A friend recently asked how I would present Judaism to undergraduates in six lectures. I think I might try something like this.
1. First chapter of Michael Wex’s book, Born to Kvetch. Brief account of centuries of persecution (not the Holocaust). Resulting attitude of habitual crankiness.
2. Jewish law. Distinction between laws that are rational and laws that aren’t. Example of former: not just 10 commandments but Sabbath. Stress in discussion of Sabbath the actions that are allowed/encouraged, as opposed to forbidden. It’s a good day. Law can be liberating. Discuss some non-rational laws. Purpose? Various accounts offered. At least these laws tell us that humans do not know everything/ did not make themselves. Our dependence on higher power.
3. Biblical story. Brief run though of Patriarchs to destruction of 2nd Temple. (Jesus does not figure). Mention of parts of the Bible where these events are recounted. Discussion of what, according to scholars, is the actual history. Discussion (very brief) of how the Bible was put together.
4. Rabbinic literature. Barry Holtz is a good source. Chapter on Midrash, with juicy bits added orally by the lecturer from Talmud chapter. Focus on single biblical story and look at all the midrashim and gemora. Should be a story some of them have already heard so they can be amazed at the tangentialness and insight of the rabbis. Creation? Garden? Cain and Abel? Genesis Midrash has virtue of accessibility.
5. Denominations and holidays. Keep it light: this could get boring.
6. Holocaust and Israel. What people think of – erroneously – when they think of Judaism.