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Spring SAVY 2013 Week 2 – World Religions

Posted by on Monday, February 18, 2013 in SAVY blog.

Today we began our survey of world religions with Judaism. We had a very quick lecture/discussion about the history of Judaism, beginning with the story of Abraham, through the Babylonian Exile in 587 b.c.e. and the Return to Jerusalem in 537 b.c.e. The period in Babylon was the birth of modern Judaism, when different scattered texts began to be put together into a kind of narrative to explain the crisis of faith that the Exile had caused. A similar crisis in 70 c.e. – the destruction of the Temple – led to a further formalization of the religion and especially its canon. This can be likened to the childhood of modern Judaism, when Rabbis reinterpreted the sacrificial law for a post-sacrificial context, attempting to answer the question of how to be Jewish when there is no Temple anymore. This period led to the formation of the Talmud, which contains commentary on the Torah (the Law) that reconciles Judaism to its new circumstances.

Talking about the concept of canon allowed us to do a little exercise in hermeneutics – different ways of reading the text depending on one’s perspective. Students experienced a bit of how a religious “lens” shapes the way we understand the world by attempting to replicate Chagall’s Villiage while wearing laboratory goggles that had been covered in cellophane. We noted that even though they were all wearing the same goggles, there were other differences that shaped what they drew, such as their artistic ability or where they were placed in the room. Thus religions are characterized by internal diversity (individual differences) as well as external diversity.

Considering internal diversity introduced the four branches of Judaism: Orthodox, Reformed, Conservative, and Reconstructionst. With what little class time we had left, student read a passage from the Hebrew Bible, summed up what happened, and then attempted to identify the “moral” of the story from each of the above perspectives. This week, you might ask your students:

  • What are the four main branches of Judaism?
  • Which group were you assigned to (Orthodox, Reformed, Conservative, or Reconstructionist)?
  • Which passage did you read and what was it about?
  • What did your group identify as the moral of the passage?
  • How did that compare to how other groups identified the moral of the passage?

Next week we will be moving on to Christianity, but we will try to keep coming back to material covered from before. Pacing is the great challenge of this course. Religion is a very complex topic, and we never have enough time to cover everything, but we are going to keep reinforcing lessons learned in previous weeks in order to continue to apply it to new material. Thus we will talk about the origins of Christianity as a sect within early Judaism and how it (Christianity) came to be its own distinct religion.

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