My spring semester ends
May 09, 2010
Last week brought the final meeting of Halakha and Paradigm Shift, the ALEPH rabbinic program senior seminar. It's been a fantastic class. Reb Daniel is a tremendous teacher, and I have so much love and respect for the other students in my cohort that learning with them is a perennial joy.
We spent the first part of class talking through the final teshuvah (halakhic responsum paper) which we had been assigned to read and translate. And we spent the second part of class collectively brainstorming a list of the halakhic principles we derived from the texts we'd each taught to the group over the course of the semester (most of which were not explicitly halakhic texts -- mine was Reb Nachman on the cosmic need for opposition -- though we were asked to bring them to bear on the halakhic process, which sparked excellent conversations all semester long.) In recent weeks we'd been focusing closely on the teshuvot we were translating; this week it felt like we were zooming up and out, seeing the big picture which arises out of the pointillistic little details of each verse and opinion.
Our conversation was free-wheeling and wide-ranging, and it reminded me of exactly why I'm going to miss this class. When else in my life do I get to sit around a virtual seminar table with dear friends in New Mexico, Ohio, and Israel (among other places) and talk about what it means to us that the will of the majority trumps even a bat kol (divine proclamation) though majority rule also has its downsides and we want to remain conscious of the need to balance the will of the community with a sense of illumination from God? About how halakha exists and operates within human community, and it can't be divorced from that community? About the need to have a sense for what teachings and what rulings are needed in this moment?
We talked too about how as the world changes, God's relationship with the world may change, and we need to be flexible and open to change because God is ever-changing. How we create worlds with our words. How to balance the idea that halakha arises in the spaces between our differing opinions with the idea that klal Yisrael (the greater Jewish community) needs cohesion. How halakha must remain flexible in order to uphold principles which are higher than the laws themselves. How we each interpret Torah and halakha in accordance with our own qualities and points of view. How we need to bring beginner's mind, expert mind, and "sage mind" to each question we consider, because each of those gazes may lift up a piece of information which the others wouldn't...
It was a terrific conversation. We were going to talk also about the principles we'd discerned in the teshuvot we studied, but we realized we'd already gone well beyond our allotted two hours this time around, and that the time for this iteration of our learning was through.
Now each of us will turn to her or his own work: researching and writing our own teshuvot this summer. I've formulated the question to which I want to respond -- a question which has arisen more than once in my rabbinic student life -- and now I have to respond to it in a way which shows both awareness of existing halakha and an understanding of Reb Zalman's teachings about paradigm shift. It's a tall order! But I'm excited about beginning to do this work next month when I can turn to my studies a bit more intensively again -- and I'm grateful to have a cohort of such terrific colleagues to whom I can turn for support, brainstorming, and advice, not only now but in months and years to come.
For now, I'm feeling wistful. The learning has been fantastic. I'm going to miss this class a lot.