Past Courses from 2016

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, patient 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.

Extended Format courses meet during the regularly scheduled course time and the adjacent workshop time.

Morning Courses

(Skip to Afternoon Courses)

AM-01 Tales of the Wilderness: Shadow Puppetry for Your Sukkah

Yavni Bar-Yam (Artist in Residence)

Extended Format – Our people’s time wandering in the desert invites us to imagine ourselves in the lives of individuals on that epic journey. We will create visual stories for the holiday of Sukkot, drawing inspiration from three mostly blank canvases: the walls of a sukkah, as a shadow puppet stage; the expansive narrative of wandering in the desert; and the landscape of the wilderness, an evocative setting. We will work individually and in small groups to craft stories set in that period, design and cut shadow puppets, learn and develop new shadow puppetry and lighting techniques, and create a visual vocabulary for each performance. We will perform our pieces for the rest of Institute, to be ready to bring them home to our own communities and sukkot!

Photo of Yavni Bar-Yam (Artist in Residence) Yavni Bar-Yam has previously taught an NHC course on found-object puppetry as midrash on the creation story. In 2011, he built his sukkah with one wall made from a white sheet and invited people to sit outside while he spun a tale from the inside from words, shadow-puppets, and lighting effects. He is excited to help Havurahniks devise their own performances using the same principle. He brings additional new inspiration to share from spending time in Indonesia (the land of shadow puppetry) and from living in the heart of the Negev desert.

AM-02 Jewish Chess and Chessic Jews

Charley Beller and Zach Teutsch

From the early days of chess in the middle east and into the contemporary era, Jews have been key participants in some of the most amazing moments of chess history. Many of its champions, heroes, and–depending on one’s perspective–villains, have been Jews. Chess is a frequent topic in halachic discourse and a frequent fixture for filling Shabbat afternoons.

We’ll look at chess in Jewish thought and literature, along with Jewish giants of the game, from world champions Steinitz and Lasker to contemporary contenders. Each session will include discussion of chess in different historical, cultural, and religious contexts, as well as biographical sketches of important Jewish chess players. As part of the biographical sketches we’ll play through and analyze notable games. Basic familiarity with the rules of chess will be helpful.

Photo of Charley Beller and Zach Teutsch Charley Beller is an enthusiastic chess player, musician, and Yiddishist. He has led NHC courses and workshops on Yiddish song, string-games, and fatherhood. He works on artificial intelligence for IBM and lives in Baltimore. Zach Teutsch works in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Financial Empowerment. He also helps individuals make financial decisions and think about money and life choices in integrated and productive ways. When he isn’t working he's probably focused on building community, parenting, or playing ultimate frisbee.

AM-03 Responsibility, Talmud, and “What Difference Do I Make Anyway?”

Shahar Colt

Extended Format – What are the boundaries of personal ethical responsibility in a country that has the death penalty, where products enter our economy made by child slaves, and where our whole society has been saturated by the fallacy of white supremacy? How do we make decisions about where our personal efforts matter and where we can look away? Moreover, why would anyone look to Talmud study for answering these questions? Drawing on texts about the prohibition of chametz, a symbol from our narrative of liberation, we will explore these questions by jumping into rabbinic conversations about the various components and meaning of ethical responsibility. These challenging Talmudic texts invite readers to unpack them, lending themselves well to multi-layered thinking about their messages.  No previous experience with Talmud, Hebrew, or any other Jewish text is expected, but willingness for engagement and reflection on that challenge is recommended. Accessible entry to Talmud study is one of the teachers’ goals for the class, and we will examine the experience of exploring Talmud as part of our process.

Photo of Shahar Colt Shahar Colt serves as the Director of Congregational Learning at Congregation Dorshei Tzedek in West Newton, MA. Over the past five years she completed rabbinical school at Hebrew College, while serving in many community education roles as a teacher of 1st graders, middleschoolers, teenagers, and adults. She has been part of the NHC community for many years, volunteering as Shabbat and davening coordinator, teaching workshops, co-chairing the NHC Summer institute in 2013, and teaching an intergenerational Facing History and Ourselves course in 2014.

AM-04 The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah and Modern Judaism: An Answer to All Our Questions?

Jonathan Dine

The relationship between the diaspora and a Jewish government in the land of Israel, intermarriage, Jewish continuity, the importance of halachic observance versus ethnicity for defining Jewish community, and Judaism and the use of force may seem like distinctly modern questions, but all of these issues are discussed at length in the little-studied books of Ezra and Nehemiah. We will study excerpts from these works to see what answers and frameworks they can provide us to current Jewish issues and events.

Photo of Jonathan Dine Jon Dine currently works as an IT consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton in Washington DC. Outside of work he is on the Steering Committee at DC Minyan in downtown DC. He is a proud alumnus of the University of Chicago, where he took numerous Jewish Studies courses. Jon has also studied at the Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, was a fellow at Yeshivat Hadar in New York, and was a Zeitler fellow in 2014.  

AM-05 Cracking the Sefer Barrier: Breaking into Four Primary Jewish Texts

Ellen Frankel

Jewish literacy has an extremely high barrier to entry. Classic texts are written in a foreign language (sometimes in more than one), and meanings are often hidden by lots of insider code.

This course will provide an introduction to four ancient classics in the Jewish library: the Hebrew Bible, the prayer book, the Talmud, and the Midrash, each of them constituting mini-libraries in their own right. We will look at selected texts in English, unriddle their secret codes, and learn how best to hear their ancient voices with modern ears.

Photo of Ellen Frankel Ellen Frankel works as a freelance writer, librettist, and community volunteer. She is currently working on a novel about the Dead Sea Scrolls and an opera about the Triangle Factory Fire. She is the author of The Classic Tales, The Five Books of Miriam, and The JPS Illustrated Children’s Bible, as well as several librettos, including an opera about bigotry and personal redemption, Slaying the Dragon. She served for 18 years as Editor in Chief of The Jewish Publication Society. She has been coming to the Institute, off and on, since 1980.

AM-06 “Write Them on the Doorpost!” — The Practice of Writing a Kosher Mezuzah

Kevin J. Hale

Extended Format – “If you can walk, you can dance; if you can talk you can sing,” says a familiar quotation from Zimbabwe. And if you can write a mezuzah you can write a Torah. It is a mitzvah to “Write this song for yourselves,” to write an entire Torah scroll if possible, and it is a mitzvah to “Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates,” to affix mezuzot. The 22 lines of the mezuzah are written with the same tools, materials and, to a great extent, the same laws as an entire Torah scroll. This course is a theoretical and practical introduction to the writing of a kosher mezuzah scroll using quill, ink and parchment, following halachot from our sacred scribal tradition, and hopefully propelling us toward writing our own Torah scrolls as well.

Photo of Kevin J. Hale Rabbi Kevin Hale is a Sofer STaM, a traditionally trained Torah scribe who spends his days evaluating, repairing, and writing Torahs, tefillin, and megillot, including scrolls which survived the Shoah and belong to the Czech Memorial Scrolls Trust. His mentor was Rabbi Eric Ray, z"l, a world-renowned sofer, artist, and authority on the provenance of Torah scrolls. Kevin is a scholar and teacher of our sacred scribal tradition, and has served as a scholar-in-residence to congregations all over the country and beyond. In 2014 he wrote a mezuzah for Cafe Bergson, located in the former home of the last pre-war Jewish resident of Oswiecim, Poland, and operated by the Auschwitz Jewish Center. He is passionate about offering hands-on education, enriching our connection to Torah.

AM-07 Beyond Ashkenazim: Jews, Race, and Ethnicity, Past and Present

Liora Halperin

Most American Jews are of Ashkenazi (Central-East European) ancestry, look white by the current norms of American culture, and have family histories related to Jewish life in majority Christian cultures. But large parts of the world Jewish population are not Ashkenazi: 50% of Jews in Israel are of Sephardi or Mizrahi origin, and more than 50% of Jews in France are non-Ashkenazi as well (mostly North African). These Jews often have darker skin, speak or spoke languages like Ladino and Judeo-Arabic, and/or have heritage and family legacies related to living under Islamic rule. What is the history of these communities? How did they develop under the multiethnic Ottoman Empire? How did their experiences change with the rise of Arab nationalism in Iraq, Algeria, Morocco, and elsewhere in the Middle East and the rise of Zionism in Europe and then elsewhere in the Jewish world? What is the place of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews in the State of Israel, and how has historical discrimination against them shaped the contours of Israeli politics? What does the existence of non-Ashkenazi Jews in the United States and beyond mean for our contemporary conversations about memories of the Holocaust, the politics of Israel/Palestine, white privilege, Islamophobia, and social justice?

Photo of Liora Halperin Liora Halperin is an Assistant Professor of History and Jewish Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder where she also holds a professorship in Israel/Palestine Studies, the only so-named position in the country. Liora teaches Jewish History and the history of Israel/Palestine in both university and community settings and is excited to be coming back to the NHC this summer to teach her own course after co-teaching a course last summer.

AM-08 We Are All Artists: Questioning Our Perceptions of Creative Practice and Godliness

Michele Leah

Art is called “chochmah” in the Talmud, meaning “wisdom,” but does art have to be Godly or beautiful to be holy? Alternately, is inspiration akin to godliness? In this class, we will examine these questions through text study and discussion. We will relish in creative expression by making art and connect with a side of ourselves that is not concerned with being “good at” art. Through a series of exercises that will teach us basic drawing skills, we will think about visual expression and what we take for granted in how we see (or think we see) the world. Finally, the class with culminate in the creation of a collaborative piece. Seasoned artists and beginners welcome!

Photo of Michele Leah Michele Leah is a real, live person. Sometimes she goes to shul, and by "shul," she means “minyanim.” (Usually Tikkun Leil Shabbat and Segulah, although not at the same time.) In addition to spending her time with the other lovely folks on the TLS organizing committee, she plans other Jewish DIY thingamajigs in Washington, D.C. where she lives with housemates, but no pets because she is allergic to all the animals. Michele is - in theory - a writer. Like, for a living. Also, she paints, enjoys double rainbows, sea shanties, baking without a recipe, and being nocturnal.

AM-09 Life at the Margins: Newborns and the Elderly in Jewish Law and Lore

Micha’el Rosenberg

This course is motivated by what seems, to the eyes of those raised in the political culture of contemporary America at least, a strange incongruity in rabbinic literature: while rabbinic texts take a shockingly (even scandalously) cavalier attitude towards the value of the (potential) life of fetuses and newborns, these same authors and editors created texts in which the hastening of death of the elderly by even a moment is condemned unambiguously as murder. We will look at an assortment of both legal and narrative passages to interrogate both this rabbinic divide as well as our own assumptions about when life (should) begin and when it (should) end. How can reading texts from a time when infant mortality and end-of-life care was so radically different than it is in our own time help us think productively about our own assumptions and values?

Photo of Micha’el Rosenberg Micha'el Rosenberg is assistant professor of rabbinics at Hebrew College in Newton Centre, MA. Formerly the rabbi of the Fort Tryon Jewish Center in Washington Heights, NYC, he was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and received his Ph.D. from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. He is the co-author, with Rabbi Ethan Tucker, of the forthcoming book Gender Equality and Prayer in Jewish Law (Urim, 2016).

AM-10 The God of Our Understanding

Joseph G. Rosenstein

The intention of this course is to help each participant clarify the God of his or her understanding. This will not be a course in academic theology, but will primarily be a discussion of the various issues that the participants have as they wrestle with the notion of God. The structure of the course will be provided by the issues that arose for me as I was writing Siddur Eit Ratzon. Drawing on my experience over the past 25 years in leading guided meditations and, later, writing prayerbooks, I will try to describe the understanding of God that I seem to have arrived at, and how that understanding works in my life. This course will, I hope, be interesting and challenging both to those who believe in God and those who don’t, as well as to all those who are not sure how they would answer that question.

Photo of Joseph G. Rosenstein Joe Rosenstein has served as chair of the NHC and its summer institute, of which he is a founder and at which he has taught many times. He is the author of Siddur Eit Ratzon and Machzor Eit Ratzon ( He is a superannuated professor of mathematics at Rutgers University and has published books on mathematics and mathematics education. He and his wife Judy have five daughters, five sons-in-law, and ten grandchildren.

AM-11 Beyond Jubilation — The Experiential Range and the Echoes of the Psalms

Jonah C. Steinberg

The Psalms we likely know best are those in our Prayer-book, largely ones of praise and celebration. The emotional and experiential range of the biblical Psalter is far wider, and sometimes quite surprising. From desolation and pessimism to the highest conceptions of human possibility and from seafaring and desert wandering to agricultural homestead and royal city-scape, the Psalms present an almost encyclopedic scope of vision and imagination. In these four interactive sessions we will explore Psalms less often seen in the synagogue context. We will compare these ancient compositions with contemporary and immediately subsequent sources from the ancient Near East and Late Antiquity. And we will listen for echoes of the Psalms throughout our culture today.

Photo of Jonah C. Steinberg Rabbi Jonah C. Steinberg, Ph.D., is Executive Director of Harvard Hillel and Jewish Chaplain in Harvard University. Jonah served as Visiting Instructor of Talmud and Rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, taught at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of the American Jewish University, and headed the program in Rabbinic Literature and Civilization at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College before becoming Associate Dean of the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College. Jonah has received the New Scholar Award from Harvard's Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion.

AM-12 Elohai Neshama and Beyond: Creating a Personalized Morning Practice

Ilana Joy Streit

Do you have a regular morning practice – yoga, prayer, writing, meditation, or something else? Would you like to?

Every day, we wake up, and we have the opportunity to connect with our intentions, take care of our bodies, and steep ourselves in words of wisdom.

In this class, we will explore Jewish and non-Jewish texts and practices to nourish and inspire us, and each student will have the opportunity to craft a personalized morning routine or set of practices to start the day aligned and vibrant — in body, mind, and spirit.

Photo of Ilana Joy Streit Kohenet Ilana Joy Streit is a Weaver of Blessings, singer/songwriter, and lover of life. She writes interpretive Jewish liturgy, including blessings for each Rosh Chodesh. Ilana has studied and practiced various movement forms and healing modalities, including chi gung, NIA, and the Feldenkrais method, and teaches creative and embodied approaches to Hebrew and Jewish holidays. She also coaches Jewish leaders and seekers in living healthy, balanced, Jewishly empowered lives. A longtime havurahnik, Ilana has previously taught at the NHC on Exploring, Creating and Keeping Shabbat, and on Melody as Midrash.

AM-13 Fundamentalism and Fundamentalists

Aryeh Wineman

The words fundamentalism and fundamentalists have more and more entered into our everyday vocabulary in the light of current events. What do these words mean–or do they have various meanings not necessarily related to one another–and how does fundamentalism relate to various religious traditions in today’s world including Judaism? What are the dangers and effects of fundamentalism? Is fundamentalism, in some way, crucial in the thought-structure of a religious faith? And do these same traditions, including our own, have means of counteracting their own fundamentalist tendencies? Through both discussion and text-study (in this case, study of Hasidic texts), the course cannot promise answers but can hopefully offer food for thought.

Photo of Aryeh Wineman Aryeh Wineman, who has frequently taught at the Havurah Summer Institute, is the author of many studies in the areas of Hebrew literature and Jewish Mysticism. His most recent book, Letters of Light, appeared this past year.

Afternoon Courses

(Skip to Morning Courses)

PM-01 Hebrew Street Art and the Further Adventures of the Hebrew Alphabet

Hillel Smith (Artist in Residence)

The Hebrew alphabet links Jews across time and space. It connects us to our past when we see the Dead Sea Scrolls, to each other when we visit other Jewish communities, and to our faith. But the way Hebrew looks has changed over time and from place to place, responding to the needs and tastes of particular groups of people. How can we utilize this visual heritage in making new Jewish art and text that speaks to us today? We’ll learn about the history of writing and the Hebrew alphabet, following it through exiles and explorations. Street art in particular has long been used as a way to express personal and communal identity. At its most basic level, the act of marking our spaces helps us show who we are individually and as a group. We’ll cut our own working stencils and then how to use spray paint for a bold and exciting finish.

Photo of Hillel Smith (Artist in Residence) Hillel Smith is an artist and designer re-imagining the potential of Judaica, aiming to create thoroughly modern work that is both true to and reverent of the source material and relevant and compelling today. He has painted murals in Los Angeles and Jerusalem and has exhibited internationally. Seeing Hebrew as the visual glue binding Jews together across time and space, he teaches Jewish typographic history, using print as a lens for Jewish life and culture.

PM-02 The Art of the Aggadista: ReStorying Jewish Heritage (Like It’s Always Been Done)

David Arfa

It is time to reclaim the mythic grandeur and spiritual audacity of Judaism’s creative storytelling imagination. In this class we will explore our heritage of stories and make visible the ways storytellers have always bundled old images and bold new themes together. In addition, this class will put the oral back into the oral tradition. Using playful prompts and creating safe story circles, our work will be structured as a story-arts workshop. Our goal will be imagining the role stories and storytellers have played in the past, present, and future of Jewish life.

Photo of David Arfa David Arfa’s workshop ‘Try Stories for a Change’ trains organizations to build volunteers and raise funds through authentic storytelling and listening circles. Other workshops explore the deep roots of Jewish story and the relationships between wonder, grief, hope and activism in a Jewish context. David earned his MS in Environmental Education from Lesley College and lives in the Berkshire foothills of Shelburne Falls, MA. He is currently the Director of Education for Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams and a chaplaincy student with Hebrew Senior Life in Dedham.

PM-03 A Word of Torah in Under Five Minutes

Brandon Bernstein

Every minyan or havurah needs it: someone to deliver a d’var Torah on Friday night or Saturday morning. But how do you write something that’s relevant, interesting, inspirational, *and* only five minutes long? Learn some techniques for writing great drashes — how to approach the biblical text, where to find interesting commentaries, how to select a hook, how to sharpen your message, and more. We’ll study this week’s Torah portion, Matot-Masei, in depth and try out different techniques to make meaning out of it before each participant has the opportunity to write their own five-minute drash. We’ll then workshop each other’s pieces and conclude with a presentation of these quick divrei Torah on Shabbat.

Photo of Brandon Bernstein Brandon Bernstein is the campus rabbi at Northwestern Hillel, where he regularly wrestles with issues of pluralism, the relevancy of Judaism, and how to help college students find spiritual fulfillment. His Judaism combines the emotional with the intellectual, the mystical with the actual, and he often looks to our Tradition's past for inspiration to move forward. He also teaches and has taught at various independent Jewish gatherings around Chicago and NYC. Brandon currently lives in Chicago, IL.

PM-04 The Jewish Phenomenon in Sub-Saharan Africa

Marla Brettschneider

Millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa are engaged in Jewishly-related activities — some recognizable to American Jews, some less so. In this class, we will investigate this phenomenon and the power dynamics between these Jewish communities and those in the global north. Studying communities and developments in Jewish life that are mostly ignored by the global Jewish world also presents challenging questions about deep diversity, the possibilities of community across intense difference, and our responsibilities given dramatic power differentials.

Photo of Marla Brettschneider Dr. Marla Brettschneider is Professor of Political Philosophy with a joint appointment in Political Science and Women's Studies at the University of New Hampshire, where she has long served as Women's Studies Coordinator and is also Political Science Chair. A long time participant in the NHC Summer Institute, Marla has lectured and published widely on various aspects of Jewish diversity, communal politics and power issues.

PM-05 Sacred Cows and the Rise of Modern Ethical Kosher: Jewish Animal Ethics in the Age of Factory Farming

Sarah Shamirah Chandler

As Jews, what responsibilities do we have to protect the animals people eat? What can ancient Jewish law teach us about how to approach modern-day factory farming systems that produce the majority of animal products consumed in North America? The ancient system of kashrut has the potential to keep our contemporary industrial agriculture systems in check, but is it working? Further, even if we had simple answers to this question, should we really be telling our community members that something labeled kosher should not be trusted? This course will combine ancient text study, hands-on investigation, and the most up-to-date trends and statistics about animal welfare. (No farm animals will be participating in the hands-on components of the course.)

Photo of Sarah Shamirah Chandler Sarah Shamirah Chandler is the C.C.O. (Chief Compassion Officer) and team leader for the Jewish Initiative for Animals (JIFA), where she works to support Jewish institutions to establish meaningful food policies rooted in Jewish ethics and animal welfare. She recently served as the Director of Earth Based Spiritual Practice for Hazon’s Adamah Farm and teaches, writes and consults on a national level on issues related to Judaism, the environment, mindfulness, food values, and farming.

PM-06 Controversial Jewish Texts

Robert Goldenberg

Texts are always subject to multiple interpretations. For certain Jewish texts, the wild diversity of understanding has sometimes been quite dramatic, occasionally even violent. We’ll take four such texts, see what past interpreters have done with them, and figure out (when we can) what we ourselves think they mean. We’ll look at topics of Jewish ritual (when do we start counting the Omer?), civil law (what is “harm”?), community relations (do you have to be nice about other religions?), and theology (how can a virgin have a baby?). You don’t have to know Hebrew to take this course, though a few Hebrew words will be important. You don’t have to know Greek or Arabic either, even though some of the texts were written in those languages.

Photo of Robert Goldenberg Bob Goldenberg, a recovering academic, was a repeated presence at the Institute for its first fifteen years (Institute Co-Chair 1984, NHC Chair 1985-87); he then drifted away for a while but is eager to come back. He is an experienced teacher of community-based adult ed programs.

PM-07 Praying with Hands

Susan Gulack

There are 200 Hebrew roots which, if understood, will allow one to understand almost the entire prayer book. In this class we will use sign to help us deepen our understanding of the prayers and really learn what they mean.

Photo of Susan Gulack Susan learned sign language to facilitate communication with her mother, who became deaf later in life. She combined her love of sign, Hebrew and prayer to add more depth to her prayer life. She is a believer in Modality Education and has used the kinesthetic of sign to help students learn Hebrew for over 35 years.

PM-08 Go Down, Morris: Why a Distinguished New York Rabbi Placed His Hecksher on African-American Slavery

Charles Hirshberg

In 1861, as the nation careened toward Civil War, a Charlotte, NC newspaper rhapsodized that “the most masterly religious argument for slavery has come from a gentleman of the Hebrew faith.” The masterly Hebrew was New York’s Rabbi Morris J. Raphall. A few weeks earlier, President Buchanan had called for a day of “humiliation, fasting and prayer” in hopes of staving off the war. Raphall used the occasion to deliver a sermon arguing that “slaveholding is recognized and sanctioned” by Torah and, indeed, that Torah “pronounced the doom of the African race,” making their enslavement inevitable. Overnight, Raphall became the unlikely toast of Dixie and his sermon was widely reprinted and distributed. We will reconstruct the historical context in which Raphall’s sermon was delivered; explore the intellectual tradition upon which it was based; and investigate how much Raphall’s ideas may persist in contemporary thought.

Photo of Charles Hirshberg Charles Hirshberg is a longtime writer and journalist who has served on the staff of Time Digital, Life magazine, Popular Science, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. He has also written for Sports Illustrated, ESPN, Men's Health, Discover, and many other periodicals and websites. He's currently at work on a book about an African-American regiment in the Civil War. He is Rebbetzin of Temple B'nai Abraham in Beverly, Mass, where he lives with his wife, Alison Adler, and their five-year old son, Leo.

PM-09 The Bed Trick: Patriarchs, Matriarchs And Holy Deceptions

Sherry Israel

In the Torah’s view, Israel is God’s “dear child”. Is this really such a good thing? The Genesis narratives offer deeply disturbing descriptions of family life: parent-child favoritism, wife/co-wife jealousy, sibling rivalry, attempted fratricide. A sub-theme of deception runs underneath most of these – all portrayed as instruments of the Divine plan. What does our Tradition make of this apparently unmitigated Freudian struggle?

The class will examine the barebones Biblical stories, with a special focus on the Patriarch Jacob and those closest to him (pshat), and will bring in rabbinic views and modern feminist commentaries that can offer some new and sometimes surprising twists to our understanding (drash)

Photo of Sherry Israel Sherry Israel did Jewish social science in a variety of settings until her retirement in 2007 from the Hornstein Program at Brandeis. Currently, she is a facilitator of Wise Aging groups and does Jewish spiritual direction, as both director and directee. She has four adult children and nine grandchildren, is a past chair of the NHC board, and is deeply engaged in the life of the Newton Center Minyan.

PM-10 “If It Wasn’t Written …”: How the Talmud Reads the Torah

Neil Litt

In the Talmud (Berachot), Reb Abbahu points to a passage in the Torah and exclaims, “If it was not explicitly written, it would be impossible to say such a thing!” Is his reaction prompted by admiration or disbelief? This is but one of many instances of rabbis in the Talmud resisting the plain meaning of the Torah. How might these challenges inform our reading of Torah? What do they come to teach? We will study Talmudic and Midrashic texts in hevruta that record the process by which an ancient text came to be reinterpreted with surprising flexibility and empathy. This course can serve as an introduction to Talmud study for those who are new to it, as well as a space for fans of the funkiest Talmud to revisit texts that never get old.

Photo of Neil Litt A devoted student of the Talmud as literature in translation for over 20 years, Neil is an experienced NHC teacher and a long-time member of the Princeton Library Minyan, where he frequently facilitates study sessions. He is an Assistant Director of Princeton University Press, where he has been Director of Editing, Design and Production for 19 years.

PM-11 Jews and Judaism in American Situation Comedies

Dale Rosenberg

The American television situation comedy is a uniquely American form of entertainment, one that both reflects American popular culture and helps to shape it. Examining depictions of Jews and Judaism in situation comedies from the 1950s to the present provides a window into the American Jewish experience and into mainstream views of American Jews. This course will show both clear text Jewish content and crypto-Jewish content through presentation of clips, whole episodes, reviews and other text-based material, lecture, and discussion. There will be ample time to discuss the shows and share your favorite memories of Jews and situation comedies.

Photo of Dale Rosenberg Dale Rosenberg is a graduate student at Hebrew College and the Adult Education Coordinator (and Rebbetzin) of Congregation Ahavas Achim in nearby Keene, NH. The mother of three adult children, Dale is taking advantage of her empty nest to change careers and move into Jewish Education full time. She has long been a fan of the American Situation Comedy as a prism for understanding American cultural trends, including the changing nature and role of the American Jewish community.

PM-12 Jewish Magic in Theory and Practice

Noam Sienna

This course will explore the history of magic in Jewish communities worldwide from the Talmud era to the present. We will focus on the inhabitants of ‘the Jewish imagination’ — angels, demons, and other supernatural forces — and the various ways to interact with them. Some texts strongly discourage interacting with the supernatural, while others provide detailed instructions on how to do it correctly. Jewish art and material culture provide ample evidence for the widespread use of amulets, talismans, charms, herbal medicines, chants, and rituals aimed at chasing away evil spirits, placating angry ones, and entreating friendly ones. This is a hands-on class: participants will have the opportunity to create their own amulets or protective talismans. Halachic disclaimer: rabbinic authorities have differing opinions on amulets, and everyone should participate according to their own comfort. We won’t engage in necromancy, fortune telling, direct communication with spirits, or anything generally considered outside the bounds of licit Jewish magic.

Photo of Noam Sienna Noam Sienna is a Jewish educator, calligrapher, henna artist, and graduate student at the University of Minnesota. Their work focuses on the ritual and material culture of Jewish communities in the Islamic world, and their research has explored such topics as henna art, illuminated manuscripts, medieval poetry, and amulets and magic.

PM-13 Upending the Curse of Eve: Breastfeeding in the Talmud

Miriam-Simma Walfish

Is breast best? Who gets to decide? And can a text written by men in 2nd-6th centuries offer us any meaningful insight into these sorts of questions? In this course, we will engage in a close analysis of one extended discussion of breastfeeding in the Babylonian Talmud, along with parallel sources that deepen and complicate our understanding of rabbinic thinking about breastfeeding. In particular, we’ll think about the ways in which these rabbinic conversations are similar to and different from contemporary debates about mothering, and how these talmudic discussions can push us towards more productive thinking and talking about breastfeeding.

Photo of Miriam-Simma Walfish Miriam-Simma Walfish is a doctoral student in Ancient Judaism at Harvard University. She studies gender in rabbinic literature and the editorial process of the Babylonian Talmud. A graduate of the Pardes Educators Program, she has taught Tanakh, Talmud, and Jewish Law in numerous settings, including several years as faculty at Mechon Hadar. She currently directs Boston's Teen Beit Midrash program ( and empowers young Jewish change makers through Mechon Hadar's alumni microgrant processes. Her article, "Upending the Curse of Eve: Reframing Maternal Breastfeeding in Bavli Ketubot" will be published in the fall of 2016.

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