Rabbinic Yeshiva Intensive - SAMPLE SCHEDULE
March 15-18, 2020
Adar 19 - Adar 22 5780
Sunday March, 15
Arrive and Shmooze
Dinner, Introduction, and Orientation
Opening Seder and Shiur:
The Fast That God Desires: Love, Justice, and the Meaning of Genuine Worship (Shai Held)
In the haftarah for Yom Kippur, the prophet Isaiah confronts us with a searing question many would prefer to avoid: What if our worship is no more than a sham? Moving beyond rebuke, Isaiah offers a stunning alternative, a powerful vision of what genuine worship would look like— and by extension, of what a good community and society would look like. In brief, the prophet demands a deep and abiding commitment to both love and justice. Through a careful literary and theological reading of the text, we'll wrestle with Isaiah's words and with their implications for our lives.
Monday March, 16
9:15 am -12:30 pm
Talmud Seder and Shiur (5 options)
Pain, Suffering, and Justice: When the Interpersonal Goes Wrong (Avital Hochstein)
The classic Talmudic chapter of Ha’Hovel (One Who Wounds) examines the court’s response to cases where one person hurts another. These discussions raise fascinating questions as to the nature and categories of the damages one may inflict upon another (pain; shame; damages;) and what recourse the victim has. We will probe whether the legal response is meant to serve as a deterrent, a punishment, or a means of revenge, and we'll ask: “Can a legal system help frame and work through these types of interactions or does it hinder and inevitably simplify the complex fabric of human relations?”
Texts will be distributed in both the standard printed and the Hebrew Steinsaltz editions. The Soncino translation will also be available. This course assumes no previous facility with rabbinic texts.
What Alexander the Great Can Teach Us and What We Can Teach Him (Avi Strausberg)
We'll dive into a fascinating battle of wits and intellectual change between Alexander the Great and the Sages. Through Alexander's questions and the hachamim's answers, we'll probe what makes a person great, how to win friends in high places, and how a city full of of women sent Alexander packing. This rich aggadic material from Massechet Tamid will offer us insights into the limits of the power and the nature of human desire.
Texts will be studied from the printed editions; Hebrew Steinsaltz edition will also be available.
Can You Sin to Perform a Mitzvah?: What To Do With a Stolen Lulav (Jeremy Tabick)
Texts will be studied from the printed editions; Hebrew Steinsaltz edition will also be available.
Teshuva: The Real Story (Aviva Richman)
We will study a unit of aggada in the eighth chapter of Yoma that brings many examples of conflict and less than "ideal" versions of the teshuva process. In engaging in these accounts from biblical and talmudic heroes (or perhaps anti-heroes), we will reach for language that can help us navigate the often complicated, unsatisfying and unfinished work of teshuva.
Enmity and Comity (Ethan Tucker)
We all know that mitzvot require a sense of purpose and investment, but just how interpersonally unpleasant must the experience be before our obligations are modified? In particular, we will explore the category of משום איבה--"on account of enmity"--a justification invoked in rabbinic literature to warrant treating certain obligations more leniently. We will begin with some central sugyot that engage this category and then investigate how the category is applied and shifted in later contexts. Along the way, we will attempt to think through just what role pleasantness and friendship play in the larger economy of obligation.
Shmooze in the Beit Midrash
Lunch + Free Time
Know Thyself: Oneg Shabbat and the Subjectivity of Mitzvot
Shabbat offers a beautiful far-reaching vision of rest and celebration, but the experience of Oneg is highly subjective. In defining the contours of mandatory "delight", how does halakhah account for difference in life experience, proclivities, and means? What are the difficulties of doing Oneg Shabbat in community?
The Case for Rejecting Tzedakah (Yitzhak Bronstein)
The status of Tzedakah as a foundational Jewish value is beyond question. We will explore texts which test its limits, raising the question as to whether certain charitable donations must be rejected. In particular, we will trace conversations from the Talmud through contemporary responsa around instances of Tzedakah offered from stolen money, as well as the prohibition of hanufah (inappropriate flattery).
What Redemption Are We Praying For? (Elie Kaunfer)
Redemption is a major theme in our prayers, and is the subject of the seventh blessing of the weekday amidah. This short blessing has raised questions for hundreds of years. Together we will explore: What redemption are we asking for? Why is it placed where it is in the amidah? What is its relationship to the blessings around it?
Shaming as Abuse of Power Hierarchies: A New Approach to the Intersection of Gender and Halakha (Jason Rubenstein)
The Talmudic treatment of shame in the 8th chapter of Bava Kamma is deservedly famous for its focus on personal experience and suffering. It is also remarkable for another reason: opening up a new perspective on power in general, and gender in particular, in social settings. Most fascinating of all, these passages include more-or-less explicit critiques of rabbinic personages and rulings, opening up a new method of internal feminist critique and practice of Torah.
Snack + Break
I Cannot Tell A Lie… Or Can I (Avi Strausberg)
When it comes to telling the truth, we find ourselves holding two important values in tension: on the one hand the emphasis on telling the truth and staying away from falsehood. On the other hand, the prohibition to steer clear of lashon hara (or evil speech). Yet, there are all sorts of situations in which we may find ourselves caught between these two principles: are we bound to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth or might it be okay and even advisable to omit or to lie for the sake of some greater principle? In this session, we'll turn to Jewish sources for the answer, as we navigate the sometimes complicated and nuanced question, "If and when is it okay to lie?"
Sometimes people feel that God is closer to them than they are to themselves, that God is their very life; and sometimes people feel that God is too close, that God’s presence is just “too much.” Sometimes people go back and forth between these two senses; and sometimes they are torn by feeling both things at once. In this session, we will do a close literary reading of one of the richest, most complex, and most elusive texts in the Psalms, which is, arguably, a study in both ambivalence and ambiguity. We’ll also consider some of the many ways the Psalm has been understood by both traditional commentators and modern scholars.
How Can We Bless God? The meaning(s) of Barukh Attah Hashem (Elie Kaunfer)
Part of the challenge of teaching is being surprised by the material ourselves. A case in point: Every blessing begins with the phrase: Blessed are you, God. What could that possibly mean? We will explore the possible understandings of this phrase, and focus on the daring messages that underlie this seemingly simple phrase.
Annual Jerome L. Stern Pre-Pesah Public Lecture - With Rabbi Shai Held
The Triumph of Creation
What Are Sefer Shemot—and Matan Torah—Really About?
The deep structure of the book of Exodus inspires fascination and curiosity: What is the book really about? Where does it begin and where does it end, and why does the journey between those two points matter so much? In this Pre-Pesah lecture, we will explore these questions and ask what relevance the book has for contemporary Jewish theology, ethics, and politics.
Tuesday, March 17
9:15 am - 12:30 pm
Talmud Seder and Shiur (Day 2, same as Monday)
12:30 - 12:45 pm
Shmooze in the Beit Midrash
12:45 - 1:45 pm
Lunch and Optional Table Conversations - Tools of Hadar: How can Hadar contribute to your Rabbinate?
How to Listen to Nothing: Silence, Doubt and Revelation (Aviva Richman)
From early midrash to hasidut, we'll explore the importance of silence in punctuating, and perhaps overwhelming, a journey towards knowing God and believing in ourselves.
Words that Cannot be Written: Oral Torah and Chosenness in R. Yitzhak Hutner’s Pachad Yitzchak (Tali Adler)
In this class we will study an essay by Rav Yitzchak Hutner, the Pachad Yitzchak, in which he argues that the unwrittenness of the Oral Torah is key to the covenant between God and the Jewish people. As we study, we will ask ourselves: what is lost when Torah is written down? What happens to the idea of Jewish uniqueness when our sacred text is shared by other religions? And how can the Oral Torah teach us about the value of intimacy--and even secrets--in our relationships?
Are Trans-Fats Kosher? Or: What Halakha Is and Isn’t (Shai Held)
In this session, we’ll ask: how does and how should Halakha process new (and sometimes frequently changing) medical information and advice? And then we’ll consider; how does the way we answer the first question affect the way we understand the nature and function of Halakha more generally? We’ll explore these questions through a careful examination of Halakhic debates around cigarette-smoking and see how just how much rides on a fascinating controversy over how to understand Maimonides’ project in the Mishneh Torah.
Deciding Halakhah: A Baghdadi Approach (Avital Hochstein)
She’elot U’Teshuvot (legal responsa) offer a crucial lens into the mindset of Halakhic authorities by laying bare the fundamental assumptions around the nature of Halakhah. In this session, we will read and analyze the introductions to books of legal responsa by two influential Sephardic sages: R. Yosef Hayim, a leading halakhist and kabbalist of 19th century Baghdad, and R. Ovadya Yosef, a 20th century Baghdad-born scholar who later became the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel. We will explore their approaches to such questions as: Must later sages defer to earlier ones in deciding Halakhah? What role do peers and colleagues play in rendering decisions? What is the goal of learning Torah and Talmud? And what are the basic differences between Ashkenazic and Sephardic approaches to Talmud Torah?
Break and Snack
Seder: Preparation for shiur electives with Tali Adler and Shai Held (see descriptions below)
Suffering and Divinity in the Thought of the Aish Kodesh (Tali Adler)
The Aish Kodesh, a collection of drashot delivered by Piaseczna Rebbe in the Warsaw Ghetto, provides unique insight into the mind of this hassidic master as he grappled with the theological implications of unprecedented suffering. In this class we will read several excerpts from the Aish Kodesh, and discuss how they might be applied to contemporary questions of national and individual pain, and what the limits of those applications might be.
Human Beings, God, and (the Rest of) Creation: The Bible in a Time of Climate Catastrophe-- Some First Steps (Shai Held)
As we face a massive and growing anthropogenic ecological crisis, many wonder whether the Bible has anything to offer-- and some go so far as to suggest that it bears much of the blame for where we find ourselves today. In this session, we will explore how Tanakh understands the relationship between human beings and (the rest of) creation and the controversial and much-maligned notion of "stewardship" found in Genesis 1 and compare it with the vision of a cosmic chorus praising God found in the Psalms (e.g. Psalm 148). With each text we’ll consider additional biblical parallels and contrasts as well as their contemporary implications.
Wednesday, March 18
9:45 am - 12:15 pm
Shiur K’lali --
Lying Rabbis: Between Policy and Integrity (Ethan Tucker)
Are leaders meant to be paragons of truth and integrity? Or is their job to serve their constituents at all costs? Does the Talmud allow rabbis to lie to advocate for economic outcomes that are important to them? We will consider how the different models offered in the Talmud can help us reflect on leadership and responsibility more broadly.
12:15 - 1:30 pm
Lunch and optional conversation: Reflections on our experience and what can we take with us
1:30 - 3:15 pm
Wishing Others Well: Why It's So Important-- and Why It's Often So Hard (Shai Held)
In this session, we'll focus on Ramban's interpretation of the mitzvah to love our neighbors as ourselves, which he takes to be an obligation to generously and open-heartedly wish well for others, indeed to want them to have everything we do. We'll discuss what leads Ramban to this interpretation, but we'll devote most of our attention to asking why this ideal is so important-- and why it is (or can be) so difficult and elusive. That will lead to consider the Rabbinic idea of "ayin tovah" and the intertwined problems of envy, competitiveness, and schadenfreude.