Why is it important for teens to learn Talmud? Talmud is the recording of over 700 years of Jewish thought that touches every aspect of human experience. Engaging in Talmud study allows teens to enter relevant and deep conversations about their lived experience through the use of our most epic, ancient anthology.
Talmud not only introduces Jewish teens to foundational Jewish knowledge, but also empowers them to engage with the rabbis of the Talmud and each other around timeless issues as diverse as how to prioritize conflicting values, how to avoid embarrassment, how to care for one’s family and the relative dangers of lions versus scorpions. Through a shared investigation into talmudic stories, proofs and reasoning, we have seen generations of teens explore how to order and think about their lives, both now and into adulthood.
The basic mode of discussion in the Talmud is that of makhloket, or debate. At Teen Beit Midrash, teens embrace the challenge of a good debate. The ideal form of debate, as presented in the Talmud, is that the discussion should be done “for the sake of heaven,” or, in more modern terms, to find out the truth of the matter and not for personal gain or animus.
The rabbis, or interlocutors, of the Talmud discussed the everyday matters of civil, criminal, ethical and ritual law, and would also debate the very structure of how to have those discussions, a meta debate to ensure a more just, civil society. The makhloket model offers yet another lesson for teens today: Even when one side loses the debate, every voice is important enough to be heard and recorded.
This preservation of minority opinions is rare in today’s society. Who knows when that opinion or voice might be just the one we need to protect the vulnerable among us, to re-imagine our Jewish journey as a people and to lead a new generation through uncertain times? At Teen Beit Midrash, we value all voices. Building an inclusive beit midrash, or study hall, where every voice can be heard, is a part of our tradition.
Community is essential to the life of our teens and to the study of Talmud. Traditionally, Talmud is studied in a hevrutah, or study pair. The Talmud in Masechet Ta’anit 7A teaches, “Just as fire does not kindle by itself, so too words of Torah do not survive by oneself.” Learning in hevrutah teaches us to listen, as well as to speak. Through this process, teens sharpen one another’s ideas, learn to disagree constructively, celebrate overcoming challenges and deepen their connection as chevrutot in a close-knit community. At Teen Beit Midrash, we have seen this commitment to community extend from chevruta learning to laughter over dinner, from teen leadership on Shabbatonim to the creation of a community that, like our ancestors, is resilient, even in the face of a pandemic.
At Teen Beit Midrash, we know that learning Talmud together creates an intimate and challenging program, a space where teens can explore Jewish identity, contemporary issues and deepen their knowledge in a pluralistic and inclusive community. This dedicated and diverse group of teens is excited to delve into traditional Talmudic texts in a multi-level beit midrash, to challenge themselves in a deeply caring environment and find contemporary meaning relevant to all of our lives. Learning Talmud is not easy, but we have developed a supportive program where teens progress, with their chevruta, at their own pace.
When we study Talmud, we open a library of Jewish heritage, Jewish innovation and Jewish resiliency. Through engaging with our multi-voiced, nuanced tradition, teens learn to articulate their own conclusions, disagree compassionately and connect our ancient wisdom to the challenges of our modern Jewish lives.
We are excited to share that Teen Beit Midrash will be running a summer session from June 23 to July 28. Teens entering eighth to 12th grade meet weekly for dinner and Talmud at Harvard Hillel in Cambridge (Tuesdays) or Hebrew College in Newton (Wednesdays), and currently, online. We are now accepting applications for the 2020-2021 school year.
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