Rabbinic Yeshiva Intensive
March 10-13, 2019
Adar II 3 - Adar II 6 5779
Sunday March, 10
Arrive and Shmooze
Dinner, Introduction, and Orientation
Opening Seder and Shiur:
Love Your Neighbor And/As Yourself: A Textual-Spiritual Exploration in the Spirit of Ramban (Shai Held)
Rabbi Akiva teaches that ve-ahavta le-rei’akha kamokha is “the great principle of the Torah,” but it isn’t at all clear what the verse actually means. In this opening session, we’ll do two things: get a sense of how parshanim (commentators) and poskim (Halakhic decisors) have understood the commandment, and then focus especially on the interpretation offered by Ramban: that we should sincerely want others to have everything we have. And that will lead us to ask: what would a person who truly fulfilled this commandment look like, and what gets in the way so much of the time? Along the way we’ll try to decide: is self-love a virtue or a vice, a prerequisite for fulfilling the mitzvah of loving our neighbor or an obstacle to it?
Monday March, 11
9:15 am -12:45 pm
Talmud Seder and Shiur
Living Together in the Face of Difference (Avital Hochstein)
Human beings are extremely diverse; communities, accordingly, are each unique in their own way. The differences between communities are expressed in the ways they conduct themselves, not least in the ways they approach halakhah and minhag. In these sessions, we will carefully examine strategies that emerge from traditional sources for shared living in the face of real differences. We’ll explore how these sources wrestle with disparities in halakhah and minhag and we’ll probe the costs and the benefits of different approaches to managing difference. A fascinating sugya from Yevamot 13-14 will form the heart of our exploration.
The Price of Pain: Fairness and Justice in the Talmud (Avi Strausberg)
When one person's injures another, the rabbis step in to design a method by which to objectively appraise and place monetary value on the pain and shame caused to the harmed party. In these sessions, we'll look to the sugyot surrounding an “ayan tahat ayan,” or an “eye for an eye,” as the rabbis wrestle with different competing values of justice, equity, and fairness as they attempt to do the impossible: fairly, adequately, and objectively compensate for both visible and invisible damage caused to another.
Halakhah of Illness: Dignity and Risk, Agency and Advocacy (Aviva Richman)
In a close reading of Yoma 83a, we will work through questions about how illness speaks in halakhic discourse. Whose voices(s) carry weight? How can concern for a person's welfare simultaneously honor their sense of dignity and voice, and even leave room for the choice to take risks?What does it look like to be an advocate and ally? We will approach talmud through traditional commentaries, academic critical methods, and contemporary medical ethics and disability theory.
“Loving Children and Faithful Disciples”—Balancing Divine Commands and Familial Loyalty (Ethan Tucker)
One of the most basic commands in the Torah—and one of the most basic instincts many of us have—is to honor our parents. Many Jews, when asked about a basic Jewish value will respond: “family.” But there is no question that the rabbinic tradition also commands us to follow the mitzvot even when they require rejecting the direction of parents, all the more so that of other relatives. How do we balance this? How do our rabbinic sources engage this tension? What guidance might we provide to those who consult with us on these matters?
We will tackle these questions through two days of intensive study of Talmudic passages, rishonim, and aharonim and responsa from various periods.
Lunch + Free Time
Torah Lishmah: When Less is More (Dena Weiss)
While all Torah learning is considered valuable, Torah Lishmah, study for its own sake and for the right reasons, holds pride of place in Jewish thought. In a creative reading of the story of Sarai and Hagar, the great Hassidic master, Degel Mahaneh Ephraim, reflects on the tension between quantity and quality in the quest for Torah learning.
Cain, Abel, and the Rabbinic Imagination: An Advanced (Re-)Introduction to Midrash (Shai Held)
What were Cain and Abel really fighting about? What responsibility does God bear for “causing” the fight between them? What are to make of God’s failure to intervene when Cain is about to murder his brother? What is the relationship between human responsibility for committing evil, on the one hand, and divine failure to prevent it, on the other? In this session, we’ll carefully explore both Genesis 4 and Midrash Tanhuma’s interpretation(s) of it. We’ll focus both on what the Midrash says and on how it pins each interpretation on problems and anomalies in the biblical text.
Happily Ever After? The Promise and the Difficulty of Interpersonal Dialogue (Avital Hochstein)
Dialogue is frequently a challenging experience. Through a close reading of a short story from Massekhet Nedarim (66b) about the marriage of a man from Bavel and a woman from Eretz Yisrael, we will focus on the challenges of dialogue, exploring both the difficulties posed and the opportunities made possible by dialogue between people, between spouses, and between the Jews of Bavel and the Jewish of Eretz Yisrael. Together we will probe the potential and the limitations of words in interpersonal relations.
Honoring a Dishonorable Legacy: The Talmud's Frame for Reparations (Jason Rubenstein)
What could Torah offer the contemporary conversation around reparations for slavery in the United States? A surprising and poignant moment in inheritance law offers a starting-point: do children who inherit property stolen by their parents have an obligation to return it, and if so—why? We'll consider a fascinating moment here where the Talmud, starting from moral premises that are best described as conservative, arrives at “liberal” program. In conclusion we will discuss whether, and how, this study can influence our participation in American political life.
Snack + Break
Seder: Preparation for shiur electives with Ethan Tucker and Shai Held (see descriptions below)
Uniformity and Diversity: Left-Handedness in Halakhah (Ethan Tucker)
In this class, we will explore a range of sources that discuss the proper behaviors of left-handed people in various rituals. At the heart of these texts, and the debates surrounding them, is an implicitly shared question: When do we understand the law to demand uniformity, even at the price of repressing difference and exclusion? And when do we understand the law to refract itself through the lens of human diversity? We will consider how the sources we learn might also enable us to engage modern ideas about sexuality through a more productive lens.
A God of Love, Mercy, Forgiveness... and Punishment: Exodus 34:6-7 and Its Afterlives (Shai Held)
In this session, we’ll carefully explore two biblical verses—Exodus 34:6-7 (“the thirteen attributes of God”) and see what they can teach us about biblical theology in general, and about the Bible’s conception of divine love in particular.These verses are so central to biblical religion that they are cited more often within the Tanakh itself than any others. We’ll see how the description of God in these verses interacts with the one in the Ten Commandments, and we’ll investigate how other biblical texts—BeMidbar, Micah, Yoel, Yonah, and Tehillim—reflect on and reinterpret the vision of God conveyed in these verses.
Tuesday, March 12
9:15 am - 12:45 pm
Talmud Seder and Shiur (Day 2, same as Monday)
12:45 - 1:45 pm
Lunch and Conversation with Shai Held and Avi Killip: How can Hadar contribute to your Rabbinate?
Finding Song in Times of Chaos: Stories from the Talmud (Aviva Richman)
We will take a deep dive into messy Talmudic stories and Midrash about the role of song and silence in navigating a world of chaos. How can song carry us through the tumult of joy, sadness and confusion that life throws our way? When is it time to stop singing? Is song meant to settle us or sometimes meant to shake us up? Through stories that highlight the role of song in some of the most foundational moments in our canon, we will probe our own relationship to song and silence in our lives and times.
A Failed Experiment in Brotherhood: Kayin and Hevel in the Netziv’s Ha’amek Davar (Tali Adler)
Described by some as a work of 19th century midrash, the R. Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin’s (“the Netziv,” 1816-1893) Ha’amek Davar blends close reading, psychological insight, and rabbinic sources to produce innovative portraits of Biblical characters. In this class we will explore the Netziv's interpretation of the story of Kayin and Hevel, how it compares to the classic commentaries from which he draws, and what we gain and lose as readers and religious beings from his humanized and empathetic portrayal of Kayin.
Chasing the Ineffable: Israeli Poets on God (Avi Strausberg)
We attempt to access through liturgy, midrash, Torah, and metaphor that which cannot be adequately translated into language: the ineffable. In this session, we'll turn to words of modern Israeli poets, many of whom self-describe as secular, as they offer us another window into our exploration of God, prayer, and everything in between.
Does the God of Tanakh Really Command Genocide? Wrestling with Devarim and Yehoshua (Shai Held)
For many readers, few things in Tanakh are more unsettling and disturbing than the notion that God commands the mass murder of the native inhabitants of the land of Canaan. Not surprisingly, scholars who explore the connections between religion and violence in general, and between the Bible and violence in particular, tend to focus especially on this vexing issue. Some rabbinic interpretations of these texts attempt to “soften” the command, and in recent years some modern scholars have questioned whether the text is really commanding genocide at all. In this session, we’ll wade into these treacherous waters—closely investigating Deuteronomy 7 and Joshua 11 and the very complex ways they have been and continue to be interpreted. Full disclosure for those for whom such approaches are uncomfortable: we will make abundant use of historical-critical methods in our study.
Break and Snack
In this slot, we’ll be engaging in an experiment. There will be three workshop sessions, each with a different focus: Those led by Ethan Tucker and Shai Held, will be structured as conversations based on your input. We invite participants to submit questions about Halakhah for Ethan, or about Tanakh or Mahshavah (Jewish thought) for Shai. Ethan and Shai will then select up to three questions and workshop them, either addressing the question directly, sharing their approaches to researching and thinking through these types of questions, or facilitating a discussion of the relevant issues.
(If not enough questions are submitted, Ethan and Shai will offer shiurim of their choice in this slot.)
A third workshop, led by Avi Killip, will invite the group to explore what ancient Jewish texts teach us about racism in America today. We will explore three Talmudic frameworks for understanding the role of racism in our country. All are invited to workshop these ideas and think through how they might be useful, and where their application is limited or maybe even damaging.
Optional Hebrew Language Public Program at Hadar with Rabbi Avital Hochstein - President of Hadar in Israel
?ארץ ישראל ובבל - כך היה וכך יהיה
הגמרא במסכת נדרים מספרת על איש בבלי שמגיע לארץ ישראל ונושא אשה ישראלית. ראשליה או פנטזיה? קומדיה או טרגדיה? באמצעות הסיפור נחשוב על יחסי ארץ ישראל ובבל אז והיום, על מגדר ועל יחסים בכלל
Wednesday, March 13
9:45 am - 12:15 pm
Shiur K’lali --
How Much Must One Sacrifice to Perform Mitzvot? (Ethan Tucker)
We know well the rabbinic rule that one is expected to make the ultimate sacrifice—martyrdom—rather than violate the three cardinal sins of idolatry, incest and murder. But what about more common violations of the Torah, or obligations we are expected to fulfill? How far are we expected to go monetarily in our pursuit of mitzvot? Are mitzvot ever so expensive that the mere cost involved exempts us? These questions engage us in larger ones: Is a life of mitzvot only expected once one has secured a basic standard of living? Or is the entire purpose of life to live out the Torah's vision, such that significant sacrifice is demanded in all areas of Jewish law and practice?
12:15 - 1:30 pm
Lunch and informational conversation: Reflections on our experience and what can we take with us
1:30 - 3:15 pm
Lament without Resolution: Exploring Psalm 88 (Shai Held)