The Tuesday meeting of these classes should have content that is compatible with conventional Tisha B’Av observance. If you have any questions about what that means to the the individual teachers of these courses, page you can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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-04 – Cracking the Sefer Barrier: Breaking into Four Primary Jewish Texts
Jewish literacy has an extremely high barrier to entry. Classic texts are written in languages many readers don’t understand, 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 constitutes mini-libraries in their own right. We will begin by talking about how literary texts work, looking at genres, various methods of interpretation, assumptions brought to the text by readers, and the context of the Ancient Near East. We will look at selected texts in English, unriddle their secret codes, and learn how best to hear their ancient voices with modern ears.
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-09 – Three Legs or One Foot: Rebalancing Our Jewish Communities
We are taught that the world stands on a tripod of study, worship, and caring actions. When our communities run on the two legs of study and worship, the third leg of caring is often shortened. Yet the third leg is the only one that can support us “on one foot.” This week, as we stop to mourn our brokenness, we’ll seek the comfort of a new equilibrium that integrates kindness and justice. We’ll explore familiar junctures in the regular rhythms of learning and prayer that can be leveraged as “caring points” to build more balanced and inclusive communities.
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-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-07 – Sh’viti ‘Nachamu’: An Artful Journey from Mourning to Comfort
Judaism teaches that times of deep loss needn’t last forever and can lead to rebuilding and renewal. The period between Tisha b’Av and Shabbat Nachamu provides a metaphor and a map to express our individual stories of the journey from loss to wholeness, from mourning to healing, from despair to rejoicing. Traditional texts of Tisha b’Av and Shabbat Nachamu will inform us as we write our own personal narratives of our journeys. Using the form of a circle (mandala), we will draw the light of renewal from the darkness of loss. Through chevruta text study, discussion, journaling, meditation, and hands-on art-making, participants will explore the concepts of loss and renewal. By the end of the class, each of us will have created an illuminated manuscript reflecting our personal journey.
Jennifer Judelsohn is an artist, psychotherapist, and educator and author/illustrator of the book Songs of Creation: Meditations on the Sacred Hebrew Alphabet. Her artwork, including acrylic paintings, Prismacolor drawings, and Giclee prints, has been exhibited in numerous solo and group shows and is in private collections worldwide. Jennifer has presented workshops, seminars, and classes on Judaism, spirituality, and other topics at conferences nationally and internationally. She was an Artist-in-Residence at the 2013 NHC Summer Institute.
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-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.
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.