57 South Williams Street
Burlington, VT  05401


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Wrestling with Faith


Course Overview

Most people, even the most devout, struggle with issues about God. We sit in the synagogue during the High Holidays and affirm the essentials of Judaism in theory, but when it comes to trusting God with our daily lives, we share a secret, painful fear that God isn't really looking out for us.

Many have been brought up under the assumption that mainstream science is incompatible with genuine Jewish faith—so when they see compelling evidence for biological evolution, for example, they feel forced to choose between science and their faith.

Wrestling with Faith was created for tackling questions like these, the “big issues” that keep people from intimate faith with God. In Wrestling with Faith, we acknowledge the often unspoken doubts and questions that all people share—as we share their invitation for us to dig deeper for the answers.

In Wrestling with Faith, JLI offers a steady and inspiring voice to help us reaffirm and understand our faith in a world where nothing seems solid or permanent. Drawing upon 3,000 years of Jewish knowledge, as well as a storehouse of literary, psychological, and theological insights, the course examines the fears and doubts that challenge us. It is in these struggles to find meaning that the course lays out a path for belief in a world struggling to find faith; but perhaps more important, it helps us find our own rhythm within which to walk that path.

Lesson 1
Where’s the evidence?

Lesson 2
Does God really care?

Lesson 3
Why do some Jewish practices seem primitive?

Lesson 4
Why would a good God do bad stuff?

Lesson 5
Do religious beliefs contradict scientific discoveries?

Lesson 6
How can I enjoy a close relationship with God?


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Crime and Consequence - Starting February 13, 2019 at Chabad of Vermont


What’s the right way to treat wrongdoers?

Marathon runners murdered in the name of G‑d. Pensioners left penniless in the name of greed. Children abused by the people they trusted to protect them.

Your heart screams: is there a punishment harsh enough for criminals of this kind? 

And yet, with more lives on the line, you find yourself equally questioning modern “justice”:

  • Why do we punish criminals in the first place?
  • Can we justify a history of convicting—even executing—the wrong people?
  • As a society, what are we doing to slow the tide of crime before it comes to this?

With this highly-anticipated course from JLI, explore the Torah’s take on crime, incarceration and rehabilitation. Revisit famous cases of wrongful conviction through the lens of Talmudic law. Explore themes of betrayal and acceptance as when someone close to you commits a crime.

As you test your tolerance for injustice of every kind, uncover practical ways to fix the system—and maybe just repair the world.

Lessons Overview

Lesson 1 
Lock and Key: What's the Point of Prison?

A quick glance at the statistics suggests an uncomfortable truth: modern-day societies imprison people at a rate unparalleled, and indeed unimaginable, in past times. Why is this so? Why do we lock people up, and what do we hope to achieve by doing so? Does the purpose of prison always outweigh the cons of conviction? This lesson considers and contrasts secular and Talmudic theories of criminal justice, before suggesting how to ensure a more just justice system

Lesson 2 
Judge, Jewry, and Execution: Judaism and the Death Penalty

Some crimes are irreversible. Everyone makes mistakes. Taken together, these two propositions suggest both the imperative and impediment for the death penalty and point to its central paradox. Can man have the authority to sentence another man to death? How should we respond to the most serious crimes?

Lesson 3 
Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue: Standards of Evidence in the Talmud

Justice may be blind, but judges and juries must be clear-sighted. This lesson explores the concept of evidentiary standards as it arises in several overlapping areas of Talmudic and secular law: How can we assess the truth of testimony? Does every criminal confession pass muster, or are some inadmissible? When can informants be considered credible?

Lesson 4 
Clean Slate: How Do Criminals Make Amends?

What is the ultimate aim of the criminal justice system? If society seeks restitution for crimes and rehabilitation for criminals, it needs a better plan. It must consider what rehabilitation looks like, for which offenders and offenses it is applicable, and how to ensure sentencing contributes to this end. This class examines the extensive, systematic program of repentance laid out in the Talmud and considers what insights this process holds for the above questions and present-day criminal rehabilitation. Finally, we look at sentencing programs that incorporate some of these elements in their pursuit of real rehabilitative justice.

Lesson 5 
Moving Forward: Reacceptance and the Criminal Background Check

All of your deeds are recorded in a book: so declares the Rosh Hashanah liturgy, and so it is within the contemporary criminal justice system. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Americans are released from prison and seek to rejoin society, but many are stymied by the public availability of their criminal records. Is it possible to find a balance between the needs of society, prospective employers, and ex-offenders? After surveying the contemporary situation, this class looks for answers in the paradigms of Jewish law.

Lesson 6 
An Ounce of Prevention: Addressing Crime Before It Happens

The best way to improve the criminal justice system is by keeping people out of it. But before any attempt to prevent crime can be made, its causes and preconditions must be better understood. Judaism has long recognized the role of societal factors in the commission of crime: poverty and unemployment are significant, as are education, values, and personal character. This final lesson discusses the roots of criminality, several specific preventative policy proposals, and the various concerns associated with them.

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