Learning about Judaism

Free course provides quick overview of beliefs, practices


Advertise with us

Always curious about other religious traditions, Winnipegger Margaret McCulloch found taking a short course on Judaism helps her understand her adopted country in a new way.

Read this article for free:


Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe:

Monthly Digital Subscription

$4.75 per week*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles

*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.

Always curious about other religious traditions, Winnipegger Margaret McCulloch found taking a short course on Judaism helps her understand her adopted country in a new way.

“Canada is a very multicultural society and one of the most fertile and fruitful aspects is there are so many religions that people practise,” says McCulloch, who emigrated from Poland 40 years ago.

Offered again beginning Tuesday, Jan. 10, the free five-week crash course in basic Judaism provides a quick overview into Jewish beliefs and practices, both for people outside the tradition and Jews who want to understand more about their religion, explains Rena Secter Elbaze, engagement and education director at Congregation Shaarey Zedek.

“I would like people to know that they’re absolutely welcome to join us and ask questions,” she says about the noon-hour course that runs on Zoom. Each session runs 60 minutes, with participants asked to show their faces through the video function of Zoom.

Beginning with a discussion on belief in God, the short course includes other equally weighty topics such as prayer, the Sabbath (the day of rest for Jews), Jewish observance and sexuality.

All those topics are open for discussion and questioning, something that is part and parcel of Jewish identity and how they address belief in God.

“We’re supposed to question God’s existence,” says Elbaze, now in her third round of teaching the course developed by the National Jewish Outreach Program.

“That’s totally normal and natural.”

Although outsiders may be familiar with some Sabbath practices, especially prohibitions against working or using technology, Elbaze says the concept of a day of rest can be freeing instead of restricting.

“It’s not the technology that’s a problem. We’re supposed to use the technology of our time to do what we need to do,” she says.

“It’s something we should be master over, not it over us.”

The course also covers the Jewish calendar and how it is tied to agricultural practices and historical events, and how prayer is both a public and private act. Jews require 10 people to form a minyan or quorum for a public prayer service, says Elbaze.

Designed more as an introductory class rather than a program for converts, the course hits the highlights of Jewish beliefs and traditions but can’t possibly cover everything, says Elbaze. Potential converts are encouraged to take a 25-week hybrid course called Choosing Judaism offered by the synagogue each September.

“This is a like an elevator (pitch) of who we are as a people and what’s important to us,” she says of the crash course.

One of the main takeaways for McCulloch, a Roman Catholic, was how Judaism continues to evolve, changing significantly from the Old Testament times to the rabbinic tradition and is still adapting.

                                <p>Rena Sector Elbaze, who teaches a course in basic Judaism, holds a Torah scrolls at Temple Shalom.</p>


Rena Sector Elbaze, who teaches a course in basic Judaism, holds a Torah scrolls at Temple Shalom.

“You see the whole objective is to help people live in the right way in the present life, a godly life in the present era,” says McCulloch of the understanding she gained from the course.

Elbaze says her understanding of her own faith tradition has evolved as well by leading the course two times before.

“This ancient wisdom is very relevant to our modern lives,” says Elbaze.

“It pushes us to be and want to be good people.”

With antisemitism on the rise in Manitoba, even a basic introduction to Judaism can counteract some stereotypes and prejudice, suggests Ruth Ashrafi, Winnipeg-based regional director for B’nai Brith Canada, an independent Jewish human rights organization.

“Many people who have antisemitic ideas have never met a Jew in their life,” she says.

“Therefore, to have a course on Judaism gives them an opportunity to meet some and learn about Jews and Judaism.”

To register for the course, check out Congregation Shaarey Zedek’s website at szwinnipeg.ca/event/2023-01-10-Basic-Judaism.


The Free Press is committed to covering faith in Manitoba. If you appreciate that coverage, help us do more! Your contribution of $10, $25 or more will allow us to deepen our reporting about faith in the province. Thanks! BECOME A FAITH JOURNALISM SUPPORTER Click here to learn more about the project.

Brenda Suderman

Brenda Suderman
Faith reporter

Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.

Report Error Submit a Tip

The Free Press acknowledges the financial support it receives from members of the city’s faith community, which makes our coverage of religion possible.


Advertise With Us