Centre for Continuing Education

Jewish Culture Course: Bereshit Course II (Genesis) – The Story of the First Jewish Family

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Learn about Jewish culture the smart way with Jewish Culture courses at CCE, the University of Sydney.

In partnership with the Department of Hebrew, Biblical & 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.

This course involves a deep exploration of the second half of the book of Bereshit (Genesis) in the Torah (The Five Books of Moses). In this course, you will explore the views of traditional Jewish commentators, classic and modern midrash (parables), and artistic understandings. You will participate in a multi-layered study, exposing you to the development of interpretation, historical influences, and contemporary perspectives.

This course runs as part of the biblical series – a series of Jewish Culture courses exploring Jewish biblical texts and their meanings. The structure and method of study is consistent across courses, but the biblical text, commentators and scholars under consideration vary between courses.

Aims

You will engage in a close reading of the biblical text of the book of Bereshit (Genesis) 25-50, discovering its nuances, debating its meaning, and unearthing its many messages.

Outcomes

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

  • identify questions, ambiguities, and existential dilemmas that arise in the Bereshit
  • describe different approaches to interpreting Bereshit through commentaries and art
  • explain how the layers of interpretation of Bereshit throughout the ages and through a range of perspectives address central questions on the human condition
  • distinguish between the positions of the major Jewish thinkers on selected topics through the study of original texts
  • analyse the key moral and ethical messages of the texts studied, the historical realities at the time of their composition, and the contemporary implications of these perspectives on their own lives.

Content

This course focuses on the human condition, including: the questions, ambiguities and existential dilemmas arising in the biblical text. You will also discuss its key moral and ethical messages; the historical realities at the time it was composed; and the contemporary implications of these perspectives.

This story follows the development of the first Jewish family, from “The Birth of Two Nations” and “Stolen Blessings” to “Reunion in Egypt” and “Blessing the Grandchildren.” These stories of sibling rivalry, wrestling with an angel, palace seduction, rape, and reconciliation provide some of the most dramatic and iconic images that reverberate across the millennia.

The topics covered are:

Lesson 1 – Birth of Two Nations Bereshit 25: 19 – 34

The impact of infertility, prayer, and the ensuing birth of two brothers, two nations, and two worldviews.

Lesson 2 – The Stolen Blessing Bereshit 27: 1 – 41

The deep-seated hopes and fears of parents about the destiny of their children or grandchildren.

Lesson 3 – Sisters Compete Bereshit 30: 1 – 16

The complex dynamic of the house of Jacob fraught with jealousy and competition between Leah and Rachel both striving to establish their role in the family’s dynasty.

Lesson 4 – Wrestling with the Angels Bereshit 32: 23 – 33

A transformative encounter that challenges Jacob to confront his past and reshape his future.

Lesson 5 – Dishonor and Outrage in Shekhem Bereshit 34: 1 – 31

The moral issues in the drama of the rape of Dina and what it reveals about cultural norms, family dynamics, and honor.

Lesson 6 – Yosef, the Dreamer Bereshit 37: 1 – 11

The impact of favoritism, jealousy, and sibling rivalry within Jacob’s family and the significance of Joseph’s dreams.

Lesson 7 – The Yehudah and Tamar Incident Bereshit 38: 1 – 30

Confronting death, owning up to one’s actions, and addressing continuity of a family.

Lesson 8 – Seduction in the House of Potiphar Bereshit 39: 7 – 23

Sexual temptation, personal morality and loyalty to family values and religious conviction.

Lesson 9 – Reunion in Egypt: Trial, Payback, or Something else? Bereshit 42: 1 – 24

Confronting the complex family dynamic exploring the options of revenge, remorse, repentance, and the road to reconciliation.

Lesson 10 – Blessing the Grandchildren Bereshit 48: 1 – 20

Reflecting back on Jacob’s mission and choices and looking ahead to the destiny of his descendants.

Intended Audience

Suitable for anyone wishing to explore Jewish biblical texts and analyse multiple interpretations ranging from Rabbinic commentary to contemporary perspectives from across the Jewish spectrum.

Delivery Style

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

Materials

A course booklet will be provided during the first class.

Features

  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Small class sizes
  • Free, expert advice
  • Student materials – yours to keep
  • Statement of completion