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Community Beit Midrash
March 6, 2018 at Mechon Hadar
7:30pm Welcome D’var Torah and Introductions
7:45-9:00pm Parallel Classes
- The Nearest vs. the Neediest: Setting Communal and Individual Priorities in Social Justice with R. Will Friedman (Pardes)
At the end of every year, Americans are bombarded by charitable solicitations from multiple worthy organizations, and it can be hard to figure out whether to give to the local homeless shelter or the international distribution of malaria nets. Classic Jewish texts have long struggled with the dilemma of proximity and need, and we'll try to bring their wisdom to bear on a sometimes fraught conversation.
- A Rabbinic History of the Moon with Miriam Gedwiser (Drisha)
In Bereshit 1:16, God creates the two "great lights" but then immediately dubs the moon the "lesser light." We will explore a family of Rabbinic readings that understand the moon to have been diminished from its initial state, as well as the metaphorical life those midrashim took on in the middle ages and today.
- Theologies of Mitzvot in Parashat Hahodesh (Exodus 12 and 13) with Dr. Walter Herzberg (JTS)
Dr. Herzberg will lead us in a close reading of Exodus 12 and 13, along with many traditional commentaries, focusing on the verses related to the observance of mitzvot. Through an interactive discussion, we will explore some of the various approaches to why we observe mitzvot, and reflect on their implications for how we observe mitzvot today.
- Talmudio-Drama: An Experiential Workshop with R. Jon Kelsen (YCT)
In this interactive workshop, we will experiment with applying bibliodrama techniques to study of rabbinic aggadic and halakhic texts. Open to those with or without experience with bibliodrama.
- Tainted Mitzvot: When You Sin in Order to Serve God with R. Ethan Tucker (Hadar)
We will explore the rabbinic discussion of commandments that are performed with the aid of a sin—mitzvah haba'ah ba'aveirah. Are good deeds negated by evil means? Must we look at the full genealogy of an action in order to determine its worthiness? We will endeavor to answer these questions from classical texts and to apply our insights to contemporary questions.
Join us for another year of the Community Beit Midrash!
The Community Beit Midrash is a unique opportunity to grow in Torah learning and deep conversation with the students and faculty of various institutions of Jewish Learning in NYC. The Hadar Beit Midrash is also open for havruta-paired learning on Tuesday nights.
Each night of learning will feature shiurim by the faculty of the partner organizations. Mechon Hadar is grateful to be collaborating with Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, Yeshivat Maharat, Drisha Institute for Jewish Education, Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, and the Jewish Theological Seminary
February 6, 2018
Join our great line-up of teachers for another round of learning together!
- “The Crown” with Wendy Amsellem
Esther is first introduced as a passive figure, obedient to the men around her and asking for nothing of her own. In the course of the Book of Esther, Queen Esther finds her voice, takes charge of her destiny, and saves her people from annihilation. We will trace the development of Esther's character through biblical verses and rabbinic midrash.
- “I Have a Dream” with David Bernstein
After viewing an inspirational clip from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech in Washington, D.C, we will study the revolutionary ideas of social equality in the Hebrew Bible, some of which are still revolutionary today.
- “The Kashrut of Lab-Grown Meat” with R. Daniel Nevins
What if beef could be produced on a large scale without causing animal suffering and environmental damage? What if such cultured (or clean) meat could be more healthful to consume, and more efficient to produce? Could such a product be considered kosher? Would it even be considered meat? We will consider a series of important questions and primary texts that can be the basis for an answer. This shiur is based on my responsum of the same title which was approved by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards in November, 2017.
- “Beyond Toleration: Jews and the Fight for Religious Inclusion in America” with Laura Shaw Frank
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified and adopted in 1791, promised that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." But the reality for Jews living in a Christian country was often more complex than that. Over the next 227 years, American Jews prodded and nudged federal and state legislatures and courts to ensure that America lived up to the promise of the First Amendment. The fascinating story of American Jewish efforts to shape the American public sphere into one that was truly inclusive of different faiths has much to teach us about what religious equality truly means.
- “When God Prays: What do God's prayers teach us about our own?” with Dena Weiss
The Talmud tells us that not only does God hear and receive prayer, but He also prays Himself. What does it mean to say that God prays? What can God's prayers teach us about our own and who we are as beings who pray?
December 12, 2017: Hanukkah-Themed
Come prepare for Hanukah with the Community Beit Midrash!
- R. Aviva Richman (Hadar) - Who Needs Our Light?
The mitzvah of lighting Hanukkah candles is one of the most beautiful and pervasive, yet the midrash asks why we bother lighting at all. Through the sharp eyes of midrash and the creative interpretations of hasidut and modern thinkers, we will confront a fundamental doubt - that our eight little lights, our work in the world, may seem futile - and we will explore the possibilities of what it means to keep lighting in the face of darkness.
- R. Jeffrey Fox (Maharat) - Searching for the true light of Hanukkah: Rebbi Shimon ha-Tzadik and Alexander the Great
Hanukkah commemorates the Jewish victory over the Seleucid Greek empire. The miraculous military victory is sometimes downplayed for the more spiritual miracle of the cruse of oil. Rebbi Shimon ha-Tzadik had his own encounter with the Greek empire when he "defeated" Alexander the Great. Come and learn about the hidden light of Hanukah.
- R. Yaffa Epstein (Pardes) - Hanukah: An opportunity to shed light on our habits
Judaism asks us to take on many obligations, and to make these obligations a part of our daily life. But, at times these practices and behaviours can start to feel rote, and unfulfilling. How do we deal with this phenomenon? And what can the holiday of Hanukkah teach us about shaking things up? We'll look at several pieces from the Talmud, its commentaries, as well as the Hassidic masters.
- R. Noah Bickart (JTS) - Epistles from the Mythic Past: Anxiety and Power in Talmudic Stories about Letter Writing
A strange and oft quoted passage at the very end of tractate horayot of the Babylonian Talmud depicts Mesopotamian rabbis of the early 4th century in a quandary. The two candidates for ascending to the leadership of their scholastic fellowship had different talents. One possessed vast numbers of received oral traditions, whereas the other was more skilled at legal analysis. Not knowing whom to appoint, they write to their peers in Palestine for council, and receive in response that the former should be appointed over the latter. This shiur will explore what kinds of values are being expressed and suppressed in this text.
- Miriam Gedwiser (Drisha) - The New Candle Imperative: Hanukah, Chasidut, and Renewal
What does it mean for Hanukkah to be the only major holiday invented in the post-biblical era? Through Chassidic sources, we will explore Hanukkah’s message regarding novelty and creativity in our Torah and in our lives.
September 26, 2017: Fall Kickoff
- R. Elie Kaunfer (Hadar) - How Much Change Can We Handle? Two Models of Teshuvah
Does teshuvah represent a radical departure from my past identity or a subtle re-shaping of it? What is our relationship with our past once we've changed? If we were successful at doing teshuvah, would we still recognize ourselves? We will explore these questions and more through close examination of classical and modern sources
- R. Yaffa Epstein (Pardes) - The Cry of the Covenant; Understanding the Shofar of Sinai
The first time the Shofar is mentioned in the Torah is in connection with the giving of the Torah. But - what is the connection between the Shofar, and the Covenantal moment of Sinai? And what can the Shofar teach us about our own relationship to Torah? This session will explore these questions, and attempt to understand how we bring our full selves to both repentance, and Torah study.
- Dr. Erin Leib Smokler (Maharat) - Pondering Liminality בין כסה לעשור
The season of the High Holidays contains both climactic moments (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) and in-between times (the Aseret Yemei Teshuva). What is the meaning and the message of this rhythm? How might we harness the unique energies of both kinds of time in doing the work of teshuvah?
- R. David Silber (Drisha) - The Prayers of Yom Kippur
Rav Nachman of Breslov famously said that the goal of Torah study is to transform our study into prayer. The ancient liturgical poets, though, strove to make our prayers a form of Torah study by interlacing the blessings with poems that recount biblical narratives. How do the piyyutim (liturgical poems) of Yom Kippur reflect the essential nature of the day? How can these prayers help us arrive at a deeper understanding of ourselves?
- Dr. Eliezer Diamond (JTS) - Vidui: Self-Transformation through Honesty
Vidui is an essential - according to Rambam, the essential - element of the teshuvah process. We will examine its transformative power drawing on rabbinic wisdom and insights from psychology and twelve step programs. In particular we will look at its dual role of challenging and comforting us.
Tuesday, April 4, 2017 at Drisha
Come prepare for Passover by attending our final Community Beit Midrash of the semester!
- Elie Kaunfer (Hadar) - Dayenu: The Core Story of the Haggadah
The Haggadah is filled with poems that we sing on Seder night; but how well do we understand these poems? Is there something more to them than cute rhymes and familiar words? In this class we will spend time examining the literary history and connections of Dayenu, with an eye toward mining for deeper layers of meaning.
- Jon Kelsen (Drisha) - By Your Blood You Shall Live: Rabbinic and Christian Conceptions of Redemption
- Yonah Berman (Yeshivat Chovevei Torah) - Holiday Plurality: Why the Rabbis put Purim before Pesach
- Yaffa Epstein (Pardes) - Does Passover Override Shabbat? What's at Stake in Religious Leadership
- Carmella Abraham (Yeshivat Maharat) - Songs of Redemption: Moses, Leonard Cohen and the Broken Hallelujah
Tuesday, March 7, 2017 at Drisha.
- Judy Klistner (Pardes) - Mind the Gap: Holes in Biblical Stories, from the Akeda to Megillat Esther
What transpired between father and son during their 3-day journey toward the Akeda? Why did Queen Esther have such a short guest list for her parties? The Bible contains lacunae of all kinds: missing pieces of plot lines, missing words and letters. We will explore ways in which the text's silences are not merely problems to be solved, but are artful agents in uncovering greater meaning in the text.
- Dena Weiss (Mechon Hadar) - Relief and Deliverance Will Come From Somewhere Else: Taking Responsibility When It's Kind of God's Fault
- Rabbi David Silber (Drisha) - Experiencing God in Exile: Esther, Chance, and Providence
- Goldie Guy (Yeshivat Maharat) - Seudat Purim on a Friday?: A halachic and conceptual analysis of the Purim Feast
- Dr. David Bernstein (Pardes) - Living with Uncertainty: A Jewish Approach
- Rabbi Jason Rubenstein (Mechon Hadar) - From Divine Salvation to Ironic Survival: Purim and the Secular Subversion of Pesah
- Wendy Amsellem (Drisha) - Competing Passions: A Talmudic Guide to a Conflicted Heart
- Eryn London (Yeshivat Maharat) - Responsa Across Denominations: An Explanation of Teshuvot from Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Rabbis
- Mary-Brett Koplen (Jewish Theological Seminary) - Complications of Forgiveness
- Eliezer Lawrence (Yeshivat Chovevei Torah) - Samson was Duped and So Were We: Solving the "Riddle" in the Samson Saga
December 13, 2016:
Learn with parallel sessions from inspiring teachers from our partner organizations
- Elli Cohn (JTS) - Hanukkah: The Festival of...Booths?
- R. Yonah Berman (YCT) - Chanukah: Lessons for a Biblical Figure from a Rabbinic Holiday
- Dena Weiss (Mechon Hadar) - Are Our Sins Really Our Fault? Repentance and Responsibility in the Thought of the Kedushat Levi
- Wendy Amsellem (Drisha) - Joseph and the Art of Dream Interpretation
- R. Yaffa Epstein (Pardes) - Between Self Doubt and Self Esteem: What the Talmud can Teach Me About Myself
September 20, 2016:
- R. Yaffa Epstein (Pardes) - Return, Repent, Renew - What does Teshuva Really Mean?
- R. Shai Held (Mechon Hadar) - Can We Really Re-Create Ourselves? Understanding and Questioning Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik's Vision of Teshuvah
- Wendy Amsellem (Drisha) - The Banishment and Retrieval of Ishmael
- R. Mordecai Schwartz (JTS) - Jonah: Rebirth and Resurrection
- R. Asher Lopatin (YCT) - The Top Ten Challenges for Modern Orthodoxy (Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for the recording)
November 30th, 2015 Kick-off Event
Download live recordings from the inspiring night to kick-off R. Jason Rubenstein's lecture series:
- Tali Adler (Yeshivat Maharat) - A Midwinter's Tale: Adam HaRishon and the Primordial Chanukah
- Nechama Barash (Pardes) - Talmudic Stories of Rupture and Reconciliation: How to Talk So People Will Really Listen
- Noah Bickart (JTS) - Rabbis Killing Rabbis or How the Talmud Became the Talmud
- Eric Lawrence (Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School) - The Evolving Hebrew Alphabet: Reconstructing Ancient Hebrew in Light of Comparative Semitics, the Tanakh and Chazal
- Jason Rubenstein (Mechon Hadar) - (Re)Claiming the Language of Revelation: Exploring the Foundations of Jewish Belief and Practice
October 20th, 2015 Kick-off Event
Download live recordings from the inspiring night to kick-off the new year of learning:
- Dr. Ben Sommer (JTS) - Two Models of Jewish Spirituality: A Close Look at the First and Last Psalms
- R. Jeff Fox (Yeshivat Maharat) - Living in a Jewish World without Prophecy: Blessing or Curse?
- R. Avi Killip (Mechon Hadar) - "May the Spirit of God Rest upon them": The Power of Crowdsourcing
- Wendy Amsellem (Drisha) - Speak of the Devil: Encountering Satan in the Talmud
- R. Yaffa Epstein (Pardes) - Who Me?: Stories of Rabbinic Self-Consciousness
Co-Sponsored by Mechon Hadar, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, The Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, Yeshivat Maharat, and The Jewish Theological Seminary with support of the Wexner Foundation Graduate Alumni Collaboration Grant.