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.
PM-05 – Tisha B’Av Through the Midrash
Tisha B’Av is the first day of the Institute; on that day and the next three days, we’ll study midrashic texts that address the problems it raises — what caused the destruction of the Temple(s)? what was lost? how did that destruction affect the Jewish People? how do we respond to that destruction? and is there hope for the future? We will begin with the classic account in the Talmud of how the destruction was caused by an erroneously-delivered invitation; other texts will come from Midrash Rabba on the book of Eicha (Lamentations). Time permitting, we will finish with a text about the festive day Tu B’Av, which comes six days after Tisha B’Av.
PM-06 – Darosh Darash: the Masoretic Journey
Pirke Avot reports that “Moshe received Torah from Sinai and passed it on….” How did this passing on happen? Sacred texts were believed to have been received directly as Divine words or under the influence of the holy spirit, so they had to be passed on correctly, with everything exactly right. But even the most careful scribes make errors, so an apparatus called the masorah was devised to insure the correct transmission of our sacred texts. In this class, we will examine the evidence for scribal errors (or improvements?), and study the origins and development of the masoretic database; we’ll encounter some materials that are familiar and others that are esoteric and fun to decode. Along the way we’ll explore our own understandings of our Text and its holiness, and experience the sacred tension between attention to details and attention to deep meaning.
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.