

Shai Cherry

About Your Professor

Shai Cherry, Ph.D.
Congregation Adath Jeshurun
Rabbi Shai Cherry, PhD, is currently affiliated with Congregation Adath Jeshurun, Elkins Park, PA. Previously he was the Executive Director of Shaar Hamayim: A Jewish Learning Center in Solana Beach, CA. He earned his B.A. (magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa) in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics from Claremont McKenna College, and his Ph.D. in Jewish Thought from Brandeis University. Professor Cherry has received several...
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Reviews

Introduction to Judaism is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 65.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very good Not a dry listen, at all. Very interesting for a non-jew, and probably even informative for people raised culturally Jewish, as well. There are several points of philosophy I found myself identifying with and wanting to learn more about. If you like to learn about religion and spirituality, you will like it.
Date published: 2018-02-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enjoying it! Dr. Cherry is a good 'teller of the story' and his enthusiasm for it is surprisingly contagious. He does speak a little too fast; it was disconcerting in the first lecture, but he seems to have calmed down somewhat in subsequent ones. I went with just the audio CDs and am satisfied--in fact, it lets me just listen while doing household tasks without feeling like I need to be glued to a screen.
Date published: 2018-01-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting As a person interested in religion, this was mostly very good. I found myself realizing why I had always been a bit drawn to Judaism. The early history parts can drag on, but the later lectures about actual philosophy were a good listen.
Date published: 2018-01-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is an excellent introductory course. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to study Judaism.
Date published: 2017-12-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Professor and interesting content This course is interesting even for people who are very familiar with Judaism. I learned a couple of new things and otherwise revisited and reflected on basic principles inspired by Professor Sherry’s style.
Date published: 2017-10-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoughtful and engaging... Professor Shai Cherry delivers a labor of love in his course "Introduction to Judaism." Having taken an introductory course in religion at a University this more in-depth overview and focus on Judaism was greatly appreciated. Prof. Cherry's independent approach and sensitivity to other religious affiliations kindle thoughtful contemplation and self-reflection. Religions can be different and co-exist respectfully as there are an infinite number of paths to spirituality and God. Highly recommend -- educational, interesting and entertaining -- exactly what I hoped for.
Date published: 2017-09-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great introduction to a complex history! I really enjoyed the well-organized and fascinating lectures! The lecturer knows his material and presents it with great intelligence and enthusaism.
Date published: 2017-07-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Course I really liked the course. Toward the end he got a little bit more into contemporary issues than I would have liked, but clearly very knowledgeable. Definitely recommended for someone without much background in the topic.
Date published: 2017-05-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Quite Informative I just finished this couse and was pleased with the information that was taught. I learned things about the Jewish religion that I did not know. They are influenced by their individual teachers and leaders beliefs on interpretation of scripture and traditions. I did not realize that there was not a basic foundational religion, they have changed over the years to reflect leaders beliefs. The instructor did a very nice job of presenting this and he obviously has a very vast knowledge of the information he was presenting. I really enjoyed this course and will listen to it again someday.
Date published: 2017-04-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Uncomplicated explanation of Judaism I purchased this product in 2014 via Audible and Professor Shai Cherry explains Judaism in a easy-to-remember way that is uncomplicated. I say uncomplicated as has I have taken refresher courses through out my life and I think the difference is in the teaching style of Professor Cherry. Overall, he is a great lecturer and I not only learned well, but was able to retain what I learned.
Date published: 2017-02-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Just what I was looking for This really is a "great course." I'm just going through it a little at a time, at my leisure. It's really a lot to digest--a whole history of a people, a philosophy, a practice. I've heard the Jews described as the most tenacious people on earth! The presenter is charming too. This is a remarkable course. Thank you.
Date published: 2016-10-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course!!! The Professor Shai Cherry is an excellente lector!
Date published: 2016-09-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Introduction to Judaism Professor Shai Cherry presents an excellent journey into Judaism covering both their historical and cultural traditions. I recommend this class to anyone interested in taking a deep dive into the history of the Jewish people.
Date published: 2016-09-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Gemara...who knew? These 24 audio downloaded lectures are presented by a very enthusiastic and articulate Prof Shai Cherry and deal with the description and beliefs within the Jewish religion and culture, from the pre-first temple period to today. In many ways this is more of a philosophical discussion, with many examples from history that might explain how the Torah has evolved over the last two millennia. Most of these lectures explain the study of the Torah as the most basic aspect of the religion, and continues to describe how the Halachah developed through time and historical changes. The lectures on Maimonides were particularly interesting. Some parts of the lectures appear to be a bit disjointed, but if you can keep up with the notes and follow a few rabbits down the Internet's rabbit holes, the lectures take on more clarity. One example is a YouTube lecture, "Jewish Responses to Darwinism", in which Dr Cherry methodically explains his (Jewish) views of why there really is no conflict between science (in this case Darwinism) and basic Jewish tenants (specifically 'Genesis'). Even though my background is not a religious one, I recommend these lectures to anyone who has a basic curiosity about the roots of briefs that are held by billions of folks today (both Jews and Christians). You should wait for a sale and a coupon, and include Gafni as a preread.
Date published: 2016-06-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well Presented I often think that the first half of our Judaeo-Christian heritage is not studied enough. This course serves as an effective and entertaining remedy. Professor Cherry is a young, energetic and enthusiastic teacher who sprinkles modern analogies with his deep references to Scripture, history and philosophy. For instance, he recommends Fiddler on the Roof and Woody Allen movies for some insight into modern day Jewish problems. Yet he is neither flippant nor superficial. He explains the relationship of the major Jewish holy books. Thus, the Torah is a part of the Tanakh and the Talmud is divided into a short summary of The Law and a huge, ever-growing corpus of rabbinical commentary. He delves into the three supports of Judaism: study, prayer and atonement. He describes the major and many minor Jewish holidays. His definitions of different concepts of the Messiah are exciting. Professor Cherry covers ancient Hebrew history up to the fall of the Second Temple in one lecture; thereafter, he weaves history into the evolution of rabbinical thought. In doing so, he elaborates his two main themes: that Judaism is an evolving religion and that the study should be of “Judaisms”, not just one religion. Thus, the medieval period sees two schools of thought emerge among the rabbis, Aristotelian rationalism and neo--Platonic mysticism. With the coming of the Enlightenment, Cherry begins to describe the modern Judaisms and how they have interacted with the New World. His approach to the Holocaust reveals a surprising variety of Jewish interpretations. His comments on feminism, Zionism and ecumenism deserve attention from us all.
Date published: 2016-02-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Good, Broad Overview; Occasionally Unfocused This is a worthwhile overview of Judaism, presented from a religious studies perspective (i.e. historical, sociological, and descriptive) rather than as theology (i.e. what is true, what should be believed), by a learned scholar who is (apparently) a practicing Jew. Note that the course covers very little of the Bible, focusing instead on the most recent 2,000 years. Many areas are discussed, but time limits require that much of this is broad rather than deep. And because Judaism is based more on shared history, attitudes, books, and ritual practices, rather than - as in much of Christianity - on a comprehensive doctrine of interwoven beliefs, the topics may come across as somewhat more random and disorganized than they actually are. Professor Cherry is deeply knowledgeable and unfailingly enthusiastic about his subject. However, as a few other reviewers have noted, he sometimes seems to ramble down rather jumbled pathways, without a clear organization or focused goal. His voice is well-modulated and expressive, and easy to listen to. One is left wondering if there is a more coherent set of beliefs that underlies Judaism than that presented here. My own impression, from my (limited) studies and experience, is that there is not (but I'd appreciate others' comments on this!). It is more a mode of living than a systematic body of beliefs, and this course presents that aspect well.
Date published: 2015-12-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from From Basic to Enthralling Any introductory course begins with basics and proceeds from there with applications to modern life or embellishments of the subject. Such it is with this course. The course begins with foundation of the Hebrew Bible (Torah), the formation from Israelite to Jew, Jewish worship, prayer, laws, holidays, and view of the coming Messiah. These basics educated me about the Jewish approach to religion and about the meaning of Jewish holidays and celebrations for which I only know the names. This information was interesting, but not compelling. The course became enthralling from lecture eighteen through the remainder of the course when Professor Cherry began to explain Jewish reform and the history of Judaism in the United States. These lectures were essential for me to better understand the life of modern Jewish people (both orthodox and reformed) in our society. I did not know the Jewish approach to pregnancy termination (enlightened), the meaning of Zionism, or the Jewish interpretation of the coming of the Messiah. Vanderbilt Divinity School has an excellent faculty of diverse theological backgrounds and religions. Professor Cherry demonstrates in this lecture series why Vanderbilt students receive an education that challenges their beliefs and enables them to think broadly.
Date published: 2015-11-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This course elevates humanity I am a non-jewish person who is interested in understanding belief systems different than my own. Professor Cherry is a phenomenal lecturer who speaks with a deep knowledge of the subject matter yet with such humility and openness. He effectively presents a map to understanding the origins of Judaism and it's evolution over millennia. He opened my eyes to the fact that this faith is dynamic and responsive to the needs of the modern world just as it ministered to the needs of jewish people thousands of years ago. This course will most certainly interest jewish and non-Jewish people alike and I am certain that most will complete the series with a deep appreciation for this faith and for humanity. Professor Cherry is a world class lecturer and I look forward to listening to his other courses.
Date published: 2015-08-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from WOW! -- but POST-Gafni On numerous occasions I looked at the description of this (not in detail though) and assumed that it would basically cover the same material as Isaiah Gafni's course, so I didn't buy it. I ultimately did buy it and it is well worth it! Basically, Gafni's course ends around the beginning of rabbinic Judaism (2nd century C.E.) and this pretty much BEGINS there and goes through to 2004, when the series was recorded. Depending on the particular lecture topic, overall this tends to be more cultural and historical material rather than theological. I did give a 4 for presentation because sometimes Professor Cherry does speak a bit fast. I have a LOT of background in Christianity and Judaism, so I could pretty much follow it but I think most listeners would tend to get a bit lost AT TIMES. My suggestion would be simply to listen to the lecture again. If you're new to this area, I *do* suggest that you get some other courses on Judaism first, to give you a bit of background BEFORE getting into this. In that regard, although Gary Rendsburg's course on the Dead Sea Scrolls is interesting, I don't think it will be particularly helpful in preparing for THIS course. I got the audio download and I don't think it misses anything significant by not having the video.
Date published: 2015-07-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fine Introduction to Judaism! Professor Cherry provides an outstanding introduction to Judaism or "Judaisms," as he frequently suggests. I found his lesson on Kabbalah the most insightful. I was disappointed that he did not provide a brief historical overview of the aliyot that occurred in the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries.
Date published: 2015-06-27
Rated 1 out of 5 by from You have lost your way I have to agree with both daniel0417 and ARevewer. The course is very difficult to follow with no continuity. The professor includes ideas and interpretations from other faiths and throws in random facts he then has to explain and then justify, many times out of context. I believe the professor knows HIS material very well but the message he sent me personally is that the Bible is a dusty history book that could have been written and re-written by some guy just off the street over and over. It has some great stuff in it but......................half of it is wrong and the other half is misinterpreted by the wise Beit Dins, Sages and Rabbi's through the ages and now, let me tell you which is which. Honestly, throughout this course what continually ran through my mind was "I hope no one searching for more than 2,000 ways to screw up any possible understanding or faith in the validity of GOD's words to his people" are hearing this. He seems to have forgotten that to the Jewish people, this is GOD's word. Divinely inspired and protected throughout time. I'm not saying that there hasn't been some translations gone a bit wacky when people take liberties which is what I feel has happened here. As a Jew who has studied and taught my culture, my history and faith all my life, I found the class insulting. This course is not an Intro to Judaism, it is a public statement by a man that has studied long and researched much. I have great respect for the time and effort he has put into his subject matter and his effort to impart knowledge but he got lost somewhere. At the beginning of the class he lectured that there were two "creation stories" as though this a commonly recognized truth. But it is only common for liberal critics of the Bible to claim that the book of Genesis has two seperate accounts of the creation of the Earth and mankind. Allegedly, these two accounts reflect different authors and different time periods. The professor also states that these two narratives contradict each other in several particulars. The following summary statement by Kenneth Kitchen is worthy of notice and much clearer: [It is often claimed that Genesis 1 and 2 contain two different creation-narratives. In point of fact, however, the strictly complementary nature of the “two” accounts is plain enough: Genesis 1 mentions the creation of man as the last of a series, and without any details, whereas in Genesis 2 man is the center of interest and more specific details are given about him and his setting. There is no incompatible duplication here at all. Failure to recognize the complementary nature of the subject-distinction between a skeleton outline of all creation on the one hand, and the concentration in detail on man and his immediate environment on the other, borders on obscurantism (1966, pp. 116-117, emp. in orig.). When the texts of Genesis 1 and 2 have been considered carefully, one thing is clear: an objective evaluation reveals no discrepancies, nor is a dual authorship to be inferred. Devout students of the Bible should not be disturbed by the fanciful, ever-changing theories of the liberal critics. It is wise to remember that the Word of God was not written for the benefit of “scholars,” but for the common person. The Scriptures assume that the average person is able to understand the message and to know that the source is divine.] I believe the professor began his education searching for truth and justification but has lost his faith in the process. His teaching that Judaism is based on half truths and misunderstandings is arrogant and incorrect. Judaism is not about some people who lived a long time ago. It's not a religion based on some rules someone once said would be really good idea or a race of people hanging on to tradition for it's own sake. It is a day by day commitment to be a better person, to serve others and Hashem. Judaism is a way of life. Walking in faith and obedience to Hashem's will and instruction. Instruction from Torah. Jews began in faith and continue in faith, this is absent in this course.
Date published: 2015-01-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very strongly recommended A most important course for anyone looking to learn about Judaism. Professor Cherry provides a strong and surprisingly detailed introduction to the religion in only 24 lectures. His dedication and enthusiasm come across clearly, and he is extremely confident, perhaps a little strident. Emphasis is placed where it is needed -- on the history and development of Judaism, the importance of Shabbat, the laws, the many holiday dates, the religion today. Unlike some other reviewers, I did not have any issues with his pronunciation, but rather was happy that a highly-educated and learned young professor was demonstrating the correct way to pronounce Jewish words. May I say that this course, while surely serious, was in fact enjoyable and at times entertaining as Dr Cherry brought his sense of humour to play. Very strongly recommended series.
Date published: 2014-07-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Introduction to Judaism A superb teacher with an astounding grasp of the subject matter. He teaches with both a sense of humor as well as a complete dedication to the importance of the topic. Thank you for an exceptional learning opportunity.
Date published: 2014-04-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Informative This seems to be an excellent forensic breakdown of Judaism.
Date published: 2013-12-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I'm glad I purchased this course I purchased this course as I began my exploration of Judaism. I was familiar with the history; so, I needed to develop my understanding of Judaism itself--including the differences between the different ways Judaism is practiced. This course provided an excellent overview of the major ideas--including the importance of Shabbat; the major and minor holidays; and basic philosophical positions/ thinkers. I found the course invaluable. It answered my questions, including those that I did not know I had until I began the course. I would highly recommend professor Cherry's course to anyone who wants to learn more about Judaism.
Date published: 2013-12-05
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not too happy about this one I was looking for a fair representation of what modern Judaism teaches and practices, I purchased this course because I thought professor Shai Cherry was himself a religious Jew who actually believed the material which he was presenting, I was disappointed. I would like to see Judaism presented by a Jew and Islam presented by a Muslim, so that I can then critique those religions at that level. I don’t want a materialist reading his own materialistic presuppositions into a course on religion. If I am interested in learning more about a materialistic world view I will take a course on the theory of Evolution. Professor Shai Cherry’s presupposition causes him to reject any supernatural element in the biblical text, causing him to assert, with no evidence what so ever, that the part of Isaiah’s book which speaks prophetically of the Babylonian exile to have been written after the fact. He takes Psalm 137:1-6, written in the Babylonian exile, and on the basis of that text, and if you read that text you will see how groundless it is, but he tries to say on the basis of this text that the Israelites thought that their God only has power in the land of Israel. That’s a hard sell seeing that even the first book of the Hebrew bible, the book of Genesis, clearly presents God as sovereign in all nations and over all kings, but if he then tries to assert that those texts where written later and grafted in to the text, he would have to prove that and not just state it; furthermore, the book of Daniel was written by a Jew in the Babylonian exile, not long after Psalm 137, and it contains some of the strongest passages in the Bible on Gods sovereign decree being fulfilled in all the earth, Isaiah clearly shows that it is God himself who uses the Babylonians as his instrument to punish idolatrous Israel. Professor Shai Cherry’s materialistic presuppositions, and rather superficial reading of the biblical text, causes him to assert biblical contradictions which can actually be dealt with quite easily. Besides these flaws, forcing me to take everything he says with a dose of salt, there is nevertheless a few good things to be learned from him, his teaching style is good and he speaks respectfully about those who do happen to believe the biblical text.
Date published: 2013-03-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Introduction to Judaism Professor Cherry did an excellent job of presenting the material. The scope and content of each lecture kept me fully engaged. I look forward to viewing this course a second time in order to tie in the latter sessions with the earlier ones. I learned a great deal and anticipate taking additional courses on this subject. Great job, Professor Cherry!
Date published: 2013-02-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from wonderful intro to judaism I was surprised how much I enjoyed learning about the History, Culture, Philosophy,and the "Religion" of Judaism. This course is very educational and enjoyable for all people, including those of any, or no, religious background or affiliation. Sit back and enjoy the ride; I am going around a second time to soak up more of the info presented in this great course.
Date published: 2012-08-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Virtuoso Performance: Teaching as an Art Form! Superb survey course, particularly for a lapsed Catholic who--while young and later when in attendance--received little opportunity to truly know or understand the so-called Old Testament. Professor Cherry's lectures are well-organized and well-sequenced and add up to an excellent, comprehensive introductory course. He "delivers" with intellect, enthusiasm, warmth and humor. I was especially impressed with his understanding of comparative religions and the respect he shows other communities of faith. This course is an objective analysis of Judaic history and thought, in no way chauvinistic or Zionist. Throughout the lectures I experienced numerous moments of insight and enlightenment. Professor Cherry is a gift to anyone considering themselves a life-long learner. Simply put, this course is brilliant! How about a Shai Cherry "Introduction to Judaism" Part Deux?
Date published: 2012-06-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Class These lectures, along with our discussion on them, constituted one-fourth of a two-year small group study on four of the great religions of the world. Prior to going through these DVDs, we discussed Islam (using The Teaching Company audio cassettes). This fall we will dig into Buddhism and finish up with Hinduism. I really appreciated Professor Cherry's clear presentations, his humor, his upbeat approach, and (for the most part) his practical application. If there was anything that I think could have been improved, it was the amount of material, and the depth of it, which left some of us groping to grasp it all at times. On the other hand, the course included so much more than I was aware of, having been a Christian all my life, one who has been very involved in study. Yet, I knew aboutJudaism primarily from a Christian reading of the Hebrew Bible, lacking any knowledge of all that went on during the Medieval Period, and really not understanding the impact of higher biblical criticism or the origin of the various forms of Judaism today. Since I have access to the DVDs, I hope to review them on my own, taking the opportunity to stop and listen again to various parts. But first, I have to get the preparation completed for facilitating the classes on Buddhism this fall.
Date published: 2012-06-11
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