Understanding My Neighbor: Intro to Judaism


One day a man came to Rabbi Shammai and told him he wanted to become a Jew. This man asked the rabbi to teach him what Judaism is all about while standing on one foot (i.e. very quickly). But, when Shammai heard this he was deeply offended and chased him away. This man then came to Rabbi Hillel and asked him to tell him about Judaism while standing on one foot. Rabbi Hillel said these words “Do not to others as you would not have them do to you and the rest is all commentary.”

So, began the lecture on an Introduction to Judaism by Ophir Yarden, Director of the Center for Interreligious Encounter with Israel and senior lecturer at Brigham Young University’s Jerusalem Center. Yarden spoke to the group of Israeli and Palestinian young adults who attended Musalaha’s final curriculum training before the summer break.

The lecturer presented Judaism in a historical and contemporary manner that would help the group understand Judaism today. Judaism throughout history has been defined as a nation, a religion, an ethnicity, a people and a civilization, but the purpose was not to address the question of who is a Jew or what Jews believe, but rather how it came to be and what it looks like today. Topics discussed included, among others, the Babylonian exile, the destruction of the Second Temple, Pharisees, Zealots, Zionism, Socialism, and Reform Judaism; and also the creation of and a culture of synagogues, prayer books, dietary laws, holidays, Torah study, and Family life.

 “I think it is important for me to discuss my cultural identity with others, it helps our understanding [of one another],” one Israeli participant said.

This brief overview could not cover every aspect, detail, or stream of Judaism that exists in our world today, but was intended to give our participants a deeper understanding to those around us and in our society.

 “I feel like I have a bigger picture of how the conflict is influenced by our cultural and religious backgrounds,” a Palestinian said.

Following Yarden’s presentation, the young adults broke off into small groups discussing what they had learned and what had challenged them during the lecture. Here is what a few said:

 “I didn’t know anything [about Judaism] before this meeting; it encouraged me to read more.” – Palestinian young adult

Another Israeli reacting to the fact a Palestinian wants to learn more about Judaism,

“It feels like progress is being made, I am very glad I joined this meeting.” – Israeli young adult

“If you want to make peace you have to walk in your neighbor’s shoe and I knew nothing before today.” – Palestinian young adult

Over the past six months the curriculum teachings have covered a range of topics from reconciliation to Islam. These meetings provide a framework for young adults to engage with one another and deal with issues that are evident in their societies. As a result, new participants have decided to become more committed to reconciliation by joining our young adults encounter to Ireland.