I’ve probably taught 20 different courses over the past 11 years at Prozdor. While most have been about Israel and the Bible, every now and again I take a shot at something new. This semester I had a crazy idea: what would it be like to teach a class about how Judaism would look, feel, and be celebrated differently if it wasn’t an Earth-based religion? How we would we mark a Jewish calendar not tied to a lunar cycle? If time can be bent, skipped, or, slowed down, what would the implications be for observance?
From this idea, the course “Intergalactic Judaism” was born. I had high hopes. In week one we first dived in to Rashi’s midrash about the creation of the sun and moon, and how the moon was made “the lesser light” because of its demand that it not share the rule of the heavens with the sun. This led into a discussion about the remarkable coincidence that in the vast expanse of space, the moon is just big enough to exactly cover the sun, also known as “angular size”, which then led into a quasi-existential conversation about time, infinity and the beginning of time. How do we feel about time starting at the Big Bang, or, more specifically, if there was a beginning of time, what happened before the beginning? That’s a meta question for all of us as humans and as Jews, and the conversation was lively.
But as lively as that was, yesterday was remarkable- in fact, it was the only time a class of mine has ended with raucous applause and chants of “best class ever.”
We began with a conversation about infinity, and I led with a classic math question: does 0.999 repeating equal 1.0? Through a few quick displays of both algebra and fractions the point is made that yes, they are the same number, but it does seem counterintuitive… after all, isn’t there a point in which you can insert a number in between those two? The answer is no, but it’s just a jumping off point to amazing questions. For example- are there not in theory an infinite number of real numbers between any two real numbers? Actually, yes. We’ll come back to that in a minute.
But those two questions were just prelude to the real magic that was about to happen.
With Sukkot approaching, we began to talk about Sukkot and the appropriate dimensions and number of sides on a kosher sukkah. Many of us know that in order for a sukkah to be Kosher, it must be made of at least two sides, plus a third that must be as narrow as a handbreath. One can draw a mental picture of some potential designs.
What about a circular Sukkah? In math, a circle has an infinite number of sides. (Well, sort of- it can also have zero sides depending on which system you are using. But let’s not address that).
Assuming a circle has an infinite number of sides, we can start playing serious sukkah games with the math. With the assumption that infinitely-sided sukkot are automatically valid, it’s a logical step that even semi-circular sukkot can be kosher, and we all exclaimed at once, well actually I exclaimed first, “THE WHOLE WORLD IS A SUKKAH.”
After that exhortation, we concluded with a most Jewish and comedic interpretation of the number 613. We briefly talked about some of the mitzvot around sukkah construction and sukkot in general, and generally agreed that they were complicated and esoteric. I remarked that, hey, Judaism is based on 613 commandments and that feels like a lot, at which point a student said, “Actually, given what we’ve been talking about, there are an infinite number of commandments!” That brought the house down and generated a wave of applause, chanting, and yes, real-time tweeting. Because he might be right: right about the math and right about how it feels to be Jewish sometimes.
Can’t wait for week three.