Sunday, December 8

Jewish Holidays in Literature (Year-Long Charlotte Mason unit study)

For the next year, we'll be sharing literature-based unit studies for each of these Jewish holidays.  Each unit will center around a book for middle school level, and will have resources for younger children as well.  (The religious persecution post is for older children only.)

Intro to Judaism  (by my dear friend, Susan Rosefielde)
Judaism is an ancient religion that was begun in the Near East 4,000 years ago.  The Hebrew people of ancient times started out in the hilly country near Armenia and northern Iraq.  The ancestral father, Abraham, heard the voice of God and followed directions to take his entire family to a Holy Land near the Mediterranean Sea.

Abraham became the first practicing Hebrew around 1800 BCE (BC) during the Egyptian, Assyrian, and Babylonian civilizations.  The journey was long and arduous and took Abraham’s descendants hundreds of years.  Eventually they ended up in Egypt, and in 1200 BCE(BC) Moses, the great Hebrew prophet, brought them out of slavery in Egypt, and to the Promised Land of Israel.  The story of the ancient wanderings of the Hebrews is recounted in the holy text, called the Torah.

Judaism is one of the oldest religions that has been continuously practiced.  Jews are a relatively small number of people, about 16 million worldwide, but their religion and the works of Jewish people have had a big impact on world civilization.  In 1948, just after World War II and the Holocaust, the United Nations voted to recognize the new country of Israel on the site of ancient Jerusalem.  Jews had not had a political country in 2,000 years.
The Torah & Beliefs
Bereishit (pronounced buh-RAY-sheet) is the first word of the Hebrew Bible. It translates to “in the beginning."  The first chapter relates the story of the Creation of the World, according to Jewish belief.  No one can say for sure if it is the true word of God or an ancient story created by many Jewish rabbis and scholars over time.

According to the Hebrew Bible, the Creation occurred 5900 years ago.  In the beginning there was chaos, and God created order.  He created planets, our world, and separated the sky from the lower world.  He then went on to create the seas and landmasses, and all the animals of the sea and the land.  On the sixth day God created Man. When he saw that Man was lonely, he created a Woman from the man’s rib to live beside him and give his life meaning.  

On the seventh day God looked at his work and was pleased. He took the day to rest and think about all he had done.  Thus, the Sabbath was created, as the seventh day of every week. Man is supposed to copy God’s behavior and rest from his labors.  Every week Jews celebrate the Sabbath. It is one of the innovations of their religion.  Jewish Sabbath starts on Friday eve at sunset and lasts for 25 hours, until 1 hour after sunset or when the first star is visible.  They are thinking of the Creation and copying their God. They are creating order in their lives, and they are separating the sacred from the secular, or work a day world. It gives them a day to make sense of what they are doing.

There is so much of their religious belief in the beginning chapters of the Bible that any one can read it slowly and think and discuss the meaning with others. That is done every Sabbath in the Synagogue, or Temple.  At synagogue, the Torah, Five Books of Moses, is taken out of its special closet in the front of the sanctuary and placed on a reader’s table. The velvet cover is removed, and the leather scroll is unrolled to the proper place for that week. 

Every year the Torah is read in the same order every Sabbath. The rabbi and others read the delicately handwritten Hebrew words. After a sentence or two, the reading is stopped, and the meaning is discussed or even argued. This is not considered disrespectful, but shows how sincere and eager people are to understand every word and to try to incorporate the lessons into their own lives.

The Torah contains over 600 commandments. Most people do not even know what they are because they are hidden in text, throughout the complete Hebrew Bible.  There are also ten simpler commandments that are considered basic to all human beings, Jewish or non-Jewish. If any one follows those commandments they will be rewarded in the After Life by going to Heaven.

At this time in history, Jewish people hold many different views about Judaism and how many rules they should follow, and whether they believe the Hebrew Bible is the direct voice of God to his people.

Forms of Judaism
  • Orthodox Judaism is very strict in its beliefs and spends a great deal of time studying and obeying as many commandments as they can. This had been the traditional religion in Europe until 1800.
  • The Reform Movement was created in Germany around 1800, during the period known as the Enlightenment, and its goal was to modernize Judaism and make it’s practices closer to Christian Protestantism. The belief in one God and the relevance of the Torah and sacred life did not change. However, the writings, were considered to be man-made.
  • Conservative Judaism is the third great movement that was developed a little later in the nineteenth century. It is a belief system that holds on to more of the traditional views and interpretations and uses more Hebrew in the service. Reform Temples use either English or another native language.

Pick up the Jewish Holidays in Literature Bundle!

Each of the ten unit studies in this year-long bundle centers around a book for middle school level and includes videos, cooking projects, hands-on activities, writing assignments, and more.  There are also resources for younger children in eight of the ten units (not in *).

  • Introduction to Judaism
  • Solomon and the Trees + Tu B’Shevat unit
  • The Queen of Persia + Purim unit study (sample)
  • Devil’s Arithmetic + Passover unit study
  • The Secret Shofar of Barcelona + Rosh Hashana unit study
  • The Yom Kippur Shortstop + Yom Kippur unit study
  • The Mysterious Guests + Sukkot unit study
  • All-of-a-Kind Family Hannukah + Chanukah unit study
  • Broken Strings + Fiddler on the Roof + Persecution unit study*
  • The Golem & the Jinni + Kabbalah unit*

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