Introduction to Judaism

This Introduction to Judaism course taught by Rabbi Devorah Marcus and Rabbi Benj Fried at Temple Emanu-El offers a basic foundation in Judaism in 18 sessions beginning in January each year. The first class for the 2020 cycle is January 15th. The course is required for persons considering conversion to Judaism, but it is also very helpful to Jews-by-birth who seek a refresher course in the principles and practices of Judaism, as well as interfaith couples.

Why take the course?
For some things in life, it is never too late. Somehow, when you were younger, maybe you didn’t learn what you’d like to know about the culture and religion of the Jewish people. Perhaps, you grew up in a place where there was no synagogue. Perhaps, you weren’t quite ready to appreciate the Jewish education you were offered. Perhaps your parents didn’t think you needed a Jewish education. Perhaps you now seek a way to live a fuller and richer Jewish family life. Perhaps you now want to narrow the cultural gaps between you and your children. Perhaps you are seeking conversion to Judaism. Whatever the reason, URJ Introduction to Judaism offers you a time and place to broaden your Jewish awareness. URJ Introduction to Judaism can launch you on a path to authentic personal Jewish identity. This course can help you acquire a basic Jewish vocabulary. You can gain intellectual and experiential knowledge of Judaism as well as the skills necessary to “do Jewish.” Intro is designed to be a meaningful, educational experience for any person interested in knowing and understanding Judaism and Jewish life. The course is organized around the major themes of Judaism, and around the holidays and events in the Jewish life cycle. Included in the URJ Introduction to Judaism course are the following concepts:

  • Birth
  • Concepts of God
  • Conversion to Judaism
  • Death and Mourning
  • Israel and Zionism
  • Jewish Culture
  • Jewish History
  • Jewish Holidays
  • Marriage and Family
  • Personal Responsibility
  • Repentance and the Path of Righteousness
  • Worship and Spirituality

Course Requirements
To earn a Certificate of Completion for the course, you must fulfill the following requirements:

  • Attend all eighteen class sessions. To make up an absence, you may attend a class on the same topic at any URJ Introduction to Judaism course location.
  • Attend at least one Shabbaton.
  • Attend at least three Shabbat services and submit a report to your instructor about your experiences, reactions and impressions about each of these.
  • Complete all homework assignments and journal entries the instructor assigns.
  • Complete the take-home Summary Review. This is an open-book Final Exam and you are encouraged to use all the materials you receive in class to write this paper. You will obtain the Summary Review Questions from your instructor at the 14th class session. When you complete the Summary Review, you should submit it directly to your instructor who will review it and may ask you to revise some sections.

One requirement of the URJ Introduction to Judaism program in the West District is your attendance at a Shabbaton. The word Shabbaton is related to the word Shabbat. Shabbatonim (plural) take place on Saturdays on various dates and at various locations. The Shabbaton usually runs from 10 am until 3 pm. Time, location and other specifics will be publicized on the registration site and e-mail notifications to students enrolled in Intro. Although the specific programs of each Shabbaton will vary somewhat, you can expect to enjoy yourself experiencing prayer, study, singing, and discussion about Judaism with a group of rabbis and your peers.

Tuition for the 18-week course is $250. The tuition fee allows for either one or two people to attend, and couples are encouraged to attend together. If you are yourself a member of a URJ-affiliated Reform congregation, the tuition is $200. Classes meet once a week for two hours on Wednesday evenings.

Click here for a link to the registration page.

2020 Syllabus
Click here to download a copy of the schedule for this year.

Book List for the 2020 Session
Diamant, Anita. “Living a Jewish Life,” HarperCollins, (rev. ed.) 2007. $16.99
Green, Arthur. “Judaism’s 10 Best Ideas,” Jewish Lights, 2014. $9.95
Silberman, Shoshana. “A Family Haggdah II,” Kar-Ben, 2010. $4.95
Sonsino, Rifat and Syme, Daniel. “Finding God: Selected Responses,” Behrman/URJ Press, 2002.
Wylen, Stephen. “Settings of Silver,” Paulist Press, 2000. $29.95

A Jewish Bible (Tanakh) (JPS English translation) will be used in the class.
The Jewish Study Bible, Oxford University Press, 2014. $45.00

We also recommend you buy a guide for observing Shabbat.
Zion/Fields-Meyer. “A Day Apart: Shabbat at Home,” Shalom Hartman Institute, 2004. $24.95
Mark Shapiro. “Gates of Shabbat'” CCAR Press, (rev. ed.) 2016. $18.95
Books are available (new, used or e-books) online at Amazon.
Please make sure you buy the most recent edition of the books

If you have any questions about the course, please feel free to contact Rabbi Benj at or Rabbi Devorah at

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