Winter Learning Institute in DC

SCHEDULE (subject to change)

December 22-24, 2019

Sunday, December 22, 2019

10:00-10:30 am

Check in

10:30-11:30 am

Opening Shiur

And Those Not With Us Here Today” - Reflections on Obligation and the Nature of the Jewish People’s Covenant with God (Ethan Tucker)

The Torah does not leave much room for choice in our relationship with God, at least not in its fundamentals.  The terms of the covenant are not subject to the line-item veto of individuals and they span the generations without even soliciting the consent of those born after Sinai.  We will conduct close readings of the Biblical passages that lay out this approach, engage rabbinic sources that reveal this perspective and follow up with the radical reevaluation of this entire framework that increasingly defines contemporary American Judaism.

11:30-11:45 am

Orientation

12:00-1:00 pm

Lunch

1:00-4:00 pm

Seder and Shiur

Beyond the Letter of the Law:  Responsibility, Ethics, and the Limits of Halakha

In these sessions, we will spend significant time delving deeply into the concept of lifnim mishurat hadin--going beyond the letter of the law or not walking right up to the legal line.  This phrase and concept appears in a variety of Talmudic passages and we see rabbis departing from black-letter law to pursue this different and possibly higher standard.  Why do rabbis sometimes do this?  Is their behavior meant to be exemplary for us?  When we think about our legal and religious obligations, is the realm of ethics something beyond what is strictly required of us or is it a firm expectation that nonetheless can't be captured by the formal limits of law?

4:00-4:30 pm

Snack Break

4:30-5:15

Minha, Candle Lighting, and Arvit

5:30-6:45 pm

Three Class Options

"There is a Yes like a No": When Hiyyuv Overrides Consent (Rabbi Aviva Richman)

We will study a talmudic passage in tractate Bava Kamma that deals with the question of whether we have an obligation towards others that can override another person's explicit consent to cause harm.  This passage is one basis for fundamental ethics questions about whether we have autonomy over our bodies or whether we have a hiyyuv towards something greater than ourselves that constrains our own autonomy.  

 

Hey You, Down There: Do You Need A Hand? (Rabbi Avi Strausberg)

The Talmud and our traditional texts are committed to a system of obligation rooted in the idea of an in and out group, the Jews and idolaters, the faithful and the faithless, and as such, is replete with all sorts of problematic ways in which we're meant to interact or not interact with the aforementioned idolator.  Yet, when it comes to the multicultural and multiethnic societies in which we live, these black and white breakdowns paint the picture of a non-Jewish other that does not match up with the non-Jewish others with which many of us interact on a daily basis.  In this session, we'll ask: what are our ethical and moral obligations to our non-Jewish neighbors?  What are our obligations to the "other" and just who counts as an other these days anyways?  

Why Should We Care What God Wants? (Rabbi Shai Held)

In this session, we'll explore a crucial question that frequently goes unasked: why should we, as human beings and as Jews, care what God wants of us? We'll see how Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrestled with this question and we'll compare his approach to the way the Torah itself engages with it. Along the way, we'll ask: what's the relationship between our obligations as Jews and our obligations as human beings?

6:45-7:30 pm

Dinner

7:30-8:30 pm

Panel Discussion on Hiyyuv with Rabbis Shai Held, Aviva Richman, Avi Strausberg, and Ethan Tucker

Monday, December 23, 2019

7:30-8:30 am

Shaharit

8:30-9:30 am

Breakfast

9:30-12:30 pm

Seder and Shiur

Beyond the Letter of the Law:  Responsibility, Ethics, and the Limits of Halakha

In these sessions, we will spend significant time delving deeply into the concept of lifnim mishurat hadin--going beyond the letter of the law or not walking right up to the legal line.  This phrase and concept appears in a variety of Talmudic passages and we see rabbis departing from black-letter law to pursue this different and possibly higher standard.  Why do rabbis sometimes do this?  Is their behavior meant to be exemplary for us?  When we think about our legal and religious obligations, is the realm of ethics something beyond what is strictly required of us or is it a firm expectation that nonetheless can't be captured by the formal limits of law?

12:30-1:30 pm

Lunch

1:30-2:15 pm

Singing with Rav Aviva Richman

2:15-4:15 pm

Three Class Options

Exiting Obligation--Can Apostasy Undo Your Jewishness? (Rabbi Ethan Tucker)

Is it commonly held and assumed that once a person is Jewish, whether by birth or conversion, there is no way out of that status.  We will reexamine that proposition, as we follow the intriguing trail of sources that seem to think that one can “unbecome” a Jew in ways that, while hardly traditionally approved of, might nonetheless be legally and socially effective.

The Fast That God Desires: Love, Justice, and the Meaning of Genuine Worship (Rabbi Shai Held)

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. In this session, we'll wrestle with Isaiah's words and with their implications for our lives.

What if the Torah was Made to Fit Me?:  Embracing Hiyyuv through Tefillin (Rabbi Aviva Richman)

We will take a journey through halakhic sources on the obligation to wear Tefillin, cases of exemption and evasion.  What is the significance of who has been included and excluded, encouraged and discouraged in this embodied practice of accepting hiyyuv daily?  What are the privileges, challenges and risks of assuming that Torah was made to be lived out by my body?

4:15-5:15 pm

Minhah, Candlelighting, and Arvit  

5:15-6:45 pm

Two Class Options

Stewardship and Beyond: The Bible in a Time of Climate Catastrophe, in partnership with Interfaith Power and Light (Rabbi Shai Held) 

Climate change poses a massive threat to God's creation.  We human beings have wrought this crisis and, if total disaster is to be averted, we will have to change our ways.  How does the Bible understand the relationship between human beings and (the rest of) creation?  In this session, we'll explore the controversial and much-maligned notion of "stewardship" found in Genesis as well as the vision of a cosmic chorus praising God found in the Psalms.  We'll ask whether and how these two images can help us re-imagine our place, and our responsibilities, in and for the world.

The Pandora’s Box of Religious Autonomy (Rabbi Ethan Tucker)

The Torah does something surprising in more than one place: it grants individuals the right to bind themselves to obligations not already articulated in the Torah, and then gives these self-imposed obligations the status of Biblical law.  This is harmless enough when a person binds themselves to obligations that don’t conflict with normal religious practice.  But what happens when someone takes a vow not to perform a mitzvah?  Can the voluntaristic commitments of an individual ever override more universal requirements of the Torah and halakhah?

7:00-7:45 pm

Dinner

7:45-9:00 pm

Public Program with Rabbi Aviva Richman--invite your friends to join you!

Born Into Debt? The (Egalitarian?) Gift of Hiyyuv (Rabbi Aviva Richman)

Is hiyyuv a burden, responsibility or privilege? Is everyone "born into" religious obligation equally, or does the experience of hiyyuv divide along social and experiential lines such as gender? Through the lens of wide-ranging Jewish texts, from classical rabbinic sources to modern Jewish philosophy, to feminist ethnography, we will probe the way hiyyuv intersects with real needs and commitments we hold dear, and confront the power and challenge of an egalitarian view of hiyyuv.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

7:30-8:30 am

Shaharit

8:30-9:15 am

Breakfast

9:15-11:30 am

Shiur Klali (Rabbi Shai Held)

Beyond the Letter of the Law:  Responsibility, Ethics, and the Limits of Halakha

In these sessions, we will spend significant time delving deeply into the concept of lifnim mishurat hadin--going beyond the letter of the law or not walking right up to the legal line.  This phrase and concept appears in a variety of Talmudic passages and we see rabbis departing from black-letter law to pursue this different and possibly higher standard.  Why do rabbis sometimes do this?  Is their behavior meant to be exemplary for us?  When we think about our legal and religious obligations, is the realm of ethics something beyond what is strictly required of us or is it a firm expectation that nonetheless can't be captured by the formal limits of law?

11:30-12:00 pm

Closing Program