My fall semester is about to begin. (Cue both excitement and trepidation.) The excitement is typical; I love the fall feeling of going back-to-school, its aura of shiny new possibility. The trepidation is less familiar to me, though I understand it. Last spring I took fewer classes than I had intended, for health reasons, and this term I plan to take more classes than ever before. Some part of me feels anxiety: can I carry this full a load? Only one way to find out, I guess.
The five classes span a broad range of subjects. As I begin my third year in the program, I'm starting to pay more attention to course distribution. I need to balance courses in Tanakh, Exegesis, History, Philosophy, Halakhic Literature, Kabbalah/Hasidut, Liturgy, and "Various" (everything from practical rabbinics to spiritual direction to world religions.) I'm also trying to stay on top of my documentation -- I just spent a couple of hours adding material to my "Learning Overview" binder. It's a good thing I find filing and sorting and list-making so satisfying.
This term I'm taking one history class (on the haskalah/Jewish Enlightenment) and one liturgy class (on the liturgies of Shabbat and weekday.) The other three classes are -- well, either two in Hasidut and one in exegesis, or the other way 'round. One is a class in Hasidic texts, one is a class in Rashi (an early medieval exegete) and the third is a class on a Hasidic Torah commentary which could either be filed under exegesis or under Hasidut depending on which eye you use to look at it.
For those who are interested, descriptions of each class follow beneath the extended-entry link. Does all of this mean I'll be blogging less? Maybe; though I think it's likelier that the rhythm of my posts will remain constant, and these new classes will shape the substance of what I blog about. In any event, I begin on Monday. It's almost time to dive in.
Here's what my fall semester (which will probably spill over into January, since the Jewish holidays got us off to such a late start) will involve:
The Jewish Emancipation, taught by Rabbi Victor Gross
For the Jew in the modern world Jewishness forms only one portion of his/her identity. By calling him/herself a Jew s/he expresses only one of multiple loyalties. And yet external pressures and internal attachments combine to make him/her often more aware of this identification than any other. Conscious of an influence which Jewishness has upon his/her character and mode of life, s/he tries to define its sphere and harmonize it with other components of self... It is with the age of Enlightenment that Jewish identity becomes segmental and hence problematic.
-- Meyer, The Origins of the Modern Jew
This course will focus on the external forces (political, cultural, and philosophical) that we know as "the Enlightenment" and the various responses that emerged from the forces of modernity. Some responses failed and some are with us today. Within the Jewish community the clash was between the traditional quietism and those who wished to break free from the established patterns of private and public group behavior and establish political self-determination and autonomy. We will examine to what extent the Jews were not mere objects of history, but had a religious/spiritual, communal, and political development that was authentically and distinctively their own. We'll explore how Jewish history was shaped at times by autonomous action and choice, at others by inaction and default. We will encounter rationalists, romantics, proto-Zionists, reformers, assimilationists, non-quietistic Hasidic rebbes, and proto-Haredim. The emancipation of Jewish women will also be studied.
Hasidic Texts and Spiritual Practice, taught by Reb Moshe Aharon (a.k.a. Miles Krassen)
A text-based introduction to Hasidism in its early stages. Emphasis will be on the Ba'al Shem Tov and his direct disciples, their fundamental ideas concerning the non-dual nature of creation and spiritual practices that support this view. Readings from the teachings of the Ba'al Shem Tov, Maggid of Mezeritch, No'am Elimelekh, Qedushat Levi, and others.
Liturgy of Hol and Shabbat, taught by Rabbi Sami Barth
This class offers a literary, historical, and religious approach to the daily and Shabbat liturgy. We will look at current scholarship concerning the development of the matbe'ah tefilah and the institutions and structures of Jewish liturgy. We will also study the text closely, looking especially at the implications of quotation or reference to Biblical/Rabbinic sources. The piyyutim of Shabbat and the daily service will be studied closely -- and there will be examination of the history and current customs of keriat haTorah.
We will examine the development of "traditional" forms of Jewish liturgy and also the ways in which contemporary forms of Jewish liturgy have evolved. We will look at classical sources of halakha and minhag and also some of the traditional commentaries to the siddur.
The Me'or Eynayim, taught by Rabbi Bob Freedman
This class will focus on exploration of the Hasidic text Me'or Eynayim. It was written by Menahem Nahum of Chernobyl, a disciple of Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezritch. His commentary is arranged as a commentary on Bereshit (Genesis.) We'll be studying from the Hebrew text, and we'll also be using the translation by Art Green, called Menahem Nahum of Chernobyl: Upright Practices, The Light of the Eyes, published by the Paulist Press.
A Taste of Rashi, taught by Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser
This tutorial will focus on Rashi's Torah commentary -- arguably Jewish tradition's central exegetical work. We'll look specifically at how his dense and pithy commentary teaches the reader how to tease out the hidden questions in Torah texts; how he interweaves midrash with his own interpretations; and what kinds of answers he offers to the questions he finds in the text. Since we're starting just after Simchat Torah, we'll begin with Rashi on Bereshit.
Three of these are ALEPH tele-classes, and the fourth is a tele-class offered by a rabbi I know through Ohalah. In all cases, we're spread across time zones and physical locations, and we'll meet via conference call. All of these will require hevruta study, too (paired learning, scheduled outside of class -- here's hoping I find a hevruta who uses Skype!) And the Rashi tutorial will be one-on-one work with my rabbi here in town.
I know the intellectual work will challenge me. During the months when my health concerns were at the top of my priority list, I didn't keep up with my Hebrew study the way I know I should have, so I anticipate that reading these Hasidic texts in Hebrew is going to be really slow going. (Not to mention the crash course in Rashi script...and in Rashi's koan-like way of thinking.)
But my real challenge will be absorbing all of this learning without succumbing to the temptation to move entirely into my head. I need to ground the learning in my heart and in my body, too. I need to integrate this intense intellectual stimulation with the other parts of my life: yoga, cooking, prayer, time with my husband and friends, space to savor the turning seasons. My other obligations, teaching Hebrew school and serving on a handful of community boards and committees. Mindfulness. Perspective. Presence.
If I can remain calm and pleasant to be around with five classes on my plate, I might be well on my way toward being the kind of person, the kind of rabbi, I mean to be.