Beyond Belief: Reflections on Jewish Faith, Reason, and Experience

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Our beliefs color the way we see the world and help us to make sense of the inevitable challenges that confront us. The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute's upcoming winter course, Beyond Belief: Reflections on Jewish Faith, Reason, and Experience, is designed to help students take a closer look at how Jewish beliefs can help bring meaning to their lives and guide their choices.

The course will provide the Torah's perspectives on many of the most important questions that are asked by those of every religious faith:

How did the world get here? If the Universe has a Creator, does He run the world, or has He stepped into the background and left things up to physical and human nature? How does G-d communicate with us? What is a prophet? Are there any prophets living today? Who wrote the Torah? Where does the text we read today come from? Are we rewarded and punished for our behavior? What is the meaning of the Jewish concept of a Messiah? Is there an afterlife?

Maimonides, the pre-eminent Jewish thinker, systematically identified thirteen key beliefs that touch on all of the questions above, and that serve as the foundation of Judaism to this day. Taken together, they are a set of necessary and sufficient building blocks that allow us to construct a deep and nuanced understanding of what it means to live as a Jew.

In this course, students examine the logic and role each principle plays in shaping their world view. Students will also have the opportunity to grapple with ideas that sometimes seem remote, and to gain insight into the process by which these and other beliefs are shaped and expanded. Most importantly, this course will also address the inner struggle that many people feel when considering issues of faith.

Beyond Belief reclaims faith as a uniquely Jewish value, while recognizing that it is not a static formulation to be unthinkingly accepted. Jewish faith is a dynamic, powerful force within us that must be continuously fed by thinking, feeling, and doing. Beyond Belief provides multiple pathways into the exploration of faith-building. Both thoughtful and practical, Beyond Belief is an innovative look at faith that should not be missed.

Like all JLI courses, Beyond Belief presents the fundamentals of Judaism in a way that is both challenging yet accessible. Students will have the opportunity to encounter classic primary texts and engage in thoughtful, open discussion.


Lesson One
Beyond Belief

Is faith blind? In the Jewish sense, faith is less an act of unquestioning belief than an act of faithfulness, integrity, and trust. Rambam's principles are the thirteen "big ideas" that form the basis of our powerful bond with G-d. In our first lesson, we examine the principle of G-d's  omniscience, a worldview that contrasts starkly with the Greek belief that G-d created the world and then left it to its own devices. This principle lays the groundwork for a personal and intimate relationship with G-d.

Lesson Two
Hearing The Voice

Why do we need prophets? How does one become a prophet? How does it feel to receive prophecy? How can we distinguish real prophets from false prophets?  Are there prophets today? Prophecy is a realm that seems to us almost surreal, magical, beyond our experience. And yet Rambam identified prophecy as a critical linchpin of our faith. Examine the critical role of prophecy in a world in which G-d communicates with His creation.

Lesson Three
Universal Code

What are the implications of views the Torah is an unchanging eternal text? What would be different if we thought of it as a flexible evolving document that retained its central core but was adaptable in its details? This lesson describes an understanding of Torah as much more than a holy book. It is the spiritual DNA of our souls and our universe, an unchanging and unchangeable code that defines who we are and what we are meant to become.

Lesson 4
Knowing G-D

Rambam describes G-d not first as Creator of the Universe, but as a personal G-d and Redeemer. We will discover that the first four principles are not meant to describe the "how" of creation, but the "why" of creation. Our understanding of the nature of G-d is a logical outgrowth of our reflection about the purpose of our being.

Lesson 5
Seeking Heaven

In Lesson Two, we saw that G-d speaks to us through the prophets, but can we also speak to G-d? What can we learn about ourselves from the way in which we choose to pray? How does G-d respond to our actions and our words? Do we have to wait till after we die to find our eternal reward? Or can we find heaven (and hell) on earth? In this lesson, we examine prayer as a form of self-assessment, as well as G-d's reward and punishment of our actions.

Lesson 6
Perfect World

What is G-d's ultimate vision for His creation? Where are we headed? And how does our concept of a perfect world affect the way we live our lives today? In this lesson we examine the Jewish beliefs of Mashiach and the resurrection of the dead, and how these ideas critically inform our present.

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