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Activity 1: Story — Abraham's Covenant with God (20 minutes), Workshop 5: Judaism 1—The Birth of the Abrahamic Tradition

In "Building Bridges," a Tapestry of Faith program

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Read the story so you will be comfortable presenting it.
  • Locate Israel on the globe or map. If possible, post a map.
  • Optional: View a short, contemporary, animated version of the verses from Chapter 12 of the Book of Genesis which deal with Abram and Sarai, on the g-dcast website. You may want to show this clip to the group.

Description of Activity

Tell participants that Jews are called God's Chosen People because of a covenant formed between Abraham and God, described in the biblical Book of Genesis. Biblical archaeologists and historians date this event at approximately the 15th century BCE. At the time the covenant was formed, Abraham had the name Abram, and his wife's name was Sarai. Invite participants to listen for the names of Abram and Sarai in this story—they are the same people as the biblical Abraham and Sarah whose names are more familiar. Explain that, in the Book of Genesis, God instructs Abram and Sarai to change their names to Abraham and Sarah.

Tell or read aloud the story, "Abraham's Covenant with God."

Then, share, in your own words:

In these chapters in Genesis, God mentions making a covenant for the first time. Later chapters explain more of the terms of the covenant. Scholars differ on the historical accuracy of biblical descriptions of events. Whether it is strictly accurate or not, this story tells about the birth of Jewish faith.

If participants have done Workshop 4, Hinduism, ask the group whether the story of Abram and Sarai seems more, or less, fantastic than the Bhagavad Gita, in which Lord Krishna stops time to help Arjuna in his spiritual crisis. Point out that the two histories show God interacting with people in different ways.

Facilitate a discussion with questions such as:

  • Does one seem more personal than the other?
  • Does one or the other make God more accessible to humans?
  • How would these different "styles" affect how the people feel about God? About their religion?
  • Jews consider themselves God's Chosen People based on the covenant formed with Abraham. The covenant has a variety of rights and responsibilities. In contrast to other faiths that require each adherent to embrace a relationship with God—for example, to accept Jesus as one's savior—Judaism accepts as Jews anyone who is born Jewish, of a Jewish-born mother. How might this view have affected people's attitudes toward Jews over the years? Can such a claim contribute to anti-Semitism (prejudice against Jews)? Why?
  • Many Jews see the covenant as an agreement between the Jewish people and God to be God's partners on earth. The Hebrew phrase tikkun olam means "repair of the world." Many believe the covenant with God compels Jews to help "repair the world" in all aspects of life. Observant, religious Jews seek to do this by Torah study, prayer, and acts of loving kindness (charity). Liberal Jews may interpret tikkun olam as a charge to express their faith with social and political activism to promote justice—similar to a Unitarian Universalist linking of faith and justicemaking. One aspect of the biblical covenant promised Jews a homeland where Israel is now. (Show Israel on a map.) It was not until 1948, after World War II, that the State of Israel was created. The Jewish people waited thousands of years to become a Jewish nation on this land. How do you think this heritage of waiting for a homeland might affect Jewish feelings about Israel? How do you think the history of persecution as a minority could make a Jewish person feel about protecting the State of Israel's independence and safety?
  • In the story, God tells Abram his descendants will be strangers in a foreign land; they will be mistreated by the foreigners and have to serve them. How does this mesh with the idea of being God's Chosen People?
  • Why would God allow Jews to suffer servitude for hundreds of years before helping them become free? The Jewish people recognize and teach that suffering can have purpose and deep meaning. What connections do you see between Jewish history and this belief?
  • Other peoples have endured genocide, slavery, and marginalization as minorities in a dominant culture. What kinds of thoughts about God and the meaning of suffering might emerge among a people with such experiences?

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

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Last updated on Wednesday, October 29, 2014.

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