Introduction to Judaism

Narrated by: Shai Cherry
Length: 12 hrs and 4 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (377 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

As a religion, culture, and civilization, Judaism has evolved in surprising ways during its long and remarkable history. In this series of 24 lectures, Professor Cherry explores this rich religious heritage from biblical times to today.

The many topics you will learn about include: the oral Torah (the Mishnah) and its commentary (the Gemarahow), which constitute the Talmud; the three pillars of the world defined more than 2,000 years ago by Shimon the Righteous: Torah, worship, and deeds of loving kindness; the calendar of Jewish holidays, from the most important, the Sabbath, to the key holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover, and Pentecost (Shavuot); and to historically minor celebrations such as Chanukah, which is now a more visible holiday; and the many mysteries of Jewish thought and ritual, such as why the first day of the seventh month (Tishrei) is the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah). In addition, Professor Cherry devotes several lectures to complex issues such as the problem of evil and suffering, the Zionist movement, the role and status of women in the Jewish world, and how Judaism understands Christianity.

From the first lecture on the Torah to the last on the Jews as the Chosen People, this course is packed with truly fascinating information.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2004 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2004 The Great Courses

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    5 out of 5 stars

Superb!!!

Any additional comments?

This was a comprehensive, understandable course. The presenter covered so much material in an open non-biased way regarding the different types of Judaism and the historical background. There was so much material that I will have to listen to it again to gain an even better understanding. I cannot recommend this course highly enough.

17 people found this helpful

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This lecture series is amazing

Where does Introduction to Judaism rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

I have listened to dozens of great courses lectures and I would rank this among the top three

What was one of the most memorable moments of Introduction to Judaism?

This series traces and explains a rich tradition that is not only ancient, but is able to adapt as the world changes. For non-jewish person such as me, the course effectively explains the origins of Judaism and it's evolution over millennia as well as helps in understanding the current forms of Judaism practice today. I would imagine that this course would be highly informative to most jewish people as well.

What does Professor Shai Cherry bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Professor Cherry speaks from a deep understanding of this faith and is able to give insights that would otherwise be lost on a non-jewish lecturer. He is dynamic and makes the ancient texts come to life in a way that can be understood as relevant to the modern person.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

My prior ignorance in thinking that judaism is a faith rooted in ancient laws and practices with diminished relevance today was completely blown away by the knowledge that this faith leaves space for debate and for the evolution of the interpretation of it's sacred texts over time.

Any additional comments?

This course moved me one step closer to a place of understanding humanity. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to grow from this incredibly important series

34 people found this helpful

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Engaging and informative

What made the experience of listening to Introduction to Judaism the most enjoyable?

Professor Cherry gave just the right amount of background information and concrete examples to keep things engaging. I was so curious to learn more that I finished the whole course in less than a week!

Any additional comments?

The course is probably best for someone with a little background knowledge about the basics of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and Western history. That being said, it should appeal to wide variety of audiences. I know a lot about Christianity and the course was a perfect way for me to expand my knowledge of Judaism.The author also did a great job dealing with controversial topics that arise in the course, sharing his own view in a gentle way, while also acknowledging other sides of the issues.

8 people found this helpful

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  • EJ
  • 04-06-16

Very engaging, fun and in the same time critical

What about Professor Shai Cherry’s performance did you like?

Dr. Shai Cherry is very engaging and explains things very clearly. Despite his obvious love for the Judaism he stays critical and gives different perspectives. The mixture of stories and 'theory' is perfect. Absolutely loved the book, listed to some sections twice. I had so much fun.

5 people found this helpful

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Remarkable Course on Judaism

While I'm very familiar with Biblical Judaism, I purchased this course because I was interested in learning more about early Rabbinic Judaism and the various sects of Judaism in the world today (I thought the "Beginnings of Judaism" course had some good info on the formation of Rabbinic Judaism but of course it centers on a very specific period of time and did not take the evolution of the religion into modernity).

Mission accomplished. Professor Shai Cherry delivered exactly what I was interested in: overviews of all of the aspects of Judaism and did not get bogged down in details or complex theological discussions.

He marvelously covers all aspects of Judaism: from history to religious law/ritual to tenants of the faith to holidays to prophecy to the differences in the various sects of Judaism today. And all in a very easy way to understand. He is a great presenter.

He made the Talmud more accessible and comprehensible by providing many examples of law debate and interpretations from the Mishnah and Gomorrah.

Highlights for me included Lectures 8 (Afterlife) and 20 (Zionism). Riveting discussions!

The only real negative that comes to mind is that there didn't seem to be alot said about the common rituals in the life of a Jewish man or woman. For example, I don’t recall any mention of Bar or Bat Mitzvah.

But that hardly swayed me away from an excellent rating. If you are on the fence like I was on whether to buy this course (worrying if my interest level would hold up for 24 lectures), then I would highly recommend you going for it. When I can't stop listening from one lecture to the next then I know I've purchased a quality product. I don't know if a course on an introduction to Judaism could've been done any better.

3 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Somewhat interesting, a bit disappointing ...

This is another course that I find uncomfortably hard to review.
On the one hand side, you do get some insight into what Judaism, today, is and how its (American!) form has been shaped - and, like with so many other "Great Courses", the America-centric focus is slightly disappointing, if I am allowed to say this in these times.
On the other hand, though, I personally felt like having way more questions about what Judaism now actually *is* than I had when I started with the lectures. Because in the beginning, Mr. Cherry did hint at "Judaism being more than a religion", which caught my attention since that exactly had always been my impression. Yet, throughout the course, he draws circle after circle around religious texts, interpretations of religious texts, the relevance of religious texts, and religious customs based on religious texts.

Fine, I thought. Let's go with a course on religious texts. But you can only get a grab on such a topic if you are given historical context (listen to some of the - great! - books on the history of Islam, just for comparison). Just stating that you are now "jumping into the medieval times" (which, for a historian, covers about 1000 years timespan) and then arbitrarily picking some scholars without giving any information about their relevance to the interpretation of texts or translations, leaves you (or at least me) with a big "huh?" written across your face.
At times in this course, it sounds as if some single "medieval philosophers" have defined 95% of what "Judaism is supposed to be". That I find hard to believe.

There are so many things I love about what I know as "Judaic culture" that is let out completely from these lectures, there is so much in the actual history of the people, there are so many fascinating debates between Judaic and "Gentile" philosophers and even religious thinkers, all not present here, not even hinted at.

I would have loved to get a better understanding of the historical development (which means: development dependent on and embedded in history) of both this religion AND the non-religious aspects of being "a Jew". This experience I have had with other courses on "far-East philosophies", on "Islam" and even, to some minor degree, on Christianity - not at all, though, from this course.

HOWEVER, the course does provide the listener with insights, aspects, ideas, questions and possible answers that inspire more interest. It would have been nice if the lecturer had given references to learn more, where appropriate. But even so, learning about reformed, orthodox, ultra-orthodox and all the other branches of Judaism made, all in all, listening to the course worthwhile.

About the lecturer's performance: I may have been unfair with my judgment since there are way worse narrators on the "Great Courses". Mr. Cherry's tendency to repeat arbitrary terms (one or two words) after a pause without any recognizable reason for this "stressing" of the words and his, at times, "chaotic" switch of gears or topics within a lecture (or may I say "lack of focus"?) wasn't my cup of tea at all. I can imagine his performance being fabulous when watched life in a classroom. But as a narrator in an audio book, lacking eye contact and body language, I found it too distracting.
Again, probably unfair on my behalf, I am unfairly projecting my disappointment from still being ignorant about understanding what "Judaism is".

Personal note: Another reason for why my review probably is not 100% fair is that this course expects the audience to accept the existence of a God.
This is a concept that is completely foreign to me - and exactly the point why I keep reading and listening about religions. I want to understand the "mindscape" believers are in, I want to learn what makes many of them think that only a religion or a God could inspire "good deeds" or "moral thinking" or things along that line. For this (understanding) you just NEED historical context. You HAVE to put the definitions of religious text into its (development) proper surroundings. Leaving this out, completely, and just stating "there's a God and it's our God and that is the only truth, period" is, in my eyes, highly unscientific and even un-philosophical.
It is just stating "red is green. Period. Now let's discuss why we celebrate the blueness of snow." It does not make much sense if you are unfamiliar with the BASICS of a system (here: A divine being) and are then expected to follow along explanations of holidays.

3 people found this helpful

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Listened through it a second time.

Shai Cherry eloquently and articulately communicates the multifarious aspects and development of Judaisms with warmth.

3 people found this helpful

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Amazingly crafted and delivered

Dr. Cherry does a fantastic job covering the basics and the complexities with engaging presentation, excellent and relevant examples, and an unmatched passion for the subject of Judaism studies.

3 people found this helpful

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Fantastic Intro BUT NO AUDIO FOR 5 CHAPTERS

This has been a very enlightening course. Please note that there was NO AUDIO FOR SEVERAL CHAPTERS, namely 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21. Please fix this as soon as possible. I would like to hear the content from those chapters, as well.

2 people found this helpful

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Amazing course

As a Christian I wanted to know more about the Jewish faith and people. From the first lecture you'll be learning so much and the Professor's style is engaging and informative. Highly recommended.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Lelibug
  • 02-09-16

very good

Speaking as a non jew who has listened to many of the great course lectures on religion, this is one of my favourite.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 01-07-17

Introduction to Judaism - a review by I Waine

Clear, practical and mostly non partisan introduction to Judaism, especially to one who had no idea. Will be a book that I reread, I suspect, many times.

2 people found this helpful

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  • L. Taylor
  • 09-29-16

Interesting

Worth listening to. A good intro to Judaism. Clear, balanced, interesting. Professor Cherry did a good job with this.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Anita
  • 02-22-20

Excellent, easy to understand and objective

I really enjoyed this topic and author from the great courses. The lectures were easy to follow and expressed different interpretations as just that and not fact. I really loved the way it was informative and left the listener to choose their own point of view.