Upcoming and archived courses
Out of Context: Misunderstanding the Bible
Rewriting the Past:
Sin, Repentance, and Forgiveness
Women's Institute of Houston
High Holy Day Boot Camp | ERJCC Houston
The Bible is the number one book that Americans like to pretend to have read. In this course we will tackle some common misconceptions about it, from translation errors to thorny interpretive problems. Our primary texts will be excerpts from the Hebrew Bible and Joel Hoffman's book And God Said: How Translations Conceal the Bible's Original Meaning. Examples of misinterpretations include the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge (it's not an apple), the Ten Commandments (it's not about "killing" or "coveting"), and the virgin birth (it's not about sex).
The prayers of the High Holidays invite us to imagine God as the Divine Author, inscribing us in the Book of Life–or omitting us–for the coming year. How can we turn this image on ourselves, to become better "authors" of our own lives, rewriting our past in order to write a better future? Biblical, rabbinic and modern texts will guide us.
Laugh & Lament:
Humor and Suffering in Modern Jewish Literature
We take for granted that Jews and humor go together. In the 2013 Pew survey of Jewish Americans, 42% of Jews said that “having a good sense of humor” is essential to their Jewish identity. But where did this idea come from, and how new is it? In her book No Joke: Making Jewish Humor, Prof. Ruth Wisse argues that “Jew as joker” is a decidedly modern, Western type, born out of the Jews' precarious social and political equality in modern Western states. Hillel Halkin, in his essay “Why Do Jews Laugh at Themselves?” (Commentary, 2006-04-01), traces the idea of a quintessentially Jewish wit to a medieval genre of biblical satire. Irony was built into the Jewish experience, he says, because we were supposed to be the Chosen People, yet we lived in oppressive exile. Laughter persists as a response to the gap between the divine promise and the Jewish reality. What is the function of laughs, if not simply to entertain? What darkness and disconnect does humor highlight or conceal? And, finally, how have the dynamics of Jewish humor evolved up to today?
Misunderstanding the Bible
based on Joel M. Hoffman's And God Said
The Bible is the number one book that Americans like to pretend to have read. In this course, we'll tackle some common misconceptions about it, focusing on translation errors and also wrestling with some thorny interpretive problems. Our primary texts will be excerpts from the Hebrew Bible, as well as Joel Hoffman's book And God Said: How Translations Conceal the Bible's Original Meaning.
Love, Law, Sex, Shame:
Reading Eden, Ruth, and Song of Songs
The story of Adam and Eve’s banishment is often taken as a straightforward morality tale about sin and sexuality. But Jewish readings of this moment are more complex. We will explore what was really going on in Eden, how the story of Ruth redeems Adam and Eve, and how the Song of Songs rewrites Genesis in its own romantic way.
Reading Job, Lamentations, and Ecclesiastes:
Toward Responsibility, Humility, and Gratitude
All three of these books of the Bible confront suffering and destruction, but they respond in different ways. Taken together, they can teach us how to make sense of suffering.
Who Will be for Me?
Jewishness and Otherness in Contemporary Short Stories
Primary readings will come from Nathan Englander's 2012 collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, and Jonathan Papernick's The Ascent of Eli Israel. We will read also selections by Lara Vapnyar, Shalom Auslander, Joan Leegant, Etgar Keret, Savyon Liebrecht, and Scott Nadelson, along with complementary classics by Kafka, Ozick, and Roth. These stories will lead us to provocative discussions about how Jews relate to non-Jews; how Jews relate to different Jews; how we search for authenticity and identity; what makes for exile and homecoming; how we think about the Holocaust and memory; and what to make of the fractured Jewish experience in the modern world.
"Give Us a King":
Lessons on Leadership in I-II Samuel
The 2016 election campaign raised profound questions about what we select for in a powerful leader, as does every election. Which virtues are essential? What behavior is out of bounds? What is the relationship between the ruler and the ruled? What are the responsibilities and limitations of authority? How do the personalities of leaders augment and limit their political decisions? In this course we dive into the books of I and II Samuel, the Bible’s accounts of the transition from judges to kings, from prophecy to monarchy.