Jonathan Ray has the lowdown on heaven and hell. Not that he’s been to either place. But the associate professor of Jewish studies at Georgetown University knows what Jews used to think about the afterlife and what many Jews still do.
“If you ask, do Jews believe in heaven and hell, you see a lot of hemming and hawing. But for most of Jewish history the answer was yes,” he says. “In the last few hundred years, Jews have become squeamish about this.”
Ray will stake out the Jewish claim to heaven and hell and, separately, take a new look at the fabled “Golden Age” for Jews in Spain during an afternoon of adult study on Nov. 3. The program, Jewish University for a Day, will be held at 11:30 a.m. at Kol Shalom in Rockville. The event is open to the community.
Jewish University for a Day was developed by the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, and two of the program’s speakers teach at the school. One is Marjorie Lehman, associate professor of Talmud and rabbinics, who will deliver the keynote presentation, “Emerging from Life’s Travails: The Lessons of the Biblical Mother Hannah.”
Other sessions include: “Religious Passion and Religious Fundamentalism,” “Pondering the Inscrutable in Reb Nachman’s Stories” and “Jewish Visual Arts on the Left, 1920s-‘30s.”
Kol Shalom has seven partners, including Reform and Conservative synagogues, that are promoting the event among their membership. They are: B’nai Israel Congregation, B’nai Shalom of Olney, Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, Kehilat Shalom, Shaare Tefila Congregation, Shaare Torah Congregation and Temple Beth Ami.
Organizers thought the Washington area would be a good market for the program, which has been tried in other communities around the country, according to Irene Simpkins of Kol Shalom.
“There’s a big Jewish population of people who study, students from Context [an adult learning program of JTS] and professors who are experts,” she says.
There is a charge. For information, call Kol Shalom, 301-309-9110. For schedule and online registration before Nov. 1, go tojtsa.edu/JewishUniversityRockville