AM-02 – We Are What We Eat… and How We Eat: Food Justice in Halakhah and Aggadah
In this course, we will study and discuss halakhic (legal) and aggadic (narrative and philosophical) texts addressing various questions of responsible and sustainable approaches to eating, such as: What attitudes are we called to bring forth when we eat animals and animal products? How do we distribute limited resources? Who owns water and who gets access to it? During the first session, on Tisha B’Av, we will look at images of starvation in the poetic literature of Eicha (Lamentations) and kinnot (elegies) and will consider fasting as an exercise in radical empathy with the experience of starvation.
AM-08 – The Constant Prayer of the Soul: Rav Kook’s Ecstatic Vision of Prayer
Louis A. Rieser
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook articulated an expansive and poetic vision of prayer. He describes prayer as a dynamic force that flows from heaven and acts through the soul in order to affect the cosmos. We will study and discuss passages from his prayerbook commentary, Olat R’ayah, on the purpose and action of prayer. Rav Kook’s notions of prayer will serve as background to a discussion of our own experience of and desires in prayer.
AM-13 – Rebuilding through Song: Making the Zemirot our Own
Jonathan D. Zimet
The Zemirot are our people’s folk music, expressing the themes of our tradition and Jewish experience. They rest on allusions and inside secrets, which we will unlock and explore. We will also look at the authors’ social circumstances that resemble those of our contemporary folk artists, examine the ways we can embrace these poems even if we do not agree with all their themes (such as rebuilding the Temple), sample the wide variety of melodies, and discuss how these songs can enhance our Shabbat meals and bring people together.
After avocationally doing diverse celebrations and programs and leading a community Jewish chorus, lawyer Jonathan Zimet received ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion. He offers programs especially in zemirot, Shir Hashirim, and nusach for lay people, and is currently writing an English commentary, “Zemirot are for Everyone: An Invitation to the Shabbat meal and the songs that adorn it.”
PM-09 – How Much Christianity is There in the Talmud?
The Babylonian Talmud has shaped Jewish life for over a thousand years, but it’s easy to forget–or never to have considered–that the Talmud was produced by a Jewish community living in multicultural Iran, where Jews, Zoroastrians, Christians, and a host of other religious groups lived side by side. In this course, we will look at talmudic passages that have striking parallels to texts written by Christians in the surrounding area; they wrote in Syriac, a language very similar to talmudic Aramaic. These will help us make sense of passages in the Talmud that otherwise would be impossible to understand, and will show both the competition with and the allure of Christianity for the Babylonian Jews who shaped the future of Judaism. What does it mean that there’s so much Christianity in the quintessential Jewish text?
PM-13 – Plugta: Sects and Schisms in Jewish History
Bitter controversy among Jews is not new and still with us. A look at selected divisions from different historical periods through Hebrew and Aramaic texts of the times. Examples will include sects in the second temple period , Karaites vs. Rabbanites, Maimonides vs. his critics, and Hasidim vs. Misnagdim (and Maskilim). Controversies in today’s Jewish world are often characterized by each side’s perception that the other is jeopardizing everything important. We’ll see similar perceptions in the past, and consider how past conflicts look now.