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Introduction to Judaism

Discover Judaism’s remarkable history in this excellent 24-lecture course that teaches you the fundamentals of this ancient and resilient faith.
Introduction to Judaism is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 76.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and superbly taught! For 25 years I have been writing commentaries on the Sunday lectionary texts used in the eucharistic liturgies of the Catholic Church and, thanks to Vatican II's liturgical reforms, those now include many textual excerpts from the Hebrew (nee "Old") Testament. I was therefore much more prepared to appreciate, understand, and link to the thoughts so beautifully presented and explained in this wonderful course taught by Rabbi Shai Cherry than I would have been in my younger years when so many of those texts to me seemed both exotic, legalistic, and anthropomorphic. Moreover, because of my studies, I came into this course believing not only that Jesus was -- obviously -- thoroughly Jewish and had remained so all of his life, but also that he never intended to establish a separate community apart from his own people. In addition, his Scripture was obviously the Scripture of his people -- the Hebrew Bible -- from which he frequently cited and quoted. The sad legacy of the split between what had originally been a Jewish Jesus-following movement within Judaism and the developing largely Gentile "church" contributed to a loss of the memory of the reality of how intimately Jewish Jesus was and remained but also to the horrible legacy of antisemitism that still poisons so many of our societies today. Rabbi/professor Cherry does a magnificent job in presenting both the depth of Jewish wisdom and the essential command to "do good to others" as well as tracing how Judaism has changed, developed, and deepened over the intervening centuries. I am thankful for his efforts and for the Teaching Company in presenting them!
Date published: 2024-05-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Commendation I have recently completed the course Introduction to Judaism presented by Rabbi Shai Cherry. I found the course to be very interesting and informative. I recommend it for anyone interested in learning about Judaism.
Date published: 2024-01-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Video Stream purchase option Catalog I received states there are DVD and Video Stream purchase options. However, website only has DVD purchase option. Is this an error or has Video Stream purchase been discontinued ?
Date published: 2023-07-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from No Good Deed Goes Unpunished I have glanced through the reviews of Dr. (Rabbi) Cherry's course and my sense is that the tough reviewers have very little idea of what Dr. Cherry's goal was in his presentation. This was not an exercise in conversion, nor was it an attempt to tell anyone what to think. Dr. Cherry is a plain speaker, and he speaks from a perspective that is meant to enlarge knowledge of the essence of Judaism. If he does just this, he accomplishes his mission. Comparisons with Professor Gafni, whom I enjoy greatly, are of limited utility. The end goals simply don't match. Dr. Cherry, in my view, wants to take on the learner who starts with a relatively blank slate on Judaism, and fill in some fundamental gaps. He has done that. End of story.
Date published: 2022-04-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very personable instructor I’m not a Jew. But I’m learning a lot and I really enjoy the instructor.
Date published: 2022-02-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Introduction to Judaism Great organization of the presentation: it got me to searching some of Prof. Cherry's references and encouraged me, as an Eastern Orthodox Christian to have a deeper understanding of the roots and commonalities of our two Faiths.
Date published: 2021-10-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting Conceptual Approach Excellent professor. Like how he connects Judaism to every aspect of Western civilization. Wish I could download or stream to my iPad. Keep up the good work.
Date published: 2021-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Extremely worthwhile and interesting This is the third Great Course I have taken, and it was such a good use of my time. The lecturer, Rabbi Shai Cherry, knows his subject like the back of his hand, and provides not only facts and details, but also one or more interpretations of them and/or how they “fit in” to the four major eras of Judaism. Rabbi Cherry is very respectful of other religions with other understandings, and avoids political correctness. The accompanying coursebook is well-written and useful reinforcing the lectures. I learned more about Judaism in these 24 lectures than I had picked-up in the previous 55 years of my life.
Date published: 2021-06-14
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Judaism is far from simple, and as a religion, culture, and civilization, it has evolved in surprising ways. Professor Shai Cherry shows how, 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. Join him for this enlightening 24-lecture course and discover Judaism’s remarkable history.


Shai Cherry


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 awards for his work in community education. As he pursued his doctorate, he served as family educator at a Reform temple in the Boston area and taught Rabbinics and Modern Jewish Thought at Hebrew College. He taught Jewish Thought at Vanderbilt University from 2001 to 2005, and subsequently taught at the University of California, Los Angeles and at American Jewish University. Professor Cherry's research focuses on biblical interpretation and the nexus between science and Judaism. His essay Three Twentieth-Century Jewish Responses to Evolutionary Theory appeared in the 2003 volume of Aleph: Historical Studies in Science and Judaism. His most recent book is Torah through Time: Understanding Bible Commentary from the Rabbinic Period to Modern Times.

Torah, Old Testament, and Hebrew Bible

01: 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.

32 min
From Israelite to Jew

02: 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.

31 min

03: 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.

28 min

04: 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.

31 min

05: 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.

29 min
Deeds of Loving Kindness

06: Deeds of Loving Kindness

The third of Shimon the Righteous's pillars of the "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.

29 min

07: 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.

30 min
The Coming World

08: 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.

31 min

09: 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.

29 min
Law and Spirit

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.

30 min
Fall Holidays

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.

30 min
Spring Holidays

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.

30 min
Minor Holidays—Then and Now

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.

32 min
Medieval Jewish Philosophy—Maimonides

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.

28 min
Medieval Jewish Mysticism—Kabbalah

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.

31 min
Evil and Suffering—Biblical and Rabbinic

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.

28 min
Evil and Suffering—Medieval and Modern

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).

31 min
Emancipation, Enlightenment, and Reform

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.

31 min
Orthodox Judaisms

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.

32 min
Israel and Zionism

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.

28 min
American Judaisms

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.

31 min
Women and Jewish Law

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.

28 min
Judaism and the Other

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.

28 min
The Chosen People?

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.

32 min