AM-01 – Towards a New Jewish Art!
Jewish tradition prohibits making graven images. This prohibition may have prevented a full blossoming of Jewish art besides ritual objects and documents. But isn’t God present in every beautiful thing on the planet? What would it look like for us to go back and reclaim symbols and imagery for a new Jewish art? In this course, participants will develop a new Jewish iconography, based on our research into historical Jewish art, as well as reflection on what images and symbols communicate our current understanding of our own Jewishness.
Through discussion, visual brainstorming, self-reflection, and visual research, collaboratively we will create a large visual mixed media art piece portraying both historical and contemporary Jewish life and spirituality. The artwork will be on display for the community; each participant will be able to take home a section of the final product at the conclusion of the Institute.
AM-05 – What did we Lose When we Lost the Temple?
The Temple is a central element of our learning and liturgy, not only on Tisha B’Av, but also at weddings and even at funerals. The echo of lament and yearning for this ruin can seem very strange, remote from both our experience and our values. In fact, the rabbis of the Talmud faced a similar disconnect. They were apparently fascinated with the Temple, devoting scrupulous attention to the details of its daily existence. In this class we too will attempt to make the Temple less remote. What did it feel like to be there? Was that feeling different on Erev Pesach compared to regular Tuesdays? What did it smell and sound like? While involving ourselves with in-depth study of the rabbinic Temple imagination, we will also try to determine why this utopian nostalgia was of such value to the rabbis, and what it can offer us today.
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-10 – Who are the Jews? Contemporary Sociology of American Jews
Talya Weisbard Shalem
This course will dive into the vast world of current surveys of American Jews, from Pew to the National Jewish Population Surveys. We will contextualize these studies by looking at the broader world of current American religious trends. We will compare quantitative and qualitative types of analyses, examining an in-depth analysis of individual Jewish journeys by Bethamie Horowitz. We will look closely at data on intermarriage and children’s upbringing, using studies from InterfaithFamily.com and the Jewish Outreach Institute.
We will explore how definitions of who is a Jew, and the choice of which survey questions to ask, can massively shape outcomes and conclusions. At the end of this course, you will know how to read handwringing articles in the Jewish press with a hermeneutic of suspicion, and you will be well-informed for engaging in contemporary debates about the future of the community and where to best direct energy and funding.
AM-11 – Yitgadal v’Yitkadash: Jewish Rituals of Grief and Mourning from Aninut (Mourning) to Yahrzeit (Annual Remembrance)
The journey from the intense mourning of Tisha B’Av to the comfort of Shabbat Nachamu reminds us not only of the Jewish people’s communal loss of the Temple, but also of our own personal experiences of loss. In times of loss, particularly the deaths of loved ones, each of us goes through a process of grief, mourning, and, ultimately, healing.
We will explore how the Jewish rituals of mourning track or reflect Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief—and how they differ. Some of these rituals are derived from Halakha (mitzvot); others are traditions (minhag). Some we observe strictly; others we put our own spin on. We will look at these rituals through text study and sharing of personal experiences, whether as mourner or comforter, and across variations in observance. Together, we will seek both a better understanding of these rituals and a greater appreciation for how they support us.
AM-12 – Text and Interpretation: A Series of Journeys through Time
A tradition cannot be grasped simply by reading its sacred text, and certainly Jewish tradition requires, along with the Torah-text, serious understanding of the ongoing interpretation, which often transforms and gives new life to the text itself. That process of interpretation is an exciting story, often a process of highly creative, even radical, understanding of the literal text itself. We will examine, each day, a different kind of textual passage(s) from the Torah along with some representative and sometimes startling re-readings of the same passage. We will look at passages concerning law and society, cultic practices, the creation of light, and revelation.
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-02 – Enter the Temple: Discovering the Inner Sanctum
Elyssa Joy Auster
Out of destruction comes transformation and the opportunity for wholeness. Tisha B’Av commemorates the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem, and other tragedies the Jewish people have experienced over centuries, yet it leaves the door open for something new. We will explore the joy and creativity that are released by breaking open through four paradigms: the Temple of the Body (Yoga), the Temple of Emotion (Meditation), the Temple of the Mind (Text Study), and the Temple of Beyond (Chanting).
PM-03 – Shmita! Designing a Year of Radical Cooperation, Economic Justice, and Ecological Sustainability
What can the Torah’s ancient Shmita practice teach us today? This Tisha B’Av begins the next High Holiday season and, with it, the once-every-seventh-year radical rest of the sabbatical cycle. Through collage, text motifs, and creative design, this timely course will explore contemporary perspectives on three of Shmita’s core practices: letting the land rest, forgiving debt, and resource sharing. Participants will use a collaborative art process and resources from The Shmita Project to develop a Havurahnik’s Guide to Shmita Practice for community use in 5775 / 2014-2015.
PM-04 – Praying With Song: Hasidic Spiritual Melodies And Our Spiritual Selves
We’ll study Hasidic spiritual melodies (niggunim) in Hasidic philosophy and spiritual practice and explore how they — and contemporary, ‘quasi-Hasidic’ melodies — can enrich our own spiritual practice. We’ll learn melodies from various Hasidic traditions and sing some of them; learn and sing contemporary spiritual melodies; and perhaps touch on the tradition of borrowing melodies for prayer — experimenting, if we have time, with our own, new shidduchim (matches) of melody with traditional or original prayers.
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-08 – Our Lives are in our Songs: Yiddish Voices Moving us Forward!
Susan Pearl Leviton
Using Yiddish song as a roadmap, we’ll travel through social justice activism, yearning for actual and abstract homelands, the world of women’s voices, the experiences of dreams and realities of America, and an examination of our culture through foodways. Shake off any images you have of dusty old chestnuts (the Yiddish ‘top ten’) and prepare to encounter songs of the aguna and domestic violence, developing class struggle among children and I. B. Singer’s magical literature as interpreted by his illustrators. Translations and archival images will be provided.
Susan Leviton’s joyful embrace of Yiddish arts is matched by her enthusiasm in sharing. As an interpreter of song, and one of few who are reviving women’s a cappella singing today, she dips into a treasure trove and weaves programs of unexpected beauty. Her naturally clear instrument and background in theatrical (Sign) interpreting brings story-telling magic to her teaching.
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-10 – Embodied Teshuvah: A Journey from Brokenness to Wholeness
Josh Schreiber Shalem
Teshuvah can begin not at Rosh Hashanah or even at the first of Elul, but at Tisha B’Av, when the walls we build to shield ourselves from our own fragility collapse like the walls of Jerusalem. What follows is a period not always of rebuilding, but of confronting what is actually there behind those walls; perhaps one can learn to live with one’s self and one’s God with honesty and vulnerability. Through the Awareness Through Movement® developed by the Israeli physicist and Judo master Moshe Feldenkrais, we will follow this path through the experience of our body, learning to attend to, accept, and transform the feelings of brokenness and inadequacy we carry within us. This class is open to anyone with a body; no prior movement experience or ability is necessary. Mats will be provided.
PM-11 – Preparing to Do Teshuvah
Darius D. Sivin
This class will explore Rambam’s Laws of Teshuvah, a classic Jewish text, and Rabbi Alan Lew’s This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared, a modern work, influenced by Buddhism, about the spiritual practice of Teshuvah. Through chevruta study and class discussion, each student will develop a personal Teshuvah plan based on class materials and life experience.
Darius D. Sivin, PhD is an occupational health and safety professional with the United Auto Workers. Much of his work involves teaching health and safety to adults. His family belongs to Fabrangen Cheder where he led the adult discussion seminar for several years. He has studed at the NHC Institute and at the Jewish Study Center in Washington DC. He has developed his own spiritual practice of Teshuvah based on the works he will be presenting.