PIQUA — Sara Otero is a Rabbinic Intern in her fourth year at the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, in Cincinnati.
It is a five year program where a Master’s degree is received the fourth year, and upon the fifth one is ordained a rabbi. Otero recently taught “Judaism 101” a class on basic Judaism at Congregation Anshe Emeth, in Piqua, Ohio. The class focused on three of the highest values in Judaism: Torah, sacred text; Avodah, prayer and ritual and G’milut Chassadim, acts of kindness. Otero also discussed Jewish holidays, the calendar, the commandments, and the history.
She started the class with Torah, the sacred and holy text and the most sacred object of Judaism. It is comprised of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, which Christians call the “Old Testament.” These books are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The text is written by humans not machines, in special ink that cannot be touched. Torah scrolls are stored in a depiction of the Ark of the Covenant in the temple. Everyone stands in Torah’s presence as a sign of respect for their most holy object. Jews created a process of interpreting Torah that is evident in published commentaries. Explanations and interpretations were collected and formed the Midrash Agadah, literary and moral explanations, and Midrash Halachah, legal explanations.
“Judaism is life – long learning – something we do from cradle to grave,” Otero said. “They wrote commentary on commentary, but the rabbis decided to stop modifying – especially the Torah, as it is the sacred text,” Otero said.
The Jewish sacred calendar is in 5,777, which means according to Rabbinic math, it has been 5,777 years since the world was created, Otero said.
“We are always together in sacred time and that time is dictated by the time and seasons of the Bible,” Otero said.
Shabbat is observed for 25 hours, from sunset on Friday until Saturday evening. It is a time in which Jews are not to work. This is taken very seriously, according to Otero, and is the absolute center of Jewish life.
“We are to just enjoy ourselves because God rested on the seventh day,” she said.
During the class, Otero allowed much time to hear and answer questions. One of those questions asked for the Jews’ outlook on Jesus. For one, Jewish belief is based on national revelation, which is God speaking to the entire nation.
“Judaism’s official line on Jesus is that we believe he was a wonderful, very devoted Jew and a great rabbi – a great teacher, and had a lot to teach the world,” Otero said. “The fundamental lesson that we learn from Christianity, the religion that came out of His teaching, is God’s love, because that is something that Christians do way better than we (Jews) do. We are interested in finding that grain of truth in everybody’s religion. It is the Messiah thing that we differ on.”
The first time a woman was ordained a rabbi was in 1972 and is very new. Becoming a rabbi places Otero in a very small group of women.
“We are still dealing with that change, ” Otero said. “Everyone that I talk about, study and quote are men. My graduating class will be three women and six men. While we are still working on that, there are women now acting as rabbis in every movement of Judaism.”
Otero said she loves what she is doing and it shows by her enthusiasm, knowledge and her smile.
“What is not to love?” she asked.
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