Every year at the seder we celebrate our liberation from Egypt. Surprisingly, however, the seder contains very little information about what our enslavement in Egypt was like or how we managed to survive our time there. Join us as we study rabbinic texts about what the Jewish people endured in Egypt and the strategies they used to survive and even flourish under Egyptian rule. Along the way we'll ask ourselves: what are the tools that enable human beings to endure oppression? What do human beings need, in times of trauma, to create meaning and even joy? What does it look like to insist on one's own humanity in a world that seeks to deny it--and what might this teach us about what it means to be human in the first place?
This is a special offering for Pesah 2022 and registration for this course includes two lectures that will take place on Zoom.
Lecture 1, Monday March 21 7:30-8:30 pm
Packing Timbrels and Washing Hair: Gendered Anticipation of the Redemption in Rabbinic Texts
Lecture 2, Thursday April 7 7:30-8:30 pm
A Seder in Novosibirsk: What Seder Nights in Times of Trauma Can Teach Us in Times of Joy
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Rabbi Shai Held
Teshuvah, often translated as "repentance," is one of the most startling and central concepts in Jewish life—throughout the year but especially during preparation for the High Holidays. The idea that we can sin, work on ourselves, return to the correct path, and then be forgiven is just as essential as it is revolutionary. If it weren’t for this process, we could be stuck in our ways, never changing, never forgiven, always the sinner.
But what does teshuvah actually entail? What are its goals? What is "acceptable" versus "ideal" teshuvah? How can you demonstrate that you have changed? How much does teshuvah rely on God's grace to be effective? And are there any metaphors that can help us focus on this important internal (and external) work?
This course explores four different perspectives on teshuvah, ranging from classical sources to modern Jewish thought. While it may not provide real answers to these unanswerable questions, the discussions help frame and conceptualise the core issues. Each session is a window into this fundamental question: what does it take for a person to change?
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Rabbi Aviva Richman
In this course, we will approach the story we tell at the seder - maggid - through the lens of Song of Songs, the megillah associated with the holiday of Passover. Each year at the seder, we tell a love story - the story of how the relationship between God and Israel began. Many people like to tell and retell the story of how they fell in love - trying to identify a pivotal moment, relating the challenges and obstacles that stood in the way. As we learn together, we will focus on four scenes in rabbinic midrash that aim to identify the pivotal moment when we “fell in love” with God, and God “fell in love” with us. We will look at each of these scenes closely over four sessions, asking what each teaches us about the Exodus story, and the twists and turns of being in a deep relationship.
Power and money introduce tricky dynamics and complicated moral questions into professional and personal relationships. In this session, we'll be exploring the effects of influence and how Jewish sources might advise us to respond when navigating relationships with power imbalances. We'll explore questions like: when do we speak up and when do we stay silent? When do we speak truth to power and when do we flatter to avoid conflict? What moral standards should we require from those in power and what happens when they fail to meet those standards?
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When we say "the rabbis" of the Talmud, who are we talking about? What stories do we tell about them and what can we learn from them? How does a religious leader's personality drive or hinder their impact in the world?
Get to know four of the most important of our early rabbis (called "Tannaim") and how they, according to our legends, rebuilt Judaism after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, who escaped Jerusalem and made a deal with Vespasian to continue Jewish learning; Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrkanus, whose prolific memory and stubborn personality led to his eventual excommunication; R. Akiva, an innovator of unique and stunning insights, martyred by the Romans; and R. Elazar ben Arakh, the lone genius.
What were the advantages and disadvantages of their approaches? How did their personality affect their project and their relationship with their colleagues? What kind of rabbi would we want to be?
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Rabbi Miriam-Simma Walfish
At times, modern death penalty discourse can seem black and white and simplistic. Those who support it cite deterrence and retribution as the primary reasons for this punishment, while those against often cite the possibility of wrongful conviction and the sanctity of human life as reasons against.
What often gets neglected, however, is any discussion of the intricacies of the death penalty process itself. As Beth Berkowitz states in her book Execution and Invention: Death Penalty Discourse in Early Rabbinic and Christian Cultures (which inspired this course), we will examine rabbinic discussions of the death penalty, “…in order to better understand the nexus between violence and authority in the cultures of ancient Judaism and, ultimately, in our own.”
Together we will explore questions such as "is a 'good death' ever possible?" What is the role of retribution in the criminal justice system then and now? How do the rituals of death empower or remove agency from the various actors involved?
We will pair rabbinic texts with more modern takes on the death penalty and allow both types of sources to draw out aspects in the other we may not have seen otherwise.
Rabbi Ethan Tucker
Not eating food in the same way as everyone else has been one of the central markers of Jewish identity for millennia. But many core questions about this practice of Kashrut remain open. Why do we keep Kosher in the first place? What is in our food and how do we know? What about how the food is prepared? Does it matter who prepared it? Who do we trust to prepare food that we can eat? How do we apply these ancient sources on what we can and can't eat in a modern world with abundant soap, dishwashers, and stainless steel?
These 10-sessions are a whirlwind tour through the theoretical and the practical, the whys, whats, and hows of keeping Kosher in an overwhelmingly non-Kosher world.
Rabbi Yonah Hain
This course will investigate pluralism as a value in Jewish life. We will study various dimensions of pluralism and its limits through both text and case studies, empowering participants to live in communities of diverse multiple Jewish identities.
Together, we’ll ask the questions: How do I live a life of conviction while remaining tolerant of others? How can I emphasize what's right for one may not be right for another without falling into relativism? How do I cultivate a sense that you don't have to be wrong for me to be right? How do I satisfy diverging contingents within my community? What are the limits of pluralism?
We turn to our tradition for answers to the greatest questions of our times: how to handle the messy business of love, sex and relationships.
In this course, we’ll dive into texts across the Jewish canon, from Torah to Mishnah, Talmud to the Legal Codes, exploring questions of “What does it mean to love someone,” “What does a holy, healthy sex life look like,” and “Is there such thing as permitted, sacred sex outside of marriage?”
No topics are off limits for the rabbis! We turn to our Jewish texts as a jumping off point for our own exploration of what it means to be in a relationship.
Rabbi Avi Killip
Is there a right way to question authority? Should I speak out on every issue or choose my battles? What role should shame and humiliation play? When can I leverage power-dynamics, and when should I just keep quiet? In this 10-session course we will explore Jewish stories where our ancestors pushed back on the authority of their government and society, of their own Jewish leadership and even of God.
This course was inspired by the book Why Be Jewish? by Edgar Bronfman.
This course was made in partnership between Project Zug and Samuel Bronfman Foundation. The course was inspired Edgar Bronfman’s book, Why Be Jewish? which can be purchased on Amazon.