What to Expect
People taking Jewish studies may eventually go on to rabbinical training,
or they may just want to learn more about the rich heritage of Judaism.
Bonnie Gracer decided to study Judaism simply because she had burning questions
about her heritage that she felt she couldn't learn on her own. One question
arose one Hanukkah after a synagogue lecture.
"The rabbi said that Hanukkah happened after the Bible was written, after
the revelation at Mount Sinai. So that night I went home and lit the candles
on my menorah."
In the midst of the traditional blessing, "Blessed are you, Adonai our
god, ruler of the universe, who commanded us to light the lights of Hanukkah,"
she realized something was wrong.
"I stopped and thought, 'Wait, how could God have commanded us to kindle
the lights of Hanukkah, if Hanukkah happened after revelation?' That questioned
stumped me and drove me absolutely batty."
Gracer took graduate studies at Baltimore Hebrew University. She took courses
in Jewish philosophy, Jewish mysticism, Jewish education and rabbinic literature
and history. So what about the question of Hanukkah?
"I still don't have an answer that satisfies me," says Gracer. "And yes,
that question is still driving me up the wall."
For her, the hardest part of Jewish studies was coming to the program unprepared.
Her undergraduate degree was in speech therapy and she also earned a master
of social work.
"It was hard to learn specifics without having an overall picture [of
Judaism]," she says. Learning Hebrew was also difficult, but now she can
read the Bible in Hebrew, which she says is a beautiful experience.
Timothy Undheim took graduate studies at Hebrew Union College, specializing
in ancient Near East history, institutions and languages. Undheim is not Jewish
in heritage, but chose this study because he has a passion for it.
"I like to study biblical literature and the culture out of which it arose,"
How to Prepare
"Hebrew, Hebrew and Hebrew," says Gracer. "Read the entire Jewish Bible.
Study general history and also Jewish history." She also recommends an
overall course of history from ancient times through to today.
Before enrolling, Undheim prepared himself by living a year in Israel.
He also studied the Hebrew and Arabic languages. He recommends that students
immerse themselves by spending time in foreign countries.
In addition, Undheim recommends students serious about Jewish studies take
Hebrew in high school, either through a Jewish high school they attend or
their synagogue. Students should also spend a summer in Israel.