BYU students are in luck this academic year. Not only do they have an opportunity to take a comparison course on Judaism and LDS Christianity, but their teacher for both semesters is Dr. Fred Woods. More than 180 students have already signed up for three classes on “Judaism and the Gospel” that will be taught by Fred next semester. I’ve known him for several years and consider him to be one of the most energetic, dedicated teachers on BYU’s religion faculty. He and BYU colleague Dr. Andrew Skinner (the subject of a future profile) are speaking on Mormons and Jews in St. Louis in April of next year; it will be the third in a series of presentations by leaders of the two communities in that city.
Fred was kind enough to take a few minutes from his Christmas preparations this week to answer a few questions about the class.
1) How did you become involved in interfaith work? I was appointed to a Richard L. Evans professorship of Religious Understanding from Fall 2005 to Fall 2010. My background fit this assignment very well inasmuch as I grew up in the melting pot of the LA region, had a family of diverse religious backgrounds and converted to Mormonism as a young adult.
2) How did you develop an interest in Judaism? I have always been interested in Jewish studies inasmuch as I have had an interest in the Bible since I was a boy. I studied in Israel in 1980 and have a PhD in Middle East Studies: Hebrew Bible from the University of Utah. I have been teaching the Bible for the past three decades.
3) What do you plan to discuss in the course? I plan to discuss the basic beliefs and practices of the Jews and use the textbooks on these two topics written by Louis Jacobs.
4) What is the purpose of the course? To help students have a basic understanding of Judaism and compare its teachings with Mormonism.
I am obviously very pleased that more than 360 LDS students will learn about the Jewish-Mormon connection at BYU this year, and I long for the day when Fred and other LDS instructors will be able to teach similar classes at Brandeis, JTS, HUC, Yeshiva University, and other Jewish educational institutions.
A very Merry Christmas to my Christian readers.
I will be speaking on LDS-Jewish relations at the Jewish Community Center in Salt Lake City on January 12 @ 7:00 p.m. I will also be speaking with Rabbi Alan Cohen in Kansas City on January 16. Single LDS women are especially encouraged to attend both lectures.