This week's portion: harvest blessings

Plunging into fall

Over the course of the last year I've grown accustomed to explaining that I'm studying to become a rabbi. I've even gotten to a place where I can say who I am and what I do without breaking into a goofy grin...most of the time.

My first year of rabbinic study has been uplifting, occasionally overwhelming, and overall wonderful. I filled in for my rabbi during his four months of sabbatical, did a nine-month unit of CPE, and took my first few courses toward the sixty I ultimately need to complete in order to be a candidate for smicha someday.

This fall I'm taking another giant leap in that direction. Having stepped down from the executive directorship of Inkberry, I'm about to begin my new incarnation as a full-time rabbinic student. Although one of my summer classes ("Reading Reb Zalman," which has led to two recent posts) is still in-progress, my fall semester officially begins tomorrow. Well, I'm easing in; one of my courses has been going for a while, one begins tomorrow morning, and the other two will start in a little while.

Two of my courses this term are in the general realm of Tanakh, one is a philosophy class, and the fourth will be my first class in halacha. Want to know more about what I'm studying and with whom? You're in luck; read on.


Here are the four classes I'm taking:

  • Our Ancestors' Search for God: The Many Faces of God in the Bible -- This course, taught by Tamar Kamionkowski, is part of the Reconstructionist Rabbinic College's new distance learning program.

    The course description says, "We live in communities in which many ideas of God reside side by side. We often assume that our ancestors must have had more stable and consistent experiences of God, yet a close examination of biblical texts teaches us that our ancestors grappled with many of the same issues that confront us today regarding the nature of God. In this course, we will study a range of biblical texts that testify to the diversity of opinions that our ancestors held."

  • 'NaKh Tutorial -- This is an independent study, with my rabbi, Jeff Goldwasser. The astute reader may recall that this very course was on my summer slate. But my summer was busier than expected; between my congregational responsibilities, my last few months at work, the blog con, and a few assorted health issues, I didn't actually complete the work I had set out for myself. So this has shifted to become a fall class, instead.

    I've completed my study of Ruth; we're working now on Hosea, and we'll finish up with Jonah. I'm reading the texts in English and in Hebrew (as best I can), researching a variety of sources that explicate the texts in question, and writing academic papers that double as sermons about each of the books we're studying. Good stuff.

  • Redeeming a Broken World: Messianism in Modernity -- This Williams course is taught by Sarah Hammerschlag. I'll be doing some extra work to "elevate" it to graduate level.

    Here's a description: "The sociologist Zygmunt Bauman has described modernity as the period of the world's disenchantment, when God absconded and religion was either rationalized or reduced to the category of superstition. Ironically, this very disenchantment might help to explain the persistence of the concept of the messianic in even the most secular branches of modern European thought. One of Judaism's most powerful and elastic concepts, the notion of the messiah saw a variety of radically different interpretations between the 17th and 20th centuries.

    "This course will consider the range of modern interpretations of the messiah, taking as its concrete starting point the Sabbatian Heresy of the 17th century and concluding with Derrida's philosophical development of the concept of the messianic as pure interruption. The course's aim is to use messianism as a focal point around which to consider the dynamic relationship between philosophy and Judaism in modernity."

  • Cosmic Halachah -- This Aleph telecourse is taught by Reb Daniel Siegel (the first person to receive smicha from Reb Zalman, and a member of the Aleph va'ad.) He writes, "Halachah is the behavioural expression of the experience  of the divine. When a student wants to watch the teacher tie his or her shoelaces, it is to see the connection among the fine detail of practice, the revelation at Sinai, and the final redemption.

    "In this class, part of the sequence of courses in halachic method and sources, we will explore the mystical roots of halachic codes and their authors as well as specific topics such as halachah as a community building tool, private and public prayer, and kashrut."

I like the balance of subject matters, and I also like the balance of study modalities -- one online class, one tutorial, one course in a university classroom, and one tele-class.

In addition to these, I will (predictably) have a few other things on my plate. I'll be volunteering at my synagogue (teaching in the religious school again, and generally making myself useful), and working with my niece on her studies toward becoming bat mitzvah. I hope to involve myself with a journal of Jewish writing that I've long admired -- more on that as the situation warrants. Meanwhile, I'm hoping to continue strengthening my davvening practice, and focusing creative and personal energies in the places where poetry and prayer intersect. In other words, it's going to be a really busy fall.

So I'm taking a deep breath, rolling up my sleeves, and preparing to dive in. Wish me luck...!

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