Centre for Continuing Education

Jewish Culture Course: Bereshit Course I (Genesis) – From Adam to Abraham: The First 20 Generations

Jewish culture. Learn about Jewish culture with us.

In partnership with the Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies
Course materials developed by The Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning - a project of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. For specific enquiries regarding the program, please contact Hinda Young on 0432 567 917.

The stories take us from universal tales about the creation of the world: the flood and the Tower of Babel, to the foundational tales of Abraham and Sarah, and the beginnings of the Jewish people. The themes of family and faith, honour and dishonour, and passion and power, provide a rich exploration of our people and ourselves.

This course incorporates:

  • modern and classical commentaries that represent a range of orientations
  • interpretations of the texts by rabbis, scholars, artists, and poets
  • opportunities to learn key Hebrew vocabulary in the context of the story
  • discussions on the real-life implications of the stories for us in our time.


By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • demonstrate familiarity with the biblical narrative
  • identify a wide range of approaches to the biblical text
  • form your own interpretations of the narrative.


Lesson 1: The creation of woman

This lesson focuses on the creation of woman. Following a close classroom reading of the text itself, rabbinic, medieval, and modern readings, representing a variety of approaches to the passage, are made available for study and discussion.

Lesson 2: The first murder

The story of Kayin and Hevel is well known, although the narrative, the Torah’s communication of the story, is conspicuously unclear. It is a case where, faced with a vacuum of information, the details of the events have been filled in by commentators throughout the ages who have taken the story in many different directions. We will consider the narrative and study a variety of ways it has been understood and interpreted in Jewish texts, old and new.

Lesson 3: The rainbow

In this lesson, we are going to present different perspectives on the meaning of covenant. We will examine the etymology of the Hebrew word for ‘covenant’, and compare various covenantal relationships. We will also suggest a re-examination of the covenant in light of technological advancements that may have caused a shift in the relationship between God, humankind, and earth. Then we will look at various explanations of the rainbow as a symbol and sign to God and humankind. Finally, we will analyse the form and content of the blessing we use to express our gratitude to God in light of the Flood and the covenant.

Lesson 4: The curse of Canaan

The epilogue to the grand story of the Flood and the covenant of the rainbow is one of the strangest stories in the Tanakh. Noach plants a vineyard, makes a quick production of wine, gets himself drunk, lays around naked in his tent, and is seen by his son, Cham, who reports the incident to his two brothers. Noach sobers up knowing what Cham did and curses his grandson, Canaan, who apparently was not even there. And of all things, he curses Canaan that he shall be a slave unto his brethren, a point that is emphasised several times over in this very short passage.

Studying the commentaries and interpretations that we present here will hopefully provide a broader understanding of the historical use of this text by our Sages to explain and justify an important stage in our Jewish national narrative and to demonstrate how words expressed for one purpose can be easily co-opted for use in the service of another.

Lesson 5: The Tower of Babel

The Tower of Bavel “with its top to the sky” is typically understood as symbolic of humanity’s attempt to ascend to the heavens and challenge God. A look at a variety of classic as well as modern commentaries will present to us a diversity of readings of this text, each one of them painting an altogether different face upon our narrative and its ramifications.

Lesson 6: Leaving the Promised Land

The story recorded in Bereshit 12:10-20, which immediately follows God’s command to Avram to leave his homeland and journey to the Land of Canaan, contains many “firsts”; the first famine in Canaan, the first exile from the Land of Yisrael, the first sojourn in Egypt, the first major moral dilemma faced by a patriarch, the first meeting with Pharaoh, and the first plague. Through a varied selection of sources, classical and contemporary, we will examine each of these “firsts” as they express themselves through a number of issues.

Lesson 7: And Sarah laughed

Sarah our matriarch was a barren woman. She had lived for decades with the bitter realisation that no matter how great her devotion to her husband and to God, she was not destined to become a mother of her own biological offspring. During this session, we will specifically explore Sarah’s reaction to the news that she is to give birth to a child.

Lesson 8: The expulsion of Ishmael

The story of the expulsion of Yishmael is a tragic family drama played out in the home of Avraham and Sarah in ancient Canaan. We will explore questions such as: Who was Yishmael? Why did Sarah demand his expulsion? Why did Avraham eventually agree? How are we to understand Hagar’s silence?

Lesson 9: Akadek Yitzhak

The German theologian Gerhard von Rad once commented that the Akedah is so rich in meanings that no one interpretation can be named the primary one. Major historical events and the accompanying universal changes have given scholars and preachers cause to radically re-assess the story of the Akedah, over and over, in an effort to understand it anew, in ways that best relate to and inform the sensibilities of emerging generations and civilisations.

Lesson 10: The cave of Makpaleh

With the aid of commentators who span Jewish history from the 1st through the 19th century, this lesson will offer nuanced answers to these questions. Forcing us to read between the lines of the story, these texts will assist us in examining what this simple real-estate transaction might mean for the contemporary sociological, nationalistic, and religious ethos of the Jewish People.

Intended audience

Suitable for anyone interested in exploring the many interpretations of biblical text, and then forming their own opinions about the meaning of the text, while respecting the multiplicity of approaches amongst other students.

Delivery style

This ten-lesson course centres around text study and discussion between participants and the facilitator.


You will be provided with a course reader during the first class.


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