Centre for Continuing Education

Jewish Culture Course: The Purpose of Life

Jewish culture. Learn about Jewish culture with us.

COVID-19 update: arrangement of our courses

We are now delivering courses both online and in-person. Please check the delivery format for each class before you enrol.

Please note that course materials for all classes (excluding prescribed textbooks) are shared electronically within 48 hours of a course starting. Printing is not available.

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.

Join us as we consider ancient and modern sources in an exploration of the Jewish perspective on the meaning and purpose of life. Why do Jews believe as they do? What are the big questions of life and how do Jewish thinkers answer these questions?

This course integrates the study of Jewish history, religion, ritual, language, ethics, philosophy, literature, theology and contemporary Jewish life. It is part of the Melton Institute’s signature core curriculum which provides a sophisticated, comprehensive and pluralistic approach to understanding Judaism. The core curriculum comprises a sequential series of text-based lessons comprised of four courses: The Rhythms of Jewish Living; The Purposes of Jewish Living; Crossroads of Jewish History; and The Ethics of Jewish Living. Each course invites adults to delve into Jewish living, memory and wisdom.


This course aims to explore the meaning and purpose of life from a Jewish perspective while considering many of the major concepts of Jewish thought and theology.


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

  • describe the content and purposes of the primary sources of Jewish literacy – the Torah (The Five Books of Moses), the first component of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), and Rabbinic literature
  • distinguish between the positions of the major Jewish thinkers on selected topics
  • appreciate the evolution of Jewish thought
  • explain key Jewish attitudes to major theological and philosophical issues, including:
    • the concept of chosenness
    • the symbolism of the Exodus from Egypt
    • the role of women in Judaism
    • commandments in Judaism
    • attitudes to leadership
    • revelation
    • messianism and suffering
    • the place of the Land of Israel in Jewish thought and belief.
  • discover personal interest and meaning through the material covered.


This course examines the primary sources of Jewish literacy – the Torah, Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and Rabbinic literature and the evolution of Jewish thought.

Jewish attitudes to major theological and philosophical issues are examined through the writings of influential Jewish thinkers.

Specific topics covered include:


  • What is Jewish learning?

Foundational concepts

  • God
  • Creation
  • Yetziat Mitzrayim (The Exodus from Egypt)

Theological principles

  • Miracles
  • Prophecy
  • What does it mean to be the “chosen people”?
  • Humankind: male and female
  • Gender in Judaism
  • Hashgacha (Divine Providence)
  • Free will and sin
  • Why do people suffer?
  • What happens after we die?

Torah and Mitzvot

  • Is the Torah the revealed Word of God? Part I
  • Is the Torah the revealed Word of God? Part II
  • Not in heaven: What are the Jewish texts?
  • Mitzvot: what are they?
  • Mitzvot: meaning and purpose
  • Theology in practice: driving on Shabbat
  • Purposes of Kosher observance
  • Intermarriage


  • Mishkan/Mikdash (The Sanctuary)
  • From service of the heart to synagogue services

Land and exile: Eretz Yisrael (The Land of Israel)

  • Churban (Destruction) and Galut (Exile)
  • Yemot HaMashiach (The Messianic Era)

Twentieth century challenges

  • Seeking understanding after the Holocaust
  • The Israel-diaspora relationship

Concluding lessons

  • The purposes of Judaism
  • What have we learned

Intended audience

Suitable for anyone who is interested in learning about Jewish culture, philosophy and history.

Delivery style

This 15-lesson course is delivered as a series of interactive workshops based on a class reading of texts (biblical, rabbinic, medieval, and modern literature and poetry). Classes include open, tutor-facilitated discussion.


A course booklet is available in two formats:

  1. Complimentary online booklet (PDF) accessible via an online portal.
  2. Printed booklet (additional fee of $24) available for purchase here. Your booklet will be available to collect at the first or second class, depending on the date of purchase.

Recommended reading

You are required to bring your own Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) to class. Any version of the Old Testament is acceptable.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Course materials – yours to keep
  • CCE Statement of Completion

We acknowledge the tradition of custodianship and law of the Country on which the University of Sydney campuses stand. We pay our respects to those who have cared and continue to care for the Country.