Great World Religions: Judaism

Great World Religions: Judaism
Course Trailer
What is Judaism?
1: What is Judaism?

The goal of this course is to present Judaism as it is perceived by its adherents and practitioners. This opening lecture attempts a definition, or essence, of Judaism. The beliefs, practices, attitudes, and institutions of Jews through the ages evince a striking diversity, yet all would ascribe to a common heritage....

32 min
The Stages of History
2: The Stages of History

This lecture begins delineating the stages of Jewish history and the evolving nature of Judaism. The major portion of this lecture addresses the earliest and formative stages of Judaism, those that serve as historical frames of reference for much of Jewish ritual and behavior and, in certain cases, as a model for a future restorative process....

30 min
The Jewish Library
3: The Jewish Library

The aim of this lecture is to describe the literary works, beginning with the Bible, that fashioned and constantly directed Jewish behavior. Other writings to be discussed include the Mishna and Talmud; midrashic commentaries and homiletic expansions of the Bible; and the phenomenon of responsa literature....

30 min
The Emergence of Rabbinic Judaism
4: The Emergence of Rabbinic Judaism

If the faith and behavior prescribed by Judaism are derived from the Bible, why is the Judaism we encounter today so different from the biblical representation of that religious tradition? The answer will lead us to a discussion of the origins and tenets of rabbinic Judaism and the paths of Jewish religious expression....

30 min
Jewish Worship-Prayer and the Synagogue
5: Jewish Worship-Prayer and the Synagogue

This is the first of three lectures that sets out to describe the ways Judaism manifests itself in the lives of its adherents. This lecture addresses the emergence of prayer as a major means of religious worship. What do Jewish prayers contain? When are they conducted? In what language? Attendant to this discussion is a history of the synagogue, its design, and functions....

30 min
The Calendar-A Communal Life-Cycle
6: The Calendar-A Communal Life-Cycle

Judaism has a fixed calendar, accepted by all groups practicing Judaism, that determines holidays and is the most important unifying factor in a frequently fragmented community. After presenting the fundamentals of reckoning the Jewish calendar, this lecture goes through the year, stressing what, how, and why Jews celebrate....

30 min
Individual Life-Cycles
7: Individual Life-Cycles

Judaism finds expression at all major stages of an individual's life. This lecture presents the major rituals and rites of passage that accompany boys and girls, men and women, from birth to death. In this lecture we look at questions about gender-specific obligations and distinctions in historical Judaism and recent changes in branches of the Jewish community....

30 min
God and Man; God and Community
8: God and Man; God and Community

As with so many aspects of Judaism, the perception of the deity cannot be reduced to one accepted creed. This lecture touches on issues of Judaism that have appeared throughout history: knowledge of God; God as creator or the God of Israel; free will, fate, and determinism; reward and punishment; and the afterlife....

30 min
Philosophers and Mystics
9: Philosophers and Mystics

The first part of this lecture discusses Jewish philosophers of a variety of ages and cultural environments. The second portion is devoted to the mystical branch of Jewish thought, Kabbalah. The profound impact of the latter would be felt with the appearance of new forms of religious and communal organizations, with one major example being the appearance of Hasidism....

30 min
The Legal Frameworks of Judaism-Halakha
10: The Legal Frameworks of Judaism-Halakha

This lecture addresses the ideology of the legal system known as Halakha. Orthodox Jews recognize the divine authority of Halakha as a critical foundation of Judaism; others have either tempered this understanding or consider it outmoded....

30 min
Common Judaism-or a Plurality of Judaisms?
11: Common Judaism-or a Plurality of Judaisms?

That there are many representations of Judaism has been a constant factor throughout its history. With the element of faith, Judaism also represents an ethnic community, which adds cohesiveness based on nonspiritual foundations. This brings us to a brief discussion of denominations in Judaism today and the current challenge to unity....

30 min
Judaism and "Others"
12: Judaism and "Others"

The biblical notion of the "election" of Israel by God has been a source of constantly changing interpretation. The idea of a universal salvation through adherence to Judaism is clearly absent. The ethnic component of Judaism did not represent an impenetrable barrier, and converts were happily accepted. This discussion brings us full circle, again addressing the questions raised in the f...

31 min
Isaiah M. Gafni

I've taught students about ancient Judaism for more than 40 years at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.


Hebrew University, Jerusalem


Hebrew University, Jerusalem

About Isaiah M. Gafni

Dr. Isaiah M. Gafni is the Sol Rosenbloom Professor of Jewish History at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he earned his Ph.D. and has taught for more than 40 years. He was formerly the Director of the Mandel Center of Jewish Studies at the university and also previously served as Director of Graduate Studies at the university's Rothberg International School. He has been a visiting professor at numerous American universities, including Harvard, Yale, and Brown. Professor Gafni has written extensively on a broad range of topics relating to the social, religious, and cultural history of the Jews in late antiquity, including more than 100 entries in the Encyclopaedia Judaica. Professor Gafni was honored as the Louis Jacobs Fellow in Rabbinic Thought at Oxford University in 1994 and received Hebrew University's Michael Milken Prize for exceptional teaching. Professor Gafni has written or edited more than 15 books on aspects of Jewish history, including Land, Center and Diaspora: Jewish Constructs in Late Antiquity. His book The Jews of Talmudic Babylonia: A Social and Cultural History was honored with the 1992 Holon Prize in Jewish Studies.

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