Sitting in the sukkah reading Ilana Pardes' Countertraditions in the Bible: A Feminist Approach, I have one of those moments where I feel like I'm getting away with something, earning credit for reading and discussing this book and its implications. (Do you ever have that feeling? That something you're doing is so much fun, you can't believe you earn credit, or wages, for doing it?)
My fall semester is finally fully underway. It's going to be a short and dense term. One of my summer classes is still ongoing; beyond that, I'm taking three tutorials -- rather than the more formal ALEPH courses which are now beginning and will run through January -- because I need to be able to complete my coursework by the start of December, before the birth of my son. (It's becoming clear to me that completing my final papers before he arrives may still be more of a challenge than I can rise to, but I'm trying to just let that be whatever it will be.)
This will be my last semester of fulltime rabbinic study. Most ALEPH students study part-time, but I've had the luxury of fulltime learning since I left Inkberry in my first year of school. It's strange to think that this rhythm, which has become so intimately interwoven with the round of my year, is about to change. Of course, parenthood will offer its own blessings... but since I don't yet know what those will be, the prospect of spending less time with my classmates and my texts is a little bit bittersweet.
In the spring I plan to take one class -- possibly two if I can swing a second one, but I'm not counting on it. Next summer I need to take three classes, two of which will be intensives at smicha students' week in Baltimore. (The other will be something I can schedule here at home, and if I only manage one spring course -- as seems increasingly likely -- I'll seek two courses outside of smicha students' week next summer.) In fall of 2010 I plan to take two classes, one of which will be my senior project. Anyway, this is the last time I'll ever be able to devote myself this fully to this learning, so I'm trying to make the most of it!
I'm taking four classes this fall: my last class in Hasidut, two very different exegesis classes (one focusing on feminist exegesis, the other on a personal mode of engaging with Torah text), and a class in psalms. For more on all of these, read on!
Living in the Presence: The Core Teachings of the Ba'al Shem Tov
The Ba’al Shem Tov, founder of Hasidism, taught that through ecstasy, joy, love, awe and conscious living one could experience the Living Spirit and make every day holy. In this class a master teacher of the Besht will guide you through the methods of textual inquiry that will enable you to uncover the historic and the contemporary meaning of key Hasidic texts in Hebrew. You will discover new ways to integrate the Besht’s teachings into your life and develop your skills at teaching Hasidic sources to adults. The course will blend niggun, meditation, lecture, hevruta study, lively discussion, and creative writing. Taught by Reb Burt Jacobson.
This course began in July at Kallah; then we took a hiatus for a few weeks, and picked it back up again in late August. It meets every two weeks until mid-November, and then I'll write a final paper addressing questions of how the core truths of the Baal Shem Tov speak to me personally and how I hope to integrate those teachings into my thought, my life and my work as a rabbi.
In this tutorial, we'll explore the psalms through various lenses. Each week students are assigned two or more psalms to translate, along with secondary sources (usually Talmud) which make reference to those psalms or cast them in a new light. Other texts for the course include a variety of Jewish reference works, James Kugel's The Great Poems of the Bible, and an extensive bibliography of psalm-related texts, as well as materials which will be sent by the instructor each week. Taught by Norman Shore.
So far we've worked on psalms 27 and 23, 15 and 24, 42, and part of 85, alongside various secondary sources and supplementary materials. I've been struck by the challenge and the pleasure of translating psalms for myself; the vocabulary is often difficult, but the poetic resonances and wordplay are delicious.
We will begin our course by learning about the various forms of exegesis and reviewing the history of Biblical exegesis as it has developed through the centuries. We'll review 9 different types of exegesis (as illuminated in Biblical Exegesis, Hayes/Holliday) and then delve into the Torah Journeys mode of exegesis, which presumes that the Torah text is not a record of something that happened to someone else at some other time but rather a timeless text which speaks to us today. Students will dive into Torah guided by the three primary questions of the Torah Journeys process: what blessing does this text hold for me? What challenge does it bring me? What practice for my daily life is it offering me? Taught by Reb Shefa Gold.
This class just began this morning, with a combination of lecture and deep discussion of the ins and outs of different forms of exegesis, the challenges of reading and teaching Torah in our congregations, and the questions each of us brings to the process of engaging with the text.
What are feminist readings of Tanakh, and what are their implications? What do feminist lenses enable us to see in our holy text, and how do the rubrics of various scholars enable us to see the text differently? As we work our way through weekly Torah portions (beginning with Bereshit) we'll also bring to bear the voices of The Women's Torah Commentary (ed. Goldstein), The Torah: A Women's Commentary (ed. Eskenazi), and other texts to be determined week by week (including but not limited to Ilana Pardes' Countertraditions in the Bible, Alicia Ostriker's The Nakedness of the Fathers, and Tikva Frymer-Kensky's Reading the Women of the Bible. Rosemary Tong's Feminist Thought will be our primary text on feminism qua feminism, and the questions and techniques posed by Tong will be brought to bear on the Biblical and extrabiblical material. Facilitated by Reb Laura Duhan Kaplan.
This tutorial is just now getting underway; we'll have our first meeting next week. In preparation for that, I spent part of today reading Bereshit, and Goldstein, and Pardes. Some of this is material I knew and loved when I was an undergrad, but haven't revisited in years. I'm having a blast already.
It's a good slate of classes. The Besht class is the largest class of the bunch -- there are six or seven students, I think. Two of my other classes are just two of us plus a teacher; one is three of us plus a teacher. It's nice to be spending this semester immersed in the tutorial (a.k.a. hevruta) model...and I like knowing that this is the learning which will be freshest in my mind, which I will carry forward with me, when we take the leap into the new adventure which awaits.