Morning Courses | Afternoon Courses
At the center of the Institute are a wide array of courses offered in morning and afternoon sessions. Each course has a maximum of 20 students and is led by a teacher who is also an Institute participant, presenting material that she or he loves in an inclusive style that encourages everyone to participate. Choose from classes in traditional texts, Jewish politics, poetry, Jewish ethics, dance and singing, Judaism and world religions, and contemporary topics.
Ozi Vezimrat Yah - God is my strength and my song. How do I know God further? How do I find my song? Will finding my voice, my song, bring me closer to that which is divine within and without? The very first songs of praise came out of people’s mouths from their hearts and were inspired by the moment. It is this moment of instinct, of creative revelation that we will be exploring together. Sessions will include breathing, sounding and vocal technique, learning and singing of established melodies and texts, as well as improvising melodies, texts, and rhythms of our own. We will be taking inspiration from Moshe and Miriam and the People of Israel as they sang Shirat Hayam (The Song of the Sea). Come prepared for delight.
Parts of the course you will stand in order to keep rhythms with your feet and bodies, while other times you will lay on your back on the floor. Accommodations will be made for participants who are unable to lie on the ground or to stand and move. Comfortable clothing is encouraged. Translations will be provided as necessary. No prerequisites are necessary. Singing skills as well as musical training are absolutely not required. Participants in this workshop should have a desire to engage in an adventure of breath and sound.
For centuries, Jews have told stories to one another, many of them adapted from the folktale traditions of their neighbors. And the reverse is also true: As they traveled and traded, Jewish storytellers transmitted Persian, Indian, and Arabian folktales throughout Europe. What was gained and lost in this process of translation? How do Jewish stories differ from their counterparts in other nations’ lore? In this course, we will read Jewish folktales from various Jewish communities, compare them with tales familiar to many of us from childhood, and explore what makes them different—and universal.
The Sephirot on the Tree of Life are metaphors for how we live and relate every day, as well as the aspects of God’s light that are reflected in our every action. We will explore each of the Sephirot and their dynamic relationships utilizing movement and meditation, chanting, text study, discussion, and journaling. Some of the meditations are from traditional sources, others more modern. Experience abstract Kabbalistic concepts in a more embodied way to integrate them into your life!
Gaining admission to the Bible was a hard-fought, tooth-and-nail process in antiquity, and many fine, upstanding, and spirited candidates were unfortunately forced to take their business elsewhere. This course will laugh and cry with books that didn’t get the Jewish canonical stamp of approval. We will be looking in particular at Judith, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, III Maccabees, and Tobit. Discussion ranging from the transcendentally existential to the humorously mundane will focus on the texts themselves and on a range of issues they bring up, particularly the process of canonization, and the nature of heroism, especially female heroism.
The idea that humankind might somehow take part in the identity of God sounds so foreign that Jews may shy away from it. And there are certainly hazards in thoughts of divine humanity. Yet the idea is deeply rooted in our own tradition, and perhaps the challenges we face (and cause) in this world demand such a grand conception of humanity’s potential. This Beit Midrash, satisfying for advanced learners and supportive of newcomers, will study texts from Bible, Dead Sea Scrolls, Midrash, Zohar, and Hasidut, with glances to non-Jewish traditions also.
Singing is much more than simply lyrics plus melody -- it is also the vocal experience itself, the feelings involved, and sometimes even our body movements may be part of the journey. Awareness of the songs' historical and cultural backgrounds also play a part. In this course We will be learning some Yiddish and Hebrew songs, revealing through them different aspects of sound, and experimenting with our voices and movements. We will share our Jewish musical heritage, create and improvise new tunes to old poems, make vocal arrangements, and explore our musical skills while enjoying doing music together
For over 2000 years, Jews around the world have written piyutim (liturgical poetry) to enrich prayer and express their yearnings for the Divine. In each region, piyutim were composed in local poetic and musical forms, creating a vast repertoire for different parts of the day, year, and life cycle. In addition to learning to sing piyutim in various styles from across the Middle East and North Africa, we will explore their imagery and ways to integrate their creativity into our own Jewish practice.
With a Black president and a Jewish Chief of Staff, the relationship between African-Americans and Jews is poised to (re-)emerge on the American political scene. In this course, we will use the tools of Critical Race Theory, one of the most exciting and challenging intellectual developments in the American academy today, to think about the idea of race itself. Should Jews and/or African-Americans embrace or reject the idea of “race”? What would it mean to move “beyond race,” and is that somewhere we wish to go (as Jews or otherwise)? Are Jews White? Is antisemitism a form of racism?
The Hassidic Masters offered readings of the Torah very distant from the more evident and conventional understanding of that sacred text. Examining passages from the homily-texts of Hasidism’s classical period, we will explore together the nature of the revolutionary transformation in the way Hasidism approached and understood the Torah.
We will also probe what the explicit and implicit ideas underlying that transformation might suggest to us today as a resource for a renewed Jewish spirituality.
Is there a literal approach to biblical interpretation in Jewish tradition? Or are there, conversely, different kinds of interpretation called literal? This course will examine four Jewish Bible commentaries that have been termed “literal”, Targum Onkelos, Rashi, Rashbam, and Ibn Ezra, on three key biblical passages: the parting of the Red Sea, Song of Songs, and the Akedah. We will also look at different theories of pshat and drash in the Talmud and Midrash. In these texts we will see alternative approaches to literal interpretation that exist in Jewish tradition and ask what, if anything, they share
In our naïve imaginings, Jewish law is merely a cumulative code of conduct that unfolds logically from Biblical and Talmudic rules. Within the raw data of Jewish legal discourse, we can discern a 2,000-year-old discontinuity of politicized contestations, personal innovations, and curious adjustments to evolving cultural and technological conditions. We will read rabbinic texts through which Jewish communities overrode old laws, set precedents, hardened schisms, and otherwise carried the drama of Jewish law into new territory. Our studies will explore the gamut from Talmudic case law through Reform responsa, and also peer into the future of Jewish law.
This course provides a look at how the rituals of Shabbat and Kashrut are based on the creation story of Genesis 1. We will discuss how this creation story was transformed from earlier pre-Biblical creation stories and came to represent a new understanding of God, the world, and the relationship between God and humanity. We will also explore how the covenantal relationship between God and the Jewish people and Jewish ritual practices such as Shabbat and Kashrut evoke and sustain the order of the world that God created, as described in Genesis 1.
Hebron carries a rich history of Jewish associations from Sarah and Abraham to its present-day prominence as a turbulent hot spot in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We will explore the nature of Hebron in Biblical and rabbinic texts as a prologue to a multimedia inquiry into the consequences of the current Jewish presence in the city. We will use written testimonies, maps, still photographs, audio and video materials, government policies, and eyewitness accounts to uncover the present nature of the city, the processes involved in maintaining and expanding Jewish presence there, and their profound effects on the Palestinian population.
Sefer HaAggada (The Book of Legends) is the classic Bialik-Ravnitzky collection of aggadic (non-legal) material from Talmud and Midrash. Its contents are diverse — midrashim (comments supplementing Bible stories); stories about the Rabbis themselves; and stories and ideas about the Land and People of Israel, Torah, Shabbat, etc. The Sefer HaBloggadah project started at last year’s Institute uses a blog to facilitate study of this text, one page per day. The course will study sample pages covered by the project so far, and will introduce people to the variety of Rabbinic aggada. Participants may volunteer to present one of these texts in the Shabbat afternoon siyyum on part one of the book.
The second paragraph of the Sh’ma warns that disobedience leads to destruction and exile. Though the Temple was destroyed and the people were exiled, we continue to recite this warning twice daily. The Mishnah and Midrash preserve some responses of the early Sages to this catastrophe. We will study some of their responses to see how they chose to walk the path of Torah in the shadow of destruction. Their deliberations will help us construct a new understanding of this passage for our own day.
Do Jewish theories of justice look beyond our own community? What, if any, is the philosophical basis for concern with those who aren’t part of our ethnic or religious group? We’ll look at classical concepts such as mipnei darchei shalom, tikkun olam, and tzedek umishpat, practical frameworks from the tzedakah system of the Geniza period and the contemporary Federation system, and theological perspectives articulated by thinkers such as Levinas and Buber. Most importantly, we’ll explore the theological framework that actually underpins our own conception of Judaism, and explore the implications of our beliefs on our political commitments.
We will read selections from the four Gospels and excerpts from contemporary scholarly interpretations of Jesus. Both as a class and in hevruta, our focus will be twofold. First, who was Jesus the Jew, and what did he stand for? Second, to what extent can we as 21st-century Jews adopt the message of the historical Jesus and use it to enhance our Judaism?
Change in Course:
In 1915, Mordecai Kaplan, founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, gathered a group of rabbinical students in his home on Saturday nights to study the writings of American psychologist and philosopher William James. Almost 100 years later, we’ll carry on this tradition by reading James in a Jewish context at the Summer Institute. James redefined religious belief in an age of science by focusing on the practical consequences of what we choose to believe. How did Kaplan and his early twentieth-century “havurah” apply James’s ideas in their reconstruction of Judaism? And what do we have to learn today from James’s “Torah”?
When preparing challah, traditional bakers separate a small piece of dough and say a b’racha (blessing) in commemoration of the biblical challah offering. In this class, while learning to bake a different bread each day, we will also look at the mitzvah of separating the challah and related practices and texts, and explore their meaning in terms of what we eat and how we eat it. On Friday we will bake the challot for the Institute’s Shabbat meals. No prior baking experience is necessary.
There are about 200 root words needed to understand the siddur prayerbook. Improve your understanding of Hebrew and experience prayer in a new way by learning these words in sign language. This is a good way to reinforce meaning for ourselves and to use as a teaching tool for those who teach Hebrew and prayer to others. We will learn parts of the service in Sign and participate in the Shabbat davenning as a group
How do the objects in our environment embody who we are and reflect our many identities? We start by taking inventory of our bodies and the objects that we use to adorn ourselves (and that may signal our identity to others), moving outward to the objects with which we surround ourselves in our homes and workplaces, our communities, and finally the world at large. How do these objects communicate who we are (to ourselves and others?) Do the objects take on special or even spiritual meaning to us? What do we hold close to ourselves? What do we yearn to own? What would we be devastated to lose? Do we build rituals around these objects? Do we share these rituals with others? Through text study that suggests a traditional context for how we live now, through lively discussion, and by constructing written (and/or visual) narratives around the objects in our lives, we will develop a deeper understanding of what we own and (hopefully) why.
Although many speak of their soul, few understand what the soul is. What are the characteristics of the soul? What are diseases of the soul? How can we cure our souls? The great Jewish philosopher, Maimonides, believed that “the improvement of moral qualities is brought about by the healing of the soul and its activities.” This course explores the ideas of Maimonides in Shemoneh Perakim, The Eight Chapters. Exploring these essential insights will enlighten your understanding of the soul and deepen your Jewish journey.
For the Hassidic masters the entire purpose of the Torah is to teach us how to walk in God’s ways. We’ll study commentaries to this week’s parasha, Ekev, by two of the greatest rebbes: Moshe Chaim Efrayim of Sadlikov (1748-1800), grandson of the Baal Shem, and Sholom Noach Berezovsky (1911-2000), the late Slonimer rebbe. Hearing them in stereo will inspire us to reexamine our own spiritual steps. All texts will be in Hebrew, and translations into English will be provided.
The Torah commands refraining from agricultural labor and letting the land rest every seventh year. The shemitah (sabbatical) year is observed to this day in the land of Israel. However, observing shemitah according to a literal reading of the Torah would pose practical challenges in a modern economy with Israel’s population density, and as a result, a number of competing solutions have been devised, reflecting the divisions in Israeli society and leading to a heated Supreme Court case.