Rabbinic Yeshiva Intensive
March 11-14, 2018
Adar 24 - Adar 27 5778
Sunday, March 11
5:30 pm Arrive and Shmooze
6:00 pm Dinner, Introduction, and Orientation
7:00 pm Opening Seder and Shiur:
Something I Did v. Something I Am: Reading King David and Psalm 51 (Shai Held)
When David first repents of his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband, he declares simply: “I have sinned against God.” But in a very different mode, in Psalm 51, he begs God to utterly transform and “create a pure heart” for him. In this session, we’ll engage in a close literary and theological reading of Psalm 51, and then we’ll compare the two very different modes of teshuvah presented in 2 Samuel and Psalms, and see how these two modes are developed by the Rambam and R. Joseph Soloveitchik, among others.
9:00 pm Arvit (optional)
Monday, March 12
7:45-8:30 am Shaharit (optional)
8:30 am Breakfast
9:00 am-12:30 pm Talmud Seder and Shiur:
Kiddushin: Models and Meaning (Avital Hochstein)
In this class, we will examine the opening sugyot of Tractate Kiddushin, delving into the Biblical and Tannaitic context for this rich, Talmudic discussion. We will first focus on the content of the sugya: What models of marriage does it present? What are the fundamental assumptions of each model? We will then turn to focus on the way the Talmud expresses itself on this topic in ways at once evasive, bold, and surprising. We will aim to emerge with tools not only for learning Talmud but for reading between its lines. Texts will be distributed in both the standard printed and the Hebrew Steinsaltz editions. The Soncino translation will also be available.
Arami Oved Avi—The Central Midrash of the Haggadah (Elie Kaunfer)
Together, we will examine the midrash that defines the Haggadah, uncovering new insights and understandings of this critical, rabbinic text. Why, of all midrashim, is this the core of the telling of Seder night? What is added to our understanding of the Exodus through these sometimes fantastical, rabbinic comments? Through parallel sources and other interpretations, we will aim to shed new light on the way we might read this text, and explore its relevance for Pesah and our own spiritual lives. Texts will be studied from the printed editions; Hebrew Steinsaltz edition will also be available.
Pray, Eat, Love: the Theology of Manna (Aviva Richman)
What kind of relationship did God mean to build with Benei Yisrael through manna, and what can this teach us about lack, nourishment, and abundance in our own religious lives? In our study of the lengthy and rich aggadic passages on manna found in chapter 8 of tractate Yoma, we will explore the diverse and complex theologies that emerge from this experience of deprivation and care. Methodology will include a focus on comparing the Bavli to parallel, midrashic sources.
Sanctity of Space, Ephemeral or Eternal? The power of קדושה ראשונה (Ethan Tucker)
The idea that the land of Israel retains a privileged status irrespective of the contemporary Jewish presence on it is one that has coursed through Jewish thought throughout the ages and was a powerful motivator for many modern Jews to return to their ancient homeland even if they had never laid eyes on any part of the Middle East prior to arrival. This problem becomes even sharper for the Temple Mount: How can I walk on the place where only the High Priest was once allowed to tread? We will explore a passage from Massekhet Megillah in depth on this question, tracing its echoes through subsequent Talmudic and halakhic discussions.
12:30 pm Lunch + Free Time
1:30 pm Minhah (optional)
2:00-4:00 pm Shiur:
Compassion and the Heart of Jewish Spirituality (Shai Held)
What does it really mean to “walk in God’s ways?” In this session, we’ll explore—both textually and emotionally—the ethical-spiritual challenge of being with and caring for people during moments of intense suffering and vulnerability. We’ll discuss the relationship between character (being compassionate) and conduct (acting concretely in compassionate ways) in Jewish ethics and we’ll think through some of the ways that fear can make it hard to live up to Judaism’s ideal. And we’ll ask: what’s the relationship between compassion for people and intimacy with God.
Enslaving Ourselves: A New Look at the Exodus (Dena Weiss)
On Pesah, we celebrate the liberation of our people and the difficult process by which we became free. In this class, we’ll look at the story of the Exodus from the very beginning and ask ourselves, how did we lose this freedom? What were the political and psychological factors and forces at work in the Egyptian and Hebrew communities that led to the dire state of slavery and how are those dynamics still at play in our own relationships to freedom, work, and responsibility? Our conversation will center around the commentary of the extremely popular and psychologically astute, 18th century commentary of R. Hayyim ibn Attar, the Or HaHayyim.
4:00-4:20 pm Snack + Break
4:20-6:15 pm Seder: Preparation for Shiur with Avital Hochstein, Jason Rubenstein, or Shai Held (see descriptions below)
6:15 pm Dinner Provided
7:00 pm Arvit (optional)
7:15-8:45 pm Shiur:
Gender Studies and Classical Jewish Texts (Avital Hochstein)
We will begin this session with a brief review of the various approaches to gender studies in the academic world. Using these tools, we will read a number of rabbinic texts and ask ourselves: How does the meaning of a rabbinic text change when read through the lens of gender critique? What insights do these various approaches offer? We will conclude with an overarching discussion of how gender studies can generate meaning, shape the academic study of Talmud, and influence our appreciation of Jewish sources more broadly.
The Torah Doesn’t Seem to Have A Place for People Like Me:
Maimonides as the Patron Saint of Marginalized Jews (Jason Rubenstein)
Maimonides is often thought of as a scientist, doctor, and legal thinker—and he is all of these. In this session, we’ll develop a new picture of Maimonides’ central project: developing a devoted, good-faith reading of the Torah without opening core beliefs to revision. The latter part of the session will be about taking Maimonides as a potential model for reading the Torah with an open mind and heart—and with our own firm convictions.
Love Your Enemies? First Steps Toward a Jewish Response (Shai Held)
Jesus famously tells his disciples to love their enemies. What, exactly, does he mean by this, and is he departing from Tanakh when he says it? In this session, we’ll try to make sense of the Gospel of Matthew; see what precedents in Tanakh Jesus might (or might not) have had; briefly explore the Talmud’s approach (or approaches) to this question, and ask: is loving your enemies a good thing?
Tuesday, March 13
7:45-8:30 am Shaharit (optional)
8:30 am Breakfast
9:00 am-12:30 pm Talmud Seder and Shiur (Day 2)
12:30-1:45 pm Lunch and Conversation with Shai Held, Elie Kaunfer, and Avi Killip: How can Hadar contribute to your Rabbinate?
1:45 pm Minhah (optional)
2:00-3:45 pm Shiur:
From Ethics of Sacrifice to Ethics of Care: early modern Jewish women on Akeidat Yitzhak (Aviva Richman)
Through the lens of t’khines (early modern, Yiddish prayers), we will explore a reinterpretation of Akeidat Yitzhak that is at once critical and pious. These women’s prayers refuse to glorify Avraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, in contrast to canonical, high holiday liturgy, and instead seek new meaning in the centrality of the akeidah. What can this stance of critique and piety teach us about our own approaches to theology and prayer?
Do the Egyptians Need an Exodus too? The Amazing Vision of the Prophet Isaiah (Shai Held)
According to the book of Exodus, God wants the Egyptians to come know God and recognize God through God’s dramatic liberation of the Israelites. But in an amazing prophecy (Isaiah 19), Isaiah imagines the Egyptians knowing God in a very different way—through God’s saving them from their own oppressors. What is going on here, and why does it matter?
Caring or Curing: The Permission to Heal and Human Presence in the Face of Illness (Sara Labaton)
Modern, conventional wisdom is that medical care is an appropriate response to illness. Some rabbinic sources suggest, however, that divine permission is required before medical care can be administered. As we live in a world where the power, morality, and efficacy of medical attention are generally undisputed, how do we engage with Jewish sources that question whether we have permission to deliver medical care at all? In our class, we will argue that this Talmudic notion retains deep and abiding relevance when put into dialogue with the laws of bikkur holim.
4:00-5:45 pm Shiur:
Thirsting for a Distant God (Shai Held)
What do we do when we are (or feel) far away from God? What is it like to feel a thirst for God that is so intense that we feel physically parched? Can we hold despair and hope, anger and confidence, all at the same time? In this session, we’ll examine Psalm 42-43, a magnificent, poetic prayer about yearning for a God who seems all too far away. We’ll read the text closely, line by line, and also explore the many complex issues of faith and doubt, confidence and anxiety that it raises, and we’ll ask how the psalmist’s quest is similar to or different from our own.
Transparency and Transformation (Dena Weiss)
According to the Hasidic master, the Ma’or vaShemesh, Moshe is the epitome of a great leader. This is not because Moshe always makes the right decisions, but because he admits his mistakes and shifts his leadership style accordingly. Moshe demonstrates that the role of the Tzaddik, the teacher and leader of a community is not to tell people to do teshuvah, but rather to inspire people to do teshuvah through the power of his own example. He asks us to reevaluate not only what it means to be a powerful leader but also what it takes to learn from one.
Mothering and Mitzvot: Taking Child-rearing Seriously in Understanding Halakhah and Aggadah (Jason Rubenstein)
We often assume that mitzvot are Judaism’s ethics, or that halakhah is Jewish law. But among all the different types of norms out there, are law and ethics really the best frameworks for conceiving of mitzvot and halakhah? In this session, we’ll develop one alternative, based in contemporary feminist ethics of care. Readings will include both feminist theory and classical, Jewish texts, and discussion will focus on the implications of reconceiving the “oughts” of Judaism in this new way.
Wednesday, March 14
8:30 am Shaharit (optional)
9:15 am Breakfast
10:00 am-12:15 pm When Love Meets Condescension, שוגג and מזיד—Broadly or Narrowly Defined? (Ethan Tucker)
One of the most significant challenges of contemporary Jewish communities is navigating when and how we can share space with Jews who practice differently from us. This often hinges on whether we perceive people as deliberately rejecting that which we hold dear or simply being insufficiently aware of truths we have come to take for granted. In the halakhic discourse around boundary breaking, this is filtered through the categories of shogeg/unintentional and meizid/deliberate. We will explore broad definitions of these terms that might allow us to expand our communal boundaries dramatically. But we will also consider whether such elastic boundaries threaten to eviscerate our own standards and principles. Furthermore, when does inclusion bleed into an unbearable condescension towards the integrity and intentions of others?
12:30-1:30 pm Lunch: Informal Conversation: Reflections on our Experience, and What We Can Take with Us (Shai Held and Avi Killip)
1:30-3:15 pm Love and Redemption: Ruth, Boaz, and the Model of Marriage (Elie Kaunfer)
In this class, we will attempt to offer a counter-narrative to the popular model of marriage: Adam and Eve. In fact, Ruth and Boaz offer a different model of the wedding (encoded in various wedding rituals and texts) that open up alternative understandings. Our goal will be to see the story—and the wedding ritual—in a new light.
3:15 pm Farewell
3:30 pm Minhah (optional)