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My final semester begins

I didn't manage to post about it last week -- things have been a little busy around here, for reasons which are probably obvious! -- but my final semester of rabbinic school has begun. (If you're new to this blog, and are curious about my program, you might enjoy the post ALEPH Rabbinic Program Q and A; you're also welcome to peruse the rabbinic school category of posts here, which collects what I've written about school over the last five years.)

I spent the summer working on my senior teshuvah (legal responsum paper) on the question of working with couples who choose hospital circumcision. It was a terrific project, and a challenging one. I'm grateful to have had the chance to work on it. Anyway, that was due at Rosh Hashanah, so I've turned it in, and am hoping that I won't be asked to revise it further. My fall semester formally began just before the high holidays started up; this fall I'm taking one class, doing one independent study, and finishing up my one incomplete.

My independent study will be in Jewish History and Life in the Middle Ages. ALEPH offered a course in medieval Jewish history last spring, taught by Reb Leila Gal Berner, but I wasn't able to take it because I didn't yet have childcare for Drew. (Last spring I participated in the ALEPH senior seminar, "Halakha and Paradigm Shift," but that was all I could manage in the days before daycare.) This fall I'll work from the syllabus from that medieval Jewish history class; I've just tracked down a bunch of fascinating-looking books, among them Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages (Mark R. Cohen) and Exclusiveness and Tolerance: Studies in Jewish-Gentile Relations in Medieval and Modern Times (Jacob Katz.) I'm going to do all of the reading, then ask Reb Leila for the set of paper topics and write a final paper to show that I've synthesized the learning. I wish I'd been able to take the class with my chevre last spring, but I appreciate Reb Leila's willingness to work with me on an independent study. (I also appreciate ALEPH's general flexibility, which is incredibly helpful now that I'm juggling school and parenthood.)

I'll also be studying some feminist exegesis this fall. Last fall I dove into that subject with a hevruta partner, but then I wound up in the hospital unexpectedly, and then we induced Drew's birth a bit early, and all in all my schoolwork got left by the wayside. So my hevruta partner and I will be finishing that up this fall after the holidays.

And my third class this fall is on Parashat ha-Shavua as a Mirror for Spiritual Development, taught by my friend Rabbi Shawn Zevit. This class is part of the three-year training program in hashpa'ah / spiritual direction. We'll be studying the parashiot (weekly Torah portions) and selected other texts (like Rabbi David Wolfe-Blank's Metaparshiot anthology) for the general themes of spiritual development they represent. The guiding question is, "How is God speaking to you through Torah (or how do you discern God's presence in your life through the parshah or sacred text being engaged), what is the message, and how can you incorporate this into your personal and professional life?"

Beyond these things, I'll be building a group spiritual direction practice here in my community, and hopefully also doing some writing, enjoying the season, and spending quality time with Ethan and with Drew! I'm really excited about the semester... and I can hardly believe that the end of this journey is actually in sight.

Of course, my learning won't end in January. The journey of Torah study is endless. But this period of formal study is only a few months away from coming to an end -- and while I'm perennially aware of how much I don't know and how much I have yet to learn, I also feel increasingly ready to be done with school. There's value in cultivating a lifelong state of "beginner's mind," but there's also value in acknowledging how far I've come, and acknowledging and honoring the teachers and the community who have helped me get here over the last 5+ years.

I'm starting to feel ready for the end of this chapter and the beginning of the next, whatever it may be. I'm not quite there yet, though! For now, it's time to do some homework for my Thursday class (reading Barbara Breitman's essay "Spiritual Transformation: A Psychospiritual Perspective on Jewish Narratives of Journey")  and then to dive into preparing to lead services on Yom Kippur...