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Chabad Richmond offers courses on Jewish teachings

By Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Published 11:25 PST, Thu March 5, 2020

Adult education is important to Jewish people across the world.

Anyone wishing to know more about Jewish heritage and the background behind the principles of Judaism can attend six-week courses at their local Chabad chapter. These courses are a product of the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute (JLI), a 20-year-old organization headquartered in Brooklyn, New York.

The courses are offered at over 400 locations around the world, including Richmond’s JLI branch—started in 2004 by Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman.

"JLI offers three courses per year on an array of topics including Jewish ethics, Jewish mysticism and philosophy, Jewish history and culture, and Jewish belief and practice. Some of JLI's courses are accredited for continuing legal and medical education," says Baitelman.

The latest offering is “Judaism’s Gifts to the World,” which focuses on major Jewish tenets and their impact on global principles.

The JLI was founded by a group of Chabad rabbis, aiming to increase adult education among Jews everywhere. Chabad-Lubavitch is a global Jewish movement that began in the eighteenth century. 

The name “Chabad” comes from a combination of the Hebrew words for wisdom, comprehension and knowledge—the major foci of each Chabad branch. There are over 3,500 locations worldwide that host courses on Jewish topics, religious services, and other events. 

During the “Judaism’s Gifts to the World” course, Baitelman illuminated principles from the Torah, Judaism’s Bible, to help attendees understand the week’s chosen topic: equality.

JLI courses provide each participant with a textbook. These books include chosen readings—from the Torah and other relevant texts, some of them modern—as well as discussion questions and images. The courses also have supplementary videos and other visual aids, available via a screen at the front of the room.

“When a hierarchical society (is in) place, abuse is inevitable,” said Baitelman on the topic of hierarchy. He explained that, because Jewish teaching says that God created all people in His image, no one person can be greater than another.

Many different aspects of equality were discussed, with textual examples used as evidence. An important moment came when Baitelman shed light on a common problem faced by young people. 

“Everyone is divine, but everyone is unique,” he said. “Young people don’t think their lives matter. Well, the Mishnah (the first major work of rabbinic literature) says their lives do matter.”

Moreover, Judaic teaching indicates that all people have a specific purpose. “Jewish education means a good moral compass,” said Baitelman, adding that rather than asking what other people can do for you, you should ask what you can do for others.

While JLI courses are structured around their textbooks, there is space for participants to ask related questions. 

One participant asked about the place of women in early Jewish society, since they seem to be exempt from general ideas about equality. Another attendee wanted to know who preceded God, since he is believed to have created all people.

Rabbi Baitelman answered all questions using evidence from Jewish texts and teachings. Overall, Jewish teaching considers knowledge and education to be hugely important—an educated society is a powerful one. 

JLI courses are open to all, including non-Jews. "There are definite takeaways from every course for everyone who attends," says Baitelman.

For more information on Chabad Richmond, visit their website.

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