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What a fantastic week it has been. I have had the incredible pleasure of participating in each inaugural class of Ma’ayan’s semester, and each was rich, fully absorbing, and thought-provoking. Taking part in our classes reminded me how invigorating learning Torah inside can be—especially with enthusiastic, insightful, expert, and engaging teachers like ours. In each class, I was transported to a world apart from the daily grind of work to do, calls to return, groceries to buy, meals to prepare, meetings to schedule. . . You know what I mean. It’s sometimes hard to imagine, much less remember, that adding one more thing to your schedule could possibly lighten the load, but this week I was reminded how nourishing learning Torah is, how taking the time to sit with friends and community members and study together refreshes and rejuvenates, inspiring me with new energy for all of my other endeavors. Eitz chayim hee feels particularly apt to me today.
If you have already joined a class, it was great to see you this week. If you have not–it’s not too late. We still have room in most courses, and I am pleased to say that even if you could not make it to class yet, you can listen online and catch up in time to join us for next week. Recordings will be made available to all those who register.
If you’re still deciding which class you might like to join, read on for my summaries of the start of Ma’ayan’s semester.
Atarah Gale started off this year’s study of Sefer Yirmiyahu with a brief review of the history that leads up to the Jeremiah’s period, and situated the sections of Jeremiah that we planned to study—after the destruction of the First Temple. On Oct. 25, the class focused on the story of Gedaliahu ben Ahikam, in whose memory we fast on Tzom Gedaliah (chapters 40-43). Our discussion acknowledged that the assassination of Gedaliahu was the final straw, and Jeremiah’s overall silence in this period reflected his sense of total defeat. Having encountered the text’s low point, we turned in the second class to some of the prophecies of nechama, or consolation, that Jeremiah delivers in chapters 30-32.
Through a reading of Genesis 12, the story of Abram leaving to go to Canaan, Rabbi Benjamin Samuels introduced a number of key concepts for his Love the Stranger course—the themes of “Otherness,” “Inclusiveness,” and “Stranger.” The other key word that arose time and again in our first session, and that he assured us will apply to the course’s treatment of each of these themes, is “complexity.” Rabbi Samuels opened the discussion with the recognition that this class is considering the legal history of conversion in a relatively unusual sociological context–21st century America, where the pressures of anti-Semitism are at a historical low, but the complexity of our community, which includes many people who are part of the destiny of the Jewish people, who identify as Jewish, but who may not have halakhic standing as Jews is at an all-time high.
Members of Sabrina Burger‘s new Women’s Beit Midrash began by mapping out Sefer Devarim, noting the moments of transition between Moshe’s narration of his speeches and the text’s contextualization of those exhortations. Following R. Menachem Leibtag’s approach to the structure of the Sefer, we considered how and why Moshe set up his main speech, which runs from the 5th to the 26th chapter, using a detailed description of the revelation at Sinai. Finally, we discussed the many meanings of Mishneh Torah, and looked at Ramban, Rashi, and Onkelos to deepen our understanding of the many repetitions, and the organizing logic of what Moshe repeats to Bnei Yisrael in Sefer Devarim.
According to Karyn Spero, because the books of Ezra and Nehemiah chronicle the return to Zion and the construction of the Second Temple, they give students insight into both First Temple religious life and the rabbinic Judaism that unfolds at the end of the Second Temple period. Our study began with a couple of verses from the end of Nehemiah (10:29-30), when the people renew their covenant with God–and we proceeded to unpack the notion of renewal (what is “re” and what is “new”?) and of a covenantal relationship. Our discussion of covenant brought us to explore texts from Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, which record God’s covenant with the Patriarchs and with the people of Israel covenant at Sinai. Next week we will continue to explore the nature of covenant with the notion of Shabbat as both covenant and sign.
Scholarships are available for all of our classes, so please don’t let the economy keep you away. If you have any questions, please email me at director [at] maayan [dot] org.
We look forward to learning with you!