Second installment in an ongoing series

Some of you may remember that I casually mentioned that Rabbi Eli Yoggev’s Judaism for Beginners class at Beth Tfiloh Congregation could only be improved upon with the addition of something to nosh on.

Well, guess what awaited me as I walked into the classroom for last night’s Foundations of Jewish Belief class? That’s right! Lots to nosh: cookies, crackers, pretzels, chocolate candy, so much joy! I felt a little guilty, though, thinking they had just put out the spread because I requested a spread. Rabbi Yoggev assured me that wasn’t the case. Besides, you really can’t have Judaism without the snacks. That is one fundamental Jewish belief even I know.

But let’s get serious, since that’s exactly what Rabbi Yoggev did right out of the gate at our second class. I’m not exactly sure why I expected my journey into Judaism at an Orthodox synagogue to take its time getting to the God stuff. I knew it was coming; I just thought we might ease into it. Not so.

Cider and cookies

Cider and cookies for the soul (Photo by Amanda Krotki, Jmore)

The rather heady and philosophical agenda for the night’s class was: God, Torah and the Afterlife. Good thing I had some sustenance.

In a merciful 25 minutes, Rabbi Yoggev ran through a few of the main beliefs in Judaism regarding God. This is what I got. All Jewish thought believes that God is involved in some way or other in the universe, and the question just becomes how much. And, because God exists outside of human characteristics, he is not a he. He is gender-less. (Excuse my use of “he” here, it just seemed easier.) Rabbi Yoggev succinctly explained why no man can be God: “Everybody dies and that’s the end of the class.” Spoiler alert.

One unique component of Judaism is that we can go straight to God without an intermediary. The idea that you can talk to God like you talk to a friend and that God is accessible is apparently what sets us apart from other religions.

For the A/V portion of the class, Rabbi Yoggev illustrated these concepts by showing a clip from “Bruce Almighty,” starring Morgan Freeman (as God) and Jim Carrey (as Bruce). In the clip, God gives Bruce all of his powers. Rabbi Yoggev explained that this “would not fly” in Judaism because no man is God. One of my classmates added, “But Morgan Freeman’s voice” comes from God. So, there’s that.


Rabbi Yoggev likes his charts and graphs — here’s a handy dandy one on the books of the Torah. (Photo by Amanda Krotki, Jmore)

That’s about as much as this affirmed atheist could digest of the God schpiel in one sitting (the sprinkle-covered cookies were much easier for me to swallow), so I was relieved when we moved on to a whirlwind tour of the Torah. We ran down the Five Books of Moses, learned that Deuteronomy ends with a cliffhanger, briefly discussed Prophets and Writings, and for the night’s big takeaway, here’s a bit of trivia: Did you know that Tanach is an acronym for Torah, Nevi’im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings)–  the three parts of the Hebrew Bible? That little revelation elicited a few gasps and “ooohs” from my fellow students.

To summarize the Torah portion of the evening, Rabbi Yoggev said, “All of the Torah really deals with three years. The 1st two years in the desert and the last year in the desert.”

We wrapped up with a multiple choice question:

Q: At Mount Sinai, Moses received:

A. All of the Tanach
B. All of the written Torah
C. All of the written Torah until that point
D. 10 Commandments
E. 10 Commandments and oral traditions

(Find the answer at the end of this post)


There is a Jewish afterlife. Who knew? (Photo by Amanda Krotki, Jmore)

Finally, time for the good stuff: The Afterlife (which almost always makes me think of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” Way wrong religion, I know). This topic was particularly intriguing to me because I had always been told that Judaism didn’t believe in Heaven and Hell. Now I know that’s a common misconception. We just don’t have the kind of Hell that’s akin to waiting in the TSA security line at the airport during Thanksgiving weekend. There’s no pitchforks or halos. The Afterlife, a.k.a. “World of Souls,” is more of a spiritual experience and it’s about how your soul feels right after death. It’s in a state of bliss, but it could also be confused and in mourning. A lot of that depends on how you lived in this world. This is why we say Kaddish for the soul.

As Rabbi Yoggev says, the pain of Hell is someone who is overly engaged with his/her body here. He likened it to the feeling when you have to switch to a new cell phone. You’re really used to that old one and don’t really want to upgrade but you know you need to.

I hate change and I have a sinking feeling my soul is going to be a confused, disoriented mess. I might be in trouble.

I’m going to confess here that I’m playing hooky next week. The class is on Jewish History 101 and is being taught by a substitute, but I’ll be working on my soul instead.

I’ll be back in class on Dec. 10 for Daily Jewish Living, which might be more my speed.

The answer to the above multiple choice question is E. You’ll have to take Rabbi Yoggev’s class to learn more.

Here’s the class schedule:

Basics — Nov. 19: What You Need to Know About Judaism, Nov. 26: Foundations of Jewish Belief, Dec. 3: Jewish History 101

Jewish Life and Spirituality — Dec. 10: Daily Jewish Living, Dec. 17: Life Cycle Events, Dec. 24: Prayer, Jan. 7: Jewish Spirituality

Practical Judaism — Jan. 14: Introduction to Jewish Law and Custom, Jan. 21: Shabbat, Jan. 28: Festivals

Judaism for Today — Feb. 4: Hot Button Issues, Feb. 11: “Ask the Rabbi” Session

For more information, contact